Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Syria’s two options: Dialogue or military intervention | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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The Syrian impasse we are witnessing is due to the fact that Syria has become accustomed to being the one that takes action, not the one that action is being taken against. It was always planning and then sending militia to carry out its plots. In Lebanon, its role was a truly “creative” one; each militia had a mission, whether we are talking about bombing, provoking confrontation or carrying out assassinations. It was always starting fires and was never interested in putting these fires out; indeed it believes that this role of putting fires out was only played by the weak, and it did not perceive itself as being weak, particularly with regards to Lebanon.

Syria also opened its borders with Iraq to allow access to all extremists, whether from Al Qaeda or from other Islamist currents, to the country. For Syria, as long as it remained the actor, whilst others were being acted upon, it continued to be the only “hero” on the scene. Syria believed that it could wrap itself in a “cloak of invisibility” and act as it pleased. Syria excelled in tightening its security grip on its own country, whilst starting fires in others. For example, the Syrian intelligence apparatus was fully aware of everything that was happening in the smallest of Lebanese districts, but completely neglected the Syrian border, therefore militia and “terrorists” were able to infiltrate the country, and this is the reason why Syria has shifted from being a successful actor, to a failed country that is subject to the actions of others.

An article published last year in the International Herald Tribune tells the story of a six-year old Bashar al-Assad entering his father’s office and seeing a bottle of perfume on the shelf. Years passed and Bashar al-Assad succeeded his father as president and upon entering the presidential office he found the same bottle of perfume unopened and in exactly the same position. Bashar al-Assad may have been deluded into thinking that Syria, like this bottle of perfume, remained in a virtual standstill and would never change, continuing on as the actor, not the acted upon.

Speaking to a western politician, he said that the situation in Syria will continue to deteriorate so long as al-Assad fails to take any political decision.

Over the past few weeks, a number of high-level US – Gulf meetings were held to discuss the situation in Syria and the Russian obstacle which is preventing Bashar al-Assad from stepping down. Among other obstacles that were discussed were the Arab League’s lack of consensus with regard to international intervention and the lack of unity amongst the Syrian opposition which means that Bashar al-Assad’s successor, should his regime be toppled, is unclear. During the meeting, US and Gulf officials expressed their concern that the longer the crisis remains unsolved, the more room this grants Al Qaeda and other extremist Islamist groups to gain control of Syria.

An influential Gulf official asked about his opinion of Russian proposed the same idea which former President Bush applied to Saddam Hussein during his occupation of Kuwait. He proposed to attempt – once more – to convince the Russians of the value of a diplomatic solution by sitting down at the negotiation table in Moscow, if they are prepared to host such negotiations. However the Gulf official also warned that this idea may not be successful unless we are prepared to take the next step in case all diplomatic efforts meet with failure. This means telling the Russians that there are two possible solutions to ending the killings in Syria: either a diplomatic solution or international intervention. If they are ready to play a constructive role and act promptly towards a political solution, then intervention would not be a necessity, however if the Russian regard this as a trick, and reject the idea of a diplomatic solution…then the international community must be ready to intervene by creating a buffer zone or humanitarian corridors.

The officials present in the meeting suggested that any political dialogue must include the US, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the UAE, France, Britain and Turkey, apart from senior representatives of major opposition groups such as the Syrian National Council [SNC] and the Muslim Brotherhood.

During the meeting, it was evident that the US does not want to topple the entire Syrian regime, but only the leadership, or the inner circle, around the ruling al-Assad family . Those present in the meeting were of the view that discussions may in fact produce a strong military brigade that could give rise to a transitional leader.

The officials present in the US-Gulf meetings were of the view that it must be clear, especially to Russia, that there would be no open discussions at the negotiation and that if no agreement is reached, then they must move on to the other option: namely military intervention for humanitarian reasons; meaning to provide a safe haven for the Syrian people backed by an international coalition.

Reacting to the idea that the American side supposes that the Russians might not care whether Washington appreciates their contributions in this regard, particularly as Washington already believes that the Russians are determined to defeat the US in Syria, then this certainly constitutes an attitude that “involves substantial risks.” Whilst the “Americans” are conscious that they must not let this happen for the sake of the international community at large, however despite this there still seems to be no agreement regarding what must be done in order to ensure this doesn’t happen.

This influential Gulf official who was present at this meeting held the opinion that they must not let Moscow win by allowing Bashar al-Assad to brutally suppress his own people without being subject to any punishment. However he stated that as the international community offered Saddam Hussein a last chance to reach a diplomatic solution in 1990, we must act similarly with Russia as well as the Syrian regime today. If the Russians decided to put forward a political proposal to rein in al-Assad – a proposal that serves their own interests whilst at the same time enabling us to coexist with him – then we would have achieved our objectives. Yet, if the Russians refuse to play the game, or presented unacceptable ideas to us and the Syrian opposition, then this would serve as a very good excuse to announce that diplomacy was unsuccessful and that Kofi Annan’s mission was doomed to failure, and then take the entire issue to a different level, regardless of the approval of the UN.

As for the opinion of the Gulf States, they are of the view that al-Assad will be victorious so long as we agree to wait and fail to increase the pressure on him. Perhaps, an accident at the border that may prompt the Syrian troops to behave badly will be a scenario that Russia would hate to see happen.

Numerous meetings are being held and numerous opinions are voiced. As it became commonly known, Syria has now entered the absolute hell of being the subject of action, rather than the actor themselves. An Algerian expert told me that there are two examples that the situation in Syria may pattern itself after: Lebanon where the war toppled the state and maintained a fragile regime, or Algeria where the Islamists fought the state for 10 years, but the government remained unified and the army cohesive. Today, the Islamists are rejected by the Algerian people, and the state is still present, whilst the regime survived.

It would be unwise to gamble on Turkish action, yet the Turkish Foreign Minister knew how to benefit from this bet. In his address before the Turkish parliament last week, the Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu highlighted Turkey’s “pioneering” role in the Middle East. He said “a new Middle East is about to be born. We will be the owner, pioneer and the servants of this new Middle East. Turkey will be there to help Syria achieve peace. The era when we adopted the slogan ‘let us wait and see’ has gone, in the same manner that the time of blindly following superpowers has passed.” He added that “Turkey will not participate in any policy introduced outside of Ankara. Turkey is no longer lacking confidence, nor does it wait other countries to approve its policies. Turkey now has the ‘puissance’ and even your dreams can’t and won’t reach the place where our power has come to.”

If Ahmet Davutoglu has reached this level, this means that it is not reasonable to gamble on a Turkish role because Turkey has “flown” to horizons beyond the reach of NATO or even NATO’s Chapter Five.