Making sense of Syria

I have so many questions swirling around my head about what’s been happening in Syria. One is why the AK government in Turkey didn’t take my great advice and play a leadership role in trying to broker a serious, negotiated transition to democracy in Syria, but instead has been giving ever stronger support to the Syrian opposition. (So far, my main answer to that is that the AK is probably quite serious about pursuing a strongly Sunni-ist agenda, which seems to over-ride all the many Realpolitik-al and other reasons why positioning itself as a powerful mediator would have made more sense.)
Perhaps their motivation really was, in their minds, overwhelmingly a pro-democracy one, based on the demographic weight of Sunnis in the Syrian population. But in that case, surely they should have been eager (as an outside power) to put the opposition’s democratic claims to the test as soon as possible, that is, by working proactively with all concerned parties to negotiate the terms for a truly democratic election in Syria? Certainly, if they had done that, then they would have had a lot more credibility as “midwives to democracy” than the Gulf Arab states do…
Democracy, as the AK people should know as well as anyone, does not grow out of the barrel of a gun but is above all a set of tools that are used to resolve very thorny differences and disputes in a nonviolent and rights-respecting way. (As happened between “Whites” and non-“Whites” in South Africa in the early 1990s… and that, after the “White” South Africans had sustained a centuries-long reign of terror in the country that completely dwarfs anything the Baathists have done in Syria. But yet, democrats around the world all cheered loudly– and imho, quite correctly– at the news that the Apartheid-enacting National Party had agreed to take part in a free and fair national election against its rivals, rather than having its leaders all strung up on lamp-posts.)
Oh well, not worth my while sitting around for too long, regretting Ankara’s failure to play a truly democracy-promoting role in Syria…
So the next question I have in my head is a combination of two questions, really. Firstly, why did the GCC countries and other Arab League member-states step in last week with such (relative) speed and determination to position themselves as the main external mediators of a regime-opposition negotiation in Syria, thereby doing a lot to strengthen Pres. Asad’s position, at least temporarily… And the corollary to that is, why on earth should anyone inside or outside Syria take seriously a claim by Saudi Arabia and Qatar to have mainly “democratic” goals in mind in Syria? But really, the first half of this question is the more pressing one, and I’ll try to come back to it later.
The next set of questions I have are the ones concerning the linkages and interactions between developments in Libya and those in Syria. Now, I know that a lot of opposition people in Syria were fairly loudly calling for the imposition of a Libya-style “no-fly zone” in Syria. Maybe they still are calling for it. But it ain’t going to happen– for a large number of reasons. One important one is that the GCC countries, whose cooperation with the whole ‘NFZ’ project in Libya– and in the case of Qatar and the UAE, their actual participation in it, at least symbolically– was seen by western countries as crucial to its international “legitimacy”, very evidently decided at some point that they were not about to engage in the same kind of hostile act against Pres. Asad in Syria. Another was, of course, the clearcut and definitive Russian and Chinese use of their veto against the US-sponsored resolution in the UNSC which would have provided exactly the same kind of springboard for subsequent military action that resolution 1970 provided for 1973. And another is the fact that in both Europe and the U.S., the appetite for yet another act of military aggression against a distant Muslim land seems to have drained away almost completely– certainly, compared with the heady days of BHL’s bellicosity back in March.
The way things have turned out in Libya has also, I am sure, had its effect on the desire of just about all non-Syrians to engage in a repeat performance in Syria.
The anti-Qadhafi military operation in Libya, remember, was described by its boosters at the time, back in March, as the western-led “NATO-plus-Arabs” coalition finally “getting it right” regarding how to do a foreign military aggression “intervention”. Crucially– and this was especially sold as being a strong contrast to Iraq– there would not even be any need for western or other foreign “boots on the ground”. The whole western intervention would be accomplished from the air, while on the ground in Libya would be the boots only of Libya’s’ reputed throngs of eager democrats.
So now we have how many competing militias on the ground in Libya? Three hundred or more?
Actually, from the POV of the health and safety of the Libyan people, even a western occupation army might have have been better than this situation– which shows absolutely no signs of getting any better, any time soon.
So far from being an “exemplary” action by western armies to support local “democrats” in Libya, what has happened in Libya has turned out to be an application of Naomi Klein’s “Shock Doctrine”, on steroids. That is, the destruction not only of Libya’s anyway ramshackle state but also of many of the internal bonds of its society.
Thank you NATO.
(We can also note that if these anti-Qadhafi people who are now rampaging all over Libya had had a decent amount of democratic sensitivity and commitment, they would have been working hard throughout all this year to resolve the many differences among themselves through nonviolent deliberations or negotiations. But no. NATO powerfully modeled for them all that power grows out of the barrel of a gun, or a drone, and they proved eager learners of that lesson.)
So I imagine that even in some of Syria’s hard-pressed opposition strongholds, the “Libyan model” doesn’t look so irresistibly attractive now as it did, say, a month ago…
Over the past few weeks, various friends and colleagues have pointed me to a number of studies on Syria that they have found interesting. One was this one that Mona Yacoubian published on October 5, under the title “Saving Syria from Civil War.” Yacoubian’s policy prescription is truly mind-boggling: What she argues for is pursuit of “controlled regime collapse” in Syria– that is, a policy of deliberately stripping away successive layers of supporters away from the regime until it collapses.
Honestly, Mona Yacoubian should know better than to imagine that there is any such phenomenon in the world as “controlled regime collapse” of the kind she is talking about. Though she sells her policy as one that can “stave off civil war”, it seems almost certain to lead only to civil war.
Equally significantly, when she talks about stripping progressively greater sections of the officer class away from their allegiance to Pres. Asad– or “Bashar”, as she cozily calls him– she makes no mention at all of the extremely salient facts that Syria is still in a state of war with Israel and has some of its national territory occupied and illegally annexed by Israel, and that no patriotic Syrian inside the army or outside of it is easily going to take any action that would undercut the country’s military preparedness.
Then yesterday, we had ‘Meet Syria’s Opposition’ by Randa Slim, another Lebanese-American woman. This one gives a lot more informative detail about the make-up of the many disparate groups that are in the Syrian opposition, and doesn’t attempt to provide any big-picture prescriptions for American policy. The nearest she comes to making a policy point is this mild and fairly realistic observation, at the beginning of her article:

