Posted by Joshua on Saturday, June 2nd, 2012
The US, Europe and the Gulf states want regime change in Syria so they are starving the regime and feeding the opposition. They have sanctioned Syria to a fare-thee-well and are busy shoveling money and arms to the rebels. This will change the balance of power in favor of the revolution. Crudely put, the US is pursuing regime-change by civil-war. This is the most it can and should do.
President Obama does not want to intervene directly in Syria for obvious reasons. The US has failed at nation-building twice before in the Middle East. Some suggest that the “third time is a charm,” but Americans should not risk it. Voodoo policy analysis is not what the US needs today. Arguing that if only the US had done things differently in Iraq, Iraqis would not have radicalized or fallen into emulous factionalism is hokum. We must not allow ourselves to be talked into direct intervention in Syria today. Every student of the Middle East knows that Iraq had little sense of national political community to hold it together. The fact that it fell apart when the US Roto-Rootered Saddam’s regime should have been expected. The same thing is likely in Syria. Civil war and radicalization may not be avoidable. Syrians have many hard choices to make about their future. The chances that they will make them peacefully are small.
With America’s economy in the dumps, its military badly bruised, its reputation among Muslims in tatters, and its people fatigued by nation-building gone awry, this is no time to launch an intervention in Syria.
Military intervention would undoubtedly be expensive and dangerous. In all likelihood it would back-fire, leaving the US in possession of a broken Syria in desperate need of rebuilding. Syria is a nation the size of Iraq with insufficient sources of revenue. It produces little the world wants to buy. It hardly produces enough electricity for three hours of coverage a day. The school system is in a shambles. Government institutions will fall apart once the revolution wins. They are staffed by Baathists, recruited for loyalty to the regime and the Assad family. No revolutionary government will rehire them. They will purge them from top to bottom and employ the hundreds of thousands of jobless Syrians who have sacrificed for the revolution, lost family and struggled in the face of tyranny. Anyone who believes that Syria will avoid the excesses of Iraq, where the military, government ministries, and Baath Party were dissolved and criminalized is dreaming. If the US becomes militarily involved by destroying the presidential palace and military installations, it will own Syria.There will be no military to keep order and stop potential looting. If disorder and civil strife breaks out when the regime is destroyed, will the US feel obliged to step in? Will it discipline the 60 militias that now claim to represent the revolutionary forces? If the death toll rises after the regime falls, will the US surge its forces to stop the killing?
Already the Syrian opposition has asked for 12 billion dollars in start up money for the first six months when they come to power. This is chicken feed. Anyone who knows anything about Syria’s 24 million inhabitants, knows that they will need a lot more than 12 billion to stabilize and help rebuild Syria. The US spends 12 billion dollars every three months in Afghanistan. In 2010, the US was spending $6.7 billion in Afghanistan every month compared with $5.5 billion in Iraq. Few Americans believe this money was well spent. To believe that Syria would cost less is rash.
The US has been down the road of nation-building in the Middle East before. It is not good at it. The US wants regime-change without the responsibilities. Many pundits argue that the US must dive into Syria directly rather than build up the opposition slowly, but that would be a fool’s errand. If the US has learned anything, it is that it cannot sort out issues of power-sharing and national identity for Middle Eastern countries. The road to national unity cannot be paved in Washington. In the end, Syrians must find their own way and choose their own national leaders. Ahmad Chalabi and Hamid Karzai seemed like good choices when they were first held up. They had many winning qualities and looked better than the alternatives. But they turned out not to be the right leaders for Iraq and Afghanistan. There is no indication that the US could do a better job of picking winners in Syria. Burhan Ghalioun, the leader of the Syrian National Council, seemed to have all the qualities of a future Syrian president: he is Sunni, French educated, and has a long history of espousing liberalism, moderation, and democracy. But it only took months before leaders in his own party attacked him for treason, dictatorship and dishonesty and forced him to resign. Today, the Syrian opposition is leaderless. Over sixty militias are competing on the ground for cash and Kalashnikovs.
Already, we are being told that if we had only intervened earlier with our military, Syrians would have been unified, liberal and moderate. Only because we have delayed, they are becoming radical and and Islamized. This is not a convincing argument. Syrians are divided because they have no tradition of unity and the Baath has destroyed politics for 50 years. Nothing America can do will erase that legacy of political underdevelopment.
It seems heartless to stand by and do so little as massacres such as that carried out at Houla continue. More than 13 thousand Syrians have been killed in the last 14 months of revolution. All the same US intervention is not the solution. American troops killed over 10 thousand Iraqis in the first month of invasion in 2003. They killed a further 120,000 Iraqis in anger by the time the country was stabilized and safe to leave – and even then Iraq remains in turmoil and a new dictatorship seems to be taking shape. Car bombs are a daily occurrence in Baghdad.
