Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Thoughts on "Plan B" for Syria

I read with interest the Qatari Foreign Minister's claim that there is a "Plan B" for Syria. The situation there at the moment can only be described as a bloody stalemate, but this does not mean that things are not happening in the background. Since the start of the Syrian revolution, events have progressed slowly and gradually, with ebbs and flows for both sides. I use the term progressed very loosely, but one need only ask their self how far Assad is today from the man who triumphantly toured parts of Homs early this year. The regime is on the back foot strategically, but not without support and not without the means to continue turning life into a living hell for Syrians.

Going back to the Qatari foreign minister's statement, the Plan B for Syria is some kind of safe haven, which would be a smart idea. The Syrian oppositions, at least the ones that are beyond redemption in the eyes of Assad, have been screaming for this since the start. Perhaps this is why the Free Syrian Army has reportedly decided to relocate its headquarters in Syria. The Idlib province and much around the city of Aleppo is now a no-go area for Assad's army, and it would make sense strategically if the first safe havens were situated in that part of the country. Again, you also notice that more and more members of the Syrian National Council are venturing across the border, with Radwan Ziadah having recently visited the country via one of the liberated border crossings. I suspect that a lot of the actions carried out by the FSA over the past few months have been to demonstrate their ability to operate successfully with the right level of support, as well as their current limitations. I don't think we'll be seeing Arab countries getting involved in Syria with their own military, but rather a spearhead being held by Syrian soldiers with greater logistical support from abroad, and possibly enforcement of a no-fly zone. In effect the Libyan model.

The safe haven would not just be a strategic asset for the Free Syrian Army, but also an initial toe-hold for a Syrian provisional government. This in effect would mean that some form of governance will actually exist on Syrian soil when Assad's regime falls, and this is probably to off-set any chaos that might erupt. Finally, an area where defected soldiers can gravitate to would also serve as a rock against which Assad's remaining forces can smash themselves against. All this, however, depends on how well the Free Syrian Army can carry itself on the field. If they manage to beat back Assad's air force, and I believe that they now have the means to do this, then this scenario is very possible.

On Assad's failure

I liked one response that the Qatari FM gave, which is that they are interfering in Syria because of Assad's failure, and that is true. Conspiracy theories not withstanding, the Qataris and Turks were friends of Assad, and initially they had tried to help him navigate through this crisis in the best way possible, which shows that the foreign policy concerns of both countries lie more with stability and a semblance of democratic reform than with actual political freedoms. Still, it seems that a line was crossed somewhere, and both countries incurred Assad's wrath, probably because they told him that somewhere down the line his hold on power will eventually loosen and disappear all together. Who knows? We may find out one day but not for many years but whichever way you look at this, the person solely responsible for the catastrophic state of affairs in Syria is Assad, and the blame ultimately rests on his shoulders alone. There were many people who made Hitler's horrors possible, but it was directly because of this one man that millions had died.

Al Akhdar Brahimi's mission is doomed to failure, in fact anything involving the UN security council is doomed to failure. This is because Assad's allies, particularly Russia and Iran, are not interested in any resolution in Syria that does not involve a complete crushing of the revolution. We have to remember that both of these countries have strong opposition movements that constantly threaten the status quo and their own regimes. Whether it is Putin or the Ayatollah's, the Achilles heel of these powerful regimes is an erosion of their populism. All the bare-chested pictures of Putin in the world will not save him if thousands upon thousands of Moscovites occupy the Red Square demanding that his government fall. That isn't going to happen, but it can, and this potentiality is what moves them to draw a line with Syria at the UN. It simply will not do to give countries in the West a diplomatic precedent for assisting in the toppling of an established dictatorship. That is unacceptable, and so concepts of national sovereignty are used as another tool in the great diplomatic poker game.

The International Divide

Fundamentally, and regardless of where you stand on international affairs and politics, there is a divide between the countries of the world that cannot be ignored. In some countries a citizen's rights are guaranteed and treated very seriously, in others they are not. Police brutality in the West can in no way be compared to what we have seen emerge from places like Assad's dungeon. This is not a developmental issue, and you do not need political reforms or "time" to teach your soldiers and law enforcement that it is wrong for them to electrocute, shoot and murder their fellow citizens. The United States invaded Iraq and toppled Saddam, and from a legal and moral point of view that is something to be condemned, but Guantanamo, Abu Ghreib and the war in Iraq were election issues for which US government officials were answerable, even if nominally. The ghosts of these adventures continue to haunt men like Bush and Blair. The same cannot be said for Iranian and Syrian official's involvement in turning Iraq into a bloodbath, or for Syria's occupation and exploitation of Lebanon for almost thirty years. Assad does not trouble himself with minor issues such as torture, or systematic murder by his armed forces. He is happy, however, to delegate responsibility for everything bad done in his name.