    Seven months into the uprisings, the Syrian opposition has yet to develop a united voice and platform. Unless these disparate groups unite and present a credible and viable alternative to the Assad regime, both Syria’s fearful majority and the international community will find it difficult to effectively push for meaningful change in Damascus.

Sadly, Slim’s piece is marred by some really bad editing, so that at many points it is really hard to figure out what she is trying to say. Thus, for example, she says this:

    [The opposition’s] fragmentation and disunity poses [sic] a formidable challenge. It makes it difficult to assess who is representing whom, the level of public support each enjoys among Syrians, and the role each is playing in the protest movement.

But then she immediately says this:

    While it is impossible to know which side commands a majority, a critical mass of Syrians has clearly opted for regime change.

So how on earth do the two halves of that last sentence fit together? In this context, what does the term “critical mass” actually mean?
This is far from the only place at which her piece is marred by internal inconsistency and lack of clarity. It is a pity, too, that though her piece came out the same day the Arab League delegation announced its “peace plan” for Syria, she makes no mention of the impact that will have. All she does is note that “Pro-Assad Lebanese allies told me that Qatar and Saudi Arabia were the main funders [of the opposition.] There is no independent evidence to substantiate such claims.” For his part, As’ad AbouKhalil has regularly pointed to links between Saudi Arabia and some members of the Syrian opposition, on his blog, e.g. here.
But if, as seems to me almost certainly to have been the case, various Saudi institutions have been supporting some of the Islamist portions of the Islamist/Ikhwani portions of the opposition– what has happened to that support in the wake of the Arab League peace effort?
Slim doesn’t explore that question at all. (She also makes no mention of Syria’s state of war with Israel.)
… So finally, we come to this paper, today, from the Crisis Group. Its tone is markedly different from the evident anti-Asadism of Yacoubian and Slim– though it is also written with the sensibilities of a Western audience very clearly in mind. The whole first paragraph sets the tone, as well as defining the policy prescription:

