17 February 2012

On Syria

Three articles on Syria these days that should not be missed. First, Diana Johnstone's take at CounterPunch, the most interesting part of which reads:
"Last month, on this site Aisling Byrne called attention to results of a public opinion poll funded by no less than the Qatar Foundation, which cannot be suspected of working for the Assad regime, given the Qatar royal family’s lead position in favor of overthrowing that regime. The key finding was that “while most Arabs outside Syria feel the president should resign, attitudes in the country are different. Some 55% of Syrians want Assad to stay, motivated by fear of civil war – a specter that is not theoretical as it is for those who live outside Syria’s borders. What is less good news for the Assad regime is that the poll also found that half the Syrians who accept him staying in power believe he must usher in free elections in the near future.”"

"This indicates a very complex situation. Syrians want free elections, but they prefer to have Assad stay in power to organize them. This being the case, the Russian diplomatic efforts to try to urge the Assad regime to speed up its reforms appear to be roughly in harmony with Syrian public opinion."
For all the comical moral indignation of the United States and associated powers over Russia vetoing a proposed UNSC resolution condemning Assad it is Russian diplomatic efforts which are in rough harmony with the Syrian public opinion, which is to say with the desires of moderates and regular people who are stuck in the crossfire between the two warring camps and fear the consequences of chaos and further polarization. They aim to reach what a seems a  reasonable compromise that would deliver something to everyone but the fiercest partisans of government and opposition, and furthermore could offer a way out that is highly preferable to the likely alternative.

It remains to be seen if the two are really connected, but with the Syrian government announcing willingness to adopt a liberalizing constitution it may be the efforts of Moscow are already bearing first fruit.

USA's insistence this is an all-or-nothing affair, apparent from its egging on the insurrectionists and its refusal to accept anything less but for the Syrian regime to momentarily dismantle itself, meanwhile works to frustrate the possibility of compromise reform and to escalate violence that is already threatening to develop into a civil war.

Next, Pepe Escobar at Asia Times Online has more on what strata of Syrian's make up the 55% that is more uneasy about the opposition, or the prospect of chaos than Assad:
"Assad can count on the army (no defections from the top ranks); the business elite and the middle class in the top cities, Damascus and Aleppo; secular, well-educated Sunnis; and all the minorities - from Christians to Kurds and Druze. Even Syrians in favor of regime change - yet not hardcore Islamists - refuse Western sanctions and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)-style humanitarian bombing."
Having in mind what the aftermath of the overthrow of Moammar Gaddafi and Saddam Hussein meant for black African migrant workers in Libya and the Christians of Iraq, unease felt by minorities in Syria is all too understandable. According to a recent report of the 1.4 million strong Christian community in Iraq a mere one hundred forty thousand remain. The willingness of certain circles in America to toy with the fates of ancient but vulnerable minority communities in Syria and the millions of people that form them for the cheap and dubious thrill of opposing a Middle East dictatorship from a safe, air-conditioned cubicle on the other side of the Atlantic that is most unlikely to feel the fallout of economic strangulation, humanitarian bombs, marauding criminals, Islamist repression and Salafi terror known to accompany or follow in the wake of American meddling is utterly reprehensible.

Finally, Patrick Cockburn also at CounterPunch:
"...anti-government forces are concluding that the only way to do this is by militarizing the resistance. In practice, this is unlikely to do more than increase sectarian blood-letting. Untrained militias and Syrian army deserters cannot stop armored columns. Most probably insurgent leaders know this and their real intention is to do enough militarily to provide political cover for creeping international intervention on their side. This might be sold as a NATO -protected safe haven for insurgents and refugees in north-west Syria, but in fact would be a declaration of war."

"Short of a serious split in the Syrian army, the opposition forces’ best chance of success is to lure outside powers into such a venture. They want a repeat performance of what happened in Libya. The rag-tag militiamen who finally captured Tripoli would have been beaten in a few days without close air support from NATO."
It can not be pointed often enough that for the insurrectionists in Syria to bring down the Syrian Baathist dictatorship with their own efforts alone represents merely their plan B. Plan A is to secure a foreign intervention on their behalf. Therefore it should always be kept in mind their guiding principle in most of what they do and in all of what they say is whether doing so advances the goal of internationalizing their conflict with Assad. This makes the crisis in Syria most unlike a conventional rebellion that is its own purpose, but one that follows the Kosovo model where the insurrection is nothing so much as play-acting intended to invite great power crack down against a peaceful nation.

If anything the calls for foreign intervention of the leadership of Kosovo Albanians were easier to relate to seeing they wanted a crack down against a nation not their own, whereas the insurrectionists in Syria wish economic blockade and American military action upon their own countrymen. Model patriots the Syrian Islamist oppositionists are not.

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