Has America Changed its Stance?

Various news reports have been leaked over the past few weeks about new weapons reaching the Free Syrian Army (FSA). As has already been said, these are not going to fully bridge the gap between the Assad regime’s forces and those fighting against them, but they can narrow the gap and bring about a change in certain areas where the regime suffers from structural weaknesses, particularly in the north and northeast of the country, a highly significant region from humanitarian and economic perspectives. These weapons may curb the Assad army’s push to settle the situation in Homs, where “the mother of all battles” is taking place. The city holds strategic importance for Syria’s entire political, military, and humanitarian situation, and could be the key to whether the country remains a united state or faces division in the future.

Whether these news reports are correct or exaggerated, they are an important indication of the US stance towards the complex Syrian crisis, which in the past has been based on two main principles: Firstly, no weapons should be provided to the Syrian resistance and there should be no direct military interference. Secondly, the emergence of fundamentalist rule in Syria cannot be tolerated. This would have impact on Israel and could potentially draw it into the violent Syrian crisis, leading to an armed confrontation with powerful, organized, radical Islamist groups. Were these groups then to gain the upper hand in the conflict, this would be a violation of an international red line, particularly if they were in possession of weapons of mass destruction.

It seems that the recent provision of weapons to the Syrian opposition indicates either a change in the US equation, with its two aforementioned principles, or strong pressure being applied by Arab and regional parties. If the US itself had agreed to send the weapons, this would mean that there had been a change in its policy, and that it had abandoned its first principle. However, if the US did not agree to send the weapons, this would indicate that its influence over relations between some Arab countries and Syria has weakened or collapsed. Has Washington’s control over the conflict weakened, or has it changed its stance and begun to warm to the idea sending weapons to Syria? Or, is the US encouraging certain countries to become more involved in the military conflict taking place on Syrian soil, and to supply the opposition fighters there with weapons to make a qualitative change in the battle, in an effort to confront either the regime or those parties affiliated with anti-West jihadi groups?

It has been hinted, and even openly stated, that weapons have been sent to Syria to cut certain groups down to size, and enable other opposition forces to restore the initiative in the battlefield. The role of extremist opposition groups has become more prominent in the past few months as they have emerged as extremely active and influential parties, whose presence in most areas and battles eclipses that of the FSA. They have seized airports and large military bases and enjoy broad popularity. Now we even hear clerics in Friday sermons saying, “We do not recognize the legitimacy and courage of any fighters except the Jabhat Al-Nusra, and we do not seek the protection of others.”

Does this potential change in the US stance come in accordance with the desire of the Gulf states to prevent radical Islamists from seizing power in Damascus, and also to weaken the chances of moderate Islamists coming to power after the overthrow of Assad and his entourage? Or has the opposition armament taken place in light of a decision made by the Gulf states without consulting the Americans—a call to arm the revolution whether the US likes it or not—especially as Syrian developments are becoming more and more an issue of national security for the Gulf? Or did the Gulf states simply observe the jihadi activities taking place in Syria, and assume that America’s preoccupation with this phenomenon would prevent Washington from continuing with its original stance, and hence they took the step to arm the opposition while confident that Washington’s reaction would be moderate or even accepting?

Whatever the answer, I think that what happened has taken place within the framework of these calculations, and that the US is no longer considering changing its policy, but has actually done so. Consider the rumored shipment of weapons from Croatia; a country with positive relations with both the US and Germany, and also what is being said about the transfer of these weapons through Turkey, and Washington’s encouragement for opposition groups that are not affiliated with fundamentalist factions. There is also the talk about attempts to ensure the safe use of this relatively advanced weaponry, and plans to supervise and restructure the FSA so that its leadership and command hierarchy is purely military. This would create a stronger distinction between civilian and military opposition, enabling the latter to gain control of the ground, while the former can address worrying developments such as the Islamists’ coming to power, Assad’s weapons falling into the wrong hands, sectarian infighting, and regional conflicts. There are many military and political dimensions that cannot be ignored in any future development plan.

