The size and targets of the imminent Western military strike against the Syrian regime forces are linked to the main political message it will address, i.e. that Bashar al-Assad is no longer an acceptable party to negotiate over his country’s future during the Geneva 2 meeting. This means that the anticipated settlement conference might never take place if Al-Assad remains in power and abstains from surrendering it to another person or side.
An international ruling was issued to condemn Al-Assad and hold him responsible for the killing of hundreds of civilians using chemical weapons, which clearly implies his classification as a war criminal, who should be prosecuted and not negotiated with, and whose opinion in regard to the new Syria should not be heard.
The Western and Arab states waited a long time to achieve consensus inside the Security Council over the containment of the Syrian regime and the halting of the daily killings committed by its military machine, and after numerous initiatives and mediations – all of which failed to convince Al-Assad there was a popular opposition with which he should negotiate to stop the destruction of Syria as a country. It has now become necessary to undertake a military action from outside the United Nations to achieve that goal, thus paving the way before a settlement after the use of Weapons of Mass Destruction.
The world previously witnessed similar sanctions, through which major states decided to punish tyrants without a UN mandate. This was seen for example in the raids launched by the United States against the Bab al-Aziziya compound in Libya in 1986, after it held Muammar Gaddafi’s regime responsible for the bombing of the La Belle discotheque in Germany and the killing of American soldiers. But after these raids, Gaddafi remained in power until he was toppled by a popular uprising in 2011, despite his famous 2003 political turn which he thought would save him.
The current situation in Syria is different than the one which prevailed in Libya at the time due to the presence of an armed political opposition controlling more than half the Syrian territories and threatening Damascus and other main cities. However, the Western political and military planners should take into account the fact that Al-Assad’s stay in power following the intended strike would practically mean its failure, despite the repeated statements saying it does not aim to topple the regime. This is due to the fact that the limited military operation will not be enough in itself, if it does not undermine the system upon which Al-Assad is currently relying to preserve the loyalty of most of the Syrian regular army.
In other words, the American, British and French missiles and aircrafts should address well targeted and truly painful blows, thus leading to the subsequent fall of Al-Assad’s regime which will be responsible before the senior army officers for the great harm caused to their troops and for the pretext it provided for these strikes after it decided to use chemical weapons.
But what if this does not happen? What if the Syrian army – although exhausted – remains attached to its command? At this point, there would be no choice but to go back to the demands of the Syrian opposition ever since the regime started using violence against the peaceful demonstrators, before moving to heavy artillery and the targeting of areas outside its control with aircrafts and rockets, i.e. impose no-fly zones, establish safe corridors for relief purposes, and most importantly, relinquish the exaggerated Western reservations and adopt a decision to provide the opposition with weapons allowing it to fix the flaw affecting the balance of powers and win the battle by itself.
“In a situation like ours, blood-traders and the Coalition should all admit that they are partners with the dictators, and they are just a copy of them and not a copy nor representative of the honesty of our revolution.
“I will say no more,
“You have to stand before the mirror, you who got paid for our blood, before you say facts we know about the fascist dictator and sectarian regime. But you should be neither fascist, dictator, nor sectarian if you want to be part of our revolution.
“Tell me when did the invaders bring freedom?
“At the end I will never be in favour of any American intervention in our area, because I know them very well. They could have defended the values from day one of our revolution and could have helped us, but they waited till the country was destroyed.
“The fall of the regime will satisfy me, but I don’t want our revolution to be incomplete after all this blood. This is not a letter for history but a farewell letter to all my friends if I die. If I die amidst this shelling or for any other reason, I want my friends to bury me in an unknown grave that only my friends and my beloved will know its address.”
“If the US-led West wished to invade and occupy Syria, or to engineer regime change from afar, it would have taken advantage of the two-and-a-half-year chaos in Syria to intervene long before now.” (More.)
If the US-led West wished to invade and occupy Syria, or to engineer regime change from afar, it would have taken advantage of the two-and-a-half-year chaos in Syria to intervene long before now.
