|Bashar Al Asad speaking at the University of Damascus, January '12
Russia warned on Saturday that a "tragedy" was looming in Aleppo but also said it was unrealistic to expect that the government of Bashar Al Asad would stand by when armed rebels were occupying major cities. So massive arms and numerous government troops are heading into Aleppo, the largest and richest city in Syria. The US and its allies are calling for and may already be providing direct aid to the rebels in Syria, and are also backing the cause of outside military intervention, all of which has encouraged the rebels, despite the odds. All kinds of elements, admirable and dubious, are involved in the anti-Asad revolt, as are in the regime. By openly calling for the fall of that regime, the US has undermined Kofi Annan's peace effort, and that effort has been failing. Al Asad has regained control in Damascus, but his regime may not be long for this world. There's a consensus of Syria watchers inside and outside the country that he had a chance to remain in power that he may have lost this year by failing to take conciliatory actions that might have saved his image and mollified the general public, and that only diehards are going to stick with him in the days and weeks to come. Open defectors now include high level military officers and even the Syrian ambassador to Baghdad.
Obama's and Ms. Clinton's warnings to Syria that they're "watching" the regime closely mean nothing. Obama is merely echoing the exact words of Ehud Barak. Israel wants to foment disorder in the surrounding region, particularly Iran and Syria, knowing it has full US political and military backing in its hostile stand. Seymour Hersh has long chronicled Israel's secret efforts to plan further attacks on Syria with US cooperation, as well as the possibilities for an Israel-Syria peace pact. Israel might quite likely be behind the bomb attack that wiped out some of the Syrian government's main figures in one blow; so might Al Qaeda. Otherwise, the affair is a local one, but dangerous to the whole region. Because Syria was allied with Iran it was a write-off in the eyes of Washington, and so it went its own way, despite Bashar's interest in talking. The US's longtime distaste for Syria has been a missed opportunity to acquire a useful ally in the region and temper Israel's exceptionalism. It also means the US is out of touch with Syria, except to be planning aggression against it in collusion with its Israeli confreres.
Now there has been a direct push to intervene with NATO in Syria, as was done in Libya, supporting the rebel forces, fomenting more violence, and wrecking Kofi Annan's plan for peace. (Information about atrocities may again be unreliable). This is just as dubious a move in the one place as it was in the other. The "humanitarian disaster" justification and the claim of fostering "democracy" won't wash. There are too many "humanitarian disasters" the US ignores. In both cases intervention is transparently a way of increasing the US' and its allies' hegemony in strategic oil-rich regions.
To be sure, as with Libya, Syria poses a tough choice. Al Asad's regime has been ruling with an iron hand, and as the resistance has grown, it has committed atrocities against its own citizens. But the intervention alternative is worse. Unthinking supporters of US foreign policy think the invasion of Iraq was a rough job but somebody had to do it. In their eyes things got bad for in Iraq for a while, but it was all for the best and they have a democratic government now. Such thinkers look on Al Asad's downfall as a positive development. But if you look closer at Iraq and see the US's greatest Middle East policy disaster, you will see further disorder with the fall of Damascus. Syria too is a place that will fall into chaos if separate areas and cities are taken over by Sunnis, Shi'ites, Salafis, Kurds, Christians and Al Qaeda.
Washington certainly can make its own independent diplomatic mistakes but the continuing failure of US Middle East policies is often the result of the Israeli tail wagging the Washington dog -- while Israel moves ever further toward militarist paranoia. The opportunity to make a great peace with Iran, which might have led to positive US influence on Damascus, has consequently been lost. And so we have the situation today.
|Patrick Seal speaking on 'Democracy Now'
A peaceful alternative?
Patrick Seale, a British writer about Syria whose wife incidentally is the daughter of a former Syrian ambassador to Washington, is almost a lone voice in the West in insisting the Bashar Al Asad regime must be saved, if possible. In a recent article, "What Is Really Happening in Syria?" (July 19, 2012), he argues that mistakes have been made on both sides, meaning by implication atrocities committed. But he insists that outside forces supporting the rebels are making the situation worse. He points out that the fall of the regime would be bad for minorities, and thinks that even Lebanon and Jordan might not survive. Earlier Seale feared civil war in Syria "would destroy the country, as happened in Iraq, and could destabilise the whole Levant." He wants the opposing elements to sit down to negotiate.
Western leaders too rarely consider using their enormous power to bring about that kind of outcome. As Seale points out, Damascus' efforts to retain control of cities and regions within the country, which are seen as brutal from outside, aim to keep foreign powers from gaining a base to operate from and maintain stability. Seale urges the Western powers to unite with Russia and China to bring about a negotiated solution in the country. This may seem too optimistic. The US appears interested in using its clash with Russia over Syria as part of a reawakening of cold-war hostilities, or at least some Russian sources say so. Nonenetheless Syria poses a danger of regional destabilization, as Seale says, and dampening down hostilities there could be crucial to the stability of a wide area.
Vali Nasr of Johns Hopkins takes it as a given that Al Assad will fall, but asserts that supporting the opposition to bring down his regime is "the wrong goal." Nasr proposes that making solid arrangements for a "transition plan" of "post-Assad power-sharing" among all the elements would encourage Syrians still in Al Assad's "corner" to make way peacefully for a new government. Turkey would have to come on board, as well as Russia and China, and Iran would have to stop its unwavering support of Al Assad's regime. This too seems very optimistic.
Nasr parts from Seale in advocating foreign troops to "enforce the cease-fire" and protect Al Assad's minority supporters who have stuck with him for the security he has provided -- who, by the way, include Palestinians. It may be germane to mention that Nasr is an adviser to the Obama administratiobn. In that light he is unlikely to stick to advice that may displease Israel. Seale holds in a more recent article that what happened to Iraq suited Israel just fine. He describes Israel as "an expansionist and aggressive state which believes that its security is best assured, not by making peace with its neighbours, but by subverting, destabilising and destroying them with the aid of American power." This unfortunately seems to be the case.
In an column for Al Jazeera English, Larbi Sadiki of Exeter University is outspoken in opposition to Al Assad but against intervention. In forestalling that, he thinks Russia has prevented "a repeat of Libya" and encouraged the more desirable "self-liberation of the Syrian people" that means further suffering, but also the greater amount of time necessary to plan a new regime and avoid chaos and disorder after the government falls. Larbi is right in stressing that the Arab Spring must remain indigenous and has no real meaning otherwise. But it is a process and not an event, and a long slow one that succeeds more in some places than in others.
|After an explosion in Damascus