    Syria’s acceptance of the Arab League proposal to defuse the crisis presents an eleventh-hour opportunity to seek a negotiated transition before the conflict takes an even uglier turn. Despite understandable scepticism, both the protest movement and the international community ought to give this initiative a fair chance; for either one to dismiss or undermine it would be to offer the regime justification for rejecting both the deal and responsibility for its failure. The regime’s intentions soon will be put to the test. In coming days, protesters will take to the streets with renewed energy, probing President Bashar al Assad’s sincerity after months of rising repression; they cannot be expected to show patience for protracted political talks devoid of swift, tangible results on the ground. The various strands of the opposition ought to publicly reject violent attacks against security forces and accept to engage in a dialogue with no condition other than the regime’s implementation of the plan. Likewise the international community should fully endorse the deal and adjust its reaction to developments on the ground. Only by giving Damascus a genuine opportunity to live up to its commitments under the plan can the international community reach consensus on holding it accountable should it choose to flout them.

There is a lot of good sense in this paper. Which is nothing less than I would expect, since I have great respect for the careful, always extremely well-informed work of CG’s principal Syria analyst, Peter Harling.
Above all, the CG’s careful argument as to why the Arab League initiative should be supported and given a chance is really important. I wish, though, that the paper had done more to urge its mainly Western-official target audience to work hard alongside the Arab League mediators to push them much further toward pursuit of a truly democratic outcome in Syria than they might otherwise be inclined to go.
But even in this generally strong CG piece, frustratingly, I still could not find answers to my own two big questions about what has been happening in the orbit of the Syria issue, namely: Why has Ankara adopted such a strongly pro-opposition position, and why have the GCC countries intervened so strongly over the past week or so to let Pres. Asad off the hook?
The most plausible answers to the latter question have to do, I think, with two things: Firstly, a fear in many Arab countries that if Syria follows the path of Libya, it might end up following the terrifying path of social breakdown (fitna) that the Arab countries have seen come about not only in Libya, but also in Iraq, in the wake of Western military aggression “intervention”… and the fact that Syria, like Iraq, is much closer to the heartland of the populations and concerns of most Arab countries than is Libya.The past two weeks have seen the emergence of a lot of very bad news from Libya, remember, which could well help to explain the timing of the Arab League’s activism on the Syria-negotiation question.
Secondly, I don’t think any Arab governments can ignore– as Mona Yacoubian, Randa Slim, and even the Crisis Group all managed to– the fact of Syria’s continuing state of war with Israel and its close proximity to Israel.
Back at the beginning of October, did Asad tell Turkish foreign minister Davutoglu that “If a crazy measure is taken against Damascus, I will need not more than six hours to transfer hundreds of rockets and missiles to the Golan Heights to fire them at Tel Aviv,” as the Israeli website Ynet quoted the Iranian Fars news agency as having reported? A spokesman for the Turkish foreign ministry strongly denied this. But if the intention of the Iranian “leak” had been to scare the bejeesus out of the Gulf Arab countries in particular, maybe it had some effect.
(My view of that reported threat? I think six hours is ways more than Israel would need to undertake a devastating counter-strike, so what Asad reportedly “threatened” didn’t sound very threatening to Israel as such– but it certainly would threaten to inflame matters in the whole of the rest of the Middle East.)
There is, to put it bluntly, a bit of a protection racket being sustained by the Syrians (or perhaps, in this case, by the Iranians on their behalf) over some of the other Arab states, in a way that almost exactly mirrors the protection racket that has long been sustained by Israel over the United States… Both Syria (or Syria/Iran) threatens to blow up the whole Middle East by attacking Israel if the Arab states don’t do what Asad wants them to… Just as Israel periodically threatens to blow up the whole Middle East by attacking Iran if Washington doesn’t do exactly what Netanyahu wants it to (which in his case, is overwhelmingly to allow him to continue paving over the whole of the West Bank for the illegal Israeli settlers, without raising a finger in protest.)
Ah, Realpolitik. What a dirty business, eh?
In this case, however, it may well end up tending to take Syria’s people to a much better (because negotiated) outcome than they could ever expect if they choose to follow the path of Iraq or Libya. Yes, it would certainly be amazingly difficult for Syria to be able to democratize while it is still under threat and partial occupation by Israel. Yes, it would be amazingly difficult to reverse the terrible course toward increasing internal polarization and schism that Syrian society has been following for the past nine months. Yes, it seems amazingly unlikely that Riyadh or Doha would ever end up as champions of democracy!
But…. The alternatives to finding a negotiated outcome to the Syrian conflict are now all far, far worse…. As I’ve been saying like a broken record for six months now, in Syria both the regime and the opposition are resilient and won’t be defeated easily. Trying to find a negotiated and democratic way out of this impasse still seems like the best– indeed, the only– way forward. And this negotiation should only be over the form of governance inside Syria– that is, a negotiation for how a transition to democracy will be implemented– and not a negotiation over outcomes, i.e., that “Asad must go”, or whatever. It must be a negotiation that keeps a place at the table for the representatives of all significant forces in society on the basis of preserving the patriotic unity of the country and its people that they all so desperately need, despite– or rather, precisely because of– the depth of the wounds and resentments they bear from the recent and the more distant past. And they need it, too, because of the continuing state of war with Israel and the presence of very threatening Israeli forces looming on Jebel al-Shaikh right over the approaches to Damascus.
Look, you think it was easy for South Africans to overcome their resentments in 1992-94 and sit down at the table together? But who among the democrats of western countries is not glad today that they did so? Almost nobody. So why should we not support a negotiated transition to democracy in the case of Syria, also? (The Crisis Group report was quite right, by the way, to point out that Washington’s repeated calls for regime change in Syria have been extremely unhelpful…)

