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  February 8, 2012

US, Saudis and Russia Vie for Influence in Post-Assad Syria

Hamid Dabashi: Russian position more reasoned but share US interest in maintaining Syrian military dictatorship without Assad
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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Paul Jay in Washington.

In Syria, the situation intensifies. The foreign minister of Russia is there for talks. The Gulf Cooperation Council countries have not only withdrawn their own ambassadors, but have kicked out Syrian ambassadors from their countries. Other, European countries have withdrawn their representation. Now joining us from New York City to talk about all of this is Hamid Dabashi. Hamid teaches at Columbia University. Thanks for joining us, Hamid.


JAY: So, first of all, what's your sense of what's happening there?

DABASHI: My sense is that the continued carnage is going apace. Who exactly is killing whom is a subject of debate. Obviously, governmental forces are severely crashing [sic], both in Hama and in Homs. But obviously there is armed resistance, which indicates there must be one of two things or a combination of both: defection in the army, and arming of the opposition by people interested in this sort of further violence of the confrontation.

But the diplomatic scene, I think, is more indicative of what is happening. As you know, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Cooperation Council initiated a machination through the Arab League in order to force Bashar al-Assad out. It didn't work, and they took the thing to the United Nations, and as you know, the Russians vetoed it.

Now, we have had lots of hot air between United States and Russia, United States accusing Russia of giving Syrians a license to kill, or they have blood on their hands, or that they are disgusted with Russia—this coming from the country that has vetoed anything against Israel for generations. If we reverse the vocabulary, obviously, one might read it as United States having given Israel license to kill.

But it is important to read the Russian reaction in their veto in the United Nations in the context of the more general frame of Arab Spring. The Russians were left out of the post-Gaddafi deal in Libya, and this time around they have no intention of post-Assad scenario. So both Islamic Republic of Iran and Russia have their own vested interest in keeping Assad in power, or, if Assad is to go, for the Russians—Russians have no problem letting go of Assad, so far as they have a say, they have a benefit, something to come their way in the aftermath of Assad.

That's where we stand now. That is, the geopolitics of the region is United States, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Gulf Cooperation Council, and the Arab League is on one side; Syria and Iran and Hezbollah is on the other side.

JAY: Now, if you look at the substance of the Russian veto, it's not being discussed in what I think is enough detail in most of the Western media, because it seems to me the Russian position was not so unreasonable. They said that, one, if you're going to ask Syrian troops to withdraw from the neighborhoods and towns and go back to their barracks, you have to ask the defecting troops to do the same thing, and all the arms groups need to get out of the confrontation zones. And no one talked that that's what Russia was saying. And the other piece of the Russian veto was saying it's not up to the United Nations to tell Syria they need to move towards any specific political system. The resolution specifically called for moving towards a multiparty democracy and all of this sort of thing. So it seems to me the Russian position was actually fairly measured, but it's being portrayed in the Western media as if support for this vicious dictatorship.

DABASHI: Yeah, and I read what you're reading of how Russian position is being kind of taken out of proportion. But it doesn't mean that the Russians have the best interests of the Syrian people in heart. The Russians want to have a piece of post-Assad scenario. And, yes, United States puts a different spin on it, but so do the Russians.

Remember, Paul, we have to keep our eyes on the ball. What is the ball? The ball is the peaceful democratic uprisings of Syrians for their democratic rights, for a post-Assad scenario. And it is the Assad regime itself that initially began turning this violent and severely cracking down. And as a result, after eight months of severe crackdown and civilian casualties, obviously, the resistance has gone militant and picked up arms and started fighting. That's the basic scenario.

Now, then comes the geopolitics of the region and the interest of the U.S., Israel, Saudi Arabia, etc., that wants to take advantage of this situation. In this particular regard, Paul, in my judgment, the Russian interests and American interests are identical. They won't mind a scenario in which you have a figurehead like Bashar al-Assad is chopped off, just like in Egypt or in Tunisia and Libya, so far as the body of the junta, the state apparatus, remains the same, that they have a control over it. What is—they don't want the cat out of the bag that there is really a freefall of democratic possibilities, which is both chaotic and more promising. They want to control it. And if in this control it means the chopping off the head of Bashar al-Assad, neither U.S. nor Russia will mind.