This is the key fallacy at the heart of any argument made by supporters of Assad when they cite issues of state sovereignty. Fundamentally there is no state in such countries. A state in the modern sense must be operate under the rule of law and not be that law, in effect such countries are under the rule of state and not the rule of law. This is not to say that Western countries are paragons of such state models, but only a fool would morally equate the behavior of such governments with the actions of a country like Syria, Saddam or Maliki's Iraq, or Iran. When people express their outrage at the West, you will usually find that the source of much of their anger is the foreign policy of such countries, and not the domestic politics. Yet for those who claim to be anti-imperialists, we find the reverse. It is the foreign policy of countries such as Iran and Syria which is the basis of their support, but strangely there is very little concern with domestic politics and freedom of expression. Ironically the loudest and most outspoken of these anti-imperialists also live in the West. So what should one make of this? A paradox emerges that cannot be ignored, and it fundamentally undermines even the most eloquent arguments in support of Assad's regime.

Lessons from History

The "Plan B" of a safe haven in Syria will have to be outside the remit of the United Nations, and this is not because of the failure of that institution to find a solution, but because a solution has been made impossible by member states that are not interested in one. The implications of this are for international lawyers to untangle, but international relations today is closer to the realist theoretical model than at any time since the end of the Second World War. The Syrian revolution has polarized the world even more than the Iraq invasion of 2003, and in many ways we would not be far in drawing analogies with the Spanish civil war. To have supported the Republicans does not mean one was pro-Western, but to have supported Franco one would definitely have to have supported fascism.

Today, when we see the mass rallies organised by Hezbullah in protest at a Youtube video insulting the prophet of Islam, we see a tendency in the so-called resistance axis towards fascist politics. A leader, a fatherland, an Other that must be destroyed, and a complete disregard towards legality and democracy. Those that opposed fascism in Republican Spain did so out of principle, and were crushed between the dictatorial lunacy of Stalin, the fascism of their enemies, and the hypocrisy of Western governments. The Syrian body politic has been infected with this disease for over forty years, and we are now paying the price for our parents' indifference to morality.

When this psychological condition, with its demand for utter subservience, takes root in a country, then the price of removing seems to be in direct contrast to the simple manner in which it first emerges. Today, Syria's martyrs number in the tens of thousands, yet one asks how simple it would have been for somebody to have said no to political dictatorship, or to have resisted the urge to subvert laws in order to do good, or to not step over somebody's freedoms "just once", or maybe just to have spoken up when they saw something wrong.

The pictures of dead Syrians weigh heavily on my mind, and their lifeless eyes stare at me as if asking that same question. Why? Why didn't anybody say anything when it was easier, when all this could have been avoided? I don't have the answer to that. To paraphrase one poet, in Syria the dead are more alive than the dead of any other country in the world.


mgb said...

أخي ميسلون

There is one more reason for the West's dilly-dallying on action in Syria -a cynical one I admit, but it does deserve looking into: they would not mind seeing the place totally destroyed where neither side would be able to come out victorious or with any strength left. It would result in a Syria that fits the neo-con model of a never-ending war on terror (al-Qaeda's presence there serves both Assad's and the neo-cons' cause). Israel would of course love it too, what's better than a weak, disorganized and chaotic Syria that is self destructing?

This may sound as if I am buying into Assad's "conspiracy against us" claims; far from it. I want the bastard and his thugs to go to hell and never come back, but one cannot deny that the US and the west are taking advantage of a situation that's been presented to them on a silver platter so as to achieve long-hoped ends.

Maysaloon said...

I agree with you completely. The tragedy is that if somebody tries to tackle this subject then it is always at the risk of being perceived as a supporter of Western countries' foreign policy for the region. It is a difficult and tortuous path that must be tread.

Anonymous said...

I think it might have to do with what 'the West' is seeing in Libya, Egypt, Tunisia etc, namely feral fundamentalists running riot. Given that they were not as prominent in the battles to topple those respective regimes, and are now such a pain, I think it's reasonable to assume that thousands of similar feral fundamentalists doing their bit in fighting Assad will not go quiet after regime falls.

As for realism, I'm not so sure, evidently you have more than one hegemon, with each pushing it own agenda. Personally, all the IR theories that came to be during the course of the Cold War, and in most cases as responses to it, became void with the collapse of the USSR, since none could predict it, what with being sucked up in their own discourse.

eatbees said...

I just want to say how much I appreciate these sane and moral analyses of the Syrian situation that you do. As a Westerner opposed to hegemonic politics such as Iraq-style interventions and drone wars, but also profoundly dissapointed by the so-called anti-imperialist discourse (because I despise dictatorships), it's refreshing to hear from an "actual Syrian" who is able to tread the line between the two, and provide a clear picture of how to support what remains a popular revolution with democratic aspirations.

Syria is the Gordian knot of the Arab revolutions, with outside powers from Qatar and Turkey to Iran and Russia to NATO and the U.S. mucking around there to pursue their interests. But it is the Syrian people who started this and will finish it. Ultimately Assad will fall, and Syria will be free to define its relations with neighbors near and far according to the aspirations of its own people. I'm looking forward to that day.

Maysaloon said...

Thanks Eatbees! One does one's best :)