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Syria Power Change Inevitable: A Realistic Analysis of Russian-American Deal over Syria

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Pir-Mohammad Mollazehi
Expert on Indian Subcontinent

A recent agreement between the foreign ministers of the United States and Russia for dismantling the chemical weapons arsenal of the Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government has been analyzed from various angles. Many analysts have noted that it was a political victory for Russia and a failure for the US foreign policy as the agreement averted a possible US military strike against the Arab country. Other analysts, however, are not so sure that the [Russian President Vladimir] Putin has been a total winner and his American counterpart [President Barack] Obama has been a complete loser. Of course, both sides have their own reasons to think this way. In the meantime, the fact that has received less attention than it actually deserves is the possible consequences of chemical disarmament for the government of Bashar Assad. Such consequences can be expected now after international groups of inspectors have started pouring into Damascus for the identification and annihilation of Syria’s stockpiles of chemical weapons. It seems that the political analysts supporting the Assad regime have been so carried away by their premature optimism that they failed to understand all the realities that surround the agreement that Russia and the United States have reached over Syria. Now that chemical disarmament inspectors have started their work in Syria, further dimensions of that agreement are gradually coming into the light, and before long, it will transpire that the Russian deal over Syria does not actually leave much room for such a premature optimism.

It is not clear whether at the end of this deal, the power structure in Syria will remain in the hands of the Syrian Baath Party in its present centralized form. At least, there are serious doubts about Syrian power equation remaining unchanged after the US and Russia have gone through their deal. There is another past experience in the Middle East, which can be taken as a model to assess the current situation in Syria and that experience is about Iraq. After a lot of hot debates over the existence of possible covert nuclear weapon stockpiles in Iraq under the rule of [the country’s former dictator] Saddam Hussein, the United States and Russia entered into a similar deal. The results of that deal are not a mystery anymore. The nuclear inspectors dispatched by the United Nations and its nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), had access to even the secret corners of Saddam Hussein’s palace. However, they could not find any sign of the existence of nuclear weapons in the country. Nonetheless, they did not suffice to inspections and left the nuclear case of Iraq open. The inspectors also refrained from giving any report in which they would attest to successful end of inspections and absence of even unremarkable signs of the existence of nuclear weapons in Iraq. As a consequence of those state of affairs, the issue of nuclear weapons remained dangling over Saddam Hussein’s head like the Sword of Damocles until the day that Saddam was finally deposed from power.

Those who currently think that Russians have learned their lessons from Iraq and Libya and will not allow a similar scenario to be repeated in Syria are actually oversimplifying the relations among the big powers. They think that such relations only consist of a single dimension, but the reality is otherwise. Giving and taking concessions is the main point about any deal and the extent of those concessions is actually determined on the basis of the respective weight and power of countries involved in that deal. The main assumption about Syria is that in addition to their proclaimed recalcitrant position on the situation in the Arab country, Russians do also have a practical policy which they are following with the United States behind the scenes. Therefore, no analyst should suffice to those positions which are highlighted in the proclaimed policy of Russia and think that Putin is trying to reshape the post-Cold War world in such a way that countries like Syria would be able to resist against and weather foreign crises with success or, at least, with the least possible losses. The end of the unipolar world order, as claimed by the United States following termination of the Cold War, will not come about in accordance with the expectations of other countries. At present, Russia is not in a position to form an effective power pole against the United States and its allies. To have a correct understanding of this reality is a higher priority for Bashar Assad than anyone else. The slightest degree of error in calculation may, therefore, end in a repetition of the Iraq scenario.

The realities are not necessarily what we primarily create in our minds and then believe them and perceive them as being the sole reality on the ground. In the real world, however, the reality is usually cruel and that cruelty should be taken into account as a factor. Otherwise, the consequences of any disregard for the reality may be irreparable. Among analysts, who deliver judgments about Bashar Assad’s regime without any prejudice, there are few people, if any, who actually believe from the depth of their hearts that when the United States is through with its scenario for the chemical disarmament of Assad’s regime, the power structure in the country would remain intact in its current form. This is where the Russian deal becomes meaningful. It seems that Russians have realized earlier than other backers of Assad’s regime that the future outlook for Syria is quite ambiguous. Therefore, they have no plan to put all their eggs in Bashar Assad’s basket. Such timely understanding of the reality will help Putin to meet the national interests of his country. As a result, when the inevitable change of power structure takes place in Syria, Putin will not be among the losers. Some think that the Russians have already reached an undeclared agreement with the Americans. It is through such covert agreements that Syria will be directed toward a change in power structure. Therefore, any involved party which is not capable of assimilating such realities will be most probably not able to defend its national interests. Perhaps, it may seem difficult to accept this viewpoint, but it is worth consideration anyway. It is worthwhile to think twice about the developments which are currently going on in Syria. As a result of these developments, the Arab country has been already turned into ruins and it will take decades in time as well as billions of dollars in cost before the country can be restored to the good shape it had before the outset of the ongoing violent developments.

The UN disarmament inspectors will keep going from one location to another and from one garrison to the next until all the objectives of the Syria deal between Russia and the United States are realized. Whether Assad delivers all his chemical weapons or not is not an issue here. In any case, Assad will be facing the charges of secrecy over his chemical weapons stockpiles until he is finally deposed from power through political means and holding of presidential election, which will be the best face-saving solution for both Russia and the United States.

Key Words: Syria Power Change, Russian-American Deal, Chemical Weapons, Bashar Assad, Iraq, Libya,  UN Disarmament Inspectors, Mollazehi

More By Pir-Mohammad Mollazehi:

*Simplism in Dealing with Syria Crisis: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Simplism-in-Dealing-with-Syria-Crisis.htm

*Ideological Divide in Arab World: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Ideological-Divide-in-Arab-World.htm

*Turkey Playing with Fire in Syria: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Turkey-Playing-with-Fire-in-Syria.htm

*Photo Credit: CBC, The Atlantic

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