In all likelihood, the Syrian revolution will be less bloody if Syrians carry it out for themselves. A new generation of national leaders will emerge from the struggle. They will not emerge with any legitimacy if America hands them Syria as a gift. How will they claim that they won the struggle for dignity, freedom and democracy? America cannot give these things. Syrians must take them. America can play a role with aid, arms and intelligence, but it cannot and should not try to decide Syria’s future, determine winners, and take charge of Syria. If Syrians want to own Syria in the future, they must own the revolution and find their own way to winning it. It is better for Syria and it is better for America.
News Round Up follows
The Assads – What keeps them together?
Syria’s Bashar Assad Hangs Onto Power Despite Turmoil
Despite the rising death toll in Syria, inlcuding the reported massacre this week of more than 100 civilians in
The problem with the Annan plan, as I see it, is that it is viewed as a Russian plan. If both sides stop fighting today, Assad wins because he owns the country. The rebels have little to negotiate with and no leverage save the threat of their growing power, numbers, and foreign backing. They need time – and the Annan plan can, in theory, buy them some time. [Josh L.]
If Russia, the United States, China and Iran can agree on a minimum level of steps to bring Syria back from the brink of an all-out civil war, then it might be possible to contemplate establishing some sort of contact group-like mechanism of concerned states that also includes players like Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Iraq and the European Union.
It is impossible now to get the Syrian government and opposition groups to meet and talk, due to a lack of trust and lack of clarity on whether they each want to negotiate at all. So the most feasible strategy in this case is to focus on getting regional and international parties that play a direct role in Syria to do four things: agree on their common interests, prevent all-out war in Syria, pressure both sides in the conflict to implement the Annan Plan, and ultimately create transitional mechanisms that protect the interests of all groups and perhaps point the way forward to a stable and peaceful Syria.
Serious talks are underway to explore if regional and global actors might be able to agree on such a mechanism. Annan is said to be encouraged by private conversations he has had with key players, and is not deterred by the fact that these same countries’ public pronouncements can differ. For progress to be achieved I am told, the Annan team feels that “harmony and logic” must be achieved among the three rings of this conflict — domestically, regionally, and internationally.
Syria Says Houla Massacre Victims Wouldn’t Cooperate With Rebels
By Henry Meyer and Stepan Kravchenko on June 02, 2012
Syria’s ambassador to Russia said terrorists targeted families that refused to follow their orders during the massacre of more than 100 people, including dozens of children, in Houla last week.
“These families were killed because they refused to cooperate with these terrorist groups,” Riad Haddad said in an interview at the Syrian embassy in Moscow yesterday. “When the parliamentary elections were held in Syria, these terrorist groups went to villages and towns and stopped people from voting and demanded candidates withdraw.”
The killings in Houla led to new calls for Russia to stop supplying arms to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Russian President Vladimir Putin said he doesn’t support either side in the Syrian conflict. The United Nations Human Rights Council called for a probe into the massacre, which it said was carried out by “pro-regime elements” and government forces.
Among the dead in Houla was the family of a lawmaker who refused to withdraw his name from the parliamentary vote, Haddad said. Several hundred militants carried out the killings in Houla, General Qassem Jamal Suleiman, who heads the Syrian investigation into the killings, said May 31.
The rebel attack on Houla came after they fired two anti- tank missiles at Syrian security forces gathering outside the city, killing 31 troops, Haddad said. Among the civilian casualties in Houla were three families from nearby Shomaliya, whom the rebels killed there, he said, citing his government’s preliminary investigation.
Syria has found evidence that fighters from Libya and Tunisia with ties to al-Qaeda are “already among the rebels,” Haddad said, adding that some of the massacre was filmed. “The main aim is to cause failure of the Annan plan and to provoke foreign military interference.”
Putin, speaking at a press conference in Paris yesterday, said additional pressure on Assad’s government risks radicalizing the country. He called for more time to allow UN envoy Kofi Annan’s peace plan to work.
“We want to achieve the situation where the violence ends and there won’t be large-scale civil war,” Putin said.
Martin Chulov in Beirut and Mona Mahmood guardian.co.uk, Friday 1 June 2012 12.09 EDT A photo taken by Syrian activists is said to show Houla residents fleeing shelling. Photograph: AP Friday 25 May began like any other Friday in the Syrian …
U.S. publishes satellite images of Syria
Sat, Jun 02 02:25
By Mark Hosenball
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A U.S. government website on Friday published what it said was photographic evidence of mass graves and attacks on civilian areas by Syrian government forces.
