Syria

The Debate on Syria

Not too long ago, if one wanted to get into a debate about Syrian politics, there was really only one place to go: Joshua Landis’s Syria Comment blog, where I cut my teeth as a thread-lurker. The site’s comment boards played host to an international fraternity of political junkies: Arab nationalists, SSNP pan-Syrianists, Lebanese resistance supporters and regime haters, Israeli hawks and doves, menhebbakjiyyeh avant la lettre, etc.

Today, Syria Comment is still going strong, but there are so many other places to get into an argument about Syrian politics. There’s an op-ed about Syria in a major newspaper pretty much every day alongside a flood of nonstop coverage on the wires and cable news channels, plus an explosion of personal commentary in the blogosphere, Twitter, and Facebook. Suddenly, everyone seems to be talking about Syria, and the range of opinions and perspectives is dizzying.

The trouble is, the conversation is sounding less and less like a debate, and more like a collection of stump speeches. Twitter’s 140 character limit and Facebook’s “Like” button create a rhetorical economy that rewards ringing slogans and absurd overstatements rather than measured reflections. In this environment, there is less incentive to start a conversation with someone you disagree with, and so the exchanges tend to be full of back-slapping and hear-hear-ing by fellow travelers, rather than serious give-and-take.

I thought I’d try to do something different here. The idea is to cajole several friends and acquaintances who are writing on Syria these days into joining a conversation. These include, but are not limited to: Camille-Alexandre Otrakji, Joshua Landis, Robin Yassin-Kassab, Randa Slim, Bilal Saab, Rime Allaf, Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, Sharmine Narwani, Andrew Tabler, Emile Hokayem, Michael Young, Andrew Exum, Nadim Shehadi, Bassam Haddad, As`ad Abu Khalil, Blake Hounshell, Sean Lee, Steven Heydemann, Marc Lynch, Mustapha Hamoui, Nick Noe, David Kenner, Maysaloon, Ehsani, Off The Wall, Jiim-Siin, and others. The point of departure will be Foreign Policy‘s recent round-table of articles entitled, “What the Hell Should We Do About Syria?” How convinced are you by any of the solutions/perspectives put forward? What would you have proposed instead? Is there a role for outside powers (the UN, the Arab League, Russia, China, etc.) to play in Syria?

I am not under any illusion that everyone will join this conversation, but if I can convince a half dozen friends who disagree with each other but are willing to do so in a respectful and productive manner, maybe this will be interesting. As people join the conversation, I will paste links to their most recent commentaries below.

Let the games begin!

Commentary by debate participants

Discussion

219 thoughts on “The Debate on Syria

  1. Good luck QN. Il await with anticipation this dialogue.

    Posted by Enlightened | June 2, 2012, 8:13 am
  2. Looking forward to reading this. I am firing a first shot with a link to my NYT piece of last week where I argue that the lesson from iraq is not to allow a dictatorship to hang on by driving his country to the brink. When the lid was lifted in 2003 what we found in the pot is the result of 25 years of ‘engagionista’ policies’ with Saddam. I guess this makes me an ‘interventionista’ because I think it is a big mistake to allow the same thing to happen to Syria. Leaving Assad in power is a crime in itself.

    http://nytweekly.com/columns/intelarchives/05-25-12/

    Posted by Nadim Shehadi | June 2, 2012, 8:35 am
  3. Sorry, are we still ” Talking ” about Syria?

    Posted by maverick | June 2, 2012, 9:09 am
  4. Nadim, assuming one accepts your argument, what exactly is the policy recommendation? Operation (Syrian) Desert Storm? Operation Road to Damascus?

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | June 2, 2012, 11:03 am
  5. QN,

    When a friend comes to you and says he wants to take a trip, you don’t start giving him advice. You first ask two questions:
    1) Where would you like to go?
    2) What is your budget?

    In analyzing Syria, these two questions must be answered first also:
    1) What is the end result you want to reach?
    2) How much are you willing to pay to get there?

    What is the end result we want in Syria? The removal of Assad? The establishment of a democracy? Or perhaps just stopping the violence? Unless we specify what the goal exactly is, the analysis is not helpful.

    The second question is just as important; if the price we are willing to pay in order to bring about any solution is very small, why bother having the discussion anyway? It is a waste of time. If I want to get to the moon and am willing to spend only $10, it is a waste of time to discuss how to get to the moon.

    Of course, a very important related question is who is going to pay the price? I submit to you that any analysis vague about this won’t help much also.

    Since Nadim has been kind enough to post his views here, I will use his article as an example. I think that Nadim is pretty clear about his goal, he wants to remove Assad and what comes after is secondary to him. However, he is very vague about the price he is willing to pay and who will pay it. When Nadim writes: “Syrians cannot liberate themselves from the Assad regime without international support. The regime will stop at nothing to remain in power. “, what does he mean?

    What is “international support”? China and Russia won’t participate and the Europeans and Arabs even if they wanted to, are not able to do much. So basically the task falls on either the US or Turkey. And who will pay the price? Who will pay with the life of hundreds of soldiers and with hundreds of billions of dollars and then will also be responsible for fixing the mess in Syria? These are basic questions that need to be answered.

    In my opinion, the discussion has to be much more hardnosed and realistic. Each analysis should state what the desired goal is, what the price will be and who will pay it. So far, I think only Yassin Katab has addressed these issues clearly and realistically:
    “Syrians are fighting anyway — not for ideology, but for survival. They won’t stop fighting. Eventually they will win, although the field of their victory will be the smoking ruin of a poor and bitterly divided country.”

    The goal is to get rid of Assad, the price will be Syria’s economy and unity and the Syrians will pay it.

    As an Israeli, my goals regarding Syria are much more modest and the price I am willing to pay is very much lower. All I want is to make sure that the biological and chemical weapons that Assad holds do not become a bigger threat to Israel. And as an Israeli, I am willing to pay the price for our government to deal with this issue.

    Others have much loftier goals for Syria. I am quite sure Israel cannot be effective in achieving these goals. Also we can’t “afford” these goals and even if we could, the price is too high for my liking.

    So instead of discussing what should “we” do about Syria, I think a better discussion would be, what should Lebanon and Lebanese do about Syria? What should the Syrian diaspora do about Syria? What is each person as a person, willing to do about Syria? I think such a discussion would be more focused and more nuanced. Let’s not assume that all of us have the same goals for Syria and the same price we are willing to pay to achieve them.

    Posted by AIG | June 2, 2012, 11:21 am
  6. AIG

    Thanks for the very helpful comment.

    I am not assuming that the “We” is something that “we” (i.e. debate participants) are going to agree with. So, in that respect, the point is precisely to elucidate who the different constituencies of this debate are, what their goals are, and what price they are willing to pay to reach them.

    But I agree that the way you’ve framed it is perhaps a better approach to get a debate started.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | June 2, 2012, 11:43 am
  7. AIG thanks for your comment.

    I like the trip analogy. The assumption is that the friend has a choice either to take or not to take the trip and that the friend would only take it if the budget balances and the destination is clear. The friend in this case is standing in quicksand and if too much time is spent thinking about budgets and destinations then it would be too late to take that journey. Doing nothing is a policy in itself and there are consequences for doing nothing.

    Posted by Nadim Shehadi | June 2, 2012, 11:55 am
  8. Dr. Elias,

    May be its Syria-fatigue-syndrome that I have recently been inflicted with but is there really much left to discuss as we enter the 15th month of this crisis?

    We are now full swing into the dehumanization phase. Armed terrorists that must be killed and eradicated versus shabiha and regime pillars that will one day face their day of judgement (and how). Each is painted as sub-human whose elimination is halal and even required. The current tone is now consistent with a real country no more. There is nothing anyone can do to change course anymore. We are stuck inside the one-way tunnel now. There is no going back. Many thought we will be out soon. I predict that we are still 1/4 of the way in.

    Posted by EHSANI2 | June 2, 2012, 12:03 pm
  9. Until Joshua arrives, here’s the transcript of his recent interview on NPR along with Rami Khoury:

    http://www.npr.org/2012/05/29/153926907/few-good-options-remain-to-end-syrian-attacks

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | June 2, 2012, 12:13 pm
  10. Nadim,

    I totally agree that there is a price for doing nothing and some of the stake holders are indeed standing on quicksand. But not all of them. Some parties, when they do basically nothing, others pay the huge price and they only pay a little price which is not commensurate with the price they would pay if they acted. For example, the US or Europe or the Saudis. The cost for Obama to continue on the present course is quite small. US public opinion is against another military adventure.

    Posted by AIG | June 2, 2012, 1:09 pm
  11. Good start. The framework that AIG is suggesting makes sense.

    One of the reasons Foreignpolicy and others are at a stage where they are asking “What the hell should we do” is that they, and too many other external observers are stakeholders. They are biased propagandists, not neutral observers as they would like to believe.

    This delusion that they are “helping” or “caring” is a waste of time, and a waste of lives. Each outsider is bringing his or her personal preferences to the Syria debate. Most do not realize it, or do not admit it as they are too busy enjoying playing their imaginary humanitarian + influential role.

    I will join a bit later. As you can tell, I will not have many fellow travelers here as most seem to be heading west, and I am traveling east.

    But I like the new blog look and for that reason alone, I will definitely take part and I hope many others do.

    Posted by Camille Alexandre Otrakji | June 2, 2012, 1:21 pm
  12. Camille

    I’m glad you decided to join the debate, and I will list your recent pieces above.

    Forget about the FP series. The point is just to get people talking to each other instead of talking about each other, on Facebook, Twitter, their blogs, etc.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | June 2, 2012, 1:31 pm
  13. [Emphasis added by editors in lieu of pull-quotes]

    The US and Europe want regime change and are pursuing it by starving the regime and feeding the opposition. The West and the Gulf states have sanctioned Syria to a fare-thee-well and are busy shoveling money and arms to the rebels. They seek to tip the balance of power in favor of the revolution. Crudely put, the US is pursuing regime-change by civil-war. This is the most it can and should do.

    President Obama does not want to intervene directly in Syria for obvious reasons. The US has failed at nation building twice before in the Middle East. Some suggest that the “third time is a charm,” but why would Americans want to risk so much based on guess work? Voo-doo policy analysis is not what the US needs today. Arguing that if only the US had invaded Iraq a decade earlier, Iraqis would not have radicalized or fallen into emulous factionalism is hokum. It should not convince us to intervene in Syria today. Every student of the Middle East knows that Iraq had little sense of national political community to bank on before the US Roto-Rootered Saddam’s regime. It was highly likely that Iraq would descend into civil war and Iraqis would become radical and begin fighting each other in an effort to decide their future.With America’s economy in the dumps, its military badly bruised, its reputation among Muslims in tatters, and its people strung out by nation-building fatigue, this is no time to launch an intervention in Syria.

    Military intervention would undoubtedly be expensive and dangerous. In all likelihood it would back-fire, leaving the US in possession of a broken Syria in desperate need of rebuilding. Syria is a nation the size of Iraq with no source of revenue and which produces little the world wants to buy. It hardly produces enough electricity to turn the lights on slightly in excess of three hours a day. The school system is in a shambles. Government institutions will fall apart once the revolution wins. They are staffed by Baathists, recruited for loyalty to the regime and the Assad family. No revolutionary government will rehire them. They will purge them from top to bottom and employ the hundreds of thousands of jobless Syrians who have sacrificed for the revolution, lost family and struggled in the face of tyranny. Anyone who believes that Syria will avoid the excesses of Iraq, where the military, government ministries, and Baath Party were dissolved and criminalized is dreaming. If the US becomes militarily involved by destroying the Presidential palace and military installations, it will own Syria.There will be no military to keep order and stop looting. Would the US military try to discipline the 50 or 60 militias that would rule Syria or would it stand aside and let them compete for power?

    Already the opposition has asked for 12 billion dollars in start up money for the first six months when they come to power. This is chicken feed. Anyone who knows anything about Syria’s 24 million inhabitants, knows it will take a lot more than 12 billion to stabilize and help rebuild Syria so that it can get back on its feet. The US spends 12 billion dollars every three months in Afghanistan, a nation of the same size. In 2010, the US was spending $6.7 billion in Afghanistan every month compared with $5.5 billion in Iraq. Few Americans believe this money was well spent.

    The US has been down the road of nation-building in the Middle East before. It is not good at it. The US wants regime-change without the responsibilities. Many pundits argue that the US must dive into Syria directly rather than build up the opposition slowly, but that would be a fools errand. If the US has learned anything, it is that it cannot sort out issues of power-sharing and national identity for Middle Eastern countries. The road to national unity cannot be paved by Washington. In the end, Syrians must find their own national leaders. Ahmad Chalabi and Hamid Karzai seemed like good choices when they were first held up. They had many winning qualities and looked better than the alternatives. But they turned out not to be the right leaders for Iraq and Afghanistan. There is no indication that the US could do a better job of picking winners in Syria. Burhan Ghalioun seemed to have all the qualities of a future Syrian president – Sunni, French educated, serious, with a long history of espousing liberalism, moderation, and democracy. But it only took months before leaders in his own party were attacking him for treason, dictatorship and dishonesty. Today, the Syrian opposition has no leader to represent it among the international community and over fifty militias competing on the ground for cash and Kalashnikovs. Already, we are being told that if we had only intervened earlier with our military, Syrians would have been unified, liberal and moderate. Only because we have delayed, they are becoming radical and and Islamized. This is not a convincing argument. Syrians are divided because they have no tradition of unity and the Baath has destroyed politics for 50 years. Nothing America can do will erase that legacy of political underdevelopment.

    It seems heartless to stand by and do so little as massacres such as that carried out at Houla continue. More than 13 thousand Syrians have been killed in the last 14 months of revolution. All the same US intervention is not the solution. American troops killed 13 thousand Iraqis in the first month of invasion in 2003. They killed a further 120,000 Iraqis in anger by the time the country was stabilized and safe to leave – and even then Iraq remains in turmoil and a new dictatorship seems to be taking shape. Car bombs are a daily occurrence in Baghdad.

    In all likelihood, the Syrian revolution will be less bloody if Syrians carry it out for themselves. A new generation of national leaders will emerge from the struggle. They will not emerge with any legitimacy if America hands them Syria as a gift. How will they claim that they won the struggle for dignity, freedom and democracy? America cannot give these things. Syrians must take them. America can play a role with aid, arms and intelligence, but it cannot and should not try to decide Syria’s future, determine winners, and take charge of Syria. If Syrians want to own Syria in the future, they must own the revolution and find their own way to winning it.

    Posted by joshlandis | June 2, 2012, 2:24 pm
  14. Thanks Joshua.

    Has your opinion changed about the likely end game?

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | June 2, 2012, 2:30 pm
  15. The French Alain Gresh has written about it too

    http://blog.mondediplo.net/2012-06-01-Syrie-arreter-la-course-a-l-abime

    Posted by mj | June 2, 2012, 3:59 pm
  16. Alright, I’ll start by comparing Joshua’s opinion today with the opinion by Henry Kissinger at the Washington Post, also today

    Joshua:
    “Crudely put, the US is pursuing regime-change by civil-war. This is the most it can and should do.”

    Kissinger:
    ‎”In Syria, calls for humanitarian and strategic intervention merge …On the other hand, not every strategic interest rises to a cause for war; were it otherwise, no room would be left for diplomacy.”

    I have three questions for Joshua:

    1) Do you agree with Henry Kissinger that Syria is mostly a strategic intervention case?

    2) If yes … what is the US trying to gain or optimize? … to borrow from the language used by US embassy in Damascus (Wikileaks) … what is the opportunity for the US?

    3) Why do you prefer the “civil war” (the blunt way of putting it) option to Kissinger’s diplomatic option?

    Posted by Camille Alexandre Otrakji | June 2, 2012, 5:00 pm
  17. While we wait for Joshua to respond, I will put two questions to Camille:

    1) Assuming that you advocate Kissinger’s approach (which I’m sure you do), what role, if any, can other countries play in halting the violence in Syria?

    2) To return to the framework proposed above, what is the ideal “destination” in your view? What’s the best case scenario for Syria?

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | June 2, 2012, 5:08 pm
  18. Will answer, but first I’ll share this with you … a majority of 58% in France want to see UN military intervention in Syria. 50% want France to take part. Both figures are significantly higher compared to results of a poll published last February.

    Les Français favorables à une intervention militaire en Syrie

    http://www.lemonde.fr/proche-orient/article/2012/06/02/les-francais-favorables-a-une-intervention-militaire-en-syrie_1711643_3218.html

    Une majorité de 58 % de Français se déclarent favorables à une intervention militaire des Nations unies en Syrie, soit 7 points de plus que lors d’une précédente enquête réalisée en février dernier (51 %), selon un sondage Ifop pour l’hebdomadaire régional Dimanche Ouest France.

    Cette hausse a “sans doute un rapport avec la multiplication des crimes de guerre attribués au régime de Bachar Al-Assad, et leur médiatisation ces derniers jours”, analyse l’institut.

    Les hommes (65 %) se déclarent davantage favorables à l’intervention que les femmes (52 %). 70% des partisans de la droite l’approuvent, devant les sympatisants de gauche (65 %). Les sympatisants du Front national, le parti d’extrême droite, se disent majoritairement (55 %) contre une intervention des Nations unies en Syrie.

    A la question de savoir si la France doit s’engager dans cette intervention militaire, les Français semblent également partagés : 50 % pour et 50 % contre, note l’Ifop. “Ces résultats assez mitigés témoignent néanmoins d’une hausse de 12 points en faveur de l’engagement de l’armée française en Syrie sous l’égide des Nations unies, comparé à février dernier (seulement 38 % des Français se disaient alors favorables à cette proposition”, selon l’Ifop).

    Le président français, François Hollande, a déclaré mardi ne pas exclure une intervention armée en Syrie à condition qu’elle soit décidée dans le cadre de l’ONU.

    Posted by Camille Alexandre Otrakji | June 2, 2012, 5:18 pm
  19. This just in: a purported Syrian Air Force defector claims that the Houla massacre was carried out by Shabbiha:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/jun/02/massacre-children-syrian-officer?INTCMP=SRCH

    Ok, here’s an example of a news story that the Western press is going to jump on. Meanwhile, the anti-imperialist folks are going to claim that this guy is not a credible source, that he’s another Iraqi “Curveball”, and that the Western plot is inching ever closer to its conclusion: a civil war that destroys Syria and paves the way for a New Middle East.

    Thoughts?

