Posted by Joshua on Wednesday, January 2nd, 2013
Syria’s chaos isn’t America’s fault
By Aaron David Miller, Published: January 1
Aaron David Miller is vice president for current initiatives at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and has advised Democratic and Republican secretaries of state on the Middle East. His books include the forthcoming “Can America Have Another Great President?”
Who lost Syria? Comments of some U.S. senators, analysts and journalists, including the editorial board of this newspaper, suggest there is no doubt: Bashar al-Assad and his thugocracy are primarily responsible for the killings, but the tragedy of Syria is also a direct result of a terrible failure of leadership on the part of the international community, and of the United States in particular.
Syria, it is charged, is Barack Obama’s Rwanda.
Don’t believe it.
The idea that Syria was anyone’s to win or lose, or that the United States could significantly shape the outcome there, is typical of the arrogant paternalism and flawed analysis that have gotten this country into heaps of trouble in the Middle East over the years.
One of the virtues of the Arab Spring/Winter is that Arab people came to own their politics — for better or worse. This sense of ownership was often painful to watch — democracy isn’t always liberal — but it brought authority and legitimacy to the political turbulence roiling that region since late 2010. That made change real and home-grown. The United States and Israel were not central to the myths, tropes and narratives of these historic changes, nor should they be.
Some have argued for intervention by attempting to draw a parallel to Libya: We helped the rebels bring down Moammar Gaddafi, this thinking goes. Why not do the same in Syria?
Three interconnected realities provide the answer. First, there was an international consensus for action in Libya, specifically through the United Nations and NATO. Second, Libya was low-hanging fruit from a military perspective: It had a weak regime, no effective air defenses, no weapons of mass destruction and no allies. The Libyan rebels also held discrete territory, from which it was easy to organize.
Syria is fundamentally different. It combines the worst aspects of three volatile elements: civil war, sectarian violence and manipulation by external powers. The argument that the United States created this mess makes sense only if there really were good options to intercede earlier that might have averted this fate.
Yet that was never the case. Yes, we could have done more on the humanitarian side and perhaps taken a more active role far earlier in helping to organize a political opposition, even covertly.
But since this conflict began in early 2011, all of the military options for intervention have been heavily skewed toward risk rather than reward. Given the Assad regime’s firepower, its allies (Russia and China blocking actions in the U.N. Security Council; Iran supplying money and weapons), Assad’s determination to do whatever it took to survive and his success in keeping much of his Alawite military, security and intelligence forces intact, none of the suggested military options was consequential enough to bring down the regime or to give the rebels a victory.
To stop the regime’s assault, let alone to topple it, would have required direct military pressure, most likely a massive air and missile campaign and probably an intervention force. Those, quite rightly, were never under serious consideration. Half-measures such as arming the rebels and instituting a “no-fly” zone carried risks but no identifiable rewards. It was never clear how a limited military response would shape events. U.S. planners could not be certain that a military response wouldn’t have pushed Russia and Iran to up the ante with more weapons. And with Washington seeking Moscow’s support to keep pressure on Iran’s nuclear program, a major escalation over Syria wouldn’t have helped.
And who, exactly, would we have been arming? Once the United States backs a particular rebel group, Washington would be responsible for its actions. Neighbors such as the Saudis and Qataris may have a stake in arming Sunni fundamentalists in Syria, but the United States does not. As for the Turks, the Obama administration did not prevent Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan from acting militarily. Erdogan faced serious internal constraints: Neither the general public nor 15 million Turkish Alevis aligned ethnically with Syrian Alawites wanted war with Damascus.
The tragedy of Syria is that too much blood has flowed to imagine a negotiated settlement between the regime and the opposition — yet the horrors have not been enough to force a divided, preoccupied and self-interested international community to intervene.
We will never know about the “what ifs” had the United States intervened in a more aggressive way. But to blame the arc of this crisis on Washington or to suggest that the Obama administration made it worse fails to understand the cruel nature of the Syrian tragedy and the limits of U.S. power and our national priorities. The United States is coming out of the two longest wars in its history, in which the standard for victory was never “can we win?” but “when can we leave?”
As recent polling on the prospect of intervention in Syria shows, the American people understand this, even if those who call for more aggressive U.S. action do not. We should not be the world’s top cop or caseworker, charged with fixing every calamity. We don’t control history. And it’s time we attend to our own broken house instead of running around the world trying to repair everyone else’s.