15 thoughts on “Making sense of Syria

  1. faris (@halabshow)

    wow, really long article. i read through the first 85% with no idea what you are trying to say, except criticize every thought for everyone. but toward the end i finally started to hear what you wanted to say.
    i can see you are a good student of a teacher of political science, and i do like your proposed solutions. But what if the regime dont want to change to democracy (as you and I might understand it). After all they did propose reforms to how they think Syria should be in the days after, and i cannot go thought them all but I did not see any one of them serious but merely trying to act smart and win more time. What if they dont want to change, and Maybe Turkey FM did try and they refused to engage with him seriously ( he gave them week after week of grace periods).
    And by the way this state of war thing with Israel and the (syria has occupied land, no patriotic syrian inside or outside army would easily going to take action to undercut military preparedness) really shows you probably did not visit syria for a day, or did some over forty years ago. no one believe this old record anymore and no one in army is fighting for Syria (some because they have to, some for sectarian ideology, some for money and maybe other reasons but freeing occupied land i dont know anyone served army for that)

  2. Jack

    I am still amazes that Helena, who I admire so much and who is usually spot on, is still defending Assad. There is no question that he is using military troops and tanks against his people. Yes, our MSM news is obviously distorted, and yes there is some armed opposition, but the slaughter by Assad is simply wrong and he has made his removal inevitable and mandatory for a resolution. Incidentally, a more apt quote would be that “democracy does not come out of the barrel of foreign guns”. Lest we forget, America’s democracy came out of the barrel of a gun.

  3. Helena

    Jack, where do I “defend” Asad? I don’t. The decisions he has taken to use lethal violence against unarmed Syrian citizens are completely immoral and I condemn them completely. However, voicing such condemnation is not the same as saying that those decisions/actions “make his removal inevitable and mandatory for a resolution.” My main point of comparison here is with De Klerk and the rest of the NP securocracy in Apartheid South Africa– who committed crimes many times worse… But there are large numbers of other examples around the world where highly abusive regimes have been engaged in negotiated transitions to a much more rights-respecting order. Spain, for example, or Chile, etc etc. true, those negotiations do usually end up with the former rights abuser stepping aside. But there is no way to engage him and his many supporters in the negotiation in the first place if the starting point is only that he (and they) must exit from the scene.
    Perhaps I should have made my strong condemnation of the Syrian regime’s actions more explicit in the blog post (which was not, anyway, a finished product but more like thinking out loud.) But I think you’re falling into a dangerous trap if you equate the fact of my opposition to the anti-regime armed actions proposed or endorsed by so many in the west to a defense of the regime’s actions. (That was, remember, the charge that the neocons and other members of the US war party, circa 2002, made against those of us who criticized the rush to war against Iraq back in those days.)
    One of my major intentions is to point out that there are always alternatives– for both the regime side and the anti-regime side in such disputes– to the use of violence and force. (In Iraq and Libya, we have seen the terrible outcomes that the west’s wanton– but completely avoidable– use of violence has led to… Actually in Libya, I fear we have not seen the end to the suffering or even, perhaps, the worst part of it.)