It has become clear in recent weeks that a change in the balance of power would have to precede any form of negotiation with the Assad regime. This change has now been demonstrated in the arming of the opposition, enabling it to deter the regime’s army, break its siege of Homs, and expedite its collapse in and around Damascus. Are we about to witness key developments both in terms of US policy and the Syrian arena? I believe there is some truth to this. The eventual objective is to force the regime to abandon Assad, and for influential members of the regime to declare their readiness to negotiate a democratic transition that would take place in a relatively secure climate. What would happen if the regime continues to remain united and insists on escalating the conflict? I think that we would then see weapons flow in the quantity necessary for opposition fighters to storm the presidential palace in the near future.

When were the minorities oppressed?

In the past, minorities in Syria were not oppressed. If we studied the Kurdish example, we would find the Kurds to be founders of the national Syrian state, amongst them those who held the highest governmental positions; from the first Prime Ministry to the first Presidency to the first Army Generals. The Kurds did not endure persecution, indeed many of them were Arabized and in return many Arabs were taken in by Kurdish tribes known as Mawali. They did suffer greatly, however, in the years following 1963, as the regime set in motion a highly vindictive criminal plan known as the “Arabic Belt”, that sought to separate and surround areas which they had long occupied, changing the names of their towns and villages and installing Arabic tribes in their place, turning them into a foreign, hostile body in a land where they had long played a formative role, serving it with loyalty and devotion just like any of its other loyal children. On the other hand, the regime worked to incite the rest of Syria’s factions against them, under the pretext that they were conniving strangers waiting for the opportunity to pounce on the homeland, insisting that they must be harshly repressed as a preventative measure to limit their harm and eliminate their evil.

Just as the militarized Ba’athist regime incited the people against their Kurdish brethren, it also incited all Syrians against one another, carefully implanting doubts amongst them, instilling and fortifying various prejudgments and poisoning their consciousness. It became increasingly easy for the regime to charge citizens with any amount of hostility, playing an important role in shaping their opinions and attitudes towards one another. The regime was unable to win over its citizens after the role it played in the Arab and Syrian defeat during the June Aggression (Six Day War), and therefore did not fulfil any of its promises but in fact achieved their opposite, drawing out a comprehensive strategic game of ‘divide and conquer’ instilled to tear the community apart, hell bent on pitting citizens against one another, exploiting any differences found amongst them or those that the regime was successful in implanting. Such policies had no purpose other than to transform the Syrian society into discordant conflicting factions, unable to agree on any one uniting ideology or common principle other than those ridiculous ones related to the health of the regime’s policies and the ingenuity of its omniscient leader, as well as the inevitability of continued devotion and loyalty to him under any condition or circumstance, on the basis that he was the foundation, the immortal father whom the mortal obsolescent populace owed everything to, including their very existence.

This strategy was the essence of the regime’s internal policy for almost half a century, with the regime fighting to the death to plant it within the consciousness of citizens, using all available methods of control and intimidation, to a point where it became normal for Syrians to see anything that came out of it as normal, leaving no room for any other reality, normalcy or logical thinking. The entrenchment of such policies went as far as to lead many Syrians to believe what the regime had spewed about the immortality of Assad Sr. “our leader forever”, many suffering a palpable trauma after his death, or not even believing that he was a creature capable of dying, continuing to believe in his immortality, especially in certain circles close to him in the republican guard who referred to him as “the holy one”.

