Former US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, Edward Djerejian, said that his dealings with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad revealed the Syrian leader as somebody who utilized double speak; speaking empty words and making hollow promises. As for why Djerejian is saying this now? This is because, according to his own account, al-Assad spoke a lot about reform and Syria opening up to the wider world, but time has passed and such promises are repeated without ever being fulfilled. The former US diplomat, who also served as US Ambassador to Syria, recalls a discussion that took place between himself and al-Assad three years after al-Assad succeeded his father to the presidency. He reveals, “I asked him what had happened to the plans of improving everyday life in Syria, devoting more attention to citizens and offering them more freedom and rights. He surprised me by saying that his citizens were not prepared or mature enough for such reforms.”
The quote above is part of an interview with Djerejian published a few days ago by the Israeli Yediot Aharonot newspaper, conducted on the sidelines of the annual Herzliya Conference by Israeli analyst of Arab Affairs, Smadar Peri. The annual Herzliya Conference allocated some time to discuss the Arab Spring and the situation in Syria. From the context of the interview, it seems that Djerejian has become increasingly convinced – since his meeting with al-Assad, and in light of the current events in Syria – that al-Assad is not serious about his promises of reform.
There is nothing new in Djerejian’s statement regarding the duality of al-Assad’s discourse, for Arab and international officials who have previously dealt with the Syrian president have said precisely the same thing. Furthermore, his lack of seriousness in introducing reforms is now plain to see, particularly as he assumed power over 11 years ago and has failed to honour any of his promises in this regard. Today, al-Assad’s troops are utilizing oppression and violence to suppress Syrian people who are demanding change and rights. What is new in Djerejian’s words is that al-Assad considers the Syrian people to lack maturity and therefore to be unprepared for reform. This manner of viewing the situation, if Djerejian’s account is true, reflects an unbelievable belittling of the Syrian people and a deep-rooted refusal to grant them any liberties or rights, so long as he views them as lacking maturity.
We have heard this arrogant and outrageous tone before from [former Libyan leader] Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, albeit with one difference; Colonel Gaddafi declared this publicly in front of the television cameras and microphones when, in a fit of rage at those revolting against his rule, he asked “who are you?” He then answered his own question by describing those who were revolting against him as rats and stray dogs, amongst other insults. However the truth remains the same, whether it was said behind closed doors or publicly. Some regimes do not care about their people, or their hopes and aspirations, considering them unqualified to obtaining rights or liberties. So long as this is the mentality of the ruling elite, then those still promoting the idea that the Syrian regime could carry out radical reforms are either clinging to illusions or actively trying to mislead others. If the Syrian regime was interested in implementing reform, it wouldn’t carry out all this killing and brutal torture in order to suppress the popular uprising and cling to power, blatantly disregarding the death toll that continues to rise day after day.
What is strange is that after the expected outcome at the UN Security Council – which many people hoped would offer a drastic solution to the Syrian crisis – we are hearing a lot of talk today about the magical solution that the Russians will put forward. It is being claimed that they will use their influence to pressure the al-Assad regime into accepting their proposal, implementing quick reform and negotiating with the opposition to put these reforms into practice. Those who are saying this are plugging their ears to the reports of heavy bombardment of Syrian cities, and shutting their eyes to the fact that Russia – along with China – was responsible for aborting the Western-backed Arab draft resolution at the UN Security Council. Damascus took this as a green light to escalate its military operations under the assumption that the international community’s hands were tied by this double veto.
The truth is that Russia, whose motives are questioned by many, won’t bring about reform in Syria, for you can’t give something that you don’t have. The Putin-Medvedev regime, which is facing severe criticism at home for circumventing reform and democracy and for oppressing the opposition, rigging elections and trying to re-establish a new Tzarist rule in the Kremlin, cannot introduce the reform and change that the Syrian people seek. Moscow wants to save the regime, not meet the demands of the Syrian people. It is using the crisis in Syria as a means to shore up its electoral popularity, portraying Putin as the strongman who defends Russia’s interests abroad and stands in the face of Western pressures and interests. As for the wronged Syrian revolution, just as it fell into the trap of regional conflict, it now finds itself a victim of international struggles and disputes.
Bearing all of this in mind, what direction is the situation heading in? In truth, neither the Arab initiative – in its current form – nor what took place within the UN Security Council would have been enough to convince the Syrian regime to effect change which would practically equal the handing over of power. Moscow’s actions will certainly not allow this goal to be achieved. Indeed, these actions aim to bypass the Arab initiative, and maybe even buy more time for the Syrian regime which has bared its teeth and is attempting to suppress the uprising. Surprisingly, Moscow says that the draft Arab initiative submitted to the UN Security Council would have led to a civil war because it stipulates the withdrawal of Syrian troops from major cities. This would mean that these cities fell into the hands of the armed militias, thereby forcing pro-regime citizens to take up arms to defend themselves. This is the logic that Moscow is using, however it is a logic that ignores the fact that Russia and China’s veto has created brutal conditions on the ground that will result in further escalation of violence. This is the greatest danger and could lead to the militarization of the uprising and a large-scale civil war, something that the majority of the Syrian people and the world are keen to avoid.
It is hard to imagine that the actions currently being undertaken by the Russians will lead to the resolution of the Syrian crisis in a manner that fulfils the demands of the uprising, especially if we take into account the elements in the Syrian regime who believe that the people are not mature enough or ready for reforms!