Politics, religion, and culture where East meets West

Posts Tagged ‘al-Assad

Syria: The news you’ve been waiting for

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At long last (here):

BEIRUT, Lebanon—The Syrian regime Monday said it had the capability to use its chemical and biological weapons in case of a foreign attack, in its first ever acknowledgment that it possesses weapons of mass destruction.

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted anything substantial about Syria’s slow, inevitable spiral into chaos (this post from March should catch you up), and that’s because I’ve been waiting for one of two things: (1) A black swan event to change the course of events or (2) the “discovery” of “WMDs.”

What I mean to say is that, barring the former, the latter was guaranteed to happen. After all, whispers of “chemical and biological weapons” have been going around for over a year, and there was no way this wasn’t going to end up in the ever-growing casus belli column somehow.

What’s so important about this development is that is increases the scope of the Syrian crisis beyond the “Arab mandate” stage.

Until now, NATO (via Turkey) has been effectively given a green light to invade Syria by mandate of the GCC(‘s pocketbook). But, since this is not a headline-appropriate reason for intervention, things like the Syrian-Turkish refugee situation, cross-border engagements, and a downed F-4 Phantom have all been tallied up and expounded upon in order to build a “legitimate” case to oust al-Assad.

But after Libya, NATO’s PR department isn’t too eager to rubber stamp a Syrian incursion. That means that before the war in Syria can go public, so to speak, it needs a better story than NATO warmongering.

WMDs fill that need. Once the situation in Damascus can be classified as anarchy (before or after it resembles the surface of the moon), it will be the responsibility of the international community to secure the weapons once possessed by al-Assad before they end up in the wrong hands. With the broader mandate brought about by WMDs, the end of the crisis, and the transition, will look a lot better on paper.

Better than Libya, anyway.

Written by M. James

July 23, 2012 at 12:07 pm

Posted in News, Politics, Turkey

Tagged with , ,

The new Kurdish problem

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Regarding Turkey and the [d]evolution of Syria, I recently posted:

[The Turks] have also been undoubtedly fearing one particular result of regime collapse in Syria.


The problem, of course, is that the Kurds are being excluded, or excluding themselves, from the SNC—effectively excluding themselves from the future of Syria. The suggestion is that they have something else in mind. All things being equal, this should worry the Turks, who have been dealing with the “Kurdish problem” since the beginning of the Republic.

This new problem has not escaped the columnists at Today’s Zaman. Here, to begin, is a brief history:

The Kurds were unable to develop a major political movement until the late 1950s. There was no major problem between Arabs and Kurds then either. Yet, with the emergence of the Baathists as a dominant force in 1956, tension broke out between Arabs and Kurds and has continued to today. Arab nationalism had a negative effect on the relations between the Kurds and the political regime, driving the Kurds away from the military. Kurdish lands were redistributed under land reform policies, beginning with the Agricultural Relations Law, Kurdish geographical names were changed and various Arab clans were deployed from other parts of the country to the Kurdish regions to create an Arab zone.

When Hafez al-Assad of Syria started to support the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), Syria’s Kurdish issue became somewhat connected to Turkey’s. Siding with Iran during the war between Iran and Iraq, Syria did not refrain from cooperating with Iraqi Kurds against Saddam Hussein. Thus, by supporting the PKK and establishing relations with Iraqi Kurds, Syria managed to divert the political potential of Syrian Kurds to these areas.

And here is an outline of the new problem:

This much is clear: As in Iraq, the Syrian crisis is potentially giving birth to a Kurdish autonomous region. That will be historically critical for all other states. It is time to realize that the Arab Spring has a strong inner Kurdish Spring effect. The Kurdish question is before regional states like Turkey, Iraq and Syria. If the Kurds gain the ability to have two regional governments, the traditional strategy of “solution within the nation-state” may fall forever. There is another major development: Despite their differences on other issues, Turkey, Syria and Iran were united on the Kurdish issue. Such a coalition no longer exists. Forty years ago, Iraq was part of this nation-state coalition against the Kurds. Iraq was dismissed in the 1990s. Syria can be similarly dismissed.

A second Kurdish autonomous region will bring Kurdish politics to a final phase: nation building. One need not be a genius to see that such a development may cause border changes some time in the future. Then the final questions will be these: Shall we have several autonomous Kurdish regions? Shall we have them be part of a regional state like Turkey or Iraq? Or, shall we have an independent Kurdish state to unite all these autonomous Kurdish regions?

