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Posts Tagged ‘We want a negotiated political resolution

Bait-and-switch in Syria? What of safe heavens?

In a previous post on Syria Constitution referendum, I stated:

“The vast majority of Syrians in the referendum on a new Constitution have said it loud: “We want a negotiated political resolution”. Period.

The Constitution is not serious in the kind of changes expected, but Russia and China wanted the regime to demonstrate two things:

First, that the regime is in control of all the institutions capable of carrying out a referendum, and

Second, that the military of the regime is capable to putting down the armed uprising in Homs.

The Syrian regime of Assad has no alternative choices but to offer these two practical proofs of its viability“.

What of these “safe heavens” that the western powers are hammering out?

Stephen Walt on Foreign Policy published (with minor editing):

“The continued carnage in Syria is leading more people to call for some sort of international interventions (to protect Syrian rebels from further attacks by government forces).

Anne-Marie Slaughter, former director of policy planning at the State Department, recommended in the New York Times that the United States and others create “no-kill zones” on Syrian territory, protected by a coalition of outside powers.  Slaughter wants these outside powers to give the rebel forces various forms of weaponry, military training, and tactical advice.

To avoid the criticism that her policy would fuel a civil war, Slaughter insists that support be conditional on the aid being used “defensively,” though Turkish or Arab League units would be free to use drones or unmanned helicopters “to attack Syrian air defenses and mortars in order to protect the no-kill zones.” (How funny is this NO-Kill Zone recommendation)

The core problem with this proposal is the critique of Paul Stanil:  This recommendation ignores basic military realities. The rebels are trying to overthrow Bashar al-Assad. Once we commit ourselves to arming and protecting the rebels, how are we going to stop them from doing whatever they can to bring Assad down? Once engaged on their behalf, is it realistic that any government could cut them off because they had gone beyond our Marquis of Queensbury rules of engagement? Moreover, Slaughter admits that we cannot protect her “no-kill zones” without degrading Assad’s forces. In practice, therefore, her neat distinction between “defensive” and “offensive” operations would quickly break down.

Slaughter’s proposal would lead inexorably to an active military effort to overthrow the Assad regime. As in Libya, what sounded at first like a noble effort to protect civilians would quickly turn into offensive action against a despised regime, and in partnership with a host of opposition forces whose character and competence we can only guess at.  If that’s what Slaughter and others want to do, they should say so openly, instead of performing what can only be described as a strategic bait-and-switch.

China and Russia have figured this ploy out.  By the way, this is one reason they’ve been so reluctant to endorse any international action to stop the killing.

Here’s the basic problem.

Once we commit ourselves to creating safe havens (“no-kill zones”), we will be obliged to defend them for as long as there is any possibility that Assad’s forces might attack. As our experience with the no-fly zones in Iraq teaches, this could involve defending them for years.

And if Assad’s forces start shelling the rebel areas, then we will have to defend them or risk humiliation. But let’s be clear: “defending them” means attacking Assad’s own forces.

In other words: war.

And once that happens, the United States and the other outside powers will face enormous pressures to complete the job.  It is hard to believe that we could take the step Slaughter is recommending and subsequently agree to leave Assad and his regime in place. As soon as outside powers take sides and intervene, a failure to remove Assad from power would be interpreted as a striking defeat for the intervening powers and a blow to those who have seen the Arab Spring as a hopeful turn for a troubled region.

In short, there is no way to conduct the sort of minimalist, purely defensive, and strictly humanitarian operation that Slaughter describes in her op-ed, without it eventually leading to forcible regime change. And one big reason that Syria’s neighbors have been reluctant to go that route is their understandable fear of a protracted internal conflict there that would make the present carnage look mild by comparison.

I take no pleasure from that reality, and I share Slaughter’s anger and disgust at what Assad is doing.

But the choice we face is stark and agonizing, and pretending that we can keep our balance on this steep and slippery slope is not helpful.”