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | June 2, 2012, 5:20 pm
  20. Yes, you are right. I stopped reading testimonies of defectors who claim that Maher is raping every woman in Syria and that the republican guards (Shabee7a recently) are “randomly shooting at women and children” … They are as reliable as Addounya TV denying rumours. And The Guardian turned into a tabloid publication in its Syria coverage.

    Back to Your two questions:

    1) They can join Russia and China in actively organizing a genuine dialogue conference between Syrian regime side and Syrian opposition … and better forget these labels and just go with Syrians who believe in a solution from all sides … regime, centre and opposition.

    Russia needs to pressure some in the regime who are playing a nonconstructive role. The US needs to tell Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia to immediately stop arming rebels and stop their hostile media campaigns.

    2) I would refer you to the figure I included in one of my articles … figure B (for best scenario). There is no way I can tell where and when that happy “destination” is, but I’m convinced that dialogue, based on realistic expectations by all sides, is the way to start moving there

    Posted by Camille Alexandre Otrakji | June 2, 2012, 5:39 pm
  21. It would be interesting to see if there will be a change of position for the participants or just an increased polarization of opinions and more of the same given the interests and egos of those involved.

    let the debates continue…

    Posted by Nabil | June 2, 2012, 5:44 pm
  22. Camille;

    As you advocate the “diplomatic” route; why do you think the Assad regime not go this route through the past year and a half?

    Do you think after all these bombings that “the opposition’ will ever trust the Assads?

    The regime has not even tried to stop some of their bombings to comply with the Anan initiative; why should people ever believe that anything will change?

    Whatever happened to those 300 demonstrators?:D

    Posted by danny | June 2, 2012, 5:56 pm
  23. Reminder to everyone to keep it civil.

    Ok, enough Tayta QN.

    Carry on.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | June 2, 2012, 6:00 pm
  24. Danny,

    1) “all these bombings”? … you mean the real ones that we KNOW for a fact took place (and there were many) or the ones you want to believe that were reported by Aljazeera and British government crooks like Paul Conrad who testified that he did not see a single rebel in Homs and that the Syrian army committed a Ruanda like genocide?

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-17240610

    2) Who says “opposition” should be trusted either? … Did you read what those who quite the SNC said about Ghalioun?

    The regime made it clear it will only abide by the Annan plan if th either side does the same. Did they?

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/01/syria-killings-state-workers_n_1562017.html?fb_action_ids=368653059856237%2C368645203190356%2C368643423190534%2C368639929857550%2C368636849857858&fb_action_types=news.reads&fb_source=other_multiline#s=more230142

    Posted by Camille Alexandre Otrakji | June 2, 2012, 6:04 pm
  25. Conroy (not Conrad)

    Posted by Camille Alexandre Otrakji | June 2, 2012, 6:06 pm
  26. Camille;

    Just curious whether Hama & Homs were bombed or not by the regime. May be you can enlighten us. Also no bombing at Rustan & Idlib? We could use your assistance I am sure. It seems you are traveling too “far east” and have made up your mind about the “opposition”. Let’s first agree that there is a problem in Syria. You had insisted that there was no crisis (about a year ago on this blog). Have you changed your opinion now?

    Posted by danny | June 2, 2012, 6:14 pm
  27. I fully stand by what I wrote here 13 months ago. I think for a 10 page interview I still managed to be mostly right Danny … Unlike most others (here and elsewhere) who were ready to pop the champagne bottles to celebrate the upcoming Syrian version of the Tahrir Square moment, I warned that the regime and the army will fight back hard … I warned that those who wanted to overthrow the regime do not have the same level of support that the Egyptian revolution enjoyed … that before they start talking about Erdogan or NATO settling it by force, they will realize that the price to pay would be tremendous …

    I said that this “revolution” has strong sectarian tone to it (besides the leftist typical revolutionary types) … that women are kept home mostly … that the opposition is heavily deceptive (like the regime) … that demonstrations are much smaller in size than reported … that there is violence on the opposition side too and not only on the regime’s side … and that only dialogue can work.

    I was accused of being an alarmist and that the revolution is about to topple the regime despite the alarmist tactics …

    I was not taking the regime’s side … I was against changing the regime through a revolution. Does not work in Syria.

    Yalla … I’m going for dinner. will check here later.

    Posted by Camille Alexandre Otrakji | June 2, 2012, 6:39 pm
  28. QN asks: “Has your opinion changed about the likely end game?” No it hasn’t. I still think it will be long and bloody but in the end this regime will fail. It already has failed, but sanctions, isolation, and war will drain it of remaining umph. It can no longer deliver the basics to Syrians.

    Camille asks why I advocate civil war rather than diplomacy. I don’t really advocate civil war, but civil war there is and foreign countries are shoveling arms and money into Syria. The Western world has demanded regime-change. I don’t believe that they will back off to embrace diplomacy or the Annan plan. Do I think this is good for Syrians? It is good for some, particularly the young, I presume, because they may benefit by living to see a better Syria. But most Syrians of a certain age and above will live out most of the rest of their lives in greater distress and privation. Some will be content to sacrifice for their children, others may be less content to do so.

    The important thing for Americans, as opposed to Syrians, is not to get too far involved. I think we can do a better job at fixing American problems, of which there are many.

    I wish I could see a diplomatic way out. Perhaps one will emerge once the balance of power begins to change a bit, but my sense is that once the regime begins to lose territory, it will begin to lose ground rather quickly, making negotiations very difficult.

    Posted by joshlandis | June 2, 2012, 6:49 pm
  29. Profesor Josh,

    Why can’t the US and much willing western powers “pull a Libya”. Goal: Baathist regime change. Price: bombs, missiles, jet fuel, and some civilian casualties

    Pick a new regime to hold your hat on. Assad is going.

    Posted by Akbar Palace | June 2, 2012, 7:28 pm
  30. Josh said:

    Camille asks why I advocate civil war rather than diplomacy. I don’t really advocate civil war, but civil war there is and foreign countries are shoveling arms and money into Syria. The Western world has demanded regime-change. I don’t believe that they will back off to embrace diplomacy or the Annan plan.

    Wouldn’t any credible diplomatic plan have to involve some element of “regime change”? I don’t see it as an either/or proposition (either armed insurrection or diplomacy). Even if the West and the Arabs backed off and left the situation in the hands of the Russians and the Chinese, they wouldn’t be able to quell the popular revolt without a significant re-structuring of the leadership in Syria. Unless, that is, they gave Assad free reign to just shoot his way out of this (which, again, is unrealistic).

    The Obama administration is trying to use the vocabularies of diplomacy and regime change simultaneously. Here’s Clinton:

    Only a genuine democratic transition will solve this crisis. As the Arab League has said, the goal should be the formation of a national unity government followed by transparent and free elections under Arab and international supervision, and Assad’s departure must be part of this. Looking ahead, there should be no doubt the United States will support a managed transition that leads to a new Syria so that just like in Tunisia today, the rights of every citizen are respected and protected.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | June 2, 2012, 7:34 pm
  31. “I wish I could see a diplomatic way out. Perhaps one will emerge once the balance of power begins to change a bit”

    Why is there no diplomatic way out? … At what point do western diplomats and conflict resolution specialists usually decide to give up? .. in the Arab Israeli conflict the Americans want the Arabs to wait for remain committed to diplomacy 21 years after the start of the Madrid conference. In Syria, they decided that “there is no diplomatic way out” after a few months of the start of the crisis in Syria.

    Where was that impossible to cross point? … I did not see it.

    Did party1 (the regime) decide to boycott any such talks?

    Did the financiers, promoters and supporters of party 2 (the opposition) try hard to convince them to talk to the regime or did they (the US, the west, US Arab allies and Turkey) try their best from day 1 to help the opposition believe they can defeat the regime and therefore they don’t need to talk and that the regime is evil and that they (the opposition) are saints and therefore they should not talk.

    Who is responsible for that hopeless state? .. can we be honest and say it as it is: … America’s camp worked on destroying the chances for a diplomatic solution from the beginning.

    The regime of course did not deliver except a fraction of what it promised it will … but that’s progress in other conflicts and usually negotiators, who genuinely want to solve a problem try to squeeze a lot of good will out of any progress and they try to build on it.

    No diplomatic way out means that the significant powers (Syrians and non Syrians) feel confident that they will win and that the price paid will be reasonable .. or that it will be high but it will be paid by others … not by them and not by their allies.

    The regime’s hardliners (not the smarter moderates) were delusional, especially at first, thinking they can settle it through the security solution. Now they are starting to learn the limitations of their power. The opposition is not learning though … thanks partially to serious manipulation by the US and its allies …

    I know what is going on, I don’t have to guess.

    There is tremendous manipulation that goes both ways … the opposition exaggerating their humanitarian advantage over the regime, and the supporters of opposition (US government and its allies in Europe and the Middle East) helping the opposition remain confident they can overthrow the regime “soon” instead of talking to it to reach a compromise solution.

    Many of us here know what is going on and we know how we got here.

    Kissinger and Bzrizenski today both agree that

    1) This is mostly not a humanitarian case for the US .. it is a perceived strategic opportunity
    2) There is a serious price to pay … for the US and its allies, and not only for Syria. It is better to try diplomacy.

    And that was and continues to be my opinion since the start of the crisis.

    Posted by Camille Alexandre Otrakji | June 2, 2012, 8:20 pm
  32. Camille said:

    Who is responsible for that hopeless state? .. can we be honest and say it as it is: … America’s camp worked on destroying the chances for a diplomatic solution from the beginning.

    We are not privy to the conversations taking place between the opposition’s leadership and the representatives of foreign governments. Maybe you are right that they were pressured by the West and the Gulf to refuse to negotiate with the regime, or maybe they came to that conclusion on their own.

    My sense is that the Obama administration at least was very reluctant, in the early stages, to contribute to the regime’s destabilization. It’s hard to think of a reason that this government would have been opposed to a diplomatic solution that significantly strengthened the domestic opposition to Assad without the threat of a regional war. I agree with Joshua: Obama does not need the mess of another Middle Eastern state-building exercise.

    But again, until Wikileaks provides us with a raft of confidential documents, we won’t know the full story.

    In any case, what would a serious and workable diplomatic solution look like? You can’t “try diplomacy” without a clear destination in mind.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | June 2, 2012, 8:46 pm
  33. Elias, the Obama administration is only a part of “the American regime”. Congress … Think Tanks … corporate media … Liberal intellectuals … and lobbies (Saudi, Qatari, right wing Lebanese, and Likud) all played a part.

    Most of the System wanted and insisted on regime change from the start. It was … an opportunity. We did read that one cable from the US embassy in Damascus which clearly showed that they were there mostly to try to overthrow the regime… everything to them was “an opportunity”.

    I know of “regime change specialists” who were helping from day1 for example. No need for Wikileaks.

    Regime change in Damascus is something the US values… the US did give 12 million dollars to Syrian opposition starting from 2006 and continuing through the Obama administration years.

    I will write the whole story, from my perspective, very soon. There is not much good from the US or its allies … mostly, as Kissinger admits, perception of an easy opportunity.

    If we forget what happened, and I have no problem doing that, a diplomatic solution starts with the US and its allies telling Syrian opposition to settle for a Haytham Mamaa type of a patriotic, clean and secular opposition figure prime minister leading a more ethical and more capable government that handles everything in Syria except defense and and foreign policy that remain in the hands of “the regime”. In 2014 Assad faces real opponents, or he does not run.

    It is difficult, like any conflict, but much easier than the Arab Israeli “peace process” that we have all been trying to squeeze some hope from it for decades.

    Posted by Alex | June 2, 2012, 9:00 pm
  34. Syria will never be the same, The US and the GCC want Syria to be a puppet state, they want Syria to fall to make it easier to attack Iran, all that talk about democracy and let us be honest is just talk, they will not stop until Syria falls, DR Landis want the US to break Syria by providing arms without being obligated to rebuild it, I am so glad i decided to come to the US after the last crises in the late seventies and early eighties, I fell bad for my family that left Homs and the ones who are in Hama, i don’t know anything about them, The Arab countries that are participating in the breakup of Syria will regret that, I don’t see Syrians staying together in the future,

    What AIG said about having a goal is right, what is the goal in Syria, breakup with Iran, abandon Hezbollah, abandon the Palestinians and the Golan, I doubt that Democracy is the goal and if it is a declaration by president Assad that according to the new constitution he will not be running in 2014 for president and that the next election will be done under the supervision of the Carter institute and with superpower monitoring should be enough to stop the fighting, but that is not the goal , the goal is a puppet Syria that follows the West,

    Posted by Norman | June 2, 2012, 9:34 pm
  35. This comment is from Amal Saad-Ghorayeb (which I post with her permission). Amal is the author of “Hizbu’llah: Politics and Religion”, and is a well-known commentator on Middle Eastern affairs. She’ll be publishing a series on the Arab left next week in Al-Akhbar, which I’m looking forward to reading. Here’s her comment:

    The prominent blogger, Qifa Nabki, asked me and some of my friends to join a debate on Syria on his blog (see his post here). Our interlocutors include both liberal interventionist Americans and Syrians as well as an Israeli. Forget the Israeli for a moment, here’s why I reject debate or dialogue in such contexts: I refuse to be part of a debate on my region, my nation (yes I consider myself a Greater Syrian) with Americans who have no RIGHT to that conversation in the first place. Their inclusion, in and of itself, is a license for US intervention; a tacit acknowledgement of the US’ right to pursue its interests on our lands. When the terms of the debate shift from what should BE done about Syria—uttered in the passive narrative voice, with all the liberal imperialist undertones such a question carries—to what do Syrians and their Arab brethren think THEY should do to secure internal peace and stability in Syria on the one hand, and national sovereignty on the other, then you can count me in. Until then, no I don’t believe in dialogue unless we (non-Zionist) Arabs are the ones who define the terms of that dialogue.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | June 2, 2012, 9:44 pm
  36. Camille: You ask why there isn’t much patience for a diplomatic solution in Syria, whereas people keep pushing for one in Palestine/Israel. Fair enough. But it should be noted that by most accounts, the death toll in Syria has been larger in 15 months than in the last 25 years in Palestine/Israel.

    Otherwise, the diplomatic solution that you seem to be suggesting sounds an awful lot like keeping the current regime in place, putting in a new PM as window dressing (since the coercive forces would kept in the hands of the regime) and everyone trusting that in a couple of years, after Damascus has gotten what it wants, there will be free and fair elections. This sounds suspiciously like the classic Arab regime response of reshuffling the current government while keeping the same regime in place.

    Why would the opposition ever accept such a deal? And why would the Asad regime actually allow change after it had gotten what it wanted?

    Posted by sean | June 2, 2012, 9:49 pm
  37. Sean

    The death toll out of the Arab Israeli conflict is much much larger … the Iraq wars … the Iraqi Iranian war … the Lebanese civil war … the 2006 and 2009 wars … are all PARTIALLY the result of the Arab Israeli conflict (with local factors in each case on top). Millions died because of the Arab Israeli conflict.

    The death toll in Syria did not have to be this high had we started diplomacy and stuck to diplomacy. But this Hollywood story that everyone tried to pull with the good USA (and good Erdogan, and Hamad and Alain Juppe …) being so energetic and alert in not allowing the evil regime and its selfish “minority” supporters to cheat the good Syrian people out of their right got democracy … this theatrical play that the west thought will be good enough to overthrow the regime, did cost lives.

    You are right to question everything you questioned on the side of the regime. But there is a lot to do there before we give up. If the situation was not allowed to deteriorate into this sad state of sectarian conflict in Homs and elsewhere, many of the hardliners in the regime and within its religious opposition would have been considerably more ready to trust each other. But by now they both killed thousands of each other … and Hamad of Qatar made sure his Aljazeera made it look one sided and the Saudis made sure it was the Shia and Alawites who are behind the one sided evil…

    Last may or June we had the optimal chance for a solution … the regime shaken enough to understand it had to compromise … sectarian ugliness not yet out of control.

    But no one wanted to take advantage and try … instead they all decided that “Assad lost his legitimacy” and Erdogan started to give opposition false hope that he is about to invade and help them take over.

    My friends in opposition started to tell me they heard confidential information that Russia is about to abandon the regime … that Assad is leaving the country … that the army is about to disintegrate …

    Even pour Anthony Shadid was given wrong information all the time. Information that always helped boost the morale of the opposition about their imminent victory … They made Anthony write a story last July that the Syrian army is exhausted and that is why it went out of Hama … and that the state does not have enough money to buy bullets for the army any more …

    I suggested to him that this is not true, but he said he has reliable sources …

    Anyway … the regime can be influenced when most Syrians put pressure. Believe it or not, for now half the Syrians are not interested in total regime change and definitely not interested in delivering the country to opposition. When people like me see an honest, homegrown, revolution, we will all make sure we keep what we like in the regime (foreign policy, liberal society) and demand the rest (real powerful government) be led by a prime minister of a national coalition government that reflect parliamentary elections.

    Sean … transforming a whole country take time … there is no wisdom in rushing to totally remove the regime. I don’t understand your rush. I prefer to take what we can as long as it is significant, not window dressing reforms as many in the regime think they can get away with.

    You know how corrupt recent elections were in Serbia? .. totally. It was a show. When did they have their revolution?

    Posted by Alex | June 2, 2012, 10:12 pm
  38. QN,

    Please tell Amal Saad-Ghorayeb that the whole idea of the debate is to hear “what do Syrians and their Arab brethren think THEY should do to secure internal peace and stability in Syria on the one hand, and national sovereignty on the other”. Nobody is setting the terms of the debate for her and her defensive attitude is surprising.

    Posted by AIG | June 2, 2012, 11:19 pm
  39. Alex,

    Your analysis is all backward looking. The goal of the US is regime change in Syria. You are not going to change that. The goal of the Saudis is regime change in Syria. You are not going to change that either. In my opinion, the foreign policy of Assad has led to this. He made too many enemies and over played his hand. He over estimated his internal strength and allowed himself a foreign policy that was too aggressive. And now his enemies are not going to let him off the hook. But that is also backward looking and irrelevant.

    Even if the American and Saudi governments don’t decide to send weapons to the opposition, there is enough money sloshing around the Arab world and diaspora to fund the opposition, some of it even from within the Saudi royal family. That train has left the station. The opposition will be funded and will get weapons even against the will of the Saudi and American government.

    Given these facts, what should the Assad regime do? Please, not what the US or the West or the Arabs should do. What should Assad do? What are his goals and what should be his plan to achieve these goal?