Then again, is an autonomous Kurdish state really a problem for Turkey? It depends on a number of factors, of course, but a new, accountable Kurdish state could be exactly what Turkey needs in order to put an end to Kurdish separatism.

Written by M. James

April 10, 2012 at 12:45 am

Salaries for Syrian rebels

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In case you were fooled by the visible support for and “acceptance” of Kofi Annan’s six-point plan, or Turkey’s call for a Syrian truce—nothing has changed:

Nations pledge millions for Syrian opposition
Bradley Klapper; AP; Apr. 1, 2012

ISTANBUL (AP) — A coalition of more than 70 partners, including the United States, pledged Sunday to send millions of dollars and communications equipment to Syria’s opposition groups, signaling deeper involvement in the conflict amid a growing belief that diplomacy and sanctions alone cannot end the Damascus regime’s repression. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by M. James

April 1, 2012 at 6:35 pm

The beginning of the end in Syria

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Eight days ago, an Arab diplomat—on condition of anonymity—claimed that Saudi Arabia is now sending “military equipment” to the Free Syrian Army via Jordan. I posited that this, an overt statement of support for the Syrian opposition by ethnic Arabs, would catalyze NATO into action. With what could pass as a mandate from an Arab country, NATO is finally justified to intervene on humanitarian grounds.

Today, the U.S. and Turkey made an official announcement, agreeing to provide “nonlethal” assistance to the Syrian opposition. Officially, that means anything short of guns. Practically, that means U.S. intelligence, advice, and telecommunications.

Fully weaponized and coached, only incompetence stands between a united Syrian opposition and regime change in Damascus. But the incompetence and disunity of the Syrian opposition have long been causes for delay—and the U.S. and Turkey haven’t taken any real policy risks by (overt) support in Syria until this announcement.

Which leads us to believe that the only new development, overt Saudi intervention, is the ticket to guaranteed regime change—and is the reason that NATO is finally willing to stick its neck out. With an Arab mandate, an incompetent opposition will be no obstacle. If the Free Syrian Army can’t pull itself together within the next few months; no-fly zones, Turkish buffer zones, and humanitarian war will all—finally—be justified.

Though the form the opposition will take from now on is still impossible to discern, we can expect that this is the beginning of the end of Bashar al-Assad’s Syria.

Written by M. James

March 25, 2012 at 11:11 pm

Converging in Damascus

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I have posted, by now, about how the interests of many global parties—NATO, Russia, Turkey, Iran, and Saudi Arabia—all converge in Damascus for one reason or another. Understanding the reasons for each group’s interest in what transpires in Syria is complex—much more complex than I can fully convey or understand—but I have attempted nonetheless. That attempt has made up, since my first post, the majority of this blog.

So for a moment, I’d like to briefly and loosely collate—in sound-bite fashion—my analysis on how Syria has been a focal point in the last year or so.

If the Syrian regime falls, it’s a probable BOGO for NATO and anyone who wants unilateral security (in the form of U.S. Nimitz-class supercarriers) in and around the Med. [12/14/11].

But what Russia does have is a Mediterranean naval port. It’s in Tartus, Syria—just south of Latakia. Considerably better developed and defended (complete with Russian surface-to-air missile system), Russia’s port in Tartus will not be given up easily… [12/14/11].

Latakia is the new Persian Empire’s (Iran’s) attempt at a naval base on the Mediterranean… [12/14/11].

Meaning: The Russian and Iranian naval bases at Tartus and Latakia, two Mediterranean access points for NATO antagonists, would be forfeit in the case of regime change.

Will al-Assad leave his post in the near future? It’s anyone’s guess, but it has no bearing on Turkey’s policy toward Syria. If Turkey is to “trust the masses” and maintain its role as a supporter of the Arab Awakening, it cannot support a Syrian regime that appears to oppress its citizens, and it must sell al-Assad’s government short—in spite of recent amicability—to retain its legitimacy [5/17/11].

Meaning: Turkey does not want to be the dog that barks, but doesn’t bite.

The problem is that, with the recent U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, Iran will be filling in the political and military void. And if Iran retains al-Assad’s Syria as a close ally—well—look at the map.

