Things are heating up even more in Syria. Washington denies direct involvement while setting the stage for broader intervention.
The Brookings Institution hosted a discussion with Hillary Clinton and Shimon Peres on June 12th. The video below calls attention to Clinton’s claim that Moscow is sending attack helicopters to Syria:
Outed immediately as a #PropagandaFail— and this time it didn’t take long for the MSM to catch on. From The Independent: Syria tensions between Washington and Moscow escalate:
On Tuesday Mrs Clinton, who in recent weeks has been stepping up her criticism of Moscow, said the US was “concerned about the latest information we have that there are attack helicopters on the way from Russia to Syria, which will escalate the conflict quite dramatically”. With no evidence available of any contracts for new helicopters for Damascus, US officials were forced within twenty four hours to qualify the remark, however. “She put a little spin on it to put the Russians in a difficult position,” a senior Pentagon official told the New York Times.
Through its ambassador to Russia, Riad Haddad, Syria offered a first denial of her claim yesterday. “Russia is not delivering any helicopters to Syria,” he asserted. Threatening to stoke the tensions further, Sergei Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister, meanwhile accused the US of hypocrisy. Russia insists that any military contracts it has with Syria are for the supply of defensive weapons only to protect the country from foreign attack.
“We are not providing Syria or any other place with things which can be used in struggle with peaceful demonstrators, unlike the United States, which regularly supplies such equipment to this region,” Mr. Lavrov said, singling out what he had said were recent US deliveries to “one of the Persian Gulf states”, interpreted as a reference to Bahrain. “But for some reason the Americans consider this completely normal.”
The United States still claims to just be watching the action in Syria. In the following report from the New York Times, “officials in Washington” deny active US participation at this juncture–a denial I find unlikely– but does not exclude US ‘consultation’.
The fierce government assaults from the air are partly a response to improved tactics and weaponry among the opposition forces, which have recently received more powerful antitank missiles from Turkey, with the financial support of Saudi Arabia and Qatar, according to members of the Syrian National Council, the main opposition group in exile, and other activists.
The United States, these activists said, was consulted about these weapons transfers. Officials in Washington said the United States did not take part in arms shipments to the rebels, though they recognized that Syria’s neighbors would do so, and that it was important to ensure that weapons did not end up in the hands of Al Qaeda or other terrorist groups.
The increased ferocity of the attacks and the more lethal weapons on both sides threatened to overwhelm diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis. Kofi Annan, the special envoy of the United Nations and the Arab League, continued to pressure Damascus to halt the violence and to respect a cease-fire. But Mrs. Clinton said that if Mr. Assad did not stop the violence by mid-July, the United Nations would have little choice but to end its observer mission in the country.
Mrs. Clinton, State Department officials said, continues to push for a “managed transition,” under which Mr. Assad would step aside. Russia’s role is viewed as critical, however, and Mrs. Clinton’s claims about helicopter shipments are certain to increase tensions with Moscow less than a week before President Obama is scheduled to meet with President Vladimir V. Putin at a summit meeting in Mexico.
Administration officials declined to give details about the helicopters, saying the information was classified.
So Clinton says the UN may have to end its observer status soon. Is she signalling a more active participation in the conflict by mid July? (More ‘non active’ participation to the tune of $57 million)?
“They are providing arms and weapons to the Syrian opposition that can be used in fighting against the Damascus government,” he said on Iranian state television, speaking through an interpreter.
Russia is one of Syria’s principal defenders on the diplomatic front and, as a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council with the power to veto resolutions, has stymied efforts by Western powers to pressure President Bashar al-Assad into stepping down.
“I have announced time and again that our stance is not based on support for Bashar al-Assad or anyone else … We don’t want to see Syria disintegrate.”
Russia is resisting Western and Gulf Arab pressure to take a harder line against Assad, rejecting calls for sanctions and proposing a conference bringing together global and regional powers including Iran.
Here’s Tamara Cofman Wittes, director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution now claiming “full-scale civil war in Syria,” attributed to anonymous “UN official“– making no mention of “powerful antitank missiles from Turkey” or how US support of outside forces escalates the conflict:
Fighters, smugglers, and refugees crossing borders could shake security in Turkey, a NATO ally, and threaten the hard-won, fragile equilibrium in Iraq. Bitter sectarian fighting in Syria is already echoing in Lebanon, with fighting in the streets of Tripoli threatening Lebanon’s precarious peace. Jihadis from Afghanistan and Iraq are already being drawn to this new struggle of mainly Sunnis against an Alawite regime many view as heretical. Should the Syrian government lose control over more of its territory, its chemical and biological weapons could fall into dangerous hands.
All these frightful trends are already emerging—and they will accelerate every day that the diplomatic wrangling continues. By the time the international community has persuaded itself that all peaceful options to stop the killing have been exhausted, the deterioration on the ground will vastly complicate the inevitable next set of options: more direct forms of intervention, including even the threat and use of force.
In short, the Syrian crisis and American efforts to resolve it are being shaped—and constrained—far more by the violence on the ground than by diplomacy at the United Nations. The more quickly this crisis can be decisively resolved, the better for regional security and American interests. This argues for more active U.S. engagement now, directed not only at the Russians but at the Syrian government and its opponents, to try to shape and contain the battle yet to come.
Yep– more ramping up for intervention. It seems counter productive to me to be ratcheting up the pressure by supporting outside intervention if your intention is to stop the violence. But, stopping the violence in Syria does not appear to be the US’s main objective. Regime change is.
It is my firm belief outside intervention is escalating the conflict. Clearly there are strong opinions about who’s responsible for the lion’s share of civilian deaths. The question of culpability has become even more hotly debated following a German daily report claiming Syrian Rebels committed the Houla massacre (more discussion at Syria Comment).
Obama is scheduled to meet with President Putin at a summit meeting in Mexico in a few days. Let’s hope the PTB can rethink, work together and iron out their priorities before we end up with another full-scale war that portends much more than civil war this time around, but a regional war.
One last consideration. Let’s ask ourselves what our own government would do if outsiders were arming the ‘opposition’ to ‘liberate’ us.
Brookings Institutiton: Assessing Options for Regime Change (pdf)
An alternative is for diplomatic efforts to focus first on how to end the violence and how to gain humanitarian access, as is being done under Annan’s leadership. This may lead to the creation of safe-havens and humanitarian corridors, which would have to be backed by limited military power. This would, of course, fall short of U.S. goals for Syria and could preserve Asad in power. From that starting point, however, it is possible that a broad coalition with the appropriate international mandate could add further coercive action to its efforts.
Hmm, not helpful Brookings.