    Posted by AIG | June 2, 2012, 11:36 pm
  40. Lets pause for a moment and look at the main accuser. The USA. Lets see what this “great” country did in the last 235 years http://www.saunalahti.fi/boras/home%20page/links/extras/3_Fingers.html

    Posted by Antifascist | June 3, 2012, 3:46 am
  41. Alex:
    Thank you for keeping people on this site honest. Too often, people try to let the zionizts off the hook for all the arab and muslim deaths in the middle east, claiming that “israel” is not responsible and arabs are to blame when arabs kill arabs. Everyone knows that so long as the occupation and “Israeli” genocide of Palestinians continues, the zionists will attempt to distract people from their crimes by pointing an accusing finger at various inter-arab disturbances as if those can equal zionist crimes. It won’t work because those conflicts and related deaths would not have occurred without the disruption caused by “israel”.

    Posted by dontgetit | June 3, 2012, 9:47 am
  42. Alex,

    Can you explain to the less educated participants here how the 13000 deaths in Syria are “partially” die to the Arab-Israeli conflict?

    Posted by Akbar Palace | June 3, 2012, 11:24 am
  43. Anti-imperialists–as QN call them–are clearly on the defensive. Lacking ammunition or constructive suggestions, they either opt out as A S-G did or spin a la Camille. The position of Landis also seems to have shifted at least concerning what is happening on the ground. I believe his story now fits what the mainstream (imperialist?) contend on the massacres taking place. {Sorry for this short comment QN, but I still hope it is slightly more than a facebook comment }.

    Posted by rm | June 3, 2012, 11:28 am
  44. Hi Elias,

    I am sincerely flattered that you included me among the ‘others’ here, through Twitter, and beside the many illustrious, to join the debate on Syria, since I cannot cite my latest FP piece in support of my arguments.

    Even though the Syria issue is close to my heart, and occupies most of my twittering, I have to decline joining this debate for the following reasons:

    1. I left the comment section of ‘Syria Comment’ a long time ago. I can’t say that the people there can honestly be called a ‘fraternity’. Syria Comment discredited itself on Syria by serving, in my opinion, not as an information site on Syria but mainly as a hub to attract and collect information on commenters on Syria, for what purpose? I don’t know. And since most of the people who already commented here, as I am writing this, come from there, I am not in the mood to join again this ‘fraternity’. And if you press me enough (and I know you are going to do it) on my reasons for this opinion, I won’t answer. So let’s keep things civilised here.

    2. I think the debate is not well framed. In my opinion, the question shouldn’t be ‘What the hell should we do about Syria?’ The question should be: ‘What Syrians inside Syria want for their country?’ opening the way for an external support for a dialogue inside the country instead of the actual external support for division and civil war.

    And no, I won’t be ‘Cajoled’ into writing more here. I did write this one comment as a matter of courtesy.

    Respectfully,

    Sophia

    Posted by Sophia | June 3, 2012, 11:37 am
  45. – I disagree that there is certainty associated with ANY potential outcome in Syria, despite what the situation might appear like to each one of us.

    – Yesterday I suggested, in my answer to Sean, that millions who died in the Middle East (mostly in Iran/Iraq) are partially the victims of the Arab Israeli conflict. But if you want me to suggest a relation between the violence in Syria and the Arab Israeli conflict, I would ask you to read again the discussion above. When the US and its allies are that motivated to overthrow the regime, what is their main objective?

    Posted by Camille Alexandre Otrakji | June 3, 2012, 12:10 pm
  46. Alex,

    The main objective of the US is to weaken Iran. So what? Again, that is just backward looking analysis. Assad cannot change US goals. Given the situation, what should Assad do and what will be the cost of his actions?

    And it doesn’t really matter, but since when is Iran and issue related to the Arab-Israeli conflict? It is more related to the Persian-Arab dance for influence in the Gulf.

    Posted by AIG | June 3, 2012, 12:56 pm
  47. Camille: I think it’s clear that the Arab-Israel conflict has an effect on much of the region’s politics, but I think you’re going way too far here. To blame the Iran-Iraq war on Israel is really, really stretching things in a way that denies agency to both Iraqis and Iranians. Did Washington hedge its bets and encourage two of its regional foes to duke it out? Yes. Did the US dupe Iran and Iraq into believing in a territorial dispute over the Shatt al-Arab just to make its puppets dance? Of course not.

    Likewise, Washington’s response to the situation in Syria is certainly affected by what the US sees as its strategic interests. But again, Syrian people have agency, and to suggest that the opposition is somehow manipulated by the US as part of the Arab-Israel conflict to oppose the Ba’ath regime is to paint them as little more that mindless marionettes being manipulated by Saudi, Israeli and American hands.

    As someone who rightly rejects the idea that Damascus is nothing more than the cat’s paw of Tehran and Moscow, you should be able to appreciate that not everything can be accredited to shady machinations of more powerful countries.

    Posted by sean | June 3, 2012, 1:58 pm
  48. Sean

    Here is what I wrote

    “are all PARTIALLY the result of the Arab Israeli conflict (with local factors in each case on top)”

    You specified the local factors. I highlighted the US part.

    Similarly, when I refer to the way the US and its allies in the GCC and in Turkey play a major role, I do not imply that there was no serious opposition to Assad or to the regime.

    But there is no denying, I hope, that the US has a clear process it follows when it decides to overthrow a regime.

    The players change … in Afghanistan it was the Madrasas that generated furious young men ready to fight (the Soviets), today it is Aljazeera and Youtube that amplify and manufacture material that can help generate more “Free Syrian army” members.

    Remember this chart?

    Posted by Camille Alexandre Otrakji | June 3, 2012, 2:45 pm
  49. Same players who did Iraq war II were there to help start the Iran Iraq war …

    Posted by Camille Alexandre Otrakji | June 3, 2012, 2:49 pm
  50. Alex,

    Are we doing a post mortem or are we looking forward? I think QN’s idea was to look forward not backward. Nobody is denying that the US wants regime change in Syria. I am not sure why you keep revisiting this issue.

    What do you think Assad’s strategy should be moving forward and what do you think are the costs associated with this strategy?

    Posted by AIG | June 3, 2012, 3:01 pm
  51. Everyone is trying to move forward but with the large number of players now interested in Syria and with the highly emotional nature of the conflict, it is not easy to predict anything. I am not comfortable talking in detail about the future … about what each player will decide to do or about what will be the outcome.

    I wrote everything I thought is worth sharing about Assad in the article that Elias linked in this post. At the end of that article, I suggested that he has three red lines. Everything else is negotiable with the opposition and their outside supporters if and when dialogue takes place.

    Haytham Manaa now live on Dubai TV .. he called for an international conference that includes Russia dn Iran in addition to the typical NATO participants … that includes the regime and opposition.

    That is the most obvious next step. But its success should not be hostage to Hollywood type expectations. This is a complex problem and it will take time and many setbacks before there is success.

    Posted by Camille Alexandre Otrakji | June 3, 2012, 3:24 pm
  52. Alex,

    It seems though also that the opposition and the US have red lines and they contradict those of Assad. So it seams there is nothing to negotiate.

    What does it really mean that Assad has “red lines”? Does it mean he is willing to see Syria burn and not give up on his red lines? What is the correct way to interpret his red lines?

    And I am not trying to be facetious but I read your posts carefully and you do seem comfortable talking about the US actions in detail as well as what they should do in the future. Am I wrong to say that you are only uncomfortable discussing Assad’s actions?

    Posted by AIG | June 3, 2012, 3:33 pm
  53. His red lines would mean nothing if they were his alone. These are also the red lines of his supporters… of the Baath party … of the army …

    At least I got that one right. Want to read the main headline from his speech today? : )

    http://www.sana.sy/eng/21/2012/06/03/423234.htm

    Posted by Camille Alexandre Otrakji | June 3, 2012, 3:53 pm
  54. Wow it’s like old times, except Alex and AIG are being civil with each other. 🙂

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | June 3, 2012, 4:02 pm
  55. And since you are comparing Syrians and Americans, I got another one for the American President …

    Formatted in bold on May 2nd 2011 from interview with Elias here last year:

    “The International community must help Israel and the Arabs reach comprehensive peace in the Middle East. The status quo is not sustainable.”

    https://qifanabki.com/2011/05/02/camille-otrakji-syria-protests/

    Days later, President Obama said the same thing during his Middle East speech:

    http://www.nationaljournal.com/nationalsecurity/obama-the-status-quo-is-not-sustainable–20110519

    Posted by Camille Alexandre Otrakji | June 3, 2012, 4:03 pm
  56. The only way out as i see it is for president Assad to answer a question about his plans for 2014 election by saying that the new constitution does not allow more than two terms and we have to abide by the new constitution and it is up to the Syrian people to chose the next president, with that declaration the UN security council and the world leaders should applaud that decision and call for everybody to join the political debate and prepare for the elections,

    president Assad does not represent himself he represent the people who are fearful of a civil war that will make them homeless and country less, any push to push out of power by force will lead to civil war as his supporters do not trust the opposition to spare their lives.

    Posted by Norman | June 3, 2012, 4:59 pm
  57. Alex,

    The opposition red lines are also the red lines of many opposition supporters and the US red lines are those of the US congress also and many Americans. So again, it means there is nothing to negotiate. Someone has to give on his “red lines”. It is not going to be the US. If it is not going to be Assad, then for all practical purposes Assad is leading Syria to oblivion. Maybe the US is also responsible, but it seems that Syrians should care more about what happens to Syria.

    If anybody was right about what we are discussing it was me 🙂
    I told you for years that Egypt and Syria are going to blow up, that the “status quo” was unsustainable and that Assad does not have decades to make reforms like your plans for him. I also told you time and again that by meddling with other countries, Assad was setting Syria up to be meddled with.

    What the Gulf States are doing in Syria, they learned by reading Assad’s e-book “How I Screwed Lebanon and Other Stories to Tell Your Son Before He Leaves for Jihad in Iraq”. Critics write that it is “an inspiring do it yourself manual for destabilizing your neighbors”. This high praise came for the reviewer who gave Mustapha Tlass’ international best selling epic “The Matzoh of Zion” only 2.5 stars. Its only $5 on amazon.co.sy if the site is not blocked.

    Maybe the “status quo” in the I/P case is unsustainable also, but what has it got to do one bit with the situation in Syria?

    Posted by AIG | June 3, 2012, 5:00 pm
  58. Allow me to shift the debate away from the situation on the ground. It is Ideas and perceptions that drive policy, consolidating the regime’s power is consolidating certain ideas and arguments and that is what I want to discuss. Any resemblance between what I say and reality is purely coincidental, reality can blur the vision..

    The regime plays a mind game with its opponents. The regime needs to establish and maintain that it is indispensable, irreplaceable and that beyond it is chaos, sectarian civil war, al-Qaeda or tens of Afghanistans. It also needs to maintain the moral high ground, like Arab Nationalism, anti-imperialism and sometimes even god helps.

    If we had subtitles or footnotes that clarify what people really mean, arguments like [if] ‘the US is set on regime change then the best it can achieve is civil war’ really mean to say that it is either the regime or chaos. References to Iraq, Libya, Bosnia etc.. also carry messages that consolidate this and deter any thought of intervention.

    The regime and its supporters play the mind game much better than any of its opponents and it is the regime’s narrative that prevails. A good illustration are some statements of Sec. Clinton herself which endorse the narrative of the regime. Like in this BBC interview where she undermines the opposition by saying it is not credible and may contain elements of AlQaida or Hamas. She also endorses the Civil War theory and the popularity of the regime etc.. etc.. she or one of her advisors is an avid reader of Syria Comment. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-17170775 I think Clinton’s answers could not have been better to the regime’s narrative had they been written by Walid el Moallem himself.

    I invite you therefore to reread some of the statements above and imagine what the subtitles would be.

    Posted by Nadim Shehadi | June 3, 2012, 6:17 pm
  59. AIG

    While I find your description of Assad’s e-book to be very well done, I think the Gulf states didn’t need to read it in order to figure out how to meddle in Syria. This is all business. It’s not personal. It probably didn’t help that Assad called the Arabs half-men, and may have ordered the liquidation of one of their favorite Lebanese billionaires, but at the end of the day, what’s happening in Syria today is the result of internal factors (as you also argued). Ehsani, too, has made the point that Syria was a house of cards, economically speaking, just like the rest of the countries in the region.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | June 3, 2012, 6:59 pm
  60. QN,

    You are of course absolutely right.
    The crocodile tears about foreign intervention are just getting to be a wee bit too much for me.

    Posted by AIG | June 3, 2012, 7:23 pm
  61. Personally, I don’t think that events in Syria are all that sophisticated.

    What will become of Syria- the direction it will take politically- is no different from the direction that countries like Iraq and Egypt have taken.

    After all the killing, the civil strife and whatnot. Whether or not there is an “intervention”, what will likely come to pass is a highly fractured state in which any “Democracy” will end up looking like Iraq/Lebanon, or you will see a breakup of the state itself.

    If it remains intact, it will end up going from Regime to Regime Lite.

    We can revisit this in a year or so.

    Posted by Gabriel | June 4, 2012, 12:39 am
  62. Nadim, everyone plays mind games … assuming they are conscious of what they are doing. Many are simply delusional about what they really stand for and what they really desire to protect or gain.

    The regime, as you correctly stated, has the useful argument of being the protector of Syrian (Arab if you want) rights and the guardian of stability and integrity of the state. This is truly the main motivation to many in the regime, I assure you. Others are simply corrupt individuals hiding behind the slogans that sound good.

    Same applies on the opposition side. You have the Kurds who started being in opposition because they want Kurdish independence from Syria, the Islamists who want the return of the Khilafeh, those who want nothing but revenge against the regime, … and as in any political camp the many corrupt who want to enjoy the power of enriching themselves when they take over as well as those who love to be leaders … then you have the agents working for Qatar, Saudi, turkey or the US … and finally the many honest opposition figures and supporters.

    All of them claim they are mostly fighting for democracy and freedom.

    Your statement “The regime and its supporters play the mind game much better than any of its opponents” is based on your bias and nothing but your bias. If Clinton’s statement is sufficient evidence that the regime’s brain washing works across the globe, then I can tell you (and you know it already) that she has been meeting with all typed of opposition figures and with time she realized, through extensive engagement, that they are mostly bad news. I am sure you can ask friends in Washington to get the details.

    I tried to list the many ways in which the regime and the opposition shape the narrative. I found that the opposition to be much more guilty than the regime of relying on lies, deception and distortion of the truth. I provided links to each point I alleged. (some of the links died later, but most work).

    If you have more regime deception categories that I missed (I am biased against the opposition, and I know it), then please suggest them through examples and links.

    http://creativesyria.com/syriapage/?p=53

    Posted by Camille Alexandre Otrakji | June 4, 2012, 1:29 am
  63. AIG,

    I also expected Egypt to be a candidate for future rule by the Muslim Brotherhood (see Onemideast.org), but did not expect Syria (as you did) to be next.

    As for Assad’s interference in the affairs of some neighboring states, I disagree with the way you and Elias see it. Long article on the way (in a week maybe) where I will explain the correct order of chicken and eggs from my view. Will be happy to read criticism then.

    Posted by Camille Alexandre Otrakji | June 4, 2012, 1:33 am
  64. Incidentally, today I came across this entertaining (not really funny) clip about the new Egypt. What do you think they will do, in reality, not in cheap slogans at political rallies?

    They are saying they will send millions of young men ready to die fighting Israel and recovering Jerusalem as the capital of the future Caliphate that will unite the Arab world (with no Israel I assume) and that the Jews will not be able to sleep anymore …

    Posted by Camille Alexandre Otrakji | June 4, 2012, 1:38 am
  65. I think the real problem lies in credibility…. No party can be sure of what’s coming out of Syria. This is why it’s taking so long in the decision making process. The Syrians and the Lebanese “know”, they’ve known all along about the security apparatus and their actions, but for the rest of the world, it’s taking them much longer as they swallow the regime’s deception. It is fear that the regime instills in its subordinates and deception that it employs to confuse outsiders.
    Im grateful for Professor Landis’ excellent comments reflecting an objective and accurate take on the realities. He says it like it is. Can’t say the same for others who claim to be an authority on Syria.

    Posted by Maverick | June 4, 2012, 3:35 am
  66. Maveriick spot on. I agree with Camille, Clinton fell into the trap of expecting to see a credible opposition before the fall of the regime. After forty three years of a regime that made sure such an opposiotion cannot exist, this is the wrong assumption. The regime’s survival depends on us not being able to see beyond it, this is the mind game: to blur the vision on what comes after. http://www.theweek.co.uk/8049/mubarak-it’s-all-over-once-illusion-broken it is very normal to have divisions and different opinions and clashes of personality in what we wrongly call the opposition. 
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/oct/01/syrian-opposition 

    Posted by Nadim Shehadi | June 4, 2012, 3:44 am
  67. Sorry Wrong link above, this is the correct one http://www.chathamhouse.org/media/comment/view/163021 the last sentence was a message to William Hague, who had visited Assad in Damascus to discuss regional stability barely four days after the start of the revolt in Egypt. They spoke about Lebanon, Iraq and Palestinian dialogue between Hamas and Fatah, and of course they spoke about fundamentalism and al-Qaeda. All problems that the regime contributes to and then offers to help resolve.

    Posted by Nadim Shehadi | June 4, 2012, 4:23 am
  68. QN,

    I am humbled by your invitation to participate.
    I’m starting with a brief comment for now. I’ll elaborate later.
    I am glad that you’re opening the “What should be done?” debate away from FP’s pre-conditions for such a debate. I think that FP’s piece was badly framed from the onset. It doesn’t specify the “we” in “What the hell should we do about Syria?”. It gives the floor to “five smart observers” but leaves the Syrian people inside out of the discussion. I would really like “not-that-smart” Syrians’ voices to be heard. FP also talks about the “quagmire in Damascus”, thus reproducing the Syrian regime’s fatal error of not recognizing sufficiently rural and industrial Syria.

    Of course, it is easier to talk about what shouldn’t be done than about what should be done about Syria. That’s what I do most often in my audio plays, for instance. I will take some time to write down what I believe should be done. For the time being, I will leave everyone with this thought, borrowed from a banner in a recent demonstration (I think it was in Zabadani): “We want neither foreign nor Arab intervention, we want intervention by Damascus and Aleppo.”

