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Commentary: Mixed signals from Moscow

By ARNAUD DE BORCHGRAVE, UPI Editor at Large   |   Oct. 2, 2013 at 7:38 AM   |   Comments

WASHINGTON, Oct. 2 (UPI) -- In the realm of geopolitics, the U.S. federal shutdown was good news for Russian leaders and worrisome for China's.

In Beijing, Chinese leaders, for the time being, don't wish to rock the boat of economic relations with the United States.

In Moscow, speculation runs rampant that U.S. President Barack Obama might attempt to extricate himself from a domestic crisis by launching airstrikes against Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces.

Some Russian topsiders are hoping the United States does get involved in Syria, speculating such an operation is bound to end badly for the Obama administration.

The chairman of the foreign affairs committee of the Russian Parliament, Alexey Pushkov, says "It's only a question of time" before Obama orders some kind of action against the Assad regime in Syria.

Why Obama would risk jeopardizing a recent agreement with Russia to get the Syrian regime to turn over its stocks of chemical weapons to U.N. custody isn't explained.

For the Russian government daily Rossiskaya Gazeta, the geostrategic mistakes of Yugoslavia in 1999, Iraq in 2003 and Libya in 2011 are bound to be repeated in Syria.

The Russian analysis doesn't include the Kremlin's decision to invade Afghanistan on Christmas Eve 1979 triggering a 10-year war that led to the breakup of the Soviet Union.

What is becoming increasingly clear is that Assad wasn't behind the Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack in an eastern suburb of Damascus. The evidence gathered by U.N. inspectors may lead to pro-al-Qaida operatives in the resistance movement.

The purpose of such an operation would be to further discredit Assad's regime and sabotage peace talks.

Russia is playing its Syrian hand deftly and prudently. It warned the Obama administration that U.S. military intervention would have "catastrophic consequences" for the entire region by giving radical Islam a winning hand.

But some Russian voices objected to the softer tone of the men in the Kremlin. Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin tweeted that the West "is playing with the Islamic world like a monkey with a grenade."

Some newspapers criticized Russian leaders as overly prudent.

Komsomolskaya Pravda, a mass circulation tabloid, warned, "If optimists in the Pentagon believe that Russia will limit itself to warnings and expressions of anger, like it did over Iraq and Yugoslavia, they may well be mistaken ... Times have changed. There's too much at stake and Moscow won't retreat ... Who'll cave first -- Putin or Obama?"

Next to the Russian media's fire-and-brimstone warnings, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had made clear that Russia has "no plans to go to war with anyone."

The Syrian civil war, with its influx of foreign fighters, including a powerful contingent of pro-al-Qaida combatants, many of them recruited online, have led some Russian commentators to predict Moscow will soon be increasing weapons supplies to Syria.

At the same time, Russia will be negotiating still closer ties with Iran coupled with a cut back on areas of cooperation with the United States, some Russian experts said.

Before increasing aid to Syria's underground resistance, U.S. intelligence should nail down beyond the shadow of a doubt the true identity and plans of the underground resistance. Or at least of the commanders of units they are dealing with.

During the recent four-day siege of Nairobi's Westgate shopping mall, al-Shabaab jihadists "raped, tortured, beheaded, dismembered, castrated, gouged out eyes, amputated fingers and hung hostages on hooks from the roof," a forensic medical doctor in Kenya told FrontPageMagazine.com, a conservative online magazine edited by David Horowitz and published by the Freedom Center in Los Angeles.

For jihadists -- or "holy warriors" -- these were ritual killings "consistent with a growing global jihadist MO (modus operandi)," writes FrontPage's Dawn Perlmutter. "Similar acts of torture, rape, beheading and mutilation regularly occur in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Egypt, Syria and other countries," says Perlmutter.

"Islamist mutilation," she writes, "entails a specific kind of ritualistic crime; a collective, provocative and incendiary desecration of the enemy. Mujahedeen throughout the world expend extra effort brutalizing the enemies of Islam, including women and children ... They have to be analyzed in the context of Islamist honor and shame ... an irrepressible impulse to alleviate shame and a sacred duty to restore honor, serve vengeance, preserve purity, maintain tradition and save face ..."

From a Western behavioral science perspective, says Perlmutter, "torture, murder and mutilation are categorized as pathological acts of violence," From the jihadist worldview "these seemingly inexplicable acts of violence are neither random nor pathological ..."

Perlmutter also argues that for Islamist extremists, "the blood of enemies washes away dishonor, disrespect and the Western impurities that have polluted Islam."

Victims of torture and mutilations are also potential witnesses to jihadists' "unspoken and often imagined shame."

In Somalia, jihadists gouged out the hostages' eyes or cut off parts of a person's face such as lips, ears and most often the nose.

Tongues were also cut out to silence opponents. Male-on-male rape was designed to turn the victim into a make-believe woman, which in a homophobia culture is a form of extreme humiliation.

As in prison culture, the victim becomes the culprit.

The United States is in danger of getting involved on the wrong side in Syria's civil war, now in its third year with about 120,000 killed and three times that number injured and countless thousands homeless.

Taking on the Damascus-Tehran-Moscow axis at this late stage in Syria's civil war would put the United States in the same camp as AQAM -- al-Qaida and its associated movements. This would also jeopardize negotiations with Iran aimed at abandoning its quest for nuclear weapons.

© 2013 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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