Read more on this debate: John McCain, Joseph I. Lieberman and Lindsey O. Graham: Syria’s descent into hell The Post’s View: U.S. impotence on Syria Jackson Diehl: Watching Syria’s descent
SLIDESHOW: Syria’s rising displacement crisis – IRINnews.org
‘The people of Aleppo needed someone to drag them into the revolution’
Ghaith Abdul-Ahad in Aleppo, guardian, 28 December 2012
Abu Ali Sulaibi was one of the first people to take up arms in Aleppo. Now he controls two shattered blocks on the frontline where he lives with his wife, four children and Squirrel the cat…
“I can’t believe that this is my mother’s living room,” he says. Then, to the men: “Wake up, you beasts!”
As no one stirs, he pulls a pistol from his belt and fires into the ceiling, bringing down a chunk of plaster. The men jump from their mats, grabbing their guns. “That was Abu Ali’s wake-up call,” he says.
Outside, Abu Ali sits on a broken plastic chair set amid the rubble. His fighters, bleary-eyed, sit around him, making Turkish coffee and smoking. There is no food. The men live on one meal a day and many have not eaten since lunch the day before.
A trickle of civilians who braved the sniper fire to reach Abu Ali’s headquarters now come forward, as they do each morning, to ask favours of the chief. Some are trying to salvage their food or furniture, others come to ask permission to scavenge or squat in the empty apartments.
On this morning, six civilians stand sheepishly in front of him: a man in his 50s and his teenage son; a lanky man in a coat that is too big for him; a young engineer in rimless glasses and a bald man with his sister, who wears a black hijab. The civilians stay at a distance out of respect or fearing his unchecked anger.
“What do you want?”
“We want to collect some of our stuff, Abu Ali,” the older man says.
“Not today. Come back on Saturday.”
“But you told us to come on Wednesday.”
“I changed my mind. You should know that this is the state of Abu Ali Sulaibi.” He roars out his catchphrase as much for the benefit of his men as the civilians.
“You are all informers,” he tells the scared civilians. “I know you cross back to government side and report on us.”
“We are not,” says the bald man. “Our hearts are with you.”
“When you say that, I know you are an informer.” Turning to one of his men he says, half-joking: “Wasn’t he the one who was chasing us when we were out demonstrating?” The bald man’s face turns pale.
Abu Ali keeps the civilians waiting for two hours. Then, like a true autocrat, he quickly changes his mind and summons two of his men to take them where they want to go.
Al-Rashed Predicts al-Assad’s Fall in March 2013 – 01/01/2013
By Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed – As-Sharq al-Awsat
What if our hopes our disappointed and a third year passes with Bashar al-Assad still clinging on to power in Damascus?
At this point we would have no other choice but to apologize, stop writing, or pay the price for our mistaken analysis of the situation. Although I am being careful not to predict particular dates for al-Assad’s fall, all information confirms that his regime cannot last long, and the only predication that I am comfortable making is that he will fall by the end of the second year of the Syrian revolution. …
Increasing Barbarity Gaining a Clearer View of the Syrian Civil War
By Christoph Reuter – Spiegel
…What these foreigners in Aleppo have in common, says one member of the Ahrar al-Sham brigade, is less a hatred of Assad than a conviction that they must fight against all Shiites, whom they consider traitors to Sunni Islam. “When this is over,” the man says, “they want to continue on and fight against the Hezbollah.” These men with beards and Kalashnikovs, constantly shouting “Allahu akbar,” do fit with a certain framework, but that framework doesn’t exist anymore. Nor does the image of the ultra-warrior apply to all who adorn themselves with the al-Qaida logo. …
The true danger, the one we sense growing with each trip we make to Syria, is the increasing brutality and barbarism on both sides. The question is no longer simply how this conflict will end, but also at what price…. Tens of thousands of people have died. They are civilians, soldiers and rebels. Gangs massacre their way through suburbs and villages. Half a million people have fled abroad, and far more are desperately on the move within their own country, afraid to stay where they are, but fearing death around every next corner.
