[email protected]

February 05, 2012, Sunday

Shadow of a new cold war

“Turkey does not want a new Cold War in the region,” Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said at the 2012 Munich Security Conference yesterday. But, given the mess caused by the double veto on the Syrian resolution in the UN Security Council, all the doors to it now seem to be wide open.

It was not, as Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov put it, a “scandal,” but rather a saddening “farce,” staged by his administration and assisted by China. It also opens the doors wide open for questioning more loudly whether or not the existing mechanisms of the UN for preventing human suffering and bloody tyrannies are of any validity at all. Currently, it only serves the powers to use Cold War mechanics to play the same sort of chess games of the last century. It is hard not to disagree with Davutoğlu’s remarks on the “nyet” side: “Russia and China did not vote based on existing realities but more as a reflex to [the] West. Veto power should not be used from this perspective.”

True, but it was done and in an obstinate, “in your face manner” about a text -- described eloquently by the Guardian’s Middle East editor Ian Black -- which “did not even call on Assad to hand power to his deputy, as Arab countries had demanded. Instead, it simply expressed support for a ‘Syrian-led’ political transition. It mentioned neither sanctions nor any other punitive action, or blocking arms deliveries -- Russia is Assad’s most important supplier.”

With two permanent powers acting in paranoia (for which the current president of France is chiefly to blame as he hijacked the control of events in Libya, thus irking Moscow and Beijing about ugly neo-colonialism) about losing their political and economic influence in the entire region, Russia and China have lifted the curtains for a threatening scene.

What sort of message will the veto send to the region? It will encourage Assad and his Baathist thugs to continue to massacre people. It should have made Teheran keener on pursuing its policies of divide and conquer in the region. The prospect of a vicious civil war next door will trigger further fear in Lebanon that it is very vulnerable to external shocks and internal turbulence. It has already created a pretext for Israel not to take any sides because its current interest paradoxically overlaps with Iran on this issue.

But, worst of all, it must have already made it clear to the fragile Syrian resistance that they are on their own, all alone in their heroic fight to overthrow the last Baathist regime on earth. The people of Homs and elsewhere will continue to put up a fight, as the world around simply watches.

But the conditions are much worse than the time the world watched in apathy the butchery in Bosnia and Kosovo. The EU is now a weak, inward looking power, without a reliable foreign policy compass. It has lost a considerable part of its ability as the game-setter and/or game-changer. With a toothless Arab League and (from the EU) a “sidelined” Turkey (by myopic Paris and Nicosia), the last hopes are now tied to Moscow to eventually cut a “deal.” A very weak prospect, in other words.

What the endgame will be is an entirely open question. Will Lavrov be able to persuade the Assad brothers to allow a soft transition, with what has taken place in Yemen as an inspiration?

Yemen and Syria are hardly comparable. We know, in good detail, through the accounts of the contacts between Turkey and Syria, that the last thing Bashar al-Assad wants to do is to leave his presidency. Nor will the thugs that keep him in “existential siege.” Their crime record is too full. Unlike Yemen, too much blood has been spilt and too much hatred sown in Syria; there will be no solution and no transition with either Assad or any of his Baathists having a place in the future. One cannot simply shake hands with murderers and go on as if nothing has happened. So let’s stick to realism. With Russia in the lead, expect only bloody delays and Iran creeping in to expand its influence. Trenches are being dug. Sides are being chosen. Prices will be paid. Human lives will be wasted. A new balance of terror is to be established, with threatening divides carved deeper, paving a way for regional warfare. In a sense, Syria, more than Yemen, resembles, more and more, Germany after World War II.

Previous articles of the columnist