Organizing Notes

Bruce Gagnon is coordinator of the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space. He offers his own reflections on organizing and the state of America's declining empire....

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Location: Bath, Maine, United States

I grew up in a military family and joined the Air Force in 1971 during the Vietnam War. It was there that I became a peace activist.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

For Russia, escalation is the enemy



Syria has won the war. Israeli missiles change nothing

The war against foreign-backed terrorist in Syria is all but over. Russia understands this – and has acted accordingly
 
By Edward Slavsquat

Authoritative and well-respected commentators on Russia and Syria are up-in-arms: Moscow has betrayed Damascus and Tehran by allowing the United States and Israel to strike Syria with impunity. To add insult to injury, Benjamin Netanyahu was Vladimir Putin’s guest at the Victory Day parade in Moscow on May 9. This can mean only one thing, or so we’ve been told: The Russians are two-faced and spineless, Putin is weak and indecisive – and so forth.

From my perch here in Moscow – and as someone who works in Russian media – I must confess that I don’t share the same grim interpretation of recent events. Incidentally, neither does Bashar Assad – and if anyone should feel betrayed by Russia’s lack of S-400-launching, or S-300-providing, or Netanyahu’s apostate presence on Red Square, it should probably be Syria’s president. After all, the Americans and Israelis are dreaming to put Assad’s head on a pike. Surely, Assad must feel at least a little bit betrayed by Russia?

Maybe. But in an interview conducted in the aftermath of Israel’s missile strikes against “Iranian” targets in Syria earlier this month, Assad used a different word to describe Moscow’s posturing: Wise.

Here’s the exchange:

               Q: Are you worried about a third world war starting here in Syria? I mean, you have the Israelis hitting the Iranians here in your own country. You have the Russians, you have the Americans. Are you concerned about that possibility?

           
Assad: No, for one reason: Because fortunately, you have a wise leadership in Russia, and they know that the agenda of the deep state in the United States is to create a conflict.



               Since Trump’s campaign, the main agenda was against Russia, create a conflict with Russia, humiliate Russia, undermine Russia, and so on. And we’re still in the same process under different titles or by different means. Because of the wisdom of the Russians, we can avoid this … And I hope we don’t see any direct conflict between these superpowers, because that is where things are going to get out of control for the rest of the world.


As for Moscow’s view on the brewing conflict between Iran/Hezbollah and Israel, I will defer to Russian statesman Konstantin Kosachev, who chairs the Federation Council’s International Affairs Committee:


            We are absolutely categorically against the strengthening of military activity in this area and   not only because our troops are now there. Any escalation would put an additional burden on the shoulders of the Syrian people (as well as everyone else in the region), will lead to new victims, and will hardly bring notable dividends to any of the sides. Only extremists (there are already media reports that militants tried to exploit the Israeli missile attacks and capture Syrian army positions near the city of Al-Ba’ath in the Golan Heights) and opponents of peace in the Middle East can win.


He then sums up Moscow’s position quite elegantly: “For Russia there is no enemy in the Iranian-Israeli confrontation, for the enemy is the confrontation itself.”

Not long ago I interviewed a Duma deputy about Russia’s stance on the current precarious situations in Syria and East Ukraine. He invoked a common saying here in Russia: “A bad peace is better than a good war.”

The Russian military is not an errand boy tasked with righting all the wrongs in the Middle East – however unjust and intolerable they may be. Moscow has only one objective in Syria: To end the conflict and restore regional stability. When necessary, this goal has been pursued through military means. But de-escalation is the goal, and Moscow has shown again and again that it prefers ceasefires and humanitarian corridors over air strikes. The reason for this is plain: Protracted war is destabilizing. So is needlessly escalating a war against foreign-backed jihadists that has been all but won.

Although your Facebook acquaintances may suggest otherwise, the United States, Israel, Saudi Arabia, space lizards, whoever – none of these foreign actors are currently in a position to fundamentally change the reality on the ground in Syria. Russia realizes this. So does Assad.

Russia will always have the threat of S-300 deliveries to Syria as a major bargaining chip. Why up the ante now? Is the occasional Israeli missile strike – although illegal and abhorrent – turning the tide of the war? Nein.

If we are to believe recent media reports, Russia has repeatedly given the Syrian military a heads-up about impending Israeli attacks inside Syria. The very fact that Israel has reportedly agreed to inform Russia ahead of such strikes shows that Tel Aviv understands that Moscow is showing restraint, not weakness, in Syria. If Israeli strikes ever pose an existential threat to Syria, rest assured that Russia will act accordingly.

But if you think that Russia is interested in helping Syria settle old scores with Israel – buckle up for a lifetime of disappointment. Even indirectly supporting Syria in a conflict against Israel would be like pouring water on grease fire that was nearly contained. Just … why? What purpose would it serve?

Yes, Netanyahu was Putin’s guest at the Victory Day parade; and yes, on a day which commemorates the 25 million Russians who died during the Great Patriotic War, the Israeli prime minister really did suggest that Iran is a modern-day Nazi Germany.

But are we really so thin-skinned? I sometimes wonder if westerners – Americans in particular – have forgotten what diplomacy looks like, and what it entails. If diplomacy always produced good optics for domestic or international consumption, more people would be doing it.

Critics will characterize Putin’s posturing as naive, and point out that the United States and Israel are hell-bent on prolonging and expanding the conflict. Okay, but doesn’t this mean that escalating the conflict would be a massive Hanukah present to Israel? Since when was the anti-war Left (or Right) so eager to “get it on”? To its credit, Russia isn’t rubbing its nipples in hot anticipation of a Middle East apocalypse. If war is inevitable – so be it. But in the meantime, we should be rooting for a bad peace – not a good war.

To those still fantasizing about Russian anti-air systems vaporizing US and Israeli jets over Syria: Let’s hope your wet dream never comes true – because it would snatch certain defeat from the jaws of imperfect victory.

Edward Slavsquat is an American journalist living in Moscow. He works for a Russian media outlet.

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