Note:  Turkey and Jordan have already established refugee camps for Syrians fleeing the onslaught.  Lebanon was quickly been dragged in until the army decided to step in and close the borders for arms and “rebels” trafficking

A new Constitution for Syrians: 58% of eligible voters participated and 89% of them said YES

The Constitution the Syrian were invited to vote on in this referendum is a “heavy book” of about 80 pages, and very comprehensive. Many clauses target the workers rights, syndicates, rights for education, for health care…and many wishes that were available and decently extended, before Bashar Assad decided to privatize national enterprises and hand them out to his family members, military officers, and oligarchic element of the regime…

The main clause is the abolition of the “one-party Baath” dictatorship and substituted by multi-party “democratic process”.  The clauses relevant to Islam Sharia considered as an important source for laws, and the President to be Moslem were unchanged.

I would have loved to see these religious clauses eliminated from the Constitution  so that the referendum would exhibit the deeper secular nature of the Syrian society.  This opportunity was missed in order to validate the claims of the Syrian intelligentsia that the Syrian people are mostly secular.  The French ambassador has written a report claiming that “Islam fundamentalists” can barely secure 15% of the vote, and this claim will not be validated for the time being.

Since the Constitution can be reviewed and modified after 18 months, I expected the Constitution to take a good risk for evaluating the secular tendencies in Syria by abolishing two clauses most preponderant in most Arabic States that have a supposed Constitution like in Tunisia and Egypt and Iraq…It was an excellent opportunity to alleviate the fear of religious minorities who constituted 20% of the Syrian population and sending the strong message that “Syria is different from the other Arabic communities…”

Maybe the Syria and Near-Eastern intelligentsia (in Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan, and Iraq) are more violent and more ideological in their behaviors than the ones in Egypt and Tunisia, but they are definitely different from the other Arabic intelligentsia…

There are two other very nasty clauses:

One: The President is elected for 7 years, and be re-elected for another term! Don’t you think that a 7-year stint will enable, even the most idot of president, to secure another term?  When a President has been in function for 14 years, isn’t that a strong precursor for dictatorship and stable oligarchic system?

Two: The President appoint the vice presidents who swear allegience to “Him”, and he names the Prime Minister, the ministers, the civil servants, and military officers…And he has the right to dissolve the Parliament, and to constitute the councils in the Parliament and define their tasks…And the President appoint the highest Supreme Court members, as well as the Constitution Council…What else lacks the Syrian President to be characterized as an absolute monarch?

Basically, the Syrian President will have qualitatively the same power as the US president, with the exception that it is not the Supreme Court (appointed by the US President) that is eligible to destitute the US President.

What the latest counts demonstrate? What that mean that 58% participated (about 8.4 million)?

The districts of Aleppo and Damascus (the least engaged in this uprising) constitute 50% of the population.  The other 50% are mostly Sunnis in Homs, Hama, and the districts at the extremities of the country.

In the best cases and best available conditions, less than 80% of the eligible voters participate.  Let us suppose that the voters in Aleppo and Damascus voted heavily, their contribution would account for 40% at best.  Thus, the remaining 18%, let’s say 20%, were Sunnis excluding the Sunnis living in Damascus and in the troubled regions.  Which means, less than 20% of who abstained from voting are those opponents refusing any political settlement or engaging in negotiations for a transitional government.

This referendum should be a valid basis for the western powers and the tiny absolute monarchies of the Arab Gulf Emirates and Saudi Arabia to desist carrying on their offensive push for military resolutions and sending arms to the opponents who refuse any negotiation…

The vast majority of Syrians have said it loud: “We want a negotiated political resolution”. Period.

The constitution is not serious in the kind of change expected, but Russia and China wanted the regime to demonstrate two things:

First, that the regime is in control of all the institutions capable of carrying out a referendum, and

Second, that the military of the regime is capable to putting down the armed uprising in Homs.

The Syrian regime of Assad has no alternative choices but to offer these two practical proofs of its viability.

For more details




May 2023

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