The only thing stopping the new Persian Empire from expanding its Shia-powered influence—continuously—from Iran to the Mediterranean (and to Israel’s doorstep), is a new, unfriendly Sunni government in Syria [12/14/11].

Meaning: Syria is an integral part of Iran’s empire-building process.

Saudi Arabia is … caught between a geopolitical imperative to contain Iran and a domestic strategic imperative to contain Islamism as a political force [3/5/12].

Saudi King Abdullah was reported to have said last summer, “nothing would weaken Iran more than losing Syria.” [1] [1/7/12].

Meaning: Although the danger of expanding Muslim Brotherhood influence is very tangible to the Saudis, the danger of an Iranian oil empire is greater.

The apparent result is team Russia, Iran, and Syria versus team NATO—with Turkey in particular—and Saudi Arabia. But despite what you may call a stacked team against Syria (NATO topples regimes in its sleep), regime change has not transpired, and shows no immediate signs of doing so. Direct intervention by NATO has only been hinted at, and not with much popular support. Even Turkey, despite pressure on many fronts to do so, has still not bitten. The result? A stalemate—no conclusion in sight.

But the reality is that no conclusion is a real conclusion—there are simply too many unilateral interests converging in Syria.

Bashar al-Assad was right when he said that regime change in Syria would mean an “earthquake” in the Middle East, its effects felt across the world. What he failed to mention, though, is that stability in Syria would just mean the same thing in a different way.

Written by M. James

March 10, 2012 at 2:09 am

Posted in Politics, Turkey

Tagged with , , , , , ,

Arab League monitors report—nobody listens

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“If what [the Arab League monitors] have to offer is instead whitewashed or ignored by cynical political agendas – inside and outside the Arab world – it will not be their fault.”

Today’s top story on CBS is “Report: Demi Moore visited by Willis, Kutcher.”

Which is why you have to feel sorry for Elizabeth Palmer, who, on January 24th, made an honest contribution to journalism (“Why Arab League monitors didn’t fail in Syria”) on CBS’s site. Unfortunately, that contribution will never be acknowledged, shadowed as it is by the usual, misleading story about Syria printed by the New York Times and its ilk:

New York Times (“On a Tour Cut Short, Monitors in Syria See Little”):

A visit to Douma — where the observers seemed to be most needed — was out of the question.

CBS (“Why Arab League monitors didn’t fail in Syria”):

It’s also worth mentioning that the Syrian military never stopped us from going through any of their checkpoints, even when we were headed into Damascus’ most violent suburb, Douma.

New York Times (“Chief of Arab League’s Mission in Syria Is Lightning Rod for Criticism”):

…the mission has been mired in controversy, much of it focused on its leader: a Sudanese general who, rights activists say, presided over the same kind of deadly and heavy-handed tactics in Sudan that the Arab League mission is seeking to curb in Syria.

CBS (“Why Arab League monitors didn’t fail in Syria”):

A word in defense of the Arab League observers in Syria. They were getting bad press before they even set foot on Syrian soil.

Instead of focusing on the cowards and the inexperienced, Ms. Palmer maintains that “the observers were a mixed bag. Some of them were incompetent, frightened, uninterested. Others were excellent.”

The much-slandered Sudanese general heading the mission, Muhammad Ahmed al-Dabi, apparently agrees (from his report—here):

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by M. James

February 3, 2012 at 10:45 pm

Syria: Everything is normal

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A thought-provoking (in a strange sort of way) article from the New York Times: Life in Syria’s Capital Remains Barely Touched by Rebellion

Just ignore the part about Aleppo being the second-largest city (news sources have been getting this one wrong for months). Damascus is the second-largest. Aleppo is the largest. Which is not to say that Damascus isn’t important.

But Damascus, be it at the beauty salon, in its somnolent neighborhoods or in its fear-stricken mosques, remains the linchpin, a reality that even activists acknowledge. Until protests reach this capital, their thinking goes, Syria’s leadership will avoid the fate of its ossified equivalents in places like Egypt and Tunisia. And so far, Damascus — along with Aleppo, the nation’s second-largest city — has stayed firmly on the margins, as anger builds toward both cities from Syrians bearing the brunt of the uprising. “Trust me, everything is normal,” insisted a manicurist at the salon.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by M. James

September 6, 2011 at 10:41 pm