“The hunt for ‘plan B’, by Labott; Syria Needs a George Washington; Syria could become like North Korea; “The Burial Brigade of Homs,” by Putz
Posted by Joshua on Sunday, April 1st, 2012
The hunt for ‘plan B’ – planning for ‘the day after’ in Syria
By Elise Labott, CNN Foreign Affairs Reporter
Expectations are low for Sunday’s Friends of Syria meeting in Istanbul, where representatives from more than 70 nations and international organizations will gather to discuss ways to hasten the ouster of President Bashar al-Assad.
The reason is simple. The most critical piece is missing: Plan B.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has made no secret of her frustration with the opposition Syrian National Council’s inability to offer a vision for a post-al-Assad Syria that all Syrians can sign on to. This week, Clinton said the United States would be “pushing them very hard” to present such a vision in Istanbul.
She’s not alone. Many a senior administration official has summed up the SNC in two words: “A mess.”
The characterization from European and Arab diplomats may be more diplomatic, but no less critical of the SNC’s lack of leadership, organizational skills and ideas.
“They are all over the map, depending on whom you talk to on any given day,” one senior U.S. official said. “It’s hard to think of what we can do going forward when there is no credible alternative.”
Lessons learned from Iraq
More importantly the SNC, made up of mostly Syrian exiles, has not demonstrated it has support inside Syria. U.S. officials are seeing parallels to the war in Iraq, where the United States relied too heavily upon the Iraqi National Congress – a group of exiles run by businessmen Ahmed Chalabi – which was ultimately found to be corrupt and unreliable. When Baghdad fell and the Baath party disbanded, it became quickly apparent the group had no base inside Iraq from which to draw, and the United States was left to run the country.
“The U.S. is hoping these expats can deliver. They are telling you they can, but their actions and infighting are telling you they can’t,” said the University of Oklahoma’s Joshua Landis, who writes Syria Comment, a daily newsletter on Syrian politics. “The Obama administration fears they will implode or be overtaken by actors within Syria who are better connected to forces on the ground. The Obama administration doesn’t want to be caught going down the same yellow brick trail as the Bush administration did when it backed the Iraqi National Council only to discover that it didn’t have much purchase with Iraqi society.”
Radwan Ziadeh, a member of the SNC and the executive director of the Syrian Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Washington, said the criticism of the group’s lack of vision is unfair given the uncertainty of the crisis. “We can come with a general plan, but how can we come up with a detailed plan?” he asked. “That will depend on the key players who emerge from this and we don’t’ know that yet. We don’t know how the regime will fall.”….
Last year the State Department gave modest funding to an initiative run by the U.S. Institute for Peace, aptly titled “The Day After.” The project centers around developing a set of recommendations for key sectors, like how to jump-start the economy, establish security and rule of law and write a new constitution. The participants, who include both Syrian exiles and Western technical experts, have met several times in Europe. Although the Syrian National Council is not officially affiliated with the USIP project, because the leadership was wary of participating in an enterprise funded by the United Sates, several of the group’s members are involved – including Ziadeh, who called it an “important tool” in transition planning.
But the State Department quickly became disenchanted with the project. Officials including U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford, who previously served in Iraq, felt it bore an uncanny resemblance to the Future of Iraq project,….
“You can get the same people to do the same project for Congo or Zimbabwe,” said Ayman Abdel Nour, who served as al-Assad’s adviser from 1997 to 2004….
Ausama Monajed, a member of the SNC who has taken part in the USIP project, said while it’s important to reach Syrians inside the country, it is unrealistic to expect those under deadly siege by the government to be thinking about the day-after. “The majority of the people can’t talk about tomorrow, they are worried about today,” he said. “They are in the middle of it and cannot see the bigger picture at this stage. There is no stomach for anyone in the inside to look at a health policy when they are being shot.”…
Trying to learn the lessons of Iraq, Ambassador Ford and others have concluded the exiles they are currently working with will not be able to get the economy running, turn on the electricity, or fix a pothole “the day after.”
While not abandoning the SNC entirely, senior officials say the Obama administration in recent months has begun to cast a much wider net for Syrians who can run Syria the day after al-Assad falls. The United States could no longer put all of its eggs in the SNC’s basket.
President Obama himself suggested the shift earlier this week in South Korea when, after a meeting with Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, he said the U.S. would start aiding opposition groups inside Syria. Officials said non-lethal aid will include secure communications equipment to help opposition leaders on the ground communicate better with each other and with the outside world.
While in Syria, Ford amassed a network of opposition contacts on the ground that has been hard to tap into since the embassy closed and he left the country in February. Now he relies on Skype and other communications technologies to reach those inside…..
Syrian activist Ammar Abdulhamid, a fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies in Washington, is trying to bridge the gap between the exiles and those Syrians on the ground. He’s bringing together small groups of Syrian experts to brainstorm ideas for a transition, which he is feeding to opposition groups on the ground in Syria who the United States is now trying to reach. “We don’t have a political agenda and aren’t tabling a plan,” Abdulhamid said. “This is to raise public awareness and highlight the issues we are going to be facing once Assad falls. There needs to be a public debate and we want to empower Syrians to do that.”