A year ago, Homs, Aleppo, Rastan, Talbiseh, Douma, Zabadani, Deir el-Zour, Idlib and hundreds of other cities and villages did not yet look like small Mediterranean Stalingrads. The irresistible pull of revenge increases with each wave of killing, for both the Alawites and the Sunnis.…
“It’s understood that Bashar al-Assad’s regime will not last long,” said Georgy Mirsky, a Middle East expert at the Institute for World Economy and International Relations in Moscow.
“But this does not mean that Russia is ready to join the West, the Turks and the Arabs and demand that Assad go? That would be senseless. Syria is lost (to Russia) anyway,” he said.
At least Russia “will be able to say that we do not abandon our friends,” Mirsky said.
Syrian war leaves children traumatize
By Carol Morello, Wash Post
Kids who fled the country find different ways to deal with the things they saw in their homeland…..
Syria begins year with more air raids, clashes
Gulf Times – 02 January, 2013
Syrians woke up to air strikes near Damascus on New Year’s Day and the closure of Aleppo airport due to rebel attacks, hours after dozens of people took to the streets of the capital calling for the regime’s ouster.The violence came a day after activists reported finding dozens of mutilated bodies, another sign of the gruesome nature of the 21-month conflict… There have been continued attempts by opposition militants to target civilian aircraft, which could cause a humanitarian disaster,” an airport official said…. The Observatory said 30 bodies were found in Barzeh district, while the Syrian Revolution General Commission said 50 bodies were found with their heads “cut and disfigured to the point that it was no longer possible to identify” them….
Laying Groundwork for Life After Syria’s Assad: As Regime Teeters, Jews Mull Outreach to Rebel Fighters
By Nathan Guttman, January 01, 2013, Forward
Future Leaders?: With Syrian rebels close to tipping the balance against strongman Bashar al-Assad, Jews are starting to think about their next steps…. Notably absent from most discussions of Syria’s future is the question of its relations with Israel…. “There are many in the opposition who believe that Israeli concerns over change in Syria are, in part at least, behind the lack of a more proactive response by the international community to the situation in Syria,” said Ammar Abdulhamid,
the Arab Spring made it clear that Arab democracy does not necessarily entail more openness to relations with Israel, at least in the absence of any progress on the Israeli-Palestinian front and other territorial disputes between Israel and its neighbors.
“The agreed line by the opposition is that the status quo in the Golan Heights will be maintained until conditions permit for organizing peace talks,” said Abdulhamid, referring to Israel’s occupation of that area since the 1967 Six Day War..
…after Assad’s fall, “a potential military-terrorist threat to Israel will likely emerge in the transition period, which will be marked by governmental instability and a lack of central control over at least some of the fighting forces.” Radwan Ziadeh argued that such concerns should not deter the community from getting involved. “It is better to invest in the future than to hang on to the old regime,” said Ziadeh… Ziadeh talks about the role he sees for American Jews in helping the Syrian cause. “Now is the time for the Jewish community and for Israel to push the Obama administration to take action,” said Ziadeh, who supports American military intervention aimed at helping the opposition…
“Jews will always be used by one side or another” in the conflict, Gaer argues in response. But the circumstances in Syria are so harsh and clear, she said, that there is no room for concern about Jewish support de-legitimizing the opposition. “If we speak to this issue we will not hurt the effort,” she said. “Turning an eye away from what’s going on, that is what can be seen as not legitimate.”
Syria Deeply – December 05, 2012
Conversations: A Road Trip to Idleb
As part of our effort to highlight civilian stories, below is a conversation between Syria Deeply and a Syrian university student. She’s from a conservative Sunni family in Aleppo. She hopes to leave the country, but first had to get a passport from her family’s registered home address in Idleb. She told us her observations about the road between Aleppo and Idleb.
The driver took us to Idleb from all the “liberated” villages. We passed from a village called Kafar Halab, which has a big hill nearby. The landscapes there were amazingly beautiful. I want to buy a house there after the revolution..
There was graffiti everywhere we passed through. Some of the writings support the regime and others are supporting the opposition. Each one of them tries to erase the other one and write in its place. It is very childish. You can never trust anyone of them.
I saw the shamsin bread factory on my way and there was an unbelievable crowd in front of it. There were thousands of people fighting and pushing each other for bread. Then I saw the Magic Land restaurant complex. It has a billboard, that now reads “We are a nation whom Allah gave the pride of Islam”.
