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PARIS, THE NEW NORMAL? — Diana Johnstone files an in-depth report from Paris on the political reaction to the Charlie Hebdo shootings; The Treachery of the Black Political Class: Margaret Kimberley charts the rise and fall of the Congressional Black Caucus; The New Great Game: Pepe Escobar assays the game-changing new alliance between Russia and Turkey; Will the Frackers Go Bust? Joshua Frank reports on how the collapse of global oil prices might spell the end of the fracking frenzy in the Bakken Shale; The Future of the Giraffe: Ecologist Monica Bond reports from Tanzania on the frantic efforts to save one of the world’s most iconic species. Plus: Jeffrey St. Clair on Satire in the Service of Power; Chris Floyd on the Age of Terrorism and Absurdity; Mike Whitney on the Drop Dead Fed; John Wight on the rampant racism of Clint Eastwood’s “American Sniper;” John Walsh on Hillary Clinton and Lee Ballinger on the Gift of Anger.
Will Houla be the Turning Point?

Syria: How Strong Are Russian Ties?

by PATRICK COCKBURN

The expulsion of diplomats always looks like a weedy response to an atrocity, particularly one as outrageous as the murder of children at Houla. Unsurprisingly, news reports  about kicking out the diplomats yesterday often concluded mournfully that the move wouldn’t do much good.

This is true, but the presence or absence of diplomats is always symbolic. It increases the isolation of Syria, which will not in itself lead to the overthrow of the regime but will weaken it. Probably its most significant impact will be to sow doubts in the minds of Russian, Chinese and Iranian leaders about how much more political capital they want to spend to protect President Bashar al-Assad.

Before Houla, Syria was making some progress in persuading other powers that it was going to survive at least for the moment. The accusation that the ceasefire agreement reached by Kofi Annan was a smokescreen for doing nothing very effective in Syria was largely true. The Syrian authorities blithely ignored provisions about releasing detainees and allowing peaceful protests, but a military ceasefire left President Assad in control of much of the country.

It was in his interest to avoid any atrocity that would draw international attention. It is a measure of the lack of effective decision-making within the regime that they could not restrain their own forces. “Within the regime, there are divisions between the civilians, military and security,” believes one commentator in Damascus. “There is not a single authority ruling the state but clusters of authority within the leadership.”

Expulsion of diplomats ratchets up Syria’s pariah status. It may persuade Syrians and the rest of the region that President Assad is not going to last beyond the short term. The lack of diplomatic representation will not doom the leadership. But certain changes will take place. De-legitimisation at home and abroad will be greater; it be will easier for Saudi Arabia and others to arm the opposition.

Russia, meanwhile, is visibly uncomfortable at being portrayed as the crucial support of child killers. Opponents of President Assad hope that the Houla massacre will be the turning point, but this is not wholly certain.

PATRICK COCKBURN is the author of “Muqtada: Muqtada Al-Sadr, the Shia Revival, and the Struggle for Iraq.