When the US-led West invaded Iraq in 2003, Saddam Hussain was contained. He’d committed his genocides in the past, when he was an ally of the West against Iran, and in 1991, under Western military noses (as he slaughtered Shia rebels and their families en masse, the allied forces in Kuwait and southern Iraq gave him permission to use helicopter gunships, and watched). But in 2003 Saddam was contained and reasonably quiet. There was no popular revolution against him. The West invaded anyway, on the pretext of inexistent Weapons of Mass Destruction.
The Syrian regime’s ultra-violent repression of a peaceful protest movement spawned an armed resistance. The regime met the armed resistance with genocide and ethnic cleansing. Then a week ago the regime struck multiple targets in the Damascus suburbs with chemical weapons, perhaps killing as many Syrians in three hours as Palestinians were killed in Israel’s month-long rampage in Gaza (2008/9).
The conflict has been well and truly internationalised for a long while now. Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey have provided limited and intermittent military supplies to various parts of the opposition (the US has prevented them from delivering heavy weapons). The international brigades of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham – an enemy both of the regime and the democratic opposition to the regime – has been empowered in pockets of northern Syria. The regime has received much more serious financial and military help from Russia and Iran, and has brought in Hizbullah and Iraqi sectarian militias to help it fight its battles. Hizbullah’s switch from defence against Zionism to repression of a revolutionary Arab people has propelled Lebanon back to the verge of civil war. Meanwhile, between a quarter and a third of Syrians are displaced, destabilising Turkey and Jordan as well as Lebanon.
A year to the day before the massive poison gas attacks, Obama set a supposed ‘red line’ on the regime’s use of chemical weapons. Whenever the regime has introduced a new weapon, it has done so quietly and steadily, until its use is normalised and forgotten internationally. So it was with artillery, helicopter gunships, aerial bombardment, scud missiles – first these were used rarely, then more frequently, then on a daily basis. And so it is with the gas. Obama’s chemical red line had already been repeatedly broken in a small way before last week’s atrocities. American inaction made Assad believe he could get away with a bigger show.
By this mass attack, Assad was not only trying to clear areas close to the capital in which rebels were deeply entrenched and advancing; he was also telling the military and popular opposition, “Look, I can do what I want. I can increase the pace of the ethnic cleansing and genocide, and still noone will intervene or allow you to become properly armed.”
So now Obama feels he must act, symbolically at least, to show the larger world as well as Assad that America’s word still means something, that it still makes claims to ensuring international order.
It goes without saying that all states – if we must compare them with people – are hypocrites, and America, as (still) the world’s most powerful state, much more than most. The white phosphorus and depleted uranium munitions it used in Iraq, for instance, can certainly be considered as weapons of mass destruction, though even their use cannot be compared to Assad’s sarin savagery. And late 20th Century America actively aided Saddam’s chemical programme. But simplistic ‘anti-imperialists’ (the sort who haven’t noticed Russia’s blatant imperialism in Syria) should reflect on the complexity of the situation. Should a tyrant be left unchecked to gas his people? If Israel were doing it to the Palestinians, would outside intervention (of course there would be none) to deter Israel be absolutely wrong? Was it right to leave the Bosnian Muslims to be slaughtered? (Many statist leftists would of course unhesitatingly answer yes to this question). Even with our hypocritical and frequently criminal ‘international community’, is there no validity in attempting to preserve the semi-taboo on the mass use of WMD?
I cannot say what will happen, or if it will happen, or what the ramifications will be. I expect, however, that any American-led attack will not dramatically change the balance on the ground. Obama wants to be seen to be acting, and to deter. He will be scared that Assad, Hizbullah or Iran will respond in such a way that he is pressured to expand the operation to end the regime. And he doesn’t want to do this. General Martin Dempsey has recently explained why – America can’t find any branch of the opposition ready to assume power and serve American interests.
