Tuesday, May 28, 2013
Can Europe Prevent a Generalized Middle East War?
Dear readers, once more the European Union has stepped up to an issue concerning the Middle East and the Arab Spring ahead of the United States. The EU announced Monday night that the general arms embargo against shipments to Syrian rebel forces has been lifted. From 1 June, EU member states will be able to decide individually whether to supply arms to the Syrian rebel coalition and its armed force, the Syria Free Army. European media commenting today believe that decisions to ship arms to the rebels may be made within days. EU foreign affairs leaders say the embargo was lifted to put pressure on President Bashar al-Assad's regime ahead of planned peace talks in Geneva mediated by the United States and Russia. British Foreign Secretary William Hague said the decision "sends a very strong message from Europe to the Assad regime." But the decision was far from unanimous and exposed the EU hesitation on sending arms to a foreign conflict only months after the 27-member bloc won the Nobel Peace Prize. No one is intending to "rock the boat" by sending arms immediately during the delicate period before the Geneva conference, according to Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, who said lifting the embargo was an effort to force Syria to participate in good faith at the "Geneva II" talks tentatively scheduled for June. The EU is also maintaining its stiff economic sanctions against al-Assad's regime, which also sends a message - to Russia. Moscow continues to support al-Assad and openly sends weapons regularly to the regime. EU arms deliveries could partially re-balance the civil war when it comes to firepower and this could level the playing field and force al-Assad into a negotiated settlement. As in the Libya insurrection, it has been Britain and France - the EU's largest military powers - pushing the EU and America, this time in Syria, to lift its embargo on delivery of weapons into Syria to help the out-gunned opposition. Austria, which has sent peacekeepers to the Golan Heights between Syria and Israel, was opposed. Several other EU countries argued that the region already has too many weapons. Everyone seemed to agree that everything possible should be done to control exports and make sure they do not fall into the hands of extremists or terrorists. Hague said Britain would only send in weapons "in company with other nations, in carefully controlled circumstances, and in compliance with international law." French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius returned to Paris Monday to meet with US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who are leading the effort to bring the two Syrian sides to the negotiating table. In Paris, officials traveling with Kerry had no comment on the EU arms decision. Meanwhile, on Monday US Senator John McCain, who has long proposed the arming of Syrian rebels, crossed into Syrian territory to meet with Syrian rebel leaders. The leader of the Military Council of the Free Syrian Army, who accompanied McCain across the Turkey-Syria border, asked him for increased US support, including heavy weapons, a no-fly zone and airstrikes on Syrian government and Hezbollah forces. McCain, who is a fierce critic of Obama administration policy in Syria, has never recommended sending US ground troops into the country, but he has called for a no-fly zone in addition to arming the rebel forces. Last week the US Senate Armed Services Committee, with a Democrat majority, sided with GOP Senator McCain in voting to arm and train vetted rebel groups. And on another front, France's Fabius added to the chemical weapons debate on Monday, saying there are increasing signs that chemical weapons are being used in the war by the al-Assad regime. Fabius said there are indications that the regime is mixing toxic gases with tear gas to camouflage their presence. ~~~~~ So dear readers, we are watching the world, and even his own Democrat Party, begin to pull away from the non-intervention Syria policy of President Obamma. But it is probably too late to salvage the results through intervention that Obama hoped for by his hands-off policy. The extremists are mingling with rebel forces; the death toll is fast approaching 80,000; and the war has spread into Lebanon with the active participation of Hezbollah; and Israel is endangered. Non-intervention did not work. Intervention comes late. All we can hope for now is that Europe's threat to arm the Syria rebels will bring al-Assad to a negotiation that leads to some sort of settlement before the real result of Obama's failed policy - a generalized Middle East war - sucks the entire world into its maelstrom.