Molham Aldrobi, a member of the SNC who serves on the Muslim Brotherhood’s Executive Council and has taken part in both the USIP and Abdulhamid’s projects, believes the opposition on the ground will eventually produce the “alternative” the U.S. and others are calling for. But he said more support for the opposition is needed, and that will determine who follows Assad and how much influence the international community will have on that person.
“Bashar al-Assad needs to know the world means business and so do the Syrian people,” he said. “The longer it takes, the more unstable this region will be and the worse the situation will be in the future. Or else the international community may find they won’t like who gets in. Because that person is going to say, ‘hands off, this is mine.’”
Video — Syria opposition: Don’t prolong catastrophe
by AlJazeeraEnglish on Apr 1, 2012
Burhan Ghalioun, the head of the opposition Syrian National Council (SNC), said at the opening of the so-called “Friends of Syria” in Istanbul: “We demand serious action. The Syrian regime will inevitably fall. Don’t prolong the catastrophe. The opposition is united; now it is time for you to unite and support the Syrian opposition.”
Mideast expert: Syria faces Iraq-style insurgency
Michael Hughes, Geopolitics Examiner
Syria is descending into a factional civil war which has taken on some of the contours of the insurgency the U.S. fought in Iraq for ten years, “at least in the methods of fighting and growing sectarian divide,” according to Professor Joshua Landis, Director of Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma. (See Upheaval within the Opposition: Defections, Terrorism, and Preparing for a Phase II Insurgency)
Landis is also author of the blog Syria Comment, a treasure-trove of intelligence that provides more sophisticated analysis on the situation than most Western sources.
Within an email to me on Saturday Professor Landis also stated that Syria could turn into “a North Korea of sorts”, plagued by misery, starvation and displacement, isolated from the international community but with a government that refuses to quit.”
Although Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is unlikely to cease employing violence to quell dissent anytime soon, Landis does not believe the Syrian despot will succeed in the long run:
I doubt he [Assad] will have a lot more success than the US has had in Iraq, although, his army probably understands Syrians a lot better than US troops and commanders did Iraqis. But they [Assad and his security forces] will probably still be provoked into over-reacting to terrorism and road-side bombs and lose the battle for hearts and minds.
Landis, often quoted as an expert in news outlets such as The New York Times and Reuters, explained in a recent post how the Arab Spring hit Syria in a much different way than it did other countries in the region. Syrian expats, as well as U.S. leaders, assumed Assad would fall within months, underestimating the intensity of the sectarian divide:
Syrian opposition members incorrectly believed a “Tahrir Square moment” would arrive within months of the uprising’s start, “eliminating the need for a coherent military strategy, a defined leadership, or how to parry government counter-insurgency operations.”
The reality is elite Westernized Syrian intellectuals living abroad, who want to see a purely secular and peaceful anti-government protest movement, are not the ones doing the bulk of the fighting. Jobless lower-class Muslim youth have been doing the heavy-lifting on the street with funds and arms from the Saudis and other Sunni benefactors.
In a recent discussion with Robert Wright on Bloggingheads.tv, Landis said the militarization and Islamization of the rebel movement was inevitable but, in some ways, perhaps necessary.
No secular nationalist ideology exists in Syria that can rally Syrian fighters. Hence, opposition military leaders have been inspiring their soldiers by relying upon the doctrine that is most readily available: jihad. This same doctrine has worked for Hezbollah and Hamas as well as insurgents in both Iraq and Afghanistan for years.
Syrian rebel leaders have been portraying the struggle as a holy war against a heathen dictator. And because of the Syrian government’s superior firepower, the Syrian rebels have had to resort to asymmetric warfare which includes “martyrdom operations” – so the Islamist ideology is well-aligned with the tactics now required to defeat the infidel.
Despite the humanitarian situation Landis does not believe the international community should intervene militarily because toppling Assad without having a viable alternative will lead to chaos and civil war.
The Syrian people must go through the process of building a nation on their own, Landis asserted, as opposed to having some regime dropped in by foreign powers. The Syrians should look at places like Turkey for examples of how to erect a stable country from the ground up. The Syrians need a George Washington-type who can win long hard-fought battles and unify disparate interests while forging a genuine national identity. As Landis said during the Wright interview:
“Syria needs a George Washington, but Americans cannot invent one for them.”
In the long run, nonintervention will result in less killing, as the Syrians themselves build and establish a legitimate government, as opposed to outsiders intervening and attempting to do it for them.
The Burial Brigade of Homs
An Executioner for Syria’s Rebels Tells His Story
By Ulrike Putz in Beirut, SPIEGEL ONLINE
Human Rights Watch has condemned abuses committed by Syrian rebels in their stronghold of Homs. But one member of a rebel “burial brigade” who has executed four men by slitting their throats defended his work in an interview with SPIEGEL ONLINE. “If we don’t do it, nobody will hold these perpetrators to account,” he said.