    To be continued…

    Posted by Jiim Siin | June 4, 2012, 4:49 am
  69. I apologise if my comment is a bit disjointed from the flow of comments above, but I decided it best to tackle Elias’ questions directly and then take it from there. At this stage, I’ve come to the belief that anybody who still wants to give the regime the benefit of the doubt, or who even supports it, will not change their mind based on any argument. My concern is with Syrian’s getting murdered every day, and ignoring that for some epistemological debate is fruitless.

    The Annan plan gave me brief optimism, if only because I hoped it would stem the flow of blood and lead to some ceasefire. Unfortunately it has not worked, and I think this was mainly because there were not enough observers, and because the Syrian regime accelerated its level of violence during this time – demonstrated by the Houla massacre. It is also clear to me that the regime is as serious about negotiations with an opposition as it is about reforms, ie. Not at all.

    I think, in an ideal scenario, the Annan plan would have flooded Syria with thousands of monitors that would be stationed throughout the country. Under this nominal supervision, one would hope the regime would slow down the killing, and the mass protests such as we saw at the start of the revolution would be able to grow safely. I think that with a mix of economic sanctions as well as such protests, the grip of the regime would have started to weaken considerably. This course reinforces civil society, rationality and a vision of the country that is based on the rule of law, and this is the kind of Syria that we all deserve. This path would still be long and bloody, but might see the regime ousted in another ten years. It is this path, I believe, that the regime fears most, and lacks the confidence to face.

    There is the proposed military route, whereby the FSA are armed. I think all people have the right to defend themselves, including the Syrians, but those who advocate it must know that this path, for a country like Syria, is a purification by fire that could easily get out of control. It may be that this is the path the regime desires the most, it only understands brute force and the language of violence, and could feel the most comfortable in this scenario.

    Done properly, this path _could_ most completely eliminate the regime and all its traces, but I do not think the FSA or anybody else have the ability to do this job properly. If the FSA cannot even account for, let alone control, all its units, what hope does it have of maintaining a long term strategy to uproot the Assad dynasty? The fact is, for all its enthusiasm and good intentions, the FSA is a ragtag collection of deserters and volunteers. It has ignored a guerilla war in favour of trying to hold ground, as in Bab Amr, and failed. It has failed the credibility test, and has a penchant for sensationalism.

    If they are to form the nucleus of a future national army, then they must stop being silly, regroup and reorganise themselves, and focus on what they claim to have started for, protecting peaceful demonstrations and keeping the regime’s security services from shooting unarmed civilians. They must also focus on preparing themselves for providing services and stability for the areas where the regime’s control collapses eventually.

    Lessons can be learnt from the mistakes made in Libya, as well as from Algeria’s fight for independence, and whilst the heirs of the FLN might be staunch supporters of the Assad regime, it is good to learn even from one’s enemies.

    Finally, this “army” should, once it has sorted itself out, declare itself at the service of the representatives of the Syrian people, a position which will be filled when the fragmented Syrian oppositions also sort themselves out. The point is that before people start speaking of fantastic wars for liberation, each party must first focus on doing its duty and doing that well. Things would then start to fit in the right place.

    I think that for now the only realistic option is to keep heaping real sanctions on the regime, assist the people with the means to communicate and collaborate, and strengthen the underground movement of coordination committees, support networks and charities that are helping the Syrian people (including the refugees) through this difficult time.

    Posted by Maysaloon | June 4, 2012, 4:58 am
  70. The problem is that debate on the Syrian Revolution has focused too much on the SNC, the armed opposition, and in general, the foreign policy aspect – negotiations between regional & international powers, etc. There has not been enough focus on the core of the revolution – the unarmed peaceful mass grassroots movement – as an important player in the transitional period. The grassroots movement faces two challenges: (1) many of its members have no experience in politics and are learning on the go (2) its activists, as per my assessment, are still not equipped to position themselves adequately for the transitional phase. I think debate & analysis should focus on how to help this crucial segment of the revolution. By help I don’t mean millions of dollars of funding – this would be disastrous. Apart from strong moral support, many are asking for practical help in coordination, management and media skills. They are also need help in learning how to build trust towards each other and to coordinate between each other. This sounds boring and tedious but many of the Syrian activists I have spoken to so far, tell me they are lacking in this.

    Posted by Doreen Khoury | June 4, 2012, 5:03 am
  71. How do you spell Qaddafi?

    Alex said,

    Incidentally, today I came across this entertaining (not really funny) clip about the new Egypt. What do you think they will do, in reality, not in cheap slogans at political rallies?

    Nothing much. If they kick out the UN Peacekeepers, close the Straits, and/or mass troops into the Sinai, that would be the trip wire, like it was in ’67.

    As far as US goals are concerned, I think the US gov’t has learned that a Libyan-style regime change is all one can expect. The cost is minimal to the US. An air campaign to take out targets and to help the opposition to advance on the ground. The goal: take out a regime that has never been willing to side with the West and continues to destabilize the region. Work with the opposition without expecting much in return. Hopefully contacts can be made to positively influence the new regime.

    I predict either Obama or the new administration (with western support) to start to actively participating in military operations against Syria with or without Russia or China’s backing.

    Posted by Akbar Palace | June 4, 2012, 7:02 am
  72. Alex,

    What is the difference between what this Egyptian cleric is saying and what Nasrallah is saying? There is no difference except that thanks to Assad and his regime Nasrallah also has thousands of missiles. There is no difference whatsoever between the Islamists and Assad as far as I am concerned. Assad may actually be worse. He was trying to develop nuclear weapons.

    Arab nationalist rhetoric or islamist rhetoric, it makes no difference to me why someone wants to kill me.

    As for Egypt, it is very weak and not a threat to Israel. Its army is supported by the US and based on US weapons. It will grind down to a halt within a few months without US money, replacement parts and supplies. Also, there is the whole of the Sinai they need to cross. That does not mean Egypt cannot do something stupid like Hezbollah in 2006. But the results will be similar.

    Posted by AIG | June 4, 2012, 9:58 am
  73. The Statistics to Date (for this discussion):

    Syrian- Alex/Camille – 19 Posts – 25% Involvement
    Lebanese/Host- QN- 14 Posts – 19% Involvement
    Israeli- AIG – 10 Posts – 14% Involvement
    American Jew- AP- 3 Posts- 4% Involvement
    American- Josh- 2 Posts- 3% Involvement

    It will be interesting to track the Engagement Level. Who the participants are.

    But to Jiim Siin’s point, and before him- Amal. This is one of the big problems with this “Debate”. One can understand why Alex/Camille tops this list. He is a Syrian. One can understand why QN is high up on this list. He’s the host.

    But then we have an Israeli, an American married to a Syrian, and another American Jew. Why are they front and centre in this discussion? It’s always good to get “perspective”, but are the Syrians being offered more than just that?

    Why is Camille selling his ideas to people other than other Syrians?

    Posted by Gabriel | June 4, 2012, 11:11 am
  74. This obsession with national (and in some cases sectarian) origins is kind of baffling to me. Often enough, and especially lately, it seems like a convenient way of avoiding the actual arguments and analysis being put forth. Of course one’s personal history (along with a myriad of other things) paints one’s perspectives, but dwelling on who is from where doesn’t seem like a particularly fruitful way of thinking about things to me.

    Posted by sean | June 4, 2012, 11:29 am
  75. Au contraire Sean.

    We do need to understand the perspectives. I assume that you yourself are not from the area.

    We do need to understand both the National AND Sectarian perspectives. Otherwise, the entire discussion is meaningless. Because if you don’t understand those perspectives, you never understand when one brings out the cudgel in a forum of discussions and cynically beats their opponent with it.

    This is not yet another discussion. This is THE discussion. And the absence of Syrian voices from it is a glaring hole. In fact, if you are not Syrian, I am rather surprised that you come to this discussion apparently unfazed by this gaping hole.

    Also- understanding perspectives- National or Sectarian is no reason to avoid the arguments themselves, even if that is in fact what has happened. Understanding perspectives keeps people honest. And honesty is never a bad thing.

    Posted by Gabriel | June 4, 2012, 11:42 am
  76. Sean:

    You wrote to Alex:

    Did Washington hedge its bets and encourage two of its regional foes to duke it out? Yes.

    Where were Iraq and Iran two of the US’s “Regional Foes”?

    And why did the US, as you so boldy state, “encourage” them to duke it out?

    Posted by Gabriel | June 4, 2012, 12:08 pm
  77. Sean is of course right. Gabriel’s argument is the old “if you have cancer you go to other cancer patients to be cured, not to oncologists” or “why do oncologist write about how to cure cancer, it should be cancer patients, they have the right perspective”.

    It also goes against historical precedent in the area. The Lebanese civil war ended when the Syrians ended it. Any local discussion in Lebanon by Lebanese was not that helpful. For years the Cold War influenced the conflicts in the middle east. What Russians and Americans think was in many cases as important if not more important than what we locals thought. The Six Day War for example, was instigated by Russia repeatedly lying to Nasser that Israel was amassing troops on the border with Syria. The Camp David agreement was in the interest of the US because it took away from Russia its important client, Egypt. And why is Russia standing behind Assad now?

    The situation today in Syria is not much different. In my opinion, American, Russian, Turkish, Gulf Arab and Iranian voices are not much less important than local Syrian voices in finding a solution. That is the nature of the world political order and power distribution.

    Posted by AIG | June 4, 2012, 12:14 pm
  78. Doreen,
    You are absolutely right. There have been many occasions when I have realised that discussions about the Syrian revolution have become discussions about the Syrian national council and the Free Syrian Army. This attitude is reductive and far too simplistic.

    There is something else taking place in Syria that has been ignored for the more sensationalist material, the birth of Syrian civil society in a big way. This enormous, and informal, national network is the reason we all know about the Houla, and countless other massacres, and it is also how protests are getting organised and documented.

    There is also something else which is being ignored, and that is the Syrian diaspora that are raising large amounts of money to aid the families of those who are suffering. This is also being supplemented by Syrian merchants within the country that are now donating regularly to the LCC’s to help the needy. The Syrian informal society continues to limp along.

    Posted by Maysaloon | June 4, 2012, 12:35 pm
  79. I don’t know about you, but I read several Syrian names in the above invitation. Whether they choose to participate or not, is up to them, not Elias. Several of Camille’s FB friends, for example, decided to boycott this forum. If you know of other Syrians whom you’d like to hear from in this discussion, I’m sure that Elias is more than happy to hear from them. To suggest that Syrian voices are being excluded here, though, is just not true.

    (By the by, one person not on the list whom I’d like to hear more from is Salwa Ismail.)

    But if you insist, I’m an open book: I was born in the US, hold American citizenship, am wedded to a half Lebanese Palestinian, was married by the qadi at the Jafaari court in Dahiyeh, and have family in camps near Damascus and Saida, but most of my family in the region is in the southern suburbs of Beirut. I moved to the states less than a year ago after 5 years living in Beirut and 7 in Paris. Oh, I have a Protestant aunt who lives in Pittsburgh, and I was once the witness for an agnostic Catholic couple at their wedding in Normandy.

    So does that help you decide whether I should be included or excluded in the conversation?

    Camile has, in other forums, said that my perspective is biased because it is too American or Lebanese or Palestinian. There’s not really anything to say to that, since ad-hominen arguments are by definition about the person, not the argument, and thus unanswerable. As such, they’re not really within the bounds of actual argument. I will say, though, that I think you’ll find that identity is a fairly complex thing and that trying to pigeonhole someone because of their racial, sectarian, ethnic, familial or national origins isn’t a very helpful exercise.

    Posted by sean | June 4, 2012, 12:38 pm
  80. Glaring Hold Alert

    And the absence of Syrian voices from it is a glaring hole.

    Gabriel,

    Aren’t you Canadian?

    Posted by Akbar Palace | June 4, 2012, 12:40 pm
  81. Jim Siin,
    I love your regular audio clips. Have you noticed that nobody has spoken of the growing demonstrations in Aleppo? Nor has anybody noted the strikes that have started taking place in Damascus?

    These twin cities are the pillars of Syria and the regime knows that very well. If both these cities start to face the same level of protests then the dynamics could start shifting considerably. But of course everybody is far too busy talking about conspiracies, NATO bombings and the Free Syrian Army to notice that.

    Posted by Maysaloon | June 4, 2012, 12:46 pm
  82. I would add that the question posed by our most esteemed and veneered host is not really about Syria from a Syrian perspective, but about the policy options for the international community aka the united states. Hence perspective and complexities on the US side are very much in the heart of the matter. This time round the battle for hearts and minds is in reverse: you have Syrians battling for the hearts and minds of the west, some asking for intervention, others scaring the away from it and arguing for engagement with the regime. In Iraq it was a battle for the hearts and minds of the Iraqis.

    Posted by Nadim Shehadi | June 4, 2012, 12:49 pm
  83. Sean,

    Thanks for the long family history. It was not necessary. That was not the point of the comment. Everyone is welcome to give their opinions and perspectives. This is NOT what this is about. The point is that the bulk of the conversations have to be had by the Syrians. The lopsided nature of this discussion is what is absurd.

    Also, I did not say that QN excluded Syrian voices. I am sure QN, the gracious host, would like nothing better than to hear from Syrian voices. Still their absence is gaping. And their presence in the discussion is crucial.

    AP,

    I am a Canadian. And true to form, I don’t come here to QN and judge the Syrians, their views, or their actions. I do not tell them what to do, or what not to do. My intentions and motivations are quite clear.

    Anyways, you left the previous thread without answering a question. I would very much appreciate a response.

    Nadim,

    Why is the American Tax payer entertaining footing the bill, yet again, to solve the worlds’ problems?

    Maybe China should step in. I know that it’s no chip off AP’s shoulder, he doesn’t have to pay those bills. But the US is in the middle of terrible economic times, and is fighting very costly wars. Shouldn’t they be more focussed on other issues?

    In fact, why are there no Chinese people and Russian gracing QN’s forum taking an interest in the Syria question and the foreign policy implications to their country?! Why are they not part of the debate?

    These are important questions.

    No one seems interested in them though.

    Carry On.

    Posted by Gabriel | June 4, 2012, 1:22 pm
  84. I would add that the question posed by our most esteemed and veneered host is not really about Syria from a Syrian perspective, but about the policy options for the international community aka the united states.

    This is the crux and the heart of the criticism that people like Amal complain about.

    In as much as the International Community or the US has “Policy Options”, they would, in the ideal world be subordinate to the Syrian perspective!

    The fact that the discussion of Policy Options is happening with less apparent regard to the Syrian perspective (or in her view- the Greater Syrian perspective) is a huge problem.

    Posted by Gabriel | June 4, 2012, 1:30 pm
  85. Sean…

    PS… Whenever you get a chance, kindly answer the question regarding your question to Alex.

    You said that the US “Encouraged” its regional foes Iraq and Iran to “duke it out”.

    Why did you label Iraq and Iran as “Regional Foes” of the US?

    And why did the US “encourage” its “Regional Foes” to duke it out?

    Posted by Gabriel | June 4, 2012, 2:04 pm
  86. “Most esteemed and veneered host”?

    🙂

    Maybe you meant “venerated”, Nadim, but I do like the ring of “veneered”, as I am due for a shellacking…

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | June 4, 2012, 2:27 pm
  87. Nadim, your link above is broken… Here’s the proper link to your Guardian piece:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/oct/01/syrian-opposition?INTCMP=SRCH

    I don’t know if I agree with the sentiment. I actually think that the “Opposition” does have to prove itself. If a country has ten equally popular political streams (each enjoying 10% popularity), it may be true to say that a dictatorship that rules supreme over them is non-representative. But then, none of the other political streams that remain have any more entitlement to claim they are representative.

    The onus really was on the “Opposition” to create a united front and to demonstrate unity in purpose. If they can’t do that in the most crucial of times (when they are being butchered), what guarantees does one have that they could do that in government?

    On that note, it would be interesting to know how things are unravelling in Egypt.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-18317786

    It seems that Mubarak-Lite (can we call him that) is leading the charge that the alternative will torpedo Egypt back to the Dark Ages.

    How many of those people who demostrated in Tahrir some time back will be voting for Shafiq?

    By the same token, when all is said and done in Syria, how will the various “Opposition” factions re-align to re-assert greater influence in a post-Assad Syria?

    Posted by Gabriel | June 4, 2012, 4:00 pm
  88. That is the weirdest map I have ever seen depicting the region on debating Syria.

    Posted by Monolith | June 4, 2012, 4:03 pm
  89. What guidelines should be used to start the debate on Syria?

    Hafez Al Assad’s vision of Greater Syria? (which clearly included Lebanon)

    Bashar’s vision of a modern Syria, who was willing to mediate through Turkey on resolving the dispute with Israel in 2008? (and was totally snubbed)

    Saudi Arabia’s Syria to get back at Shiite Iran’s “arrogant” stance and plans and meddling in affairs well beyond its sphere of influence?

    Iran’s Syria to get back on the Great American/Zionist Satan’s evil plans for the region and its people?

    Posted by Monolith | June 4, 2012, 4:52 pm
  90. No-so-Greater Syria

    That is the weirdest map I have ever seen depicting the region on debating Syria.

    Monolith,

    It almost looks as good as a “Zionist Map”. You know, the whole “Nile to Euphrates” myth…

    Posted by Akbar Palace | June 4, 2012, 4:53 pm
  91. What resources can the next democratically elected Syrian President draw on to bring rural Syrians forwards into the 21st Century?

    Posted by Monolith | June 4, 2012, 5:08 pm
  92. All this, and in the meantime, 14 more people dead in the past few days in Tripoli, while the Army waits for the fighters to disperse before “deploying in force”…
    Didn’t they deploy in force 2 weeks ago? What’s the point of deploying if you get out the next day and once again fail to intervene when civilians lose their lives?
    Disgusting… Completely disgusting.

    (And don’t anyone try to tell me this “government” has performed even remotely reasonably well).

    Suleiman, Mikati, Kahwaji and all should be ashamed of showing their faces in public. So should all the other clowns for that matter.
    And the thugs murdering innocent people in Tripoli. For them, nothing less than a firing squad (or noose). I wish we held thugs like that as accountable as we seem to hold all these “Zionist spies” and whatnot that seem to get prosecuted at the drop of a hat.

    End rant.

    Sorry. I’m upset.

    Posted by Bad Vilbel | June 4, 2012, 6:13 pm
  93. Gabriel
    Three points/observations in response to some issues that you seem to hqave raised repeatedly:

    (1) All dictatorships; the Syrian included; are illegitimate by definition. They take over by force and they rule by instilling fear and brutality. They violate any and all principles that do not serve the private selfish objectives of the dictator. What is born illegitimately will stay so until removed.