JAY: Now, in terms of the level of the conflict, there seems to be—first of all, Turkey seems to be supporting this thing called the Free Syrian Army. Other sections of the army have defected, probably with arms. But there also—as you just suggested, there's outside forces are certainly playing here and instigating various forms of armed struggle there or supporting it. What do you make of this kind of mix of this kind of legitimate resistance against the dictatorship mixed up with what now, according to The Guardian, are fighting factions coming from the military, where they're kind disputing who's going to lead the armed struggle?

DABASHI: Again, first and foremost I blame Bashar al-Assad. It is very important to remember, as we did with Libya, that when Syrians began demonstrating, it was a peaceful demonstration. It was Bashar al-Assad who made it violent. Now that it has been made violent, I have absolutely no doubt Americans, Europeans, Israelis, and Saudis are arming, are directly involved in the opposition, trying to tilt [it] to their benefit. So, again, we have to keep in mind that this used to be a peaceful uprising. The more it becomes violent, the more U.S. and its regional allies become involved and the more they will try to control it and the more they will try to abuse the humanitarian crisis that has been generated to their advantage.

It is very important for your viewers, Paul, to know that this same president who seems very concerned about the humanitarian crisis in Syria, has imposed crippling sanctions on Islamic Republic (which means—even New York Times today reported—directly creating a humanitarian crisis among 75 million human beings in Iran who are directly being—suffering the consequences of these crippling sanctions), is not in a moral position to say, oh, they care about the humanitarian crisis in Syria. They are trying to take advantage of this humanitarian crisis for their own advantage. But, again, we must hold Bashar al-Assad chiefly responsible for turning these peaceful demonstration into a violent confrontation.

JAY: Now, Lavrov, the foreign minister of Russia, is in Syria as we speak. He's trying, he says, to push some kind of strategy that would cause some kind of cease-fire negotiations rather than simply isolating the Assad regime. I take what you say about Russia having its own agenda here, especially given how Syria has been sort of a long-term traditional ally of sorts of Russia. But what do you make—seems—Lavrov's position here?

DABASHI: Paul, I think Lavrov, Sergei Lavrov, will probably have a better-case scenario of some sort of the resolution to this than the gung ho diplomacy of U.S. and its regional allies to create some [snip] Bashar al-Assad's neck will be saved, but a more peaceful transition to democracy will happen. But the fact of the matter is, I think, whatever Bashar al-Assad promises Lavrov is a bit—too little too late. That is, the level of tension and violence that he has been instrumental in generating, of this violence that is being generated on the scene, and for which [inaud.] are chiefly responsible, in my judgment, in my reading of the situation, is too far along for Lavrov to be able to negotiate a peaceful transition or negotiation, which was possible maybe, you know, five, six months ago when you had some leading Syrian intellectuals gathering in a hotel in Damascus and negotiating. But Bashar al-Assad didn't listen, didn't deliver, and demonstrations continued and violent crackdown continued.

So I think that the best that Russia will get out of this is their own share in the aftermath of Assad. And the dynamic of the tension within Syrian society at this point, after so many sacrifices, is such that symbolically they want to see Bashar al-Assad go. But would that mean a peaceful transition to democracy for Syrian people? Absolutely not, given the machinations of the [U.S.] and its regional allies and Russia and its regional allies. They will try to have the apparition of a revolution—the head of the state has gone, but the structure of the state remaining intact, on the model of Egypt—so they can continue to have their manipulation.

Again, quick cuts to Egypt. Look at Egypt. The Saudi financed Salafis and Muslim Brotherhood is in control of the Parliament, and the U.S.-controlled army is still perfectly intact, and as a result, the collusion of interests of U.S. and Saudis have—are controlling the consequences of the Egyptian Revolution. Something like that scenario (this time with the involvement of the Russians) they want to have for the post-Assad Syria, which they may succeed actually in doing. But would that mean an actual collapse of the regime, as their slogan demands? Absolutely not. So the struggle, the open-ended revolution will continue.

JAY: Thanks for joining us, Hamid.

DABASHI: Thanks, Paul. Anytime.

JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.


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