We passed from a Free Syrian Army checkpoint, and then we reach the Icarda intersection, where was located al-Nusra Front Islamic jihadist group’s checkpoint. Surprisingly, they were nice to us. Perhaps they saw my hijab and modest clothing and they respected that. We passed from Binnish and Taftanaz, both are targets of heavy aerial bombardments, however, life is still normal there and people seem not bothered at all from living under shelling. They are insisting on not leaving their homes. Some university student girls from Binnish joined our vehicle and told their stories of how they are going to Idleb everyday for their lectures, fearing all the way that a shell, a barrel or a car bomb will take their lives…
Finally we reached Idleb, but my passport wasn’t ready yet. I wandered around and had a tea near the souk. They have a nice souk (covered market), which is exactly a smaller copy of our old souk in Aleppo. There were a lot of people and life was bustling there, just like it used to be in Aleppo before the big fire in the old city and the historic souk two months ago. I bought a Derby chips (a very famous Syrian produced potato chips) and the seller started to chat with me when he heard my Aleppo accent.
He asked me about the situation in Aleppo and I replied that it is still not good. He replied saying that when they were being shelled in Idleb we were making barbeques and eating kebab in Aleppo! I got mad and left the place.
I bought some bread from there to bring it home with me, because there is no bread in Aleppo. Before, we used to bring home sweets and other luxuries from our trips, but now a piece of bread is more valued than anything else… I hold the bread with both hands the entire road as if it is a treasure. On my way back to Aleppo, in the front seat of the bus there was very obsequious man, who used to greet every checkpoint we were stopped by. He sucked up to them whether if they were army or rebel checkpoints.
We reached Saraqeb, which is perhaps the most bombarded town in all of Syria. If not all houses are destroyed then they are half destroyed. We saw a shepherd with his sheep in the beautiful nature near the town. I saw a lot of people who had lost their young sons and children, their relatives, but somehow they were still hopeful [things would get better].
I cannot say how my heart was tearing apart on the road every time I saw these people and our beautiful country burning everywhere. I am sick of all the propaganda, applauses, analysis, and everything from both sides. What I saw on the road was enough for me.
This people want to live!
Speaking in French-accented English, he said he was not Syrian, but a roaming jihadist who had journeyed here to help the Sunni uprising against President Bashar al-Assad’s secular, Alawite rule.
“I am a Muslim,” he said. “When you see on TV many of your brothers and sisters being killed you have to go help them. This is an obligation in Islam.”
The presence of this foreign antigovernment fighter, who claimed to be from Paris and gave his name as Abu Abdullah, pointed to recurring questions of the battle for Syria’s largest city: How much longer will the fighting last, and what will its effects be?
The presence of foreign fighters like Abu Abdullah, and the calls for religious law that have been heard in many places across rebel-held territory, have left many to say that the fall of Mr. Assad, even if the day came soon, would signal the end of one phase of the war, and perhaps the start of another. In this way, Aleppo offered a glimpse.
Abu Abdullah, for his part, wandered the front with unmistakable approval of the Syrian fighters around him. With dreadlocks protruding beneath his black watch cap, he slung his Dragunov-style rifle and surveyed the broken buildings, looking for an elevated spot from which to watch the army positions near Hanano, waiting for a soldier to become a target.
He said that he had fought in Pakistan and Afghanistan and suggested that he had been a sniper in Iraq. Now, he said, it was Syria’s turn at war, which mixes an uprising against a repressive government with the older, uglier contest between Sunnis and Shiites. His mission suggested he saw no quick end to the violence. “I am here,” he said, “to teach the Syrians to snipe.”
Jabhat Al-Nusra’s Emir: America’s Designation Of The Group As A Terrorist Organization Is Merely An Expression Of Its Failure In The Region
On December 27, 2012, the Syrian jihadi group Jabhat Al-Nusra (JN) released a 23-minute audio-recorded message by its Emir, Abu Muhammad Al-Julani, in which he responds to American’s recent move of designating JN a terrorist organization. Al-Julani says that the designation is an expression of America’s failure in the region, and thanks all those who stood by JN following this move, noting that their support is an indication of JN’s popularity among the Syrian people. It is noteworthy that Al-Julani’s address was posted on JN’s Facebook page, since the Shumoukh Al-Islam forum, JN’s usual outlet for publishing its materials, has been offline for several days.