    (2)As history unfolds the circle of ethics widens from the self, to the family, to the tribe… The ultimate vision, a la Chardin and others, is to have circle of ethics that covers the cosmos. Of course we are far away from that but many parts of the world have moved from the self , to family, to tribe, to region, nation, race , humans and animals. This implies that tribes and allegiance to them is not an important standard any longer. My opposition to Bashar , has nothing to do with the fact that I am Lebanese. It is simply based on the idea that a dictatorship is reprehensible and ought to be opposed. The same applies to any dictator whether it is Mugabe or whether it is KimJunUn or any other dictator. One does not need be a Syrian to oppose brutality and exploitation. To simply suggest that only those born in Syria are expected to have an interest in opposing repression in Syria is a step backward in history,In a Cosmopolitan sense we are all one. Isn’t this why the French fought in the American revolution and why people from all over the world fought in the Spanish civil war?

    (3) This is related to # 2. If we are all one then we have to evolve to act as such. I strongly believe that we will have no choice but to do so more and more. That is why we have a UN and that is why we have IMF, IBRD, WTO… We are already setting up the apparatus for world governance. This is why “the right to protect” ; R2P; is essentially one of the most important evolution in the field of international law. I do realize that the idea is still in its infancy but it is the most logical next step. We have to set up a mechanism that will offer minimum protection against egregious violations of basic human rights no matter where they occur. Sovereignty must not be used to protect the victimizers. So yes there are grounds, important ones, that justify taking steps against dictatorships and to aid those rising against them. The fear that the new regime will be just as bad as the one it replaces is not grounds to support current abusers. Rationality demands that we give the rebels a chance to rule before we judge them. If they turn out to be as bad as what some expect then they would become the new pariahs. it is as simple as that. Defense of dictatorship, under any guise, is nothing short of the most outrageous act of immorality.

    Posted by Ghassan Karam | June 4, 2012, 6:27 pm
  94. Ghassan, R2P is not ‘Right to Protect’ but the ‘Responsibility to Protect’. It still would need an international political will for it to be applied.

    But it seems some of the participants in this debate are of the opinion that a government killing its own people is not the business of anybody else and it should be allowed to do it without interference as long as it does not cost the US taxpayers anything. Others plainly refuse to talk about it with people who are not genetically ‘greater Syrian’.

    In Iraq this is how Al-Anfal, Halabja, Dujail, Barzani and other massacres during the shiite uprising were allowed to happen and also that of the Marsh Arabs. Put any country through 20 years of this and in addition to two major wars and sanctions then when you take the lid off you get the Iraq fiasco post 2003.

    Some may argue that in Syria is it best to keep the lid on, others that a few more massacres in would probably suppress the ‘conspiracy’ and we would go back to ‘stability’ and the reform process. Maybe the international community could help too by either cutting off support to the revolutionaries so that they get the message that they have no hope in succeeding so this could save a couple of hundred thousand lives if they instead capitulate and accept to dialogue with the regime. Then there is the blackmail tone, ‘you talk to us or else you get a sectarian civil war’ which will cost you billions a day. Or that we are an Island and should only worry if there is a direct effect on us, otherwise leave it be.

    It would be interesting to take the ideas and suggestions to their logical conclusions, as long as the debate is framed correctly of course. .

    Good night.

    Posted by Nadim Shehadi | June 4, 2012, 7:23 pm
  95. Ghassan,

    Thanks for the lesson in morality, or immorality for that matter :).

    Defense of dictatorship, under any guise, is nothing short of the most outrageous act of immorality.

    By that token, the longtime support of America to the region’s worst dictators is “the most outrageous act of immorality”. In fact, its continued support for the various Princedoms and Kingdoms qualifies as quite Immoral 🙂

    Of course, you are “Right” on all 3 counts. But you are also an economist. And the world has limited resources. And finite ways of using those resources. And there are an awful lot of bad Dictators out there doing lots of bad things. On-going wars, and battles and people dying.

    So let’s move the discussion out of the Textbooks and into Practical terms. If I may piggyback on AIG’s excellent, and it was excellent indeed post:

    1) What is one’s goal
    2) What price are they willing to pay for it.

    As an “American”, in your view… why should America dedicate resources to resolve this particular issue?

    How much resources should it dedicate to resolving this particular issue?

    PS- There are good arguments for non-intervention, and they don’t relate to tacit support of dictatorship, or indifference to the death of civilians. One need go no further from the “Iceman’s” particular view on the topic where he categorically rejects any military intervention by the US in the region.

    Posted by Gabriel | June 4, 2012, 7:49 pm
  96. Sean,

    Please don’t classify what I wrote as an attack. We are all biased because of so many groups, people, countries, moral values, habits, media we are exposed to. Are you immune to your environment’s influence?

    I won’t mind it if you suggest that I am biased, because I am. It is important to understand and to take into account the various common biases that each of us have. Otherwise, we have to find a way to explain how each one believes he is representing the typical highest moral values (human rights, justice, etc) and yet see things in so many different ways.

    Gabriel,

    I don’t mind non-Syrians engaging in a discussion about Syria. Their respective countries are playing significant roles in the crisis and some are actively writing about Syria and some are consulting decision makers in those countries.

    It is unfortunate that my friends decided to boycott this discussion. They did the same last year when I was here in the month of May. But I told them that Elias has been a very kind host who makes everyone feel welcome here. Ma fi menno Dektor Elias!

    Posted by Camille Alexandre Otrakji | June 4, 2012, 8:00 pm
  97. Ghassan, what about people killing people?
    a large percentage of those killed are victims of the victims of the government.

    R2P can make sense when it is purely humanitarian. Outsiders interested in interfering in Syria are not of this type. This is becoming clear. So I don’t think one should waste time on “responsibility” to “protect”

    It is “opportunity” to “gain” advantages that we should recognize, so that we don’t waste more time.

    Posted by Camille Alexandre Otrakji | June 4, 2012, 8:05 pm
  98. Camille,

    I don’t know why people are misreading me. I have no issues with non-Syrians opining. I’m opining for heaven’s sake! And I’m not Syrian, nor do I subscribe to being “Greater Syrian”!

    I also don’t want a flood of your friends and like minded individuals opining exclusively.

    I simply think that a wider spectrum of Syrian view is long-due (both those that agree with you and disagree with you).

    And that this topic/discussion appears (every time it pops up) to be dominated by non-Syrians.

    Posted by Gabriel | June 4, 2012, 8:10 pm
  99. Gabriel et al.

    Part of the issue is exactly that the narrative is being hijacked by a select group of people with definite opinions on what should be (or should not) with little consideration for what indigenous Syrians are experiencing. Many Syrians (myself included) are not as erudite in English nor as experienced in rhetoric as the participants on this list.

    What is unfolding in front of us is the the destruction of a country that would take generations to rebuild. Without strong institutions, the reconstruction will be very painful.

    Posted by Nabil | June 4, 2012, 8:26 pm
  100. Gabriel,
    The fact of the matter, which is often conveniently forgotten, is that two wrong do not make a right. The fact that the current subject of discussion is Bashar does not mean that Saudi Arabia is acceptable. If you are to go to the archives, whether QN or any other forum, you will find out that I have often been very critical of KSA. I have often suggested, and I believe it, that the Arab Spring might have been more fruitful had it not been for KSA. If they had a chance they would have kept Mubarak, Ali, Saleh… because they do realize that the logical conclusion of an Arab Reawakening spells the end of the absolute monarchy in Saudi Arabia. So please let us not distract from the issue at hand. A position is never worth the papaer it is scribbled on if it is not consistent.
    As for your other point regarding the US, I have never said that it was the sole responsibility of the US to unseat dictators. This is a collective responsibility within the framework that we have. It does not necessarily imply war but it does inply taking a very clear position against repression, cruelty, abuse of human rights … In my book the R2P, Responsibility-to-protect is an extension of the single most important document that the world has put together in the past 60 years or so UNDHR. As a result I would suggest that this idea of opposing dictatorship, especially when the exploited masses themselves have taken a stand is to allocate the required resources to assisst. Don’e obfuscate things by saying that the US has a major deficit and so cannot be bothered to allocate any resources to this effort. I do not believe for a second, that such efforts, if they are right are to be judged in purely selfish personal terms but in this case the required resources if any, besides the moral support and sanctions do not amount to much. Keep in mind that the US has a GDP of $15,000,000,000,000 and so a few millions here and there are nothing more than a rounding error. So again this flawed argument does not apply in this case. Let me conclude with a quote by arguably the most influential thinker in Environmental Ethics who said: ““A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, the stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.” Helping do the right thing, when the effort does not cause us to become as worst off as the subject we are treating, is a moral obligation.

    Posted by gkaram | June 4, 2012, 8:27 pm
  101. Yes- Ghassan.

    You have been harsh on KSA. But not on the fact that it is the US that props up KSA, and Kuwait and Bahrain, and provides them with arms. And has business with them, etc,etc, etc.

    The fact that this rather natural question is not answered as part of these discussions is a remarkable fact in itself.

    We cannot have a conversation about R2P, when supposedly, the “actor” capable and willing to implement it- that is the USA- is busy propping up similar types of dictators which you so eloquently have conceded are part of the problem slowing down this Arab Spring. [And in my very humble view, it is a HUGE problem]

    As for the rest of the point. Sure, the US alone should not shoulder the responsibility to implement R2P. But it seems to date that it has been the one doing so.

    I can understand- from our perspectives, as being “Sons” of the region, why we would support seeing American tax-payers foot the bill. But if one were to invite the “American” perspective, by which I mean a non-Arab American perspective, surely, the question of why this particular conflict deserves more attention than another must also be questioned.

    And finally, regarding the cost. I don’t know what the cost of war is. Except I see a lot of anti-Iraq-war types saying that the US spent billions upon billions on Iraq. So I am not sure what the proposal or the expectations from the US actually are. Seeing that China is already steaming ahead, while the US is sinking more and more money for this R2P cause, I am not so sure this is the wisest of economic strategies for the US.

    Posted by Gabriel | June 4, 2012, 9:10 pm
  102. “Ma fi menno Dektor Elias!”

    Teslam ya amar intah, shaykh al-shabab w fakhr al abtal.

    😉

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | June 4, 2012, 9:21 pm
  103. Ghassan,

    One last point regarding the comment:

    The fact of the matter, which is often conveniently forgotten, is that two wrong do not make a right.

    With all due respect, I think this is a bit of a cop-out response, not much different from the AIG response in that conversation that bored you earlier regarding the “cluster bombs” and him not foreseeing that the poor “storage” of cluster bombs would lead to higher dud rates than anticipated.

    It cannot be that whenever convenient, one pulls out the “Two-Wrongs-Don’t-Make-A-Right” argument. Surely, if this were a purely mathematical roll-of-the-dice experiment, then statistically, friends and foes of the USA would more or less get the R2P treatment rather consistently.

    But those are not the actual facts on the ground.

    So clearly, there must be other considerations (here read: perceived American interests).

    Posted by Gabriel | June 4, 2012, 9:29 pm
  104. So far this is a very good discussion. Thanks to everyone for keeping it real.

    Could I propose the following re-direction?

    As everyone knows, the Syrian opposition is a fragmented constellation of groups with myriad backers and sources of support, with varying degrees of legitimacy in Syria. (See Aron Lund’s helpful report on it here). Josh Landis recently described Burhan Ghalioun as follows:

    Ghalioun has been a success. He represents the best that Syrians living abroad have to offer. He is a deeply cultured and honest man, who could not put his heart into the military option that the opposition is now pursuing. However, he was able to give an inspiring and intelligent face to the Syrian revolution, one that the West and many Syrians living in the West needed to see in order to get organized and throw their weight behind the international effort to condemn the Assad regime and make the decision to isolate and sanction it. He played a tremendously important role in mobilizing international opinion behind the revolutionary effort. No one can minimize the importance of that achievement.

    The fact that Syrians inside distrust those outside the country is perhaps natural, but it is also a product of years of indoctrination, xenophobia and anti-Westernism that has been preached by the Baath Party. It is unfair to blame only the Baath. Arab nationalism as a movement has preached distrust of the West and those Arabs who have lived in the West for decades. That ideology is coming back to haunt the revolutionary movement today. It will be very hard for Syrians living in the West to gain the trust of those inside the country. The Assad regime has driven or expelled many of the best and brightest from the country. It has then denigrated them as traitors and agents of the West.

    The center of gravity of the opposition has now moved to the fighters and coordinators inside Syria. The SNC needs a major overhaul to preserve its usefulness and regain its public support. By stepping down, Burhan Ghalioun is demonstrating that not all Syrian leaders must cling to power in the face of opposition. He should be championed for what he is: a man who has sought to do the best he could in an extremely difficult situation. He has been a beacon of reason and champion of democracy for decades and his is living by his word.

    My question is the following: Can the SNC unite the opposition and gain legitimacy in Syria? Bashar al-Assad mentioned, in his speech yesterday, that the opposition has no interest in actual reform because they haven’t presented a political or economic plan. (Haytham Manna` has made a similar point) Do you agree with this critique?

    Basically, I’d like us to focus more on the question of what the opposition itself needs to do to make itself more effective at steering the course of events toward a peaceful but effective break with the past.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | June 4, 2012, 9:30 pm
  105. I disagree with Joshua, again.

    First, opposition leaders Maytham Manaa lives in the west and enjoys respect among many Syrians including most regime supporters. Syrians do not have a problem with those living in the west.

    Bashar Jaafari lives in the west too …

    As for Burhan Ghalioun, he is not popular because of a number of valid reasons:

    1) “The street” turned much more extreme and religious the past few months and Ghalioun will have to totally re-invent himself if he is to still satisfy them. The street today love Shaikh Ar’our and a number of local charismatic hardliners. There were many demonstrations in Homs and elsewhere chanting “yel3an ro7ak ya Burhan”

    2) To those who know, Ghalioun has been on Qatar’s payroll. And I am not someone who repeats silly Ba’athist charges usually. When you are leading an opposition to an oppressive regime, try to not rush benefiting personally.

    3) Those who are truly secular could not trust Ghalioun who previously complained (in 2007?) that dictators and religious figures are the reason the Arab world is backward, after his photo this year holding hands with Qardawi, then Banayouni’s admission that the Muslim Brotherhood practically appointed Ghalioun because he is a useful “face” to please the west (so that it can support their leadership of the SNC)…

    4) Syrian nationalists were not pleased to read Ghalioun’s interview with the WSJ when he already sounded like the typical American puppet by repeating the generic talking points that America expects from its future puppets. (About Iran, Hezbollah …)

    5) Those who defected from the SNC described him as a dictator who (backed by the brotherhood) does not intend to allow others to lead.

    So he is not solidly secular … not a democrat … not hardline enough (for the street) …. not clean enough (for those who want to fight corruption) …

    To answer your question about what the opposition needs to do to gain popularity … ask Haytham Manaa. He is doing the right thing. He is not a propagandist, he is honest … patriotic, alert to attempts by other parties to hijack the Syrian revolution.

    Posted by Camille Alexandre Otrakji | June 4, 2012, 10:09 pm
  106. Gabriel,
    Allow me to post one more response ( sorry QN).
    My objections to the “debate” that you were having with AIG was not the debate itself but the fact that it had “deteriorated” to name calling :-). I am not a believer in very extended debates anyway since there is no evidence than any party changes its mind regarding the issue being discussed immediately. Changes do occur over time. The best strategy is to say ones peace and move on.
    So let me add to what we have said above the following: What is important is to discuss the principle and agree on its validity. That is separate from whether certain parties adhere to the said principle all the time, half the time or none of the time. Once an idea is accepted then its implementation becomes a different issue. Example: society has to agree on whether robbery is a crime or not. Once that is accepted and enshrined as a law some communities will be able to enforce it better than others. Those that knowingly violate that principle will become subject to the same punishment as anybody else who violates it.
    If this is to be applied to the “objection” that you had raised then let me be very clear. It makes no difference whether it is the Taliban, the US or even Marsians those who violate the principle will have to be held accountable. Note that the US did not hesitate to let the Shah and Marcos go once the people demanded it. So propping a dictatorship is not to be acceptable but more importantly once the masses know that they have the right to dissent and that they do not have to fear the wrath of the secret police and henchmen in their own countries then they will rise. I bet that very few, if any, will chose slavery over freedom and dignity.
    This leaves only one idea that you kept referring to. An application of R2P does not mean war. You are the one that kept talking about war when I only spoke about moral support and actions that will isolate and pressure the abusers from continuing their abuse. War as a policy instrument ought to be banned l0l. Back to Syria as well as Palestine and many other cases. I have often suggested that the Syrian opposition committed a tactical error by allowing the Syrian regime to push it into taking up arms. They actually played into the hands of the regime who was able to say :but we told you that these are terrorists”. Massive civil disobedience would have been more effective. But this is a side issue about tactics. The main point is that dictatorships have no leg to stand on and should not play a role in a potential settlement. War is not the only choice and even if it is to be war then that does not mean an outright invasion. So please let us not mix up the principle with its implementation and let us not pretend that implementation is limited to only one option

    Posted by gkaram | June 4, 2012, 10:46 pm
  107. For those who speak Arabic and are interested, here is a four-part interview conducted with Haytham Manna` by Bassam Haddad (co-founder/editor of Jadaliyya)

    Part 1: http://www.jadaliyya.com/pages/index/5322/the-current-impasse-in-syria_jadaliyya-interview-w

    Part 2: http://www.jadaliyya.com/pages/index/5350/intervention-resistance-transformation-and-exit-in

    Part 3: http://www.jadaliyya.com/pages/index/5413/how-the-syrian-uprising-started-the-rise-of-the-sy

    Part 4: http://www.jadaliyya.com/pages/index/5486/penetrated-opposition-and-failure-of-consensus-in-

    I was meaning to translate this interview and make it available on the blog, but have not had time. Maybe later this week.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | June 4, 2012, 10:47 pm
  108. “…they haven’t presented a political or economic plan”???

    QN,

    So what is the “cretin president’s” plan besides killing demonstrators?? Please tell Bashar el-Assad that “The Plan” was multi-party elections that he had 12 effing years to implement.

    Posted by Akbar Palace | June 4, 2012, 11:11 pm
  109. Akbar, glad you know exactly what was the plan.