Hussein can barely remember the first time he executed someone. It was probably in a cemetery in the evening, or at night; he can’t recall exactly. It was definitely mid-October of last year, and the man was Shiite, for sure. He had confessed to killing women — decent women, whose husbands and sons had protested against Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime. So the rebels had decided that the man, a soldier in the Syrian army, deserved to die, too.
Hussein didn’t care if the man had been beaten into a confession, or that he was terrified of death and had begun to stammer prayers. It was his tough luck that the rebels had caught him. Hussein took out his army knife and sliced the kneeling man’s neck. His comrades from the so-called “burial brigade” quickly interred the blood-stained corpse in the sand of the graveyard west of the Baba Amr area of the rebel stronghold of Homs. At the time, the neighborhood was in the hands of the insurgents.
That first execution was a rite of passage for Hussein. He now became a member of the Homs burial brigade. The men, of which there are only a handful, kill in the name of the Syrian revolution. They leave torture to others; that’s what the so-called interrogation brigade is for. “They do the ugly work,” says Hussein, who is currently being treated in a hospital in the Lebanese city of Tripoli. He was injured when a piece of shrapnel became lodged in his back during the army’s ground invasion of Baba Amr in early March.
He is recovering in relatively safe Lebanon until he can return to Syria and “get back to work.” It’s a job he considers relatively clean. “Most men can torture, but they’re not able to kill from close range,” he explains. “I don’t know why, but it doesn’t bother me. That’s why they gave me the job of executioner. It’s something for a madman like me.”
Before he joined the Farouk Brigade, as the Baba Amr militia is known, last August, the 24-year-old had worked as a salesman. “I can sell everything, from porcelain to yogurt,” he says.
How the Rebels Lost Their Innocence
The bloody uprising against the Assad regime has now lasted for a year. And Hussein’s story illustrates that, in this time, the rebels have also lost their innocence.
There are probably many reasons for that development. Hussein can rattle off several of them. “There are no longer any laws in Syria,” he says. “Soldiers or thugs hired by the regime kill men, maim children and rape our women. If we don’t do it, nobody will hold these perpetrators to account.”
Another reason, he explains, is the desire for vengeance. “I have been arrested twice. I was tortured for 72 hours. They hung me by the hands, until the joints in my shoulders cracked. They burnt me with hot irons. Of course I want revenge.”….
So far, Hussein has cut the throats of four men. Among the group of executioners in Homs, he is the least experienced — something that he almost seems apologetic about. “I was wounded four times in the last seven months,” he says. “I was out of action for a long time.” On top of that, he also has other commitments. “I operate our heavy machine gun, a Russian BKC. Naturally I have killed a lot more men with that. But only four with the blade.” That will change soon, he says. “I hope I will be released from the hospital next week and can return to Homs. Then those dogs will be in for it.”….
House intelligence leaders said on Sunday that arming Syrian rebels remains unwise because they are unknown actors and Syria’s regime continues to be backed by Iran and Russia.
“I think we both agree that’s probably a bad idea,” said Mike Rogers, R-Mich., chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, appearing on CNN’s State of the Union.
Appearing with Ranking Member C.A. “Dutch” Ruppersberger, D-Md., he argued for greater international diplomatic pressure rather than “sending in arms and hoping for the best.”
“We think that there are other things that we can do that we haven’t quite engaged in yet, and that probably need to happen,” Rogers said, including engaging the Arab League so the United States could take a “support role.”
Rogers said President Bashar Al-Assad’s regime appears unmoved by Washington’s pleading, but cautioned against weapons falling into the hands of “bad actors there.”
“We don’t really see Assad’s inner-circle crumbling,” Rogers said. “They believe that they’re winning.”
He added: “Iran and Russia both have stepped up to the plate and can’t afford, in their minds, can’t afford to lose Syria as their toehold.” Said Ruppersberger: “The United States can’t be sheriff for the whole world.” [...]
China rejects Obama’s Iran oil import sanctions
by News Sources on April 1, 2012 (Thanks War in Context)
The Associated Press reports: China rejected President Barack Obama’s decision to move forward with plans for sanctions on countries buying oil from Iran, saying Saturday that Washington had no right to unilaterally punish other nations.
South Korean officials said they will continue working with the U.S. to reduce oil imports from Iran, as other U.S. allies who depend on Iranian oil worked to find alternative energy supplies.
Obama announced Friday that he is plowing ahead with the potential sanctions, which could affect U.S. allies in Asia and Europe, as part of a deepening campaign to starve Iran of money for its disputed nuclear program. The U.S. and allies believe that Iran is pursuing a nuclear bomb; Iran denies that.
China is one of the biggest importers of Iranian oil, and its Foreign Ministry reiterated its opposition to the U.S. moves.
Syria eyewitness dispatch: ‘I watched as Assad’s tanks rolled in to destroy a rebel town’,
by News Sources 03.31.2012
John Cantlie, an independent photojournalist, reports from the Syrian town of Saraqeb: The sound of the caterpillar tracks could be felt as much as heard, a deep rumble that sent a rattle through windows and a tremble of fear through the guts. Then we saw them. Huge Soviet-made T72s, accompanied by troop carriers driving slowly [...]