  4. Yousef

    Helena,
    Knowing how well you know Syria and the region, I appreciate your honesty in raising the questions without claiming to have answers.
    In addition to being complex internally, the situation in Syria is interlinked with all the other complex issues of the region.
    For the west, and the GCC which follows the west blindly even against its own interests, the issue is less Syrian than it is Iranian. Iran has become a major issue for the west since Israel decided to make it so in the 1990s.
    The Syrian regime would become the darling of the west and allies on the day it announces that it is cutting ties with Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas. If that happens, the west and company will adopt the Syrian regime’s version that the Syrian opposition is nothing but Islamic extremists.
    The US, in particular, as part of its imperialist policies in the region since world war II, views democracy in that part of the world as inconsistent with its interests. As you know, the CIA organized the first coup against a democratic government in Syria in 1949 and since then the country has been ruled by dictatorships. The same CIA did the same thing in Iran 1n 1953.
    That is why many Arabs in the nationalist and leftist camps are torn between supporting the popular uprising in Syria, as part of the Arab spring, and supporting the proclaimed positions of the regime against western designs in the region.
    However, had the regime been true to its proclaimed positions of resistance, Palestine and Arab nationalism, it would have met the legitimate demands of the people, who have been denied their basic human rights and liberties under the Assad family rule over the past 40 years. Instead, the regime decided to employ the security solution, which worked in the 1980s, but can no longer work in 2011.
    As the bloodshed continues, the west will repeat the usual slogans of democratic transition, but will wait to see the two sides in Syria weaken each other, hoping that at some point the regime might agree to become another Jordan, and then, could receive an invitation to join the GCC.
    The US has a good reason to hope the regime might be open to the idea if it would become a matter of survival for it. You will recall that in the 1970s, the US gave the Syrian regime the green light to occupy Lebanon in return for crushing both the Lebanese national movement and the Palestinian resistance in that country, while keeping its troops away from the Israeli border with Lebanon.
    All that notwithstanding, the basic issue for me is when there is a conflict between the regime and the people, I am with the people. After all, nothing is legitimate, without the legitimacy of the people.
    Once they gain their freedom and dignity, the Syrian people will resist any foreign domination as they did in the past.

  5. bevin

    Jack “slaughtering” opponents does not make anyone’s removal “inevitable.”
    It never has done in Guatemala, Mexico, Chile, Haiti, Colombia or Bahrain, Saudi Arabia or Yemen. In each of which places not only has the “slaughter” equalled (and, in most of them, far exceeded) that in Syria but has been aimed at unarmed protestors or civilians being terrorised by government.
    What seems inevitable is that the Syrian people will put an end to a situation which wrecks their lives. In doing so they are just as likely to throw out the armed expatriates serving foreign interests as the authoritarian thugs in the military.
    What cannot be condoned and must be guarded against is any suggestion that the United States, wearing one or other of the mantles of the international organisations that it has debauched, corrupted and turned into its policy instruments (NATO, IAEA, UN),can be allowed to interfere further in the internal affairs of a sovereign nation.