    Posted by Camille Alexandre Otrakji | June 4, 2012, 11:32 pm
  110. Alex,

    When you have a selfish cretin president, “The Plan” doesn’t have to be “exact”, because anything would be an improvement.

    Posted by Akbar Palace | June 4, 2012, 11:41 pm
  111. Ghassan…

    I agree fully with what you wrote above.

    Posted by Gabriel | June 4, 2012, 11:48 pm
  112. Ghassan,
    If you could please elaborate on applications of R2P which have not ended up in armed interventions in similar situations. I am willing to be educated but come from the bias that R2P is used as an excuse for intervention which ends up willingly (or unwillingly) destroying the social infrastructure of the countries R2Ped…

    http://www.chomsky.info/talks/20090723.htm

    Posted by Nabil | June 5, 2012, 12:22 am
  113. Maybe the Yard sticks leave too much wiggle room, perhaps a more acute or immediate question should be posed instead of ;
    1) Where would you like to go?
    2) What is your budget?

    which sound very self interested and “opportunistic” as some observers quickly point out.

    The main point of this crisis, is the humanitarian aspect and the question that all parties need to adhere to and work on is how to stop the atrocities and how to protect civilians.

    Posted by Maverick | June 5, 2012, 3:27 am
  114. Am I the only one who can’t read all the comments ? I only get the last 4 or 5
    what gives !

    Posted by Vulcan | June 5, 2012, 3:42 am
  115. Thank you Maverick, for helping to re-focus the discussion on the key issue, which is the humanitarian crisis facing the country. I think the key issue here is that there is a direct correlation between the number of Syrians getting killed and the ability of the Syrian regime to do so.

    Initially I believed, and still do, that flooding the country with UN monitors would stem the blood flow and encourage more demonstrations to take place peacefully. I also think that arming the FSA would be like throwing good money after bad, they are not an army yet and I’m not sure if they ever will be.

    One final point is that I’ve noticed some people decry the presence of Americans or non-Syrians in this debate. Those, like Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, who wished to boycott this discussion are free to do so, but barring people from a discussion based on their nationality and who they are rather than on the ideas they bring to the table is counter-productive and petty. Syria is in this situation because the Syrian government has failed to handle the crisis, and because Syria’s regional partners like Hezbullah and Iran, as well as countries further afield like Russia and China have not stopped him and told him that what he is doing to his people is unacceptable.

    Posted by Maysaloon | June 5, 2012, 4:01 am
  116. May I just add a further comment regarding the “both sides” narrative. The Syrian government is accountable to the Syrian people in a way that any so-called “armed groups” are not. There are certainly bad things being committed by rogue elements that are using the chaos to settle scores or for their own benefit, but there is now overwhelming evidence that torture, repression and extra-judicial killing and arrests are being encouraged by the regime, and that such human rights abuses are systematic and widespread.

    It is not a question of patience and reform for a government to stop torturing and arbitrarily arresting its own citizens. You do not need a “law” to allow free speech and a free press, and you do not need special training for the police to stop shooting at unarmed demonstrators. A large part of this problem can be resolved if those who claim to be impartial and care about reform in Syria to demand that those responsible be found and held accountable, and to stop putting geopolitics before Syrian lives.

    Posted by Maysaloon | June 5, 2012, 6:35 am
  117. Vulcan,
    You are right. It looks that there is a glitch with the new QN format. The first 117 comments cannot be retrieved. Did you hear that QN?

    Posted by gkaram | June 5, 2012, 7:04 am
  118. Hi everyone,

    The comments are now presented in sets of 50, so as to allow fast page loading. Someone had complained that the page was taking too long to load when the comment section got to be over 100 comments.

    Right below the last comment on a page, there’s a link that says <<Older Comments. If you click it, you’ll go to the previous 50 comments, and so on.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | June 5, 2012, 7:20 am
  119. Ghassan/V:

    QN shows batches of only 50 comments at a time. To go back to older comments, you have to click on the Older comments link immediately below the last comment posted.

    Posted by Gabriel | June 5, 2012, 7:21 am
  120. Nabil,
    R2P is just a tool and like any other tool is subject to misuse. R2P is also a new tool and may I suggest an overdue one. The concept has been adopted by the African Union, The UN Secretary General is devoting resources to it and the General Assembly has supported it more than once….
    It is not my intention to deflect attention from the topic at hand to discuss in great detail R2P. I used it only as an example of how the developments in the world over the past 20 years or so point clearly to the international responsibility to protect individuals from abuses even when applied by their government. As I said earlier sovereignty is no longer to be used as a protection to violate the most basic rights and to abuse civilians.
    Is a scalpel to be used to help surgeons operate on the sick or is it to be used to commit murder?

    Posted by gkaram | June 5, 2012, 7:40 am
  121. QN..

    Aside. Perhaps as a site suggestion, this link can be made more prominent. Trackbacks/Pingbacks seem to be taking a prominent spot on the page, with little apparent value.

    Posted by Gabriel | June 5, 2012, 7:52 am
  122. Maysaloon, three points:

    1- No one is suggesting anyone be barred. Please don’t paraphrase.

    2- The arrow of time is not on the Regime’s side.This much is clear. That the regime will eventually succumb and fall is not really a question.

    3- How we get there was the topic (I believe) of the original posting. If you are supportive of intervention, say so. If you are supportive of arming the opposition, say so. But these decisions do come at a cost. There will be rogue elements. There will be people settling scores. And when people settle scores, more people will settle more scores. The regime bears ultimate responsibility for all the deaths, because it is the government. But don’t dismiss the deaths of those under rogue elements as such. That is part of the price of the decision to follow that path.

    Posted by Gabriel | June 5, 2012, 8:04 am
  123. Gaby, I totally agree with you. But until someone gives me a tutorial in CSS, I’m not going to be able to make this change.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | June 5, 2012, 8:10 am
  124. Gabriel,
    Thanks for responding. Firstly I am not paraphrasing, the presence of Americans in this debate has been the reason why some have chosen to boycott this debate. I did not say somebody has called for barring anybody, but a boycott does amount to a constructive barrier to entry for this debate. Anyway, that is a semantic point, what I was trying to say was that I think dialogue is far more important than where a person comes from, and I think most of the commentators here so far agree with that point.

    As for the original topic of the debate, you will see my original opinion earlier on. I think you might have missed that. Armed intervention, if done properly, can remove Assad, but I don’t think there is anybody – and certainly not the FSA – who can do this job properly. It will – as you say – come at an enormous cost. Those who choose this route must be aware of that cost.

    My own view is that flooding the country with UN monitors might help staunch the casualty rate and help demonstrations swell up. This route also helps build up the LCC’s and the civil society that helps organise such things. In this sense, an Iraq style vacuum can be avoided. It’s probably the least bad scenario in a basket of bad scenarios IMHO.

    As for the deaths of the rogue elements, the proper manner of dealing with such outrages is through a properly functioning court system and police force, not by throwing the baby out with the bathwater – ie bombing Hama and Homs to pieces.

    If the army was doing its job of securing Syria’s borders rather than killing civilians then maybe rogue elements would not be so powerful today, unless of course the regime wishes the chaos as a justification for its actions.

    Posted by Maysaloon | June 5, 2012, 10:13 am
  125. Might I add, Gabriel, and I apologise to QN for my long comments, is that I am not quite in agreement with you about Assad’s inevitable fall. In politics I’ve come to realise that nothing is certain, and the regime has many cards in its hand. I’m not so sure that Russia could ever be convinced to abandon Assad, and Iran and Hezbullah’s regional support is cast iron as his fall would be a severe blow to them.

    In terms of thinking productively about such a problem, that’s why I favour the longer and less glamorous route of continuing to strengthen the Syrian informal network and civil society, so that they can carry on civil disobedience, protesting, and hopefully taking over Aleppo or Damascus city squares under the auspices of UN monitors. The risk, of course, is a Syrian Tiananmen…but unlike in China where Tiananmen was make or break for the regime, at this stage such actions could be the final straws that break the camel’s back.

    Posted by Maysaloon | June 5, 2012, 10:23 am
  126. Mayasaloon,

    I think what you suggest is very reasonable. Flooding Syria with UN observers is a step that can be done and is not costly. I don’t think though that Assad would agree to it, and even if he did initially, he would find an excuse to throw them out or arrange them to be attacked and blame the FSA for it. Assad is ruthless, but not dumb.

    The historical precedent is Nasser throwing out the UN observers from the Sinai in 1967. If Russia supports the excuse Assad will give for throwing them out, there is nothing much that can be done further. Also, after a few of them get killed, the UN will have to withdraw them anyway.

    But it is worth a try. It is a relatively cheap and non-violent tactic that has a small chance of being effective.

    I also agree that Assad falling is not inevitable. I think it is very likely, but we have to remember the Zimbabwe precedent. Mugabe is still there and he has run the country to the ground. In my opinion that is the worst case scenario for Syria.

    Posted by AIG | June 5, 2012, 10:40 am
  127. The fact that the opposition is not united or very organized is clearly a problem. This means that people who are sitting on the fence are really unsure about what sort of system they could reasonably expect when the dust settles. I understand that fear, and those who are risk averse would be more likely to sit things out rather than participate in overthrowing a government they have no love for in exchange for the unknown. This is a common hurdle to collective action.

    It shouldn’t be a surprise, though. The Syrian political system has done its best to systematically punish political organization that is oppositional, so it isn’t a mystery that there is no organized, united and institutionalized opposition to the regime. These things take time, and no matter what proponents of slow reform might argue, the Syrian regime has clearly shown over the decades (e.g. Damascus Spring) that it is absolutely uninterested in allowing political space for opposition movements to institutionalize. So given the environment it’s operating it, it is unfair to expect the opposition to operate like an institutionalized party in a multi-party system.

    This means that it will have to be done on the fly, as is often the case in transitions from authoritarian rule. Here is where the international environment can be extremely important, since foreign patronage can give clout to otherwise marginal political factions. Likewise, allowing anybody with a gun to be a part of political negotiations can also be a recipe for opposition fragmentation. (A perfect example of this is the Darfuri opposition: every time Qadhafi sponsored another summit, the number of Darfuri parties/armed groups was substantially higher than the last time.) The catch is that excluding groups can also create an incentive for spoilers.

    So what should Gulf countries, Turkey, the US and Europe do? If they’re interested in a coherent opposition, they should coordinate their patronage of a single unified opposition organization and pressure it to include other willing segments of the opposition through internal representative mechanisms. This means that Ghalioun was correct to reach out to Islamist parties, since any attempts to focus on an exclusively secular (or exclusively religious) ideology is likely to fragment the opposition instead of unifying it. The problem here is that the US, Turkey, the EU and GCC all have different interests at stake, and it will be difficult to get them to agree on a strategy that is likely to foster coherence in a very divided opposition. That said, it would be wiser for Turkey, the US and Europe to at least attempt to coordinate with countries like Saudi Arabia in order to have some influence on where those petro-dollars go rather than leaving them on the outside to fund their choice of religious fellow travelers.

    Now I can already hear some people pointing out that foreign patronage automatically delegitimizes the opposition from the get go. I’d remind those people that the vast majority of successful oppositions to non-democratic rule after WWII have been the recipients of foreign patronage of one form or another. The line may be thin between foreign support and proxy warfare, but there is a line nonetheless. Furthermore, foreign patronage doesn’t seem to bother supporters of the regime when that patronage is Russian, Iranian or Syrian.

    Posted by sean | June 5, 2012, 10:41 am
  128. There is so much to say … It is really amazing how one side’s media monopoly shaped the narrative and continues to leave in the dark the other side of Syria which is perceived to be not compatible with US+allies strategic interests …

    I think the easiest (and laziest) way for me to comment on Maysaloon’s and AIG’s agreement on flooding Syria with UN observers who would then allow massive demonstrations that will lead to regime overthrow and of course to liberal democracy, is to quote from Amal’s article in Al-Akhbar today:

    ” … The relationship between the Syrian regime and the information warlords, is not merely a case of what French philosopher, Jacques Rancière, would call “mésentente” (political disagreement) which presupposes “two speakers who either use the same words but in different senses, or with the same word do not designate the same thing as referent.”
    Here, the debate is the “most radical misunderstanding” that occurs between two different “genres” of discourse, what French thinker, Jean-François Lyotard calls “differend”.

    As defined by Lyotard, “differend [is] the case where the plaintiff is divested of the means to argue and becomes for that reason a victim. A case of differend between two parties takes place when the regulation of the conflict that opposes them is done in the idiom of one of the parties while the wrong suffered by the other is not signified in that idiom.”

    In other words, the dominant power not only defines the terms of the debate, but also the language or jargon in which it will be articulated, thereby leaving the weaker party both figuratively and literally speechless and incapable of defending itself. Unlike the “subaltern” subjects of western liberal “tolerance” who are allowed to speak but not be heard, those subjected to “differend” are not even “given voice” with all the vertical-power connotations implied by the term.”

    http://english.al-akhbar.com/content/assad-speech-lost-translation

    Posted by Camille Alexandre Otrakji | June 5, 2012, 11:36 am
  129. So Amal has become a proponent for the war on terror?

    “The message could not possibly have been lost in translation considering that terrorism and the need for a security solution to root it out were leitmotifs in Assad’s speech.”

    And by the by, if we wanted to take Lyotard down a level, I wonder whose idiom is hegemonic inside Syria? Lisa Wedeen’s book has a lot to say about that. But Amal only seems interested in power imbalances that involve the US for some reason.

    Posted by sean | June 5, 2012, 11:46 am
  130. Sean, are you trying to compare George Bush’s war on terror (invading Iraq, a few thousand miles away from home and with no link to Alqaeda) with what is happening inside Syria?

    let us see your opinion when Libyan fanatics send to Boston ships loaded with weapons paid by Qatar, then Canada (Turkey in Syria’s case) sends on a daily basis crazy rebels who kill tens of your soldiers everyday in the city you are living in … and this goes on for months…

    Posted by Camille Alexandre Otrakji | June 5, 2012, 12:17 pm
  131. Just a footnote: The dominant narrative is that of the regime – even its opponents have adopted it.
    – There is a conviction that the country is going towards civil war.
    – That there is no alternative to the regime because the opposition is a sham.
    – That those opposed to the regime are manipulated by the ennemies of the regime for their own strategic reasons.
    – That the regime is fighting a war on terrorists.
    – That dialogue with the regime to restore order and transition is a possibilty.
    – Through the use of violence as a communications strategy, the regime has succeeded in turning what is primarily a peaceful non-violent revolt into what looks like a sectarian civil war. http://www.iss.europa.eu/publications/detail/article/syria-violence-as-a-communications-strategy/
    – now the objective is just to stop the violence, i.e resolve a problem that the regime has itself created. Its is holding the Syrian population hostage.
    – This is the mind game that the regime is winning.
    – It is lack of intervention that will create either a Zimbabwe or an Iraq scenario.

    Posted by Nadim Shehadi | June 5, 2012, 12:25 pm
  132. Alex,

    I think I have the right to speak on this issue first hand because Assad did send over months suicide bombers into Israel and killed about 1000 Israeli civilians in buses, restaurants, hotels, night clubs etc.

    When Assad does it, it is good, when the Gulfies do it to you, it is bad. It is in fact awful in both cases if the aim is to kill civilians. The UN observers would first and foremost save lives. While they are there, they will inhibit the ability of Assad to act in a ruthless manner. If Syrians want to demonstrate without being killed and without harming others, they should be allowed to do so. If that brings down Assad, so be it. If not, so be it also.

    Posted by AIG | June 5, 2012, 12:28 pm
  133. Nadim

    Dominant? … I still hear US officials talk of “despicable” this and that each time the regime communicates … Reuters is still covering the conflict as a murderous regime against its people … Aljazeer and Alarabyia still trying their best to manufacture anger … Europeans withdrawing ambassadors before they can tell who committed last week’s massacre … All of you here still insisting that the Syrian people want you to help them overthrow this regime and destroy the Syrian army …

    In Syria the regime controls state media, but that is not where opinions are shaped. People watch International TV news channels or read news on their favorite groups and pages on Facebook …

    What you listed is the result of reality … opposition IS a mess, not because the Syrian regime’s super powerful propaganda machine says so, but because opposition leaders competing with each other say so. If the west is starting to realize that it is not easy to remove the regime, it is only because Russia and Chine made it clear they will not allow it and because the Syrian army is mostly united and capable, not because the regime’s narrative was brilliantly communicated on Addounya.

    Posted by Camille Alexandre Otrakji | June 5, 2012, 12:44 pm
  134. AIG

    1) Can you clarify this opinion “ssad did send over months suicide bombers into Israel and killed about 1000 Israeli civilians in buses, restaurants, hotels, night clubs etc.”? … I would like to know where Assad sent that many successful terrorists and when did he send them.

    2) I was very clear on SC in rejecting terror and any operation against any civilians, in Israel or anywhere.

    Posted by Camille Alexandre Otrakji | June 5, 2012, 12:47 pm
  135. The whole point about this battle of the narratives is that it is constantly trying to square a circle. It is incredibly amusing to use Leotard to portray the Syrian regime as a victim of some imperialist plot, when it is the Syrian people that are the victims of the Syrian regime.

    There are some who would have us believe, in fact they would impose on us, this story of crazed fanatics flooding a country that has over fifteen security agencies, and which finds a nineteen year old school girl (Tal al Malouhi) a threat to national security because of a pro-Palestine blog post that she posted online. I am not here to argue about the validity or otherwise of such a narrative. I want to find a solution that would help stop the Syrian people get murdered by the regime. There is no conspiracy on earth powerful enough to make a government run over its own people with the tanks that they paid for.

    I agree with Nadim, the lack of intervention could turn the country into a Zimbabwe or Iraq, the nature of that intervention will determine how well Syria emerges from this era of dictatorship.

    Posted by Maysaloon | June 5, 2012, 12:51 pm
  136. Apologies for mispelling Lyotard’s name and bringing skin tight one piece exercise outfits into the discussion. Having said that it might be a step up for all of us.

    Posted by Maysaloon | June 5, 2012, 12:53 pm
  137. Camille, this indeed is the regime’s narrative:
    – That is is indispensable and irreplaceable because of the sham opposition.
    – That you either engage with it or face armageddon.
    – All this from the moral high ground you express so well: facing a conspiracy by the whole world and its media.

    Syria will have a much smoother transition than Iraq mainly because it does not have Syria as a neighbor.

