Friday, March 22, 2013

Deal with the Devil

There is no political solution with this regime. There were no reforms coming in March 2011, and there was never going to be any hope of Assad leaving power without turning the country into rubble. A regime which is interested in a "political solution" and "dialogue" does not lock up and torture intellectuals and activists, such as Omar Aziz. Nor would it torture activists like Ghiath Mattar to death in its prisons after he gave flowers and water to soldiers during the initial peaceful protests in Syria.

The regime knows that time is on its side, and that the longer and more violent the conflict becomes, the likelier it will survive in some form. It exists only to exist, nothing more nor less. To this end, Assad has mobilized pseudo-activists, journalists and intellectuals to spin the conflict to death, transforming the discussion from one of a basic demand for freedom and dignity to a cataclysmic conflict between Sunnism and Shiism. The steady escalation of violence has not only destroyed vast swathes of the country, including the second city of Aleppo, but has also created the conditions necessary for extremist groups to thrive as well as general lawlessness. This has given his spin doctors further ammunition and has distracted from the fundamental issue, which is that his regime has breached or hijacked Syrian law and international human rights through massive abuses and extra-judicial murders, incarcerations and the indiscriminate use of weapons in civilian areas.

In spite of the steady loss of much of the country's periphery, Assad retains control of key choke points in the country, as well as much of the coast. He is applying what can only be described as a scorched earth policy against the country's mainly Sunni rural population. Throughout all this time, Assad's allies continue to arm him and provide his regime with the diplomatic cover necessary to carry on this policy unhindered. During this time the rebels have become fragmented because they have not been allowed the weapons necessary to fight Assad's regime effectively, and his air power and long range rockets have caused thousands of deaths. However, these sanctions have not stopped the more extremist and considerable elements fighting Assad, from gaining strength.

The reality is this. If the West does not want an Islamic emirate in Syria, or a failed state, then they have limited options. In the absence of a political solution or sincere dialogue they must either enforce a no-fly zone in the country, or allow the arming of the Syrian rebels, especially the remnants of the FSA, and they must do this before it is too late. Syria is not Iraq, and the regional politics are completely different now than they were ten years ago. This is not to say that non-state actors such as Hezbullah, militias from Iraq, or indirect Iranian support will not act as spoilers in a post-Assad Syria, as Iran and Assad's regime were in Iraq, but the presence of a strong rebel group that has already proven itself against the regime's soldiers will make such spoiler actions far more difficult in Syria.

At the moment Assad's game plan is to make Syria ungovernable and unfixable and he needs time in order to carry out this objective. He has almost accomplished this, and has managed to transform a peaceful protest movement for reform into a violent and sectarian conflict. The option is not to allow him to keep hold of the country, but to pry it from his fingers. For Assad there is no Syrian state outside of his regime, and therefore he is in a state of war with all Syrians who are opposed to his rule. The only time this regime will negotiate in sincerity is when the game is up, and so long as Russia provides the diplomatic cover necessary whilst Iran supplies the arms, then he will continue to play semantics.

There just isn't any other option for policy makers or the international community that I can think of apart from doing nothing, and that has led to the quagmire we have today.

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