  6. Abdelhafid Dib

    Youcef, you are absolutely right in giving a brief recorded history of USA since 1945. I am convinced with your arguments and I do appreciate when you decided to take your position with the people. We all know that the Syrian regime is brutal but at the same time I have a great fear when the opposition movements demand the military intervention from the west which lead to a collapse of totally state institutions rather than of throwing the existent regime by other peaceful alternatives.
    Hafid

  7. Helena

    Yousef, I join Hafid in thanking you for your very clearly argued comment here. I agree with you both that the preference of most of the western powers is that the two ‘sides’ inside Syria continue fighting and thus weakening each other (and the whole country) for as long as possible, and that it is quite possible that these western powers (including even in my view Israel) may step in at some point with an offer to save the skin of the Asad regime… And it is quite possible the regime might accept this, rather than cede power.
    I share a lot of your critique of the Asad government’s regional/international stance, too.
    My stance in favor of giving top priority to achieving a transition to greater accountability and democracy through a very serious and deep negotiation is motivated firstly by my view, based on long life experience, that this is the best way to minimize the human suffering of the conflcted Syrian parties, and secondarily by my utter distaste for all foreign interventions.
    T me, the really terrifying thing is that the longer armed violence (from both sides, but given the disparity in capabilities, more strongly from the govt side) goes on, then the harder it is for people to escape from the cycles of violence, the desire for retribution and score-settling, etc… And so such conflicts can assume a life of their own, as we have seen in far too many cases around the world. At that point, often the only thing that brings the conflict to an end is the sheer exhaustion of the embattled communities, as we have seen in so many cases! But by that time, those societies have been severely broken down and it can take decades to recover.
    Is there still time for Syrians to escape a descent into yet deeper and longer violence? I don’t know. As I said in May, and still believe, I think it would hard for them to do it on their own, and a trusted and credible third party could play a huge role bringing the various parties into the nee negotiation– and keeping them there, with the use of incentives and helpful ideas, until they succeed. I thought that Turkey was uniquely positioned to play that role, but its leaders chose not to. Hard to see who else might usefully do it…

  8. David

    Yousef,
    Really?
    “You will recall that in the 1970s, the US gave the Syrian regime the green light to occupy Lebanon in return for crushing both the Lebanese national movement and the Palestinian resistance in that country, while keeping its troops away from the Israeli border with Lebanon.”
    As someone who doesn’t think that everything the US does is bad I would like to think that all the countries in the world are puppets on a string to be manipulated at will by the US government. The world would be a better place, not perfect, but definitely better. But they aren’t, some countries act on their own initiative to their perceived own interests and sometimes even against the wishes of the US government.

  9. Helena

    David, yes. I was working as a journalist in Lebanon at the time and that was exactly what happened. You can read it about in either of the books I wrote about that era. After the 1973 war, when the Egyptians essentially betrayed Asad and left the Syrian military– and Damascus– extremely vulnerable to Israeli power, Asad fairly speedily concluded the disengagement agreement on Golan that stabilized that front, while also entering into a series of ‘Red Lines’ agreements with Rabin on who could do what in Lebanon… In 1976 Syrian troops moved in force into Lebanon to counter the (leftist) Lebanese National Movement and their Palestinian allies (while not exceeding the red Lines agreements with Israel.) They did so with Kissinger’s blessing– and stayed until 2005.

  10. David

    Helena,
    In your list of books the only obvious one is “The Making of Modern Lebanon” which appears to be available from Abe Books.
    Which is the other one?
    Does Kissinger discuss this in any of his books?

  11. Yousef

    Hafid, Helena,
    Thank you for your comments. The vast majority of groups in the Syrian opposition are strongly opposed to foreign military intervention. Only some of the Saudi-backed Salafi and Syrian Muslim Brotherhood are calling for such intervention. The other opposition groups are calling for international diplomatic, political and economic action to protect civilians. Unlike chapter VII of the UN charter, chapter VI spells out a range of measures short of military enforcement.
    David,
    You are well advised to read at least one of Helena’s excellent and well-documented books on that era in Lebanon. As a useful background material on the US hegemonic policy in the Middle East, you may wish to refer to the Eisenhower Doctrine of 1959, which formally spelled out that policy.

