Category Archives: Syria 2014

Brahimi on how to understand Syria

I just saw this May 18 interview with Lakhdar Brahimi. In it, the UN’s recently retired negotiator for Syria said:

I think the Russian analysis was right at the beginning, but everybody thought that it was an opinion and not an analysis. The Russians were saying that Syria is not Egypt and it is not Tunisia, and the president of Syria is not going to fall in a matter of two or three weeks. People thought that this was not an analysis, it was an expression of position: ‘We are going to support this regime’…

Maybe, maybe if people listened to them, and went to them, and said, listen you clearly know the situation in Syria better than anybody else. Let’s sit down and see how we can help Syria solve its problems. Perhaps things would have been different. But that did not happen.

I’d just like to note that the analysis that “Syria is not Egypt and it is not Tunisia, and the president of Syria is not going to fall in a matter of two or three weeks…” was not solely a “Russian” analysis. It was also the conclusion reached by several people in the United States who have studied Syria for a long time, myself included. Back in May 2011 (MP3) and again in late November 2011, I made precisely these same points during public presentations I made at two non-trivial think-tanks in Washington, DC– the Middle East Institute and SETA. So anyone in the city who was prepared to acknowledge that I had a fair bit of expertise on the topic could have heard and learned from what I said.
I don’t know how many of the people who heard me ended up being persuaded by what I said. (Why not, I wonder? An interesting question. Perhaps because I don’t have Haim Saban or the late Sidney Harman’s money behind me. Perhaps because I am female. Who knows?) But what is clear is that none of the people who opposed my positions in those panel discussions have had their analyses vindicated. I have. If anyone cares to go back and read the 80-plus earlier posts on my blog in which I wrote about Syria, from 2003 through 2013, or to read any of my earlier writings on Syria (including two books that dealt with Syria in detail), he or she is welcome to do so.
Actually, I think what happened in 2011 was not my failure to persuade members of the Washington DC power elite but rather, the absolute insistence among members of the power elite (including a number of people with alleged “expertise on Syria”, like Steven Heydemann) most simply, that “Asad has to go”– antecedently to encouraging Syrians to engage in negotiations on any other forms of reform.
This position did not come out of nowhere. It was a continuation of the strong support that most members of Washington’s elite have given for decades to a straightforward policy of “regime change” in Syria. That policy had its origins with the imposition of the first US sanctions on Syria in the late 1970s– punishments that were ratcheted up considerably in the 2000s, under George W. Bush, along with his introduction of increased covert funding to Syrian dissidents under MEPPI– a policy that Obama then continued after January 2009.
This deep and longstanding US push for regime change in Damascus is so durable that it even managed to survive several periods in which, at the surface level, relations between the two governments appeared to be somewhat improved, e.g., during Syria’s participation in Operation Desert Storm in 1991, in the Madrid peace conference of 1992, and in many years of the post-Madrid peace diplomacy; and more recently, when it gave a degree of tacit support to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March 2003. But still, regime change– the end of Baathist rule in Damascus–was the enduring bedrock of what the neocons, AIPAC, and all their zombies in Congress, the media, and the military-industrial complex continued to push for.
The eruption of “Arab Spring” protests in Tunisia and Egypt– and the undoubted excitement these protests aroused in many parts of the Arab world, including in Syria– gave them the opportunity they sought to implement their plan.
Brahimi makes some important points in his interview. But I think it’s important to note that the analysis in question was not purely “Russian”. People in Washington DC certainly had the chance to hear a very similar assessment being made.
As I’ve noted here on the blog before, it gives me no pleasure to say, “I was right on Syria.” None whatsoever. But anyone in Washington DC or elsewhere who currently claims that she or he “cares a lot” about what has happened to the Syrian people probably owes an apology to those of us who back in 2011 made a well-informed, and as it happened correct assessment of the sources and endurance of the regime’s power.
If they want to carry on pursuing their imperialistic and arrogant policies of imposing regime change on Syria and thereby keeping the country’s people trapped in the current carnage, then I suppose they are still able to do that– at least, until the Syrian people in their millions tell the “westerners” decisively to end their illegal, divisive, and extremely harmful intervention in the internal politics of sovereign Syria.
But after three long years in which the regime-changeistas’ assessments of the “imminent collapse” of the regime have all been decisively proven false, they’d do well to eat a bit of humble pie, admit they were wrong– and most importantly of all, to undertake the course correction needed to provide real help to those Syrians (all Syrians, including both supporters and opponents of the regime) who want to bring this terrible war to the speediest possible, and preferably negotiated, end.