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Who Quashed the Coup in Syria? | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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A Free Syrian army fighter takes cover as he shoots near Al Neirab airport in Aleppo February 17, 2013. REUTERS/Hamid Khatib

Who said wars of civilisations, cultures, and creeds are impossible? Europe fought a religious war which lasted a hundred years and ended with a cultural fusion between Catholics and Protestants. With its American extension, this melding of civilisations soon produced a secularised civilisation whose advancements have spread across the globe.

Divine religion, with its nobility of character and social virtues, is not necessarily sufficient for establishing states and empires with diverse creeds and ethnicities.

Charlemagne’s Roman Catholic empire failed in Europe. The Islamic empire crumbled the reins of power passed from the Arabs to the Mamluks and others. Arabs and Muslims can sense the rise of jihadists who dream of establishing empires, sultanates, and caliphates and of reclaiming past glory. And so the tragedy repeats.

After Soviet Russia lost its political and cultural war, Sunni and Shiite jihadists abandoned traditional political Islam to ignite a pointless war of religions, cultures, and civilisations with the West.

Iran torments itself with its jihadist culture war against the United States. The culture of hostility penetrated into the Levant (Iraq-Syria). Sunni jihadist Islam erupted in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Levant in a suicidal confrontation against their local communities and the West. Now the Maghreb (Tunisia, Algeria, and Libya) has erupted into similar confrontations with its Arab and West African communities, where Western presence still predominates culturally and politically.

Exhausted from its wars in the Arab and Muslim worlds, the United States balked at further interventions. In the superpower’s conspicuous absence, Sunni jihadist groups such as Al-Nusra Front and al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) were quick to exploit the turmoil in Syria, where they now wage sectarian war against the Alawite regime, who for its part, is allied with the Shiite jihadist Islam of Iran.

The fallout resulting from the Arab uprisings significantly altered the political landscape of the region along with many of its cultural and ideological underpinnings. Foremost among these was revolutionary Syria’s willingness to jettison its anti-Americanism after it became clear that the Iranian and Syrian regimes had failed to either reclaim the Golan Heights or halt Israeli settlement expansion. Nor did it achieve the optimistic goal popularised by the late Ahmad Shukeiri, which was later adopted by Ahmadinejad and Hamas in Gaza, of wiping Israel off the map from the river to the sea.

This willingness on the part of the Syrian people was met in turn with a major strategic error by the Barack Obama administration. It did not seize the chance to indirectly intervene and provide arms to the revolution. Most of the reasons behind its reluctance to engage are well-known, but as for the lesser-known reasons, they include the following: * The desire of a moderate president to avoid repeating the mistakes of a more reckless president who directly intervened in Iraq and Afghanistan and caused many losses and casualties.

* Clashes between Syrian revolutionaries and many highly-complicated regional factors. Moreover, in the absence of American analytical organisations and research centres, these factors remain clouded.

* Israeli settlers’ material support for the Assad regimes, both father and a son; with the Syrian rulers preferring to pawn off the Golan Heights over exposing their regimes to the perils of clashing with Israel.

* The existence of a strong political movement in American political and media circles which is content to leave the Arabs and Muslims to fight amongst themselves, rather than continuing the clash of civilisations or intervening to stop the fighting.

* On the other hand, there exists a political/military current within the United States which urges decisive intervention in Syria.

The United States’ freedoms of expression and press have revealed some amazing facts lately regarding President Obama’s ability to countermand any plans or endeavours for militarised intervention in Syria. The complexities of the United States’ approach to Syria rival that of the factors at play in the Levant region. I can say that the dispute within the Obama administration ran much deeper than what was reported in the American press; Hillary Clinton’s desire to retire following her illness and her ambitions to run for president played a role in her decision to resign from the post of secretary of state, however so too did the internal dispute over Syria.

From my understanding, the American military establishment sided with Hillary on the Syrian issue. However she adhered to the principles of the political system and deferred to the opinion of the president, who holds authority over such issues.

It is now known that General David Petraeus, former director of the CIA, had developed an intervention plan which went beyond mere training and weapons supplies, rather it contained designs to carry out what I would call a political and military coup in Syria, which would have inflicted a crushing defeat to the current strategies of Iran and Russia.

Last autumn the Arab media paid little attention to the arrival of American civilian and military experts in Turkey and Jordan who were charged with laying the groundwork necessary to effect change in Syria. They built bridges and established contacts with the various forces of the Syrian revolution, but also with military and civilian leaders in Bashar’s regime. This resulted in the partial collapse of the ruling Baath Party, and the deaths and flight of senior Syrian civilian and military officials.

Hillary Clinton had provided political cover for Petraeus’s planned coup. She presented the plan to Defence Secretary Leon Panetta and various generals from the Pentagon. She then won the support of General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and lastly took the proposal to President Obama in the White House.

After a moment of indecision, President Obama took a firm stance. He refused to countenance an intervention in Syria at the height of his election battle. Suddenly and discretely, the plan was shelved. General James Mattis, commander of US Central Command and charged with overseeing military affairs in the Arabian Peninsula and Levant, apologised to the Syrian military leaders who had taken refuge in Turkey and Jordan.

President Obama’s scuppering of the Syrian coup project coincided with post-election cabinet reshuffling. Hillary resigned, Panetta left service, and Petraeus’s political ambitions evaporated following the scandalous revelation of his extra-marital relations with a Lebanese-American woman. The military experts who had gathered in Turkey and Jordan returned home.

I can explain many of the overt and covert happenings in the region in light of Pres. Obama’s coup against the coup. Attempts are under way to repair the relationship between the Gulf States and Jordan. The Syrian regime is being assured that Jordan will not be a springboard for a coup. Turkey is being appeased with the deployment of Patriot missile batteries on its border with Syria to protect it from Syrian missiles. While in Iraq Maliki continues to allow the shipment of supplies from Iran to Syria.

In Lebanon, security officer Wissam al-Hassan, who uncovered Syria’s involvement in the attempt to blow up the convoy of the Maronite Patriarch, was assassinated. The Patriarch went to Damascus to congratulate the new Orthodox Patriarch, and to visit Bashar in peace.

The volatile young people whom Hillary and American organisations had trained to implement proper democratic practices have disappeared from the region. President Mohamed Mursi has secured his position. Tunisian Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali was dealt a heavy blow by his party when it refused to accept his resignation. Islamist extremists took advantage of the Obama awakening, deeming Egyptian opposition leaders infidels and calling for them to be killed, after the assassination of Arab nationalist activist Chokri Belaid.

Does the dovish composition of the new US administration negate the possibility of a coup in Syria? Nothing is impossible. Yes, Obama has granted Iran, Bashar, Hezbollah, and Al-Nusra Front an opportunity to operate without constraints. But the possibility remains. Evidence exists that the weapons shipments which travel through Syria to Hezbollah have been placed under Israeli air and ground observation. Will Bashar and Iran accept this insult?