    Posted by Nadim Shehadi | June 5, 2012, 12:53 pm
  138. Alex,

    If the regime wanted objective reporting it would let journalists freely operate in Syria. You argue not to let journalists in and then you argue that the reporting is not objective. If the regime wants to be given a fair hearing, it needs to play the game of free journalism. It is not willing to do that.

    I for one am totally against destroying the Syrian army. It is needed to protect the minorities in Syria when regime change occurs. But it is not easy to leave the army intact if it is also an obstacle to regime change. I hope the army can function without the regime, but I am not sure. The Assads designed the army to be part of the regime. That is of course very smart, because it does put those that support regime change in a conundrum. If I were a Christian in Syria I would not know what to choose.

    Posted by AIG | June 5, 2012, 12:55 pm
  139. Alex,

    Assad did send over months suicide bombers into Israel and killed about 1000 Israeli civilians in buses, restaurants, hotels, night clubs:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Palestinian_militant_groups_suicide_attacks#2002_.2847_bombings.29

    Assad funded and hosted Hamas and other Palestinian organizations that executed suicide bombings. You don’t think the Gulfies are sending their Princes to Syria do you? They are funding the FSA just like Assad funded Hamas.

    Posted by AIG | June 5, 2012, 1:00 pm
  140. corrections

    – “when it is the Syrian people that are the victims of the Syrian regime.”

    SOME of the Syrian people are victims of a regime they despise, true. Many others feel protected by a regime they either love, or tolerate.

    – “Tal al Malouhi) a threat to national security because of a pro-Palestine blog post that she posted online”

    Regime’s story is that she collaborated with Americans. Not that far fetched given the thousands of young activists who are using American help months after Tal was jailed. The Americans did not deny the accuracy of the regime’s story.

    – “I want to find a solution that would help stop the Syrian people get murdered by the regime”
    And thousand of Syrian people being murdered by pro opposition “rebels”

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/jun/04/syria-rebels-kill-soldiers-damascus

    Posted by Camille Alexandre Otrakji | June 5, 2012, 1:01 pm
  141. Camille,

    Some/Many, terms that you are using arbitrarily, and that the regime you are protecting will never allow to be quantified. One victim of the regime suffering injustice outweighs all your many. If you think otherwise then that’s fine, but at least say it outright.

    So a nineteen year old girl is a threat to Syria’s security? And I should accept that because you think it is “not that far fetched” that she was an American agent? She was seventeen when arrested. Even if what you say is true, why would a seventeen year old school girl be privy to state secrets? That insults everybody’s intelligence.

    As for your final point, I’m happy to see both the heads of the Free Syrian Army as well as Assad and his regime in the International Criminal Court for a full and fair trial. Are you?

    Posted by Maysaloon | June 5, 2012, 1:15 pm
  142. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hamas

    Apparently, Hamas was being bankrolled by the Saudis, and the other Gulf states :D.

    In fact, it’s nice to see that suicide bombings in Israel apparently reduced when apparently Saudi Arabia curtailed its funding for militants there :).

    Posted by Gabriel | June 5, 2012, 1:18 pm
  143. Ya Nadim … comparing the regime’s ability to shape the narrative to the other side’s resources is like what is happening here … Me against an American, a M14 Lebanese, an Israeli, and a Syrian opposition from London

    All of them very smart and energetic too.

    Yalla have a nice day. I’ll go try to do some boring work.

    Posted by Camille Alexandre Otrakji | June 5, 2012, 1:19 pm
  144. Maysaloon,

    I wish we can hope for a perfect world where we make statements about how we can not accept a single case of injustice or violence. But we are faced in Syria between a number of difficult choices in the short to medium term at least. Each one of us has a different set of fears, aspirations and views … so we end up choosing between different bad options.

    Tal was accused of trying to help intelligence officers from the US embassy in Cairo track movements of the security officer of the Syrian embassy in Cairo because they suspected that he is coordinating with HA in Egypt. A 17 year old can do that. It does not take a rocket scientist.

    I would like everyone to forgive everyone and to move forward towards solutions. No I don’t want to send the thousands who committed unjustified crimes to court. You know that the person I despise the most is Bibi Netanyahu. I believe his plans are behind so much destruction and death in Iran and Iraq. Did you hear me ever saying I want to see him punished before there is peace with Israel?

    Posted by Camille Alexandre Otrakji | June 5, 2012, 1:29 pm
  145. The only plausible solution I see is for Assad to step down and be replaced by a powerful Sunni General that could ensure the Alawite community’s safety.

    Assad and his clan would have to board an Airbus A-380 for Russia.

    Posted by Monolith | June 5, 2012, 1:31 pm
  146. Alex,

    Right, everyone can justify his or her funding of suicide bombers. Non of the arguments you link to is remotely convincing. Assad worked with the Saudis to fund Hamas and now when they are using these methods against him, he is complaining?

    If Assad is Mother Theresa, he has nothing to be afraid of the free press or of UN monitors.

    Posted by AIG | June 5, 2012, 1:48 pm
  147. Who knew we would see the day when the Israelis come here and essentially say the Americans had 9/11 coming to them!

    Posted by Gabriel | June 5, 2012, 2:01 pm
  148. The Syrian Army has to remain the backbone of Syrian society as every Syrian has had to give 18 months of their lives serving within it.

    It was severely abused to serve the personal interests of a few. And these few need to leave Syria quickly while they still have a chance to.

    But the army has to remain united and re-evaulate its purpose.

    Posted by Monolith | June 5, 2012, 4:08 pm
  149. In answer to QN’s last question about Ghalioun and the opposition. There was a major meeting of various opposition groups in Bulgaria last week where they came up with a joint statement for the first time including the Kurdish National Council and the SNC.

    The SNC is going through an exercise of re-evaluation, restructuring and coordination with other opposition groups. The fact that other opposition groups have emerged since the formation of the SNC is seen positively – a kind of multiplier effect. It is part of the strength of the opposition that other groups are being formed and not its weakness. The idea is to coordinate between them and draw up a common vision, a coalition with a transition plan under the umbrella of the SNC and not necessarily within it. This builds on recommendations from the last SNC meeting in Rome and the statements of Ghalioun where he says that the SNC has failed the Syrian people.

    In fact the diversity is mind-blowing: tribes, families, political parties, ethnic and religious groups, Sufis, Salafis, Ikhwan, Kurds, regions, business people, expats etc.. etc… There are even opportunists and charlatans like any political society has. They all compete and are suspicious of each other. It is a total mess but it is normal and healthy. The meeting in Bulgaria recognised that and the statement put forward a plan for future coordination.

    A veteran Brazilian journalist told me that when he visited the Sandinistas in 1979, they were very preoccupied with their expectation of a counter revolution. They received advice from their friends in East Germany where the STASI recommended that the best way to pre-empt a counter-revolution is to create your own. The Syrian regime has also done that and has used many other tricks to divide the opposition, penetrate certain groups, create suspicion and discord and discredit its opponents. It has even created its own ‘tame’ group that is willing to negotiate with it. They are all victims of a certain type of moukhabarat political culture, even the so called collaborators.

    I believe Ghalioun was set up. He accepted to negotiate with the ‘tame’ opposition and the draft agenda was then leaked as a final agreement in order to discredit him and divide the opposition and it worked. This is the same old trick that the regime played with Saad Hariri where in the fall of 2010 he accepted the Saudi-Syrian mediation (Seen-Seen) and a draft agenda was also leaked, making it look like a final agreement where Hariri seemed to have sold out on the Special Tribunal for Lebanon and made a deal with the murderers of his own father. Such a manoeuvre on the part of the regime probably comes from a ‘KGB Manual for Idiots’ 1969 edition, revised and enlarged.

    An East European friend told me the story of his grandfather who forbade the family to look into his file after their ‘regime’ fell. They still live under the stigma of not knowing who betrayed him and caused so much suffering to the whole family. Was it one of them, a close friend, an in-law, a neighbour? They will never know and from time to time still think about it. It will take Syrians two generations to get over the effects of moukhabarat culture.

    Going back to QN’s original first question about the options for the international community. They must revise their expectation from the opposition. If the Assad regime had allowed for a united opposition to emerge in a coherent manner, there would be no need to change it.

    The international community as well as the opposition have to go on a counter-offensive in the mind game. Syria has a long history of coexistence and previous experience of a rich political society. The regime can survive and flourish for years if it creates a civil war situation but it cannot accept for one day that there is a genuine non-violent political revolt against its legitimacy. The opposition needs protection to pursue this.

    Shi bi bakki really 🙂

    Posted by Nadim Shehadi | June 6, 2012, 5:12 am
  150. A simple question among others that Camille does not like to answer:

    Did these minorities coexist in Syria the past century or they just popped up on the screen in the last forty years?

    Posted by danny | June 6, 2012, 7:38 am
  151. Danny,
    Minorities have existed in the middle-east for centuries. Their co-existence has always been a challenge depending on the minority, their geographic location and who was governing at specific times.

    Posted by Nabil | June 6, 2012, 9:02 am
  152. Nadim,

    All of this is quite natural.

    I don’t think the question though is about the International community having “expectations” from the Opposition. The Opposition has to define and be clear on what it thinks is the best way to go forward.. if it has expectations from the International Community. If it can’t do that, there is a problem.

    For example, suppose the course of action you propose is that the Americans do a full scale invasion of Syria and an exercise of Nation re-building [ that is how you interpreted QN’s question previously].

    I think we can safely say now that we know that there are elements within the opposition who would strongly oppose this suggestion. [What pecentage, I don’t know].

    When this invasion happens, and Bashar and friends are gone and living in lavish apartments in Moscow. Those opposition groups will in fact turn their sights on to the Americans. They will do what the Arabs have done for decades. They will accuse them of being Imperialists. They will accuse their leaders of being agents. This is all quite natural. There will still be the Baath.It will still have support- a fair amount of it. They will have different agendas. It is natural they do. That’s what happens in a democracy.

    So when the Americans pay the price for the competing interests and managing them, and the Americans will end up being the ones paying that price… what then will you say?

    Why should America pay the price in this case? Why not Turkey? or Saudi Arabia? Why should America do any more than its doing now- Soundbytes on CNN, and logistic support on the ground?

    In Iraq, the answer was simple- at least there is oil. What’s in it for America here? The Glory of Humanitarian Intervention? A glory that could potentially be paid back with ingratitude?

    Posted by Gabriel | June 6, 2012, 9:03 am
  153. Revamped my post for a Foreign Policy article – http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2012/06/05/stay_out_of_syria

    Thanks for the push and provocation, QN, Nadim, and all.

    Posted by joshlandis | June 6, 2012, 9:08 am
  154. Gabriel, is that what happened in Libya? I think times have changed. But I like your style, putting up a straw man and then shooting it. There is a big difference between a US occupation of Syria with a Nation Building exercise and protection of civilians.

    Posted by Nadim Shehadi | June 6, 2012, 9:55 am
  155. I believe that I am in full agreement of many elements suggested by Nadim but I also agree , as Joshua is suggesting, that the opposition will help its cause by clarifying its position.
    Having said that let me add that a coalition of forces need not be in agreement about every detail ,otherwise they would all belong to the same party. A coalition needs to agree on a major objective and once that is achieved they would either renew the coalition by setting up a new goal or they will each go his/her way. In this regard there is nothing unique about the fact that different groups within the opposition subscribe to different policies. The coalition, however, will become much more effective if they can learn to devote all their energies to the task on hand and thus act temporarily as one.
    What needs to be done in Syria? Let me use quantitative language , if you do not mind. The current Syrian problem has a unique solution and so anything short of that unique solution will be a palliative. If history has taught us anything, it is the fact that we should never pursue a solution that deals with symptoms only; if we do that the disease will always come back. This means a change in the culture of governance that has been well rooted in all Syrian institutions. The change must be total and the disease eliminated from its roots.
    That implies a rejection of what Baathism has evolved into and not what it was when it was formed.
    To continue the use of quantitative analysis it should be clear that getting rid of Bashar ( Irhal, irhal ya Bashar) is a necessary but not sufficient condition. To just change Bashar and keep everything else the way it has been for over forty years will be an exercise in futility.
    Bashar , the head of the pyramid and the personification of the dictatorship must go but that must be accompanied by a radical change that will introduce a new culture of governance that is built on the ideas of democracy and of being responsive to the demands and need of the citizens. Syrian officials will have to accept the simple fact that they do not know what is best for the people. Only the people know what is best for themselves and so officials are to serve the public by catering to its needs.
    How does this come about? Obviously not through an outright full scale war. The potential for military intervention could be used as the wild card in the negotiation. The international community could alter the Kofi Annan into a commission whose role is to (1) ask Bashar Assad to resign and to replace him with a transition body whose goal would be to elect representatives from across the country in a free and transparent election. This constituent body shall write a new constitution that guarantees personal freedoms, (expression, congregation, religious association..) and then establish a commission to study and reevaluate the structure of the judiciary , secret service agencies and the role of the armed forces in domestic affairs.

    Posted by gkaram | June 6, 2012, 10:06 am
  156. Nadim,

    With all due respect, I cannot read your mind. I do not know what you are personally proposing. “Protection of Civilains” is not a Chapter in an academic book one finds in the British Library.

    Are you proposing the Libya solution? Where American planes fly over Syria and bomb Regime targets and its armies as they surround various villages? Is that the action you are proposing? If the Americans do only that, will that be sufficient? Or are you expecting more?

    If not, what exactly are you proposing?

    Posted by Gabriel | June 6, 2012, 10:24 am
  157. Gabriel, First and foremost I propose to liberate the mind from the regime narrative. What keeps the regime in power and the international community paralyzed is the mind game that says its either Bashar or tens of Afghanistans.

    There is a legitimate nonviolent revolt against the regime in Syria, it is leaderless and faceless and will not accept any deals with the regime other than its departure. The messages from the revolt is that it wants freedom, that they are non violent, that the Syrian people are one and that there will be no sectarian civil war. Peaceful demonstrations even happened under the bombs in Homs and the message was to reassure the minorities like the Alawites and the Christians.

    This revolt needs to be first acknowledged and then protected, the current situation is that the west is doing neither. The regime cannot tolerate even to acknowledge that it is taking place. It is comfortable only with the civil war and sectarianism and foreign conspiracy theories that the west seems to have bought lock stock and barrel.

    The regime continues to use force, and force is necessary to confront it and this means a military intervention targeted to show the regime that it cannot kill its people with impunity.

    A military intervention under a legal umbrella of protection is preferable to the current arming of the ‘opposition’ because the latter plays into the regime’s narrative that it is facing a foreign armed conspiracy. Also because after you arm these groups, it will be difficult to disarm them during transition.

    Time is also important, because the longer the regime is allowed to kill its people the more sectarian tension will increase and the more the economy will suffer. All this will mean that transition will take longer, be more difficult and cost a lot more. So allowing this to continue is the worse case scenario.

    Deconstructing the power of the regime is a battle on several fronts. President Bashar el Assad started by saying that Syria is not Tunis, is not Egypt. The answer is also that Syria is not Libya and is not Iraq nor is it Afghanistan.

    Posted by Nadim Shehadi | June 6, 2012, 11:05 am
  158. Joshua,
    Re your “Stay Out of Syria” published on June 5, 2012 in FP.
    I happen to be in full agreement about the role of the US and the rest of the worldfor more than the reasons that you state. The world needs to eventually create a global force of enforcement but until that happens the US should not take that mission upon itself without a clear mandate from the international community. The US is not the world policeman and should not act as such.
    My bigger disagreement however is the impression that I get that democracy is a luxury good. That view is quite popular among political scientists, economists and maybe historians but I see no reason to deny people democracy on the basis of a faddish mainstream hypothesis that is not supported by the facts. The Soviet Union fell apart from within and not because of their high per capita income while India was able to create a functioning democracy despite a very low per capita income. In a sense the Arab Spring did not get started in a wealthy country but just the opposite it was Tunis and Egypt and the poorest Arab country, Yemen, that have led the march towards more personal freedom and less exploitation and abuse. I agree with you that no one should operate under the delusion that A dynamic democracy is just about to rise from the ashes of the arab dictatorships but to dismiss the aspirations of the Syrian people on the grounds that Syria does not have a high enough per capita income to start on the path towards democratization is unacceptable.
    I would actually propose the opposite hypothesis: need for democracy is inversely related to the level of tyranny. Freedom is priceless.

    Posted by gkaram | June 6, 2012, 12:22 pm
  159. Nadim,

    “What keeps the regime in power and the international community paralyzed is the mind game that says its either Bashar or tens of Afghanistans.”

    You also mentioned a “KGB manual for idiots” revised and enlarged.

    Is the Assad regime pulling wool over the eyes of Russia and China?

    Seems to me the ones keeping the regime in place and the international community paralyzed are the very ones that wrote the manual.

    Why?

    Posted by Monolith | June 6, 2012, 12:32 pm
  160. From the School of Advanced “Wet-Fingering-in-the-Breeze”

    Syria’s new rulers will also face a daunting set of challenges upon taking power. They will be obliged to employ the hundreds of thousands of jobless Syrians who have sacrificed for the revolution, lost family, and struggled in the face of tyranny.

    Professor Josh,

    It’s funny (actually “apalling”) how you are NOW using terms like “sacrificed” and “struggled in the face of tyranny” for a president you supported just a year-and-a-half ago.

    Are the times really “a-changin'”?

    Posted by Akbar Palace | June 6, 2012, 1:38 pm
  161. **Off Topic**

    Nadim,

    As to that old subject and bet in regards to my being able to change my registry and that it is a non-political issue.

    Review the 2009 elections and the controversy over the 15,000 Sunni voters that were transferred to the Zahle electoral list.

    Posted by Monolith | June 6, 2012, 2:21 pm
  162. Nadim:

    I’ll give you my take on this.

    I think it’s a mistake to analyse this questions based on the question of What Syria Is, or What it will Be. We don’t know if it will be 1/10 of Tunis or 10x Iraq. I don’t know. You don’t know. The best anyone can say is that Syria may become this or it may become that. Of course- Bashar will be eager to say that it will BE the worst thing anyone can imagine. And the Opposition will say that it will not BE that.

    If I may borrow from Monolith’s most recent point: Bashar is not some super-wily intelligent creature who managed to pull the cover over China and Russia’s eyes.

    This IS about interests.

    This IS about costs.

    At least as far as the “International Community” is concerned.

    As I said to Ghassan earlier. We are “Sons” of the region. So of course, we are concerned about the more fundamental issues. The civilians. The torture. Rights. The deaths. The massacres. We are concerned about communal harmony 10 years down the line. It is natural that we care about those aspects.