One reason that the West doesn’t want to end the regime is that, in the north and east, the al-Qa’ida type militias (indirectly created by Assad’s traumatisation of the country, as well as by the political failures of loyalist traditionalist clerics) are growing in strength. Their strength flows from the fact that the West and the Arabs failed to arm the Free Army. The ineffective Syrian National Coalition must also bear some of the blame for not working harder to organise a national army from the start, before the jihadists had time to establish themselves. Western, Syrian and Arab timidity and Islamophobia have brought on the worst.
I expect the upcoming attack to be, in effect if not in image, tepid. It may not do any good at all. It may allow Assad to reap the ‘resistance’ propaganda victory without changing the calculus on the ground.
If there is any change to calculus on the ground, it will be because the Sauds are increasing military aid after the mass gas attacks. Apparently 40 tons-worth came in through Turkey this week. But will that be sustained? Never before now.
And again, the Sauds, like the Americans, like all states, are acting according to their interests. They back Sisi’s junta in Egypt as it rolls back the victories of the revolution there. In Syria, the Sauds are interested in weakening Iran and Hizbullah, obviously not in facilitating victory for either democrats or radical Islamists who reject Saudi kingship. Syrian fighters facing exile or genocide will take weapons from where they can, but they understand that in the medium and long term, they are on their own, as they have been for the last two and a half years.
Well, here we are. It’s been two years of fighting, over 100,000 people are dead, there are no signs of this war ending, and a week ago I used chemical weapons on my own people. If you don’t do anything about it, thousands of Syrians are going to die. If you do something about it, thousands of Syrians are going to die. Morally speaking, you’re on the hook for those deaths no matter how you look at it.
So, it’s your move, America. What’s it going to be?
I’ve looked at your options, and I’m going to be honest here, I feel for you. Not exactly an embarrassment of riches you’ve got to choose from, strategy-wise. I mean, my God, there are just so many variables to consider, so many possible paths to choose, each fraught with incredible peril, and each leading back to the very real, very likely possibility that no matter what you do it’s going to backfire in a big, big way. It’s a good old-fashioned mess, is what this is! And now, you have to make some sort of decision that you can live with.
So, where do I begin? Well, this is just the tip of the iceberg, but let’s start with the fact that my alliance with Russia and China means that nothing you decide to do will have the official support of the UN Security Council. So, right off the bat, I’ve already eliminated the possibility of a legally sound united coalition like in Libya or the First Gulf War. Boom. Gone. Off the table.
Now, let’s say you’re okay with that, and you decide to go ahead with, oh, I don’t know, a bombing campaign. Now, personally, I can see how that might seem like an attractive option for you. No boots on the ground, it sends a clear message, you could cripple some of my government’s infrastructure, and it’s a quick, clean, easy way to punish me and make you look strong in the face of my unimaginable tyranny. But let’s get real here. Any bombing campaign capable of being truly devastating to my regime would also end up killing a ton of innocent civilians, as such things always do, which I imagine is the kind of outcome you people would feel very guilty about. You know, seeing as you are so up in arms to begin with about innocent Syrians dying. Plus, you’d stoke a lot of anti-American hatred and quite possibly create a whole new generation of Syrian-born jihadists ready to punish the United States for its reckless warmongering and yadda yadda yadda.
Okay, what else? Well, you could play small-ball and hope that limited airstrikes to a few of my key military installations will send me the message to refrain from using chemical weapons again, but, c’mon, check me out: I’m ruthless, I’m desperate, and I’m going to do everything I can to stay in power. I’d use chemical weapons again in a heartbeat. You know that. And I know you know that. Hell, I want to help you guys out here, but you gotta be realistic. Trust me, I am incapable of being taught a lesson at this point. Got it? I am too far gone. Way too far gone.
Oh, and I know some of you think a no-fly zone will do the trick, but we both know you can’t stomach the estimated $1 billion a month that would cost, so wave bye-bye to that one, too.