U.S.-Approved Arms for Libya Rebels Fell Into Jihadis’ Hands
By JAMES RISEN, MARK MAZZETTI and MICHAEL S. SCHMIDT
Published: December 5, 2012
WASHINGTON — The Obama administration secretly gave its blessing to arms shipments to Libyan rebels from Qatar last year, but American officials later grew alarmed as evidence grew that Qatar was turning some of the weapons over to Islamic militants, according to United States officials and foreign diplomats.
Envoy to Syria Warns of Slide to Hellish Fiefs With Huge Toll
By KAREEM FAHIM and HWAIDA SAAD
December 30, 2012
BEIRUT, Lebanon — The international envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, drew a grim portrait on Sunday of the country’s future in the absence of a political solution, warning of a state carved up by warlords and a death toll that would rapidly surge, while conceding that there was little sign that the antagonists intended to negotiate.
At a news conference at Arab League headquarters in Cairo, Mr. Brahimi said the violence, which has already killed tens of thousands of people, could claim 100,000 lives over the next year.
“People are talking about a divided Syria being split into a number of small states like Yugoslavia,” he said.
“This is not what is going to happen. What will happen is Somalization — warlords,” Mr. Brahimi said, according to a transcript of his remarks. Without a peace deal, he added, Syria would be “transformed into hell.”….
Monday 24 December 2012
You’ve got to be careful when Syria’s rebels are perpetually “closing in”
Remember the days when we thought Egypt’s path to democracy was a done deal? Western-trained Mohamed Morsi had invited the people to come and meet him in Hosni Mubarak’s former presidential palace, the old military toffs in the “Supreme Council of the Armed Forces” had been pensioned off and the International Monetary Fund was waiting to bestow some of those cruel deprivations upon Egypt that would ready it for our financial benevolence. How happy the Middle East optimists were by mid-2012.
Next door, Libya produced a victory for nice, pro-Western secularist Mahmoud Jibril, promising freedom, stability, a new home for the West in one of the Arab world’s most fecund oil producers. It was a place where even US diplomats could wander around virtually unprotected.
Tunisia may have an Islamist party running its government, but it was a “moderate” administration – in other words, we thought it would do what we wanted – while the Saudis and the Bahraini autocracy, with the purse-lipped support of Messrs Obama and Cameron, quietly suppressed what was left of the Shia uprising which threatened to remind us all that democracy was not really welcome among the wealthiest Arab states. Democracy was for the poor.
So, too, in Syria. By the spring of last year, the Western commentariat was writing off Bashar al-Assad. He did not deserve “to live on this earth”, according to French Foreign Secretary Laurent Fabius. He must “step down”, “step aside”. His regime had only weeks to go, perhaps only days. This was the “tipping point”.
Then by summer, when the “tipping point” had come and gone, we were told that Assad was about to use gas “against his own people”. Or that his supplies of chemical weapons might “fall into the wrong hands” (the “right hands” still presumably being Assad’s).
Syria’s rebels were always “closing in” – on Homs, then Damascus, then Aleppo, then Damascus again. The West supported the rebels. Money and guns aplenty came from Qatar and Saudi Arabia, moral support from Obama, Clinton, the pathetic Hague, Hollande, the whole factory of goodness – until, inevitably, it turned out that the rebels contained rather a lot of Salafists, executioners, sectarian killers and, in one case, a teenage head-chopper who behaved rather like the ruthless regime they were fighting. The factory had to put some of its machinery into reverse. The US still supported the good, secular rebels but now regarded the horrible Salafist rebels as a “terrorist organisation”…..
The Post’s View
U.S. impotence on Syria
by Editorial Board, December 29
AS 2012 COMES to a close, Syria is headed toward a bloody and chaotic end to what began as a peaceful uprising against an autocratic regime. This would be a catastrophe that could destabilize much of the Middle East, provide al-Qaeda with a new base of operations, and lead to the transfer or even use of chemical weapons.
Above all, the crisis is the result of the brutality and ruthlessness of ruler Bashar al-Assad and the family clique around him, and their supporters in Iran and Russia. But it is also reflects a massive failure of Western — and particularly American — leadership, the worst since the Rwandan genocide two decades ago.