The debate on intervention in Syria is not about the protection of civilians but about saving prestige. Obama knows that its reputation is at stake. However, if power politics ends the slaughter of the Syrian people, then it must be given a chance, says Damon Golriz.
Syria has raised concerns with regard to the high number of victims and on whether chemical weapons were used against civilians. The country has also become the front line for a proxy war powers. The – still – most powerful country in the world is gathering support for its course. On Obama's one side are the three main European countries and on the other side the incoherent coalition of Israel, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Opposed to America and its allies are Russia, China and Iran that want to preserve the status quo in Syria and seek opportunities to expand their interests. The latter have had their way in the conflict over Syria.
The Iranian ayatollahs, in the midst of this confrontation, serve as mentors for Assad and simultaneously as intermediaries between China and Russia. Yesterday, the Lebanese newspaper Al-Nahar, reported that Assad flew to Tehran for advice. Soon after, the Russian President, Putin called his Iranian counterpart Rohani to emphasize that they have the same interests in Syria and are convinced of the innocence of Bashar al-Assad. Both countries accuse America of an attempt to attack Syria without a UN mandate. Israel has been the only country providing proof that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons.
Iran and Russia respond to the absence of hard evidence provided by the UN. The State Department admits it does not know who exactly gave the order to use chemical weapons, nevertheless, it holds Assad’s regime responsible for this tragedy. If there is an attack on Syria based on weak legitimacy, it will only reinforce the arguments of the opponents of war. Iran and Syria have signed a defense agreement in 2006, which implies that the two countries are each other’s military allies. Therefore, Iran needs to help protect Syrian government officials, weapons and rockets. Additionally, Syria is considered the frontline against Israel and as a corridor of arms to Hezbollah in southern Lebanon.
Despite high stakes, Iranian officials speak cautiously and remarkably subdued in tone. The Supreme Leader Khamenei, as well as President Rohani and Parliamentary Speaker Larijani, have condemned the use of chemical weapons and warned of serious consequences. Every word that may generate the impression of assertiveness, is avoided. The ultra-conservative newspaper Kayhan sticks to pragmatic analysis and reveals in several articles why an attack will have major drawbacks for Israel and America. Nevertheless, it fails to promote the Jihad. Friday prayers were led by Sediqqi as the main political-religious voice; a spiritual with low influence. Not only the supreme commander of the Revolutionary Guards but even the commander of the Basij militia, which consists of 50,000 voluntary jihadists, remain calm. Tehran seems to avoid providing Tel-Aviv with any excuses now that the powerful bodies are active and armed in the region. There is the fear of being attacked after Syria.
Meanwhile, Iran benefits from the price increase of over $ 15 per barrel of oil, and has been making plans to fill the power vacuum that would occur right after the attack on Syria. Iran expects the U.S. to make the same mistakes as they made previously in Iraq and Afghanistan. This war is not about protection of civilians. It is about saving the face. Obama acknowledges that his reputation as the President of ‘the world's most’ powerful country"is at stake.
Tragically, it is not the 99 percent of the 100,000 civilian that were killed, but just that 1 percent that were killed by chemical weapons that seem decisive for this war. The fact that protection of civilians often plays no role in the decision making with regard to war and peace, is proved by the recently published CIA documents which illustrate Saddam Hussein's use of poison gas that killed 5000 Kurds in late 80’s was done with the approval of the United States. Was it morally justified? No, but from power politics’ perspective perhaps an understandable choice. Was the genocide in Darfur (2003) with approximately three million deaths, and Rwanda with one million civilian deaths (1994) not convincing enough to mobilize Americans and their allies? No, because the stakes for the U.S. and it's allies were apparently not high enough.
That is realpolitics, which of course is not limited to the U.S. The Communist regime of China, as the post-communist regime of Russia, and the Islamic theocracy of ayatollahs in Iran, all act based on seemingly conflicting interests. That is how the ayatollahs helped the "Great Satan" America during the war with Afghanistan and Iraq. Israel sold weapons to the Iranians in the '80's to fight Saddam Hussain for the same reason. The same U.S. weapons that are currently used against the Syrian citizens will perhaps also be used against American soldiers who will try to invade Damascus. If after two years of struggle and bloodshed ,and the military punishments by Assad’s regime, realpolitics can protect only the life of a single civilian, even if cynical, it should get a chance. We should just not try to make the motives sounds better than what they actually are.
Damon Golriz (1981) was born in Iran and lives in The Netherlands since 1995 as a political refugee. He is a political commentator and lecturer at The Hague University of Applied Sciences.