I suppose you could always, you know, not respond with military force at all. But how can you do that? I pumped sarin gas into the lungs of my own people, for God’s sake! You can’t just let me get away with that, can you? I mean, I guess you easily could, and spare yourself all of this headache, but then you would probably lose any of your remaining moral high ground on the world stage and make everything from the Geneva Conventions to America’s reputation as a beacon for freedom and democracy around the world look like a complete sham.
And, hey, as long as we’re just throwing stuff out there, let’s consider a ground invasion for a moment. Now, even if you could reasonably fund a ground invasion, which I’m pretty sure you can’t, what exactly would such an invasion accomplish in the long term? I suppose it’s possible that you could come in and sweep me out the door and that would be the end of it. It’s possible. You know, like, in the sense that seeing a majestic white Bengal tiger in the wild is possible. Or, more likely, you could find yourself entrenched in a full-blown civil war that drags on for 15 years and sets off further turmoil in the rest of the region, leading to even more dead bodies for your country and mine, and even more virulent hatred of America. In fact, boy, maybe this is the one option that should be totally off the table.
Oh, and speaking of me being toppled from power, let’s say, just for fun, that tomorrow I were to somehow be dethroned. Who’s in charge? Half of these rebel groups refuse to work with one another and it’s getting harder to tell which ones are actually just Islamic extremists looking to fill a potential power vacuum. We’ve got Christians, Sunnis, and Shias all poised to fight one another for control should I fall. You want to be the ones sorting through that mess when you’re trying to build a new government? I didn’t think so.
So, all in all, quite the pickle you’re in, isn’t it? I have to say, I do not envy you here. Really curious to see where you go with this one.
I’ll leave you with this: I am insane. Not insane enough to generate worldwide unanimity that I cannot remain in charge of my own country. That would make this a lot easier. No, unfortunately, I’m just sane and stable enough to remain in power and devise cunning military and political strategies while at the same time adhering to a standard of morality that only the most perverse and sociopathic among us would be capable of adopting. But nevertheless, I am insane, so do with that information what you will.
Long story short, I’m going to keep doing my best to hold on to my country no matter what the cost. If that means bombing entire towns, murdering small children, or shooting at UN weapons inspectors, so be it. I’m in this for the long haul. And you will do…whatever it is you’re going to do, which is totally up to you. Your call.
Anyway, let me know what you decide. I’ll be waiting.
August 26, 2013 § Leave a Comment
So much lazy thinking. Here’s an agit-prop picture doing the rounds, the sort to appeal to the George Galloway crowd. And here’s my comment: “Except it isn’t familiar. In one case they wanted to invade and used chemical weapons as an excuse. There were no chemical weapons. In the other case a genocide has been going on for over two years, they don’t want to invade, don’t even want to arm the people resisting, they don’t have the economic power or pliant international scene to do so even if they wanted; and chemical weapons not only exist, they have been used on a vast scale. Oppose potential US air attacks against Assad bases if you like, but don’t insult the victims of genocide while you’re doing it.”
A Short Guide to the Middle East. And here’s Idrees’s response to that:
“To the hundreds of people who’ve been passing this fatuous bit of village-idiocy around, let me explain a few things:
1) States, like individuals, balance competing and contradictory interests. Like you, after two of your friends brawl, they don’t disown one to please the other.
2) States are not unitary, self-aware entities, whose interests are constant and indivisible. Like you, they carry in them multiple impulses and their attitudes towards others change based which impulses predominate under a given circumstance.
3) You might resent the tendency to treat the east as somehow exceptional and throw words like “orientalism” around, but like bad breath, you only notice it when others others have it. (Or perhaps the US is really a middle eastern country since it treated Communism as the ultimate evil but allied itself with Stalin to defeat Hitler; and then with right-wing Germans to defeat Communism. It was allied with France, yet supported Algerian independence. And so on ).
4) You have very little regard for facts. (Obama is anti-Sisi and is backing the Muslim Brotherhood? Really?)
5) Since you expect that states should be as one dimensional as Ayn Rand characters, you are unfit to comment on the Middle East or international affairs.”