Monday, June 18, 2012

Syrian Chess

It doesn't surprise me that Russia and China are blocking efforts at the UN to screw tighter sanctions against Syria. These are not countries given to protecting its citizens from their own governments. Russia may be democratic in name now, but recent events seem to indicate that it's returning to its old ways, ways that included the pogroms under Stalin when, if memory serves, 20 million people were massacred. China had Tianneman Square. The only difference was that the world was oblivious while Stalin rampaged through his population, hacking and executing, until long after it was over, and though not so oblivious, the world did not see China shooting its own people from the point of view of the people being shot hour after hour, minute after minute.

Syria's horrific, despicable wholesale slaughter of its citizens is being carried out in front of our eyes on television, on the Internet. It is impossible to turn a blind eye. It is impossible to feel at a distance as one can if reading about the accounts in a black-and-white newspaper or watching events unfold grainily on a TV set, knowing they're over. Yet it is as impossible to help Syrians today as it was the innocent in the past.

Another historic event comes to mind: WWI. It was torched by some non-event because that region was essetially the conflict zone between two world powers. As long as no one tried to kill someone under German protection or British protection, all was calm. And then bang. The whole thing exploded, and scores of men died for naught.

Syria is not Libya. It has powerful protectors. Iran is an ally. Russia has shown interest in keeping the status quo. We have the UN, true, but Iran is not the kind of state that would give a fig if the UN said it's OK to invade Syria to protect its citizens. It will most probably retaliate to protect Syria's government, its allies and also a buffer and aggressor against Israel. If Iran was to lose Syria, it would stand as the lone enemy of Israel capable of pushing it into the sea (though the wild card is Egypt). And Russia's president Putin is a macho man. He likes to flex his muscles, show who's boss. Does anyone think he'll stand by if the UN ignores Russia's veto vote? That would be a slap to his ego and Russian pride. It would isolate Russia and make it more belligerent.

It is one thing to essentially wage war against Syria (which is what even a no-fly zone would be -- and Syria's army is not Libya's weak, chaotic one), it is quite another to have Syria be the tinder box for a proxy war between the west, Russia, and Iran à la WWI. And who knows about China.

It's a stalemate.

That means we must be creative. It is much easier to shoot from the sky, harder to come up with non-warlike solutions that even Russia can't say nyet to. Do I have any ideas? No. But then I'm not paid the big bucks to play foreign affairs chess. I wonder if our leaders have drunk so much Hollywood Kool-Aid about how violence is always on the side of the good guys, is the only way to win that they too don't know how to play the game skillfully like our former PM Pearson once did.

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