  12. David

    Yousef,
    I appreciate your effort and Helena’s here to educate me. But both you and Helena are walking back quite a bit from the original statement I took issue with. Your statement implied a conversation between the US and Syria along these lines.
    US to Syria: “Here’s the deal. You can invade Lebanon but as part of the deal you need to crush the Lebanese national movement and the Palestinian resistance. Oh, and keep your troops away from Israel.”
    Syria to US: “Deal.”
    That the US has at various times sat down with other governments and explicitly or implicitly outlined what military actions would acceptable or not acceptable is not something I doubt. It’s what a superpower does.
    Syria invaded Lebanon for some reason, maybe with the breakdown of order due to the civil war they thought they could establish a greater Syria or maybe they were just afraid of the sectarian violence spreading to their country. If they consulted with the US government at all it would most likely just have been to assure Israel that it wasn’t a prelude to an attack on Israel. That Syria crushed the Lebanese national movement and the Palestinian resistance was done so in their own interests and is evidence in support of their desire for a greater Syria or merely to dispose of the only groups that could or likely would organize an opposition to their invasion/occupation.
    Any Eisenhower Doctrine of 1959 would not have laid out what Syria needed to do in 1975. They aren’t psychic.
    Maybe I read your statement a little too literally but that’s how your phrased it.

  13. Helena

    David, my understanding of the communications in late 1975 and 1976, which were conducted by a retired U.S. ambassador called L. Dean Brown who flew around the whole region nailing down the details, is that he said to the Syrians, in essence, “OK, we’ve helped you stabilize the Golan front, so the IDF is no longer poised quite so close to Damascus as it was before… but now we have the problem in Lebanon where the Lebanese leftists and their PLO allies are threatening to over-run the Phalangist areas… and we really don’t want to see that happen. So the Phalangists and their Chamounist allies are saying they’ll call in help from the Israelis if their situation gets any worse, which we don’t think is a good idea… and it wouldn’t be good for you, either, to have the Israelis so close to Damascus from the west, would it? So if you want to avoid having that happen, maybe you could move into Lebanon against the leftist-PLO alliance and we’d make it worth your while…”
    In other words, the impetus most likely came from the U.S. side on that occasion, not from within the Syrian regime, where the 1976 move against the PLO-leftist alliance was extremely controversial.
    Today, of course, the vulnerability of the Syrian interior to threats from Lebanon (especially the infiltration along the Tripoli-Homs corridor) is extremely clear, once again.

  14. Yousef

    Exactly, Helena,
    Furthermore, the US mediation, with the help of Sadat Egypt and the Saudi GCC, helped Syria get an invitation by the helpless Lebanese government and an Arab League sanction for its intervention, or “sisterly initiative”.
    Remember also, that the US allies in the region helped ignite the Lebanese civil war, which the US later came to mediate, mainly by arming and training the Phalanges party which started the fighting in April 1975. As Helena mentioned, after the war of 1973, Syria was already placed in this exposed position by Sadat and his “dear friend, Henry” Kissinger.

  15. bb

    Perhaps the AK government discovered that Bashar and his regime had no intention of negotiating their demise. Might be the answer to9 your question?
    We’re a fair way on from Nov 4 when you first posted, by now it seems Turkey and Arab League are bent oh seeing off the Assad regime: no doubt the most obvious step will be to arm the rebels and then special forces from those countries going in to assist, with the covert help of UK, Brit and France. Arab League is also gearing up to the UN, I see. They were all just waiting for the outcome of Libya and end of Gaddhafi.
    Helena, understand your ruminations on realpolitick, but I think the realpolitick today is for the removal of the ME’s old order and replacement with genuine parliamentary elections -the logical extension of the Bush/Blair doctrine in removing Hussein/Baath regime. Apart from anything else, it has to be done to put the pressure back on Iran and every government in the region would understand this.
    You don’t seemed to have said much on the hugely successful Tunisian elections. I was in London at the time and the images of the Tunisians proudly holding up their purple fingers was very moving to me remembering the same in Iraq six and half years ago. Libya will have a period of settling down and sorting out, but I think you’ll find their elections will be like Tunisia’s – after all, the countries are neighbours and both are small.
    You are right in that a largely peaceful resolution a la Egypt and Tunisia would have been best for Syria, but the Assad regime had no intention of playing. Regrettably that regime is more likely to emulate the Baath in Iraq after 2003, but this time they will be opposed by Arab League, GCC and Turkey and the outcome is inevitable now with the end of Gaddafi,imo.

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