I asked my dear friend, [Lebanese] MP Nihad Al-Mashnouq, an extremely naïve question, however his answer was so realistic that it might shock some people!
I asked Nihad, a well-informed expert on Syrian affairs, “Do you think it is hypothetically possible that the idea of stepping down from power has not crossed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s mind?”
Nihad’s answer, which will be broadcast soon and came during a televised interview, was “Never…this man adopts the principle of kill or be killed”
He added “all the delusions and leaks that talk about a peaceful or diplomatic settlement along the lines of the Yemeni transition of power are nonsense.”
If my friend’s views are true then we are facing a bill that is impossible to pay. In my own view, this is true because it is what we have learnt from the al-Assad family’s record of crisis management and also because this viewpoint is being put forward by somebody who is perfectly aware of what he is talking about.
The al-Assad regime’s logic of continuous denial and refutation, transforming what is known to be false into the truth and portraying reality however it sees fit means that any anticipation of a quick settlement to the Syrian crisis is nothing more than wishful thinking.
Following Nihad’s words, I began to feel sorry for UN and Arab envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi and his mission, as well as any chance of him achieving success in this regard.
Despite our attitude towards him, Henry Kissinger, one of the most skilful masters of negotiation laid down the ultimate set of principles regarding how to reach a successful settlement. This can be summarized as follows:
Firstly, the two sides must have an overwhelming desire for serious negotiation and must believe that negotiation is the only means of protecting their interests.
Secondly, each party must realize that the cost of the negotiations failing and not reaching a peaceful solution will be more prohibitive than the cost of the concessions that they must make.
Thirdly, those fighting must be exhausted and certain that the fighting will ultimately not produce a victor or loser.
If we were to apply these principles to the political mind-set of Bashar al-Assad, we would discover the following:
– That the Syrian president, according to his interview with Addounia TV, believes that the situation has improved and that he and his regime are on the verge of victory.
– That he sees no point of reaching a settlement, particularly if the price of this is the ouster of him and his regime.
In this case, we are facing a complete contravention of Kissinger’s rules for reaching a successful settlement, and these are principles that he created based on his profound study of the European Metternich system. This all takes us back to Nihad Al-Mashnouq’s words, namely that “we are facing a situation of kill or be killed”, and so as is commonly expressed in the Levantine folk songs, “woe unto us”.