When the regime was caught off-guard by the people’s unity during their latest uprising, it found no viable investment to utilize other than the disunity it had sown and the fracture it had instigated, and so the first thing the regime bargained on was sectarianism. It was obvious from day one that the regime had constructed an air-tight plan to awaken dormant differences, and so it sent its security forces to Christian and Alawite villages warning them from their Sunni neighbors and sent to the Sunni villages those who would scare them from their Alawite and Christian neighbors, declaring at each instance its utmost readiness to protect the frightened; a plan aimed at occupying their towns and villages to ensure that those explosive elements were successfully implanted. This is indeed what the regime had done in “Al-Ghab”, for example, as it planted fear in the heart of the Christians of “Al-Sqailabiya” from their Sunni neighbors living in “Qala’at Al-Madeeq”, and vice versa. When a delegation from Al-Sqailabiya went to Qala’at Al-Madeeq to clarify matters, they met on the way a delegation from Qala’at Al-Madeeq heading their way to understand the reasons behind their wish to attack their town. When the reality of the situation became clear to both parties, both returned to their respective towns trying to rid it from the security personnel that had spread there.. In the end, when the regime failed at turning both communities against one another, it dealt brutally with Qala’at Al-Madeeq, many of its citizens finding nowhere else to go other than the homes of their brethren and friends, the Christians of Al-Sqailabiya.

The regime was unsuccessful at inciting sectarian strife amongst Syrians, in spite of all the weapons and lies it had distributed. Lately, as the people’s fear of the future began to subside, a real turning point in their attitude towards the regime occurred and clear stands were taken by Church authorities condemning the violence, demanding its halt and seeking to find a solution to meet the demands of the people. Extremely accurate numbers were published, detailing the size of the participation of Alawites, Christians and Druz in the revolutionary movement, detailing the fair share they received from the regime’s murderous, repressive policies, with some establishing battalions of the Free Syrian Army or joining the resistance, in addition to their role in aiding the people residing inside and outside affected areas. Meanwhile, the Ismaili people of “Al-Salamiyeh” were intensely involved in the uprising from day one, enduring brutal murderous campaigns and constant repression. They had even joined the revolution before Hama, indeed playing an important role in mobilizing the city.

Syrians today know of the scandals and atrocities of the regime’s disruptive and dividing policies, and can feel the importance of their coexistence in leading their demands for freedom to fruition by overthrowing the regime’s factional violence, which had implicated the innocent from different factions and sects in policies that hurt them greatly. Today, however, they have discovered that their situation and relationships before the regime were much better than after, that they were not oppressed before the current regime, and that the sectarian phenomenon was on its way to disappear and disintegrate when it was confronted with the unifying national spirit, while the regime was the one who made sectarianism a corner stone of its power and a weapon used to kill any higher sense of nationalism capable of unifying everyone under its wing without discrimination or divide.

Syria’s history with the regime is nothing more than the history of oppression committed against all its national, religious and ethnic elements, the history of reviving various and low partisanships, which had been declining and melting away. It is not at all wrong to say that the minorities had never known oppression before the regime, and that their oppression will disappear alongside its disappearance, restoring healthy relationships amongst citizens, exemplifying the need to respect personal choices and to legally protect all factions of society, preserving the national fabric and enhancing its unity.

The oppression of minorities will end with the end of a regime that had been hell bent on awakening sectarian strife and implicating Syrians in conflicts they were successfully moving past. Had that not been the case, it would not have been possible for Hafez Al Assad and scores of Alawite youth to move up the army ranks; they would not have been able to participate in the heart of power, eventually usurping it. Minorities and factions will cease to be, because democratic regimes do not believe in the existence of non-political minorities, and they view sectarianism as a sect particular doctrine which falls under the general affiliation to the larger society and country, not replacing it. Only then will the citizen have the right to be from a certain sect without being sectarian and the sun will rise on a new Syrian era, one that knows nothing of discrimination between citizens, where the law will protect the equal rights of Syrians regardless of their personal choices or affiliations, while Syria marches onwards on the path to a united society, one that is secure against discrimination and separatism, as those diversified factions of society will become a never-ending source of national richness. Only then will Syrians know that Assad’s regime never protected them, but instead made them prone to brutal dangers, toying with their lives and interest; that they have no protection outside of freedom, justice and equality.