The Issue Of Foreign Intervention – US Calls on Assad to “Step Down Now”. Robert Ford, making a difference (By Ehsani)
Posted by Ehsani on Friday, October 7th, 2011
As Syria approaches the seven month anniversary of its conflict, the following is becoming clear:
1- The Syrian military and internal security apparatus is a cohesive group that seems unlikely to disintegrate anytime soon. There is no doubt that some desertions have taken place. But these have been too sporadic to make a noticeable rupture in the army’s control over the Syrian territory.
2- The defining moment in the past seven months came on the eve of Ramadan. Hama was steadily moving away from central control. The sensitivities of moving the army into Hama on that day were not lost to Damascus. In the end, the risk of waiting was deemed too high. Leaving Hama the way it was for the whole month of Ramadan would have made any attempt to retake the city that much harder to accomplish thereafter. No one in the Syrian leadership wanted to have another Benghazi in Syria. This is why the tanks moved into Daraa earlier and Rastan just recently. Damascus will not allow any territory to fall outside of its control.
3- Armed with a strong and cohesive army that has been able to exert full territorial control over the whole country, the opposition must by now be aware that defeating this regime militarily is unlikely to happen without foreign help. Syria is not Tunisia or Egypt. The popular uprising that was going to sweep away the Syrian regime was an attractive option in theory. Members of the Syrian opposition saw it as the way forward. In practice, however, it is yet to yield any discernible result.
4- This leaves foreign help. Presumably, this can mean one of three things:
- Foreign Boots on the ground.
- No Fly-Zone.
- Arming internal groups with the hope toppling the regime militarily.
The latter option is precisely why the Syrian leadership has made sure that no territory falls outside its control. Such an area would simply act as a base and an address for foreign arm shipments and would constitute a Syrian Bhangazi. Any foreign shipments that have come in so far seem to have been sporadic and light enough not to pose any legitimate strategic risk to the country’s armed forces. Indeed, the Syrian army and security forces are so superior in numbers and firepower that it seems almost impossible for this strategy to ultimately work. The opposition is unlikely to defeat the army regardless of how many arms it can unilaterally source from outside.
In an exclusive report entitled – War only option to topple Syrian leader, Colonel Riad al-As’aad seems to call for the international community to provide army rebels with weapons and enforce a no-fly zone. He concludes by saying:
“If they don’t give it to us, we will fight with our nails until the regime is toppled. I tell Bashar al-Assad, the people are stronger than you.”
The fact is that the Colonel realizes that arming the rebels from outside needs both a Syrian address (Rastan or jabal al zawye) AND a No-Fly zone.
But what is a No-Fly zone? The concept seems a little confusing in the sense that the Syrian air force has not exactly been busy fighting the insurgents with chemical weapons (Iraq) or the like. One can think of this concept as the prelude or the poor cousin of the first option which involves sending foreign boots on the ground. The No-Fly zone, should it happen, would presumably involve NATO targeting and degrading Syria’s extensive surface to air anti aircraft missiles.
Saddam survived everything that was thrown at him, including a No-Fly zone, for years till the foreign boots showed up. Once the latter happened, his regime simply crumbled in days. While the initial western success was intoxicating, what came after was enough to convince even the most hawkish elements in Washington that a repeat of that experiment in Syria now would be incomprehensible. The country does not have the financial, political or military stomach for this adventure at the moment.
The newly formed Syrian National Council faces a dilemma when it comes to foreign intervention. Quite simply, the opposition knows that it is nearly impossible to topple this regime without foreign help. Yet, they also know that inviting foreign military intervention into Syria is political suicide. What you get as a result is a muddled policy response and half-pregnant answers.
To be sure, no foreign intervention has been the consistent party line. During the latest interview with Aljazeera, Mr. Ghalyoun called for “international observers to help protect civilians”. While that does not sound like direct foreign military intervention, it surely is a prelude to one. What would happen if a team of international observers (UNIFIL?) were shot at or killed? Would the international community have to send real armed forced to protect the observers next?
The Syrian National Council is likely to keep dancing around this issue and avoid commenting on the subject directly. This is because they are in a catch-22 situation. As this conflict carries forward, the time will come when the SNC will have to face that fork in the road and convincingly describe how it intends to bring the slogan of ”Isqat al Nizam” into reality on the ground.
[end of commentary]
Kurdish opponent of Assad shot dead – Financial Times
Though the exact circumstances surrounding Mr Tammo’s death are unknown, suspicion immediately fell on the regime, and could widen the opposition to Mr Assad’s rule. Protests were said to have broken out in Kurdish areas on Friday night.
“They’re very, very angry,” said Massoud Akko, a Kurdish human rights activist and journalist living in Norway. “He was a very good man, very clever, respected by all Syrian people, not just the Kurdish.”
Mr Tammo was spokesman for one of the Syrian Kurds’ 14 illegal political parties, and was in prison until earlier this year. He was also a member of the recently formed Syrian National Council, the umbrella group of the opposition.