The website, operated by a bureau of the State Department, published a series of overhead photos, said to be taken earlier this week by commercial satellite, showing what it said were mass graves dug following a massacre near the town of Houla.
They also showed apparent artillery impact craters near civilian areas of a town called Atarib.
Included on the web page, which can be viewed at http://www.humanrights.gov/2012/03/05/situation-in-syria/, are pictures which apparently show artillery deployed as of May 31 – Thursday – near three Syrian towns and attack helicopters allegedly deployed near the towns of Shayrat and Homs….
CNN: Is Syria unsolvable?
Aaron David Miller is a distinguished scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and served as a Middle East negotiator in Democratic and Republican administrations. He is the author of the forthcoming book “Can …
Exclusive interview: The leader of Syria’s rebel forces tells Loveday Morris why the West must watch no longer
Speaking to The Independent from an undisclosed location in the Homs Governorate, Colonel Qassim Saadeddine – who this week laid bare the rifts in the rebel forces as he denounced the leadership of the exiled Colonel Riad al-Asaad – declared the Annan peace plan “dead and buried”.
In a message to the US President, Barack Obama, and the Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, he said: “You said that [President] Assad must go, you said his days are numbered. Words should be matched by deeds. You cannot wait until after the American elections for action. The regime hasn’t stopped the killing, hasn’t stopped the shelling – you cannot stand still.”….
U.S. Team and Israel Developed Iran Worm
By SIOBHAN GORMAN
WASHINGTON—The U.S. is pursuing a wide-ranging, high-tech campaign against Iran’s nuclear program that includes the cybersabotage project known as Stuxnet, which was developed by the Central Intelligence Agency in conjunction with Idaho National Laboratory, the Israeli government, and other U.S. agencies, according to people familiar with the efforts.
The covert CIA effort also includes persistent drone surveillance and cyberspying on Iranian scientists, they said. The U.S. strategy to use technologically advanced measures against Iran illustrates how the Internet and other remote-access capabilities are facilitating spy operations deep inside denied territories.
“It’s part of a larger campaign,” said a former U.S. official familiar with the efforts. “It’s a preferable alternative to airstrikes.”
Nick Heras, “Syrian Tribal Networks and Their Implications for the Syrian Uprising.” – Jamestown Foundation Terrorism Monitor
…The Syrian Ba’ath Party has traditionally sought to undermine the independence of the country’s tribes through intimidation, infiltration, and dependence. These aggressive policies continued under the Assad government and were exacerbated by decades of economic stagnation and the near total collapse of the rural economy of regions in southern and eastern Syria due to drought, corrupt use of water resources and mismanagement of croplands where many tribesmen resided (Jadaliyya, February 16). In spite of these severe difficulties, tribal networks in Syria are, ironically, better equipped at present to influence the opposition against the Assad government than at any other point in Syria’s modern history.
Over the last several decades, relationships between different tribes have been strengthened by the mutual difficulties that all Syrian tribesmen face, and by a shared bond of kinship and a common Arab-Bedouin heritage that differentiates tribesmen from the ruling Assad family that usurped the power of the Syrian Ba’ath Party.  The economic disaster facing tribal youth, combined with the political pressure that is constantly applied by the Assad government, caused Syrian tribes to look to each other for mutual help and support. The traditional vertical authority of the shaykhs over the rest of their tribesmen weakened over time, causing decision-making authority to extend beyond one person (or family) in a specific tribal lineage to mutually supporting individuals in a wider network of tribes.  Under coercion from the state, many tribal shaykhs were forced to leave their traditional areas to live quietly in Damascus or Aleppo, or left Syria entirely, becoming remote figures from the perspective of their tribesmen. Without revenues, they became unable to provide for the essential needs of their tribes, particularly during the most recent drought that began in 2003 and lasted through the rest of the decade.
The result is a series of horizontal, activist networks of mainly young and economically displaced tribesmen residing in Syria’s most restive cities who have adopted an inter-tribal identity that champions the importance of their shared tribal cultural background and dissatisfaction with their economic and political marginalization in what they view as a corrupt, repressive state. …
the first “Day of Rage” demonstration against the Syrian government in the ethnically mixed, heavily tribal eastern city of Hasakah on February 5, 2011, was conducted by networks of tribesmen from the Jabbour, Ta’i, and the Ounaiza tribal confederations.  The “Union of Arab Syrian Clans and Tribes,” an Aleppo-based opposition group claiming to represent more than 50 percent of Syria’s tribal population, announced its existence via YouTube on March 11, 2011.  One of the first nationwide Friday demonstrations organized by opposition groups inside of Syria, held on June 10, 2011, was called the “Friday of the Tribes” in recognition of the role that tribesmen played in leading resistance to the Syrian government (al-Jazeera, June 10, 2011). Many Syrian tribal leaders, such as Shaykh Nawwaf al-Bashir, an important leader of the large Baggara tribe and a former member of the Syrian Parliament, are active members of the opposition Syrian National Council (SNC) (al-Jazeera, January 16). Recently, a group of Syrian tribesmen and shaykhs in exile in Istanbul created the “Assembly of Tribes,” claiming to represent 40 percent of Syrian tribesmen (al-Arabiyya, April 16).
