If the United States is so convinced that the Bashar al Assad regime used chemical weapons on the opposition in Syria, why is it not sharing the evidence with the UN, Vladimir Putin, anybody? Putin says he will support military action against the regime if he sees clinching evidence that Assad used chemical weapons. But Barack Obama will not oblige.
It is possible that Obama is bluffing. But there is a bluff and there is a bluff. Deepawali is round the corner and there will be that audacious gambler who will keep tossing chips onto the table even if he, or she, has only one ace in his hand. But the gambler will make nonsense of the game if, on a weak hand, he keeps moving until the bank breaks and the Casino shuts down. At this stage, the gambling metaphor fails. Now another game begins, the game of Mind over Matter. It does not matter what evidence Washington has.
Whatever the evidence, the entire American establishment is under great pressure to find an excuse, (OK, let it be chemical weapons) to act militarily in Syria. What could this urgency be?
Completely out of character with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which glides through diplomatic corridors with so much stealth, the frenetic diplomatic style of the intelligence chief, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, has been something of a vigorous Tandav. He has been darting around from capital to capital like a globule of sodium on water. Sources suggest he has been imploring Washington to give him a month to alter the situation on the ground inside Syria, after which Moscow can be brought into play towards some settlement.
On a tight leash
He turned up in Moscow, held Putin’s hand and said he would sign lucrative arms deals, give him all he wanted in oil, gas, pipelines, new hydro carbon discoveries, pricing, the works. And, the piece de resistance, Saudis would keep Chechen extremists on a tight leash so that the Sochi Olympic Games can be held peacefully.
“We control the Chechen extremists”. All this, and more would be delivered unto Moscow if only Moscow co-operated on Syria and supported Gen. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in Egypt. And, Bandar added, all that he was laying out on the table had America’s blessing. It was like Prophet Mohammad claiming that whatever he said was as Allah’s Messenger. The distillate from Bandar’s exertions in Moscow are: help us in Damascus and Cairo and we shall give you the keys to paradise.
A revealing moment at the heated hearing in the Republican controlled House of Representatives on Tuesday was when Secretary of State, John Kerry turned to the bench behind him and pointed to “Robert Stephen Ford, our ambassador in Syria”. I rubbed my eyes with disbelief. I could swear on oath that exactly a month ago I had seen John Kerry appoint the very same Robert Stephen Ford as the ambassador to Cairo to replace Ambassador Anne Patterson who had been too closely identified with Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood.
What is happening is this. For the Alif Laila world of West Asia, Americans have identified a handful of foreign service officers who are a cross between Arabists and the Special Services, a poor man’s T E Lawrence. When Morsi was dramatically ousted from Cairo, Ford it was who surfaced as ambassador for the crisis. But as soon as Damascus needed urgent attention, he reverted to Damascus. There he was, right behind Kerry at the Congressional hearing.
But, again that overwhelming question. Why did Obama not act when the chemical weapons Red Line was crossed earlier? Kerry explained to the Congressmen, because the President had not changed his policy then. That precisely is the point. Why has Obama changed his policy now? What is the urgency?
The urgency arouse the day the Saudis rushed in with $ 12 billion as a gift for Gen. Sisi for having toppled the Muslim Brotherhood and a Saudi-Qatar split became imminent. The Brothers are a Sunni version of the Ayatullahs in Tehran, both ideologically opposed to monarchies, a nightmare for the Saudis, jointly or separately.
Qatar, Hamas, Turkey were a strong coalition of the Brothers focused on Syria and are now in disarray. As it is Kerry was embarrassed at the hearing to list the ‘34 countries and groups’ supporting US military action. Where has it fled, the Atlantic Alliance? “I shall give you a written list” said Kerry, sheepishly.
A very real, regional coalition for change in Syria is about to splinter because of differences over Egypt. A joint military action would be the glue to keep this coalition together. That is why Bandar is counting his worry beads. Obama, Hamlet like, is holding aloft a scroll of the Valiant 34, like Yorick’s skull: “To be or not to be...”