Although there have been anti-regime protests in the Kurdish areas, many expected the community to mobilise more fully than it has so far, given that Syria’s Kurdish minority, which forms nearly 10 per cent of the population, is the only group with a history of serious, organised opposition to the Assad government.
The regime has sought to co-opt the Kurds since protests began by offering citizenship to approximately 300,000 who were left stateless by a 1962 census, and there have been rumours that Kurdish politicians are in dialogue with the regime, but these cannot be confirmed. Mr Tammo was reported to have spoken out against some Kurdish politicians, saying they had “contributed to the weakness of the Kurdish opposition”.
According to Mr Akko, the death of Mr Tammo could be a turning point for the Kurdish community’s participation in the uprising.
“If the death doesn’t take them to the streets, I will be sure there is negotiation between the regime and other Kurdish parties,” said Mr Akko.
Riad Seif, another leading opposition figure, was beaten by gunmen outside a mosque in the Damascus suburb of Midan on Friday, according to opposition activists, and was rushed to hospital.
The US state department described Mr Tammo’s death, together with the beating of Mr Seif as “a clear escalation of regime tactics”.
The UN said earlier this week that 2,900 people had been killed in the regime’s response to protests, which broke out in March. UN experts said on Friday that 187 of those killed were children.
WASHINGTON — The White House on Friday called on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to “step down now,” warning he was taking his country down a “very dangerous path.”
In a statement, spokesman Jay Carney condemned the killing of Kurdish opposition leader Meshaal Tamo as well as the beating of a prominent Syrian activist, saying it showed “again that the Assad regime’s promises for dialogue and reform are hollow.”
“The United States strongly rejects violence directed against peaceful oppositionists wherever it occurs, and stands in solidarity with the courageous people of Syria who deserve their universal rights,” Carney said.
“Today’s attacks demonstrate the Syrian regime’s latest attempts to shut down peaceful opposition inside Syria. President Assad must step down now before taking his country further down this very dangerous path.”
Tamo, 53, a member of the newly formed Syrian National Council (SNC) opposition grouping, was killed when four masked gunmen stormed his house in Qamishli in the north and opened fire.
His son and another fellow activist in the Kurdish Future Party were wounded, activists said. Kurds are a minority ethnic group in Syria.
Former MP Riad Seif, meanwhile, was also attacked and beaten in the street.
The US State Department earlier charged that the Assad regime was escalating its tactics against the opposition with bold, daylight attacks on its leaders.
“This is a clear escalation of regime tactics,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters, referring to reports of Tamo’s murder.
In the past months, she said: “We’ve obviously had a number of opposition folks arrested. We have had reports of torture, beatings, etc, but not on the streets in broad daylight.
The tactic is “clearly designed to intimidate others,” Nuland said.
Nuland meanwhile welcomed reported remarks from Russian President Dmitry Medvedev who told Assad on Friday to either reform or resign.
“That is very positive,” she said, adding that she had not seen the statement.
“But as we have said, we want to see more countries join us not only in increasing the political and rhetorical pressure on the regime, but also tightening the economic noose,” Nuland said.
“And there are more steps that can be taken by countries like Russia to up the pressure on Assad,” she said.
Robert Ford, making a difference in Syria - David Ignatius (W.Post)
If you’re wondering what diplomats can do in an era of pulverizing military force and instantaneous communications, consider the case of Robert Ford, the U.S. ambassador to Syria. He has been meeting with the Syrian opposition around the country, risking his neck — and in the process infuriating the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
Ford is an example of the free-form diplomacy the United States will need as it pulls back its troops from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He’s projecting American power quietly — through counseling the protesters and networking — rather than trying to wrap the opposition in the American flag, which would be the kiss of death for them.
I spoke with Ford last week by telephone, which is, at the moment, unfortunately the only way that most U.S. journalists can talk to him. He outlined the basic advice he has offered in meetings with opposition leaders, which is to remain peaceful and resist the slide toward sectarian violence.
Ford summarizes his message this way: “Don’t be violent. That’s crucial. If you do that, you’re playing into the hands of the government.”
And yet, as Ford notes, sectarian killing “is certainly on the upswing” in Syria. It’s a frightening cycle of attack and retaliation, reminiscent of the Sunni-vs.-Shiite mayhem that enveloped Iraq in 2006. The blood feud here is between Syria’s Sunni majority and the Alawite minority that has ruled since Assad’s father took power in 1970.
Wherever he goes, Ford asks practical questions — pressing the activists about incentives for Syrian business or about reforming the government budget. He counsels the embattled protesters against military action — which would only bring on a vicious civil war. He thinks time works against Assad, if protesters can avoid the trap of sectarian conflict.
It’s a narrow ledge that Ford is walking. But it’s good to see an American diplomat in the lead for a change, instead of the U.S. military.