In addition to their political role in the Syrian opposition, Syrian tribesmen also participate in the armed groups that fight the Assad government, particularly the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and its affiliates. These tribesmen predominately fight the Syrian military on the local level, in the areas where they reside, relying on young tribesmen who defected from the Syrian military for materiel and tactical advice.  Further, the tribes of northeastern and eastern Syria, such as the Shammar, Baggara, Jabbour, Dulaim, and Ougaidat, have close and enduring relationships with their tribal kin in Saudi Arabia and Iraq. Anti-Assad regime states such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar are reported to be using tribal networks to move materiel and weapons into Syria, though this is officially denied (al-Arabiya, March 4). There is also strong evidence that Iraqi tribesmen in particular are moving arms and material as well as fighting alongside their tribal kinsmen against the Assad government in small but growing numbers. The shared cross-border kinship ties possessed by Syrian tribes and networks of tribal youth in Gulf Arab countries present a regional geopolitical complication to the uprising.
Syrian Tribalism and the Assad Government
Although Syrian tribes are well represented in the internal opposition, some tribal shaykhs and tribesmen continue to cooperate with the government. Like the opposition, the government has been aggressive in attempting to secure the support of the tribes. Since the beginning of the uprising, the government has sponsored a series of conferences called the “Syrian and Arab Tribes and Clans Forum,” which emphasize the role of Syrian tribesmen in resisting foreign intervention and ensuring Syria’s sovereignty (Syrian Arab News Agency, May 5). Under regime pressure, Syrian tribal shaykhs were forced to meet the Russian Ambassador to Syria and present him with gifts after Russia’s veto of a February UN Security Council resolution that would have demanded political transition in the country (Syrian Arab News Agency, February 22).
Since the start of the uprising, many Syrian tribesmen have supported the state’s security apparatus, controlled by the Assad family. This is not a new practice, and Syrian tribes have been used as enforcers for the Syrian government for decades. In many restive regions of Syria, tribesmen are deployed by the Syrian military as paramilitary forces called shabiha (literally “ghosts” with the connotation of “thugs”), although interviewees referred to them as jahaaz, which means “apparatus,” as in a security apparatus, but has the connotation of “political tools.”  There is evidence that affiliation with the Syrian government or the armed opposition in these areas is splitting the loyalty of tribesmen and fraying relationships between tribal shaykhs asked to choose a side. In Deir al-Zor, tribal loyalties are reportedly being put to the test even within families, as youth join the opposition against the wishes of their more cautious parents, family elders, and shaykhs (The National [Abu Dhabi], January 16). These reports correspond with the authors’ field research on developments in the Jazirah region, indicating that members of the Jabbour tribe in and around al-Hasakah, and the Ta’i tribe in and around Qamishli have been organized and deployed by the regime against restive Kurds and tribal opposition members in these cities.  Both of these tribes, in a precarious position in their respective cities, were susceptible to the coercion and manipulation of the Syrian government, which desires to keep its “Kurdish problem” cost effectively managed through the arming of tribal militias and cash “gifts.” Divided loyalties and conflicting networks of mobilization both for and against the opposition add another element of potentially severe instability to the current uprising.
Implications for Regime Change and Stability in a Post-Assad Syria
Interview data collected since the uprisings began in 2011 indicates that without clear guarantees from the United States, leading shaykhs across Syria will not put their tribesmen and women at risk by openly siding with the opposition. At the same time, shaykhs of large tribes located along Syria’s strategic border areas are pursuing quiet but active dialogue with U.S., Turkish, Saudi, and Qatari officials about how they can support the opposition without putting their tribes in danger….
…Syrians will need time to organize new political parties capable of competing with Islamic parties and groups linked to mosque networks in the critical first cycle of post-Assad regime national elections. Syria’s Arab tribes represent an alternative bloc of millions of votes across the country that can rapidly organize and turn out for elections and thus become strong political powerbrokers in a post-Assad Syria.