    But these are not the aspects that the “International” community will care about.

    So when it comes to strategy, decisions, and what have you, this is the framework that has to be folowed.

    Posted by Gabriel | June 6, 2012, 2:26 pm
  163. @Josh: Without turning this into a debate on the epistemology of political science, I’m not really convinced by the paragraph is about median age and GDP as independent variables for democracy outcomes.

    The average effects of things like GDP and median age might be helpful in some broader contexts, but I find that they have very limited applicability to single cases. Ghana, for instance, has a median age of 21.4 years and a per capita GDP that’s a good 40% lower than Syria’s, but it’s been one of the more stable democracies in sub-Saharan Africa.

    This is not to say that I don’t agree with the larger point you’re making — I do, actually — but that I don’t believe large-n cross country findings are terribly helpful here.

    Posted by sean | June 6, 2012, 3:22 pm
  164. We need a Russian-Syrian Landis analyst and a Chinese-Syrian one on this blog to understand the positions of their governments vis-a-vis the Syrian debate to get a deeper understanding of the current stalemate.

    Posted by Monolith | June 6, 2012, 4:54 pm
  165. Monolith,

    Why do we need a special “analyst” to understand that totalitarian regimes support totalitarian regimes?

    You can’t “circle the wagons” with just one wagon.

    Posted by Akbar Palace | June 6, 2012, 5:02 pm
  166. AP,

    Because most of us in this part of the world would like to be part of the wider world, earth and humanity and move on to better collective things … but you can keep circling round and around with your own wagons in Israel for as long as you like, until it makes you sick.

    Posted by Monolith | June 6, 2012, 5:28 pm
  167. sean @3:22
    One of the observations that I made at 12:22 is in total agreement with the issue that you raised.
    I have devoted close to 4 decades to the study of economic development and I have yet to see a single credible study that can demonstrate more than a casual relationship between wealth and democracy. But , as we well know, correlation says nothing about causality. Actually I would argue that the relationship is far from being linear and causality is more likely to flow from democracy to higher gdp instead of the reverse. I cannot buy at all into the concept that democracy is a luxury good. If anything I would suggest that democracy is most needed and most effective, in a marginal sense, at lower level of income. I imagine that will make democracy an inferior good 🙂

    Posted by ghassan karam | June 6, 2012, 6:10 pm
  168. Because most of us in this part of the world would like to be part of the wider world, earth and humanity and move on to better collective things …

    Monolith,

    I’m guessing that is why the Arab Spring sprung. Yet, there is no deep Arab concensus to be “part of the wider world, earth and humanity”, including the British-educated and great “humanitarian” Asma Assad who was once very concerned about the plight of the Palestinians. So I question your assumption “most of us”, and I sympathize with them whoever they are.

    …but you can keep circling round and around with your own wagons in Israel for as long as you like, until it makes you sick.

    We “circle the wagons” not because we support totalitarianism or because our “self-appointed”, one-party leaders want to stay in power, we “cricle the wagons” because of those who DON’T want to be part of the “wider world, earth and humanity”.

    I could give you the list of totalitarians, but why waste valuable Megabytes?

    But you still didn’t answer my question:

    Why do we need a special “analyst” to understand that totalitarian regimes support totalitarian regimes?

    Posted by Akbar Palace | June 6, 2012, 6:27 pm
  169. Dear QN – You question whether social indicators really indicate anything by bringing up the famous example of Ghana, which is the agreed upon anomaly. India is another for GDP pc. I won’t argue with you about the worth of political science as I am an historian and don’t have a dog in that fight. Pol scientists are just trying to find trends and broad percentages for successful democratic transitions. Syria could well turn out to be another statistical outlier. Most of my Syrian “merchant-elite” friends insist to me that Syria is different from its neighbors and will not go through a civil war and is ready for democracy because the merchant elite are cool, level-headed traders who know all about compromise and finding the right price for everything. I hope they are right. Anyway, we have already had that discussion in the last round-up you organized where Nadim and I, and I guess you, disagreed about whether sectarianism is important in places like Lebanon. You and Nadim insisted that Lebanese politics is really not about sectarian communal differences. I disagreed. I think sectarianism is a real problem in places like Syria. Nadim insists that I am an Assad sympathizer who is spreading the government propaganda. I think he is just whistling by the graveyard. We disagree.

    I don’t want him to convince the USG to send American planes or troops into the middle of this fight because it will work out badly for the US as did Lebanon, Iraq, and Afghanistan. They best they can do is arm and aid the opposition into getting organized and unified. They will take down this regime when they get organized. Already Syrians are horrified by the massacre at Houla and now at the new one outside of Hama. The regime has gone loco and is in self-destruct mode.

    Posted by joshlandis | June 6, 2012, 6:43 pm
  170. Josh

    That comment about Ghana was not from me, but Sean. But point taken.

    As for the previous debate you mentioned, my point was not that “Lebanese politics is really not about sectarian communal differences,” but rather that sectarianism was not the primary axis around which daily politics turned. It rears its ugly head all the time and is used for political gain by the elites, but there are plenty of issues that cut across confessional lines. The past few years in Lebanon have been particularly tumultuous because the natural momentum was carrying in the direction of majoritarian-opposition politics (i.e. M14 vs. M8), which is not what the existing Lebanese model is designed for. We have a system built for grand coalition, consociational, consensus-based politics. And the country is beginning to take (very small) steps toward more issue-based politics.

    But I agree with you that Syria is probably not there yet. Nadim probably disagrees with us both.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | June 6, 2012, 6:58 pm
  171. @Sean
    To assess a revolution, that is a metamorphosis of the social fabric and what change you are expecting you don’t look at GDP per c.
    you have 3 class of parameters with refinements
    -fertility rates. You can look at contrast in fertility rates between Syrian cities, sects and ethnicity. You can assess the situation by looking how fast they are changing too. This will give you how the balance of power inside the family is shifting after the start of revolution, also can indicate if there is too much differences between sects.
    So if you expect progressive family agenda from future political leaders because of low fertility rates ( around 3) in the big cities, expect a hard push back of conservative areas (>4 fertility rates). If stats along sects are very contrasted, you are going to see a sectarian influence on the political scene.
    -education stats. but also higher education stats
    So if you hope that literacy rates don’t crash like in Iraq, that is fine but you need to find how the higher education is doing, For example in the case of a non political science departments, what are the perspective and the teams on the ground? and what impact do you expect of any future policies.
    – to assess whether a citizen is voting as an individual or rather following a clan/tribe mentality you look at married couples through neighbourhood-level, sect/ethnicity level, and more importantly the rates of cousin marriage. You need to look at cousin marriage geographically to assess trends. Breaking the clan/tribe divide will help pushing people to coagulate on economical/social goals chosen freely. Law like civil marriage and ban of relative marriage (like up to a 10degree close) have significant consequence on the long run.
    As for the stability of the democratic transition, it will be secured as long as the political and legislative class remain reactive to these social changes. If the system you create after the fall of the regime is too stiff, it will sooner or later ignite violence and civil war. In a sense a civil war indicates that changes are too quick for the government to deal with.

    Posted by Crazybear | June 6, 2012, 10:32 pm
  172. I’m afraid. All of you here are only examining options, choices and factors that do not come close to threatening your convenient axioms.

    1) The people want to topple the regime

    2) Success = toppling the regime = a Good thing for Syria and Syrians

    3) The price to pay for the various options of “helping” the Syrian people will be paid by Syria and by Syrians.
    (With the exception of the US/NATO war option that Joshua warned against)

    If you dare challenge these axioms while suppressing your own personal preferences that helped you adopt them, you would perhaps realize why for the past 15 months the crisis has been getting more and more complex. Reality is larger than the subset of reality that each one decided to limit himself to.

    To illustrate to you how others might see your limitations, I’ll suggest similar ones that someone from the other side of this debate might have:

    1) The people love the regime and want to eradicate the opposition.

    2) Success = going back to 2010’s stability = stability is a Good thing for Syria and Syrians

    3) Those who dare interfere in Syrian affairs will pay a heavy price … “souria allah hamiha”

    This will remain 7iwar tourshan as long as those who are doing the talking (and analysis) are mostly those who have preferences and convictions.

    Posted by Camille Alexandre Otrakji | June 7, 2012, 1:31 am
  173. Since we are discussing independent variables GDP and median age …

    Tunisia update.
    Now there is more corruption than before … unemployment is up 5% (19% compared to %14 before the revolution) … and there is a serious social conflict between the Islamists and the secular ones.

    This article today says another revolution might be a possibility as conditions are even more ripe than they were in 2010

    http://alhayat.com/Details/408730

    Posted by Camille Alexandre Otrakji | June 7, 2012, 1:40 am
  174. Two other axioms

    1) The regime is behind all new massacres … the fact there are Jihadists in Syria should not be taken seriously. The regime is so stupid and evil … we don’t have to answer those who ask why would the regime commit massacres that lead to European sanctions and withdrawal of all western Ambassadors …

    2) Witnesses on the side of the opposition are trustworthy even if they are very biased, equally biased pro regime witnesses are laughable

    Posted by Camille Alexandre Otrakji | June 7, 2012, 1:44 am
  175. Josh and QN – The question of sectarianism is very important in the ‘mind game’ and the regime’s strongest asset with a western audience. Its crudest form is that only this type of ‘secular’ regime prevents inter-sectarian civil war with Lebanon and Iraq often cited as the evidence. Sectarianism is sometimes described as a disease that the region suffers from and the best way to deal with it is to keep the lid on in the form of an autharitarian regime. So the implication is that Iraq was fine under Saddam until the US took that lid off and released the genie of sectarianism. Another genie that is released is that of Islam or Islamism and it is true to a certain extent that ever since the Ottoman Tanzimat, there has been a zero sum game between them and the modern state.

    The question we all do not have a satisfactory answer to is whether it is the Lebanese style confessiona power-sharing system that is the solution and whether the more issue based politics that we see in Lebanon is also a result of that. The collapse of the twentieth century type strong state is not confined to the region only, it is in crisis globally. Should it be replaced with a weak, non-nationalist, decentralized, fragmented power structure? here is another little piece with wild unsubtantiated allegations about the state in the 21st century. http://nytweekly.com/columns/intelarchives/01-13-12/

    Hope we can have this sort of discussion over a beer or two sometime.

    Posted by Nadim Shehadi | June 7, 2012, 2:31 am
  176. This is a story about what I used to hear on the street. I am Lebanese. Almost every time I met a Syrian in Lebanon or in Syria before March 2011 I was re-told ad nausea that Syrians are fundamentally not sectarian like us. That they all identify as Syrians first (unlike us Lebanese who identify ourselves first by sect). It was explained to me that the Lebanese civil war was a natural outcome of our tribal sectarian identity. Somehow this rhetoric has been mum for the past year or so. The meme has vanished. Ironically enough the sectarian Lebanese in these times and days is more cool headed than the non-sectarian Syrian. History does teach us to be silent just shutting up indeed.

    Posted by rm | June 7, 2012, 3:23 am
  177. RM, I guess there was a certain regard towards the “congenital sectarianism” of everything Lebanese. A condescending regard that assumed its owner as being immune to the “virus”. As a non Arab, I have found that to be the attitude in most non-Lebanese Arabs. With time, I realized that it came from real incomprehension in the cases of nationals coming from more homogeneous societies like the ones in the Nord-Africa region . In the other cases, it took me invasions, wars and revolutions to understand that it came from sheer denial. I understand sectarianism as a matter of identity. Identity is like personal odor. You can easily detect and criticize the one you smell in others, but it is difficult to detect one’s own. It is also easy to deny, or cover with ideological perfume. None of it can make it disappear. It is part of what we are.

    Posted by mj | June 7, 2012, 4:26 am
  178. The problem Camille, with your other side “axioms” is that Time goes only in one direction. There is no going back. There is no way to bring back the dead.

    After you’re done making excuses and being a Regime apologist, there are facts on the ground. Truth is secondary. What is important is perception of truth. And if the perception of all those villagers that the Syrian army has been pummeling is that “Alawi” Shabiha have been coming and murdering them.. the end result is more communal discord. There is no going back to what you think was 2005 stability. That is no longer an option.

    You can hold on to that thought until you are blue in the face, it won’t change anything. Ultimately, as president, Assad bears full responsibility for what is happening and what has happened.

    Posted by Gabriel | June 7, 2012, 7:10 am
  179. @Alex 1:31 AM and following.

    You are, I think, right that many of those here have taken partisan positions against the regime, and have come to hold convictions that make them tend to believe reports that paint the regime in a bad light, and disbelieve analyses that focus on the coming sectarian morass that the regime describes itself as existing to prevent.

    I count myself as holding the same convictions – for an overriding reason that you choose to downplay. This is a regime that thinks the lives of its own citizens are cheap. I have thought this for a long time, ever since learning about Hama (the first one) and then since coming into personal tangential acquaintance with the careless attitude to human lives and futures that characterises the Assads’ work (both of them).

    While the regime that I live under in the UK certainly thinks that the lives of people in other countries (including Syria) are cheap and their futures are dispensable, it is a regime that cannot and would not countenance large-scale violence against its own citizens. The violence it does countenance (the security state, the miners strike) is either limited in scale or in intensity. Nothing like either Hama ever happens.

    This is the crucial point that pushes me, and perhaps others, from analysis into conviction when it comes to the Syrian regime. The myopia that you correctly identify comes from that conviction.

    Posted by JH | June 7, 2012, 8:33 am
  180. I was going to follow the above with a post saying that I thought that the Syrian regime’s level of disregard for the lives of its own citizens is relatively rare, and I was going to cite Abu Ammar, who may have been a somewhat flawed leader but one couldn’t imagine him bombing his own people like Assad. Then I remembered the Palestinian deaths he caused in Northern Lebanon, and I realised that one can easily equate his bombing of Badawi camp with Assad’s bombing of Hama – both saw enemies and were prepared to eliminate them – even if they were Palestinians/Syrians.

    This has led me to wonder why it is that one feels so strongly that Assad is morally culpable, and perhaps more so than a militia leader like Arafat, or a leader killing foreigners like Netenyahu. I think that answer may lie in the particular moral nature of the modern nation state. We think of the ideal state as by its very definition protective of its citizens, and this is why the modern, information age, decision to kill them is so shocking.

    Therefore, from the “international community” perspective so effectively ballyhooed and deconstructed in the comments above, Assad and his regime took on a special responsibility when they took control of Syria in the twentieth and now twenty-first centuries. The fate of the Ceausescus, and the Bourbons, may well await.

    I guess what I’m saying Alex, is that leaving aside ones fears that the removal of the regime will lead to something like the Reign of Terror or worse, can’t you see why people outside (never mind inside) are so firm in their convictions?

    Posted by JH | June 7, 2012, 9:09 am
  181. Ya 3ammo Gabriel,

    The second set of axioms are definitely not mine! … they are a mirror image of the first set that reflects the preferences of the group here. The second set reflects the preferences of many other regime supporters with fears and aspirations that lead to decide on that unreasonable set of axioms.

    What I am trying to say is that most of those who spend their day speaking, writing and express strong opinions on Syria (as opposed to those who still live their normal lives with a 9 to 5 job) are heavily biased … they have a strong preference to one outcome (regime change now and at high cost if necessary) or the other (Assad for ever, even if cost is high).

    This leads to useless discussions … you either have a discussion of a mix of the two different but highly opinionated types and they end up fighting and calling each other stupid (7ameer, in Arabic), or you have discussions of a coherent group of heavily biased activists or observers, like the one here. These end up reassuring each other that their chosen axioms are solid … their choices are moral and their analysis and predictions are brilliant.

    In reality, when you have 24 million Syrians (and a few more millions outside), their preferences on such a difficult question that has serious consequences that will affect their lives and perhaps their security, you end up with a high variance in opinion and you end up with a bell curve distribution.

    Take a look at my article on Assad … scroll to the bell shaped curve please. The group here is mostly from segment 5, and the extreme regime supporters that believe in the second set of axioms I proposed are from group1.

    http://creativesyria.com/syriapage/?p=150

    The rest of Syria still needs to live … parents want to protect their children, they want them to go to school and not lose the school year … a father does not want civil war that might make his daughter work as a prostitute in neighboring Jordan like some of the poor Iraqi teens that worked in prostitution to support their refugee families outside Damascus …

    What I am saying is that decision making by those living inside Syria will not follow the pattern here … each person is a different story that leads to a different view …

    You don’t think so? … Do you have Egyptian liberal revolutionary activists as friends? .. I do.

    They are not very happy today as they realized their real number in Egypt was insignificant compared to religious extremists and to … those who prefer the stability of the old regime.

    Posted by Camille Alexandre Otrakji | June 7, 2012, 9:25 am
  182. Dear JH

    I respect your very reasonable opinion. But I have my own “mathematical expectation” based model for deciding on the moral aspect of choosing what outcome I would like to see in Syria.

    Death toll is a major part of it of course. But future expectations as well as past (real) casualties should be considered if we genuinely care about minimizing suffering, as opposed as tackling the question of responsibility for casualties for the purpose of supporting our decision on who to side with or against in the conflict.

    I’ll give you an example. During the Lebanese civil war, if you based your decision on who was responsible for the first 10,000 casualties, you would have discounted the value of the next 200,000 who lost their lives after you made your decision and announced your judgment.

    If blame is what we should be interested in the most, we need to be good judges. Simplifications are not fair.

    Finally … As I said before, “the regime” and “the opposition” and even “the Syrian people” are made of millions … and millions of members of each of those groups can only include a wide mix of characters .. you will have the good the bad and the ugly in each.

    You correctly find the ugly part of the regime to be criminal. But that part can only be overpowered when you have a REAL (not imaginary) majority of the Syrian people wanting to take on them. For that to happen, you need prerequisites and conditions that are not here today.

    Is has been already 400 days … the whole US backed (or bullied) world tried to overthrow the regime. I think there is enough evidence that inside Syria, this is not a uniting mission. So we either find a less ambitious common ground, or we support civil war in which we back the Syrians who, like us, want to overthrow the regime NOW, to fight and kill and defeat the rest of the Syrians who are strongly opposed to what we want …

    There are reasons why The Romanian, Tunisian, and Egyptian “regimes’ fell very quickly … most of their people REALLY wanted it. Aljazeera and CNN can manufacture all they want … western analysts can pontificate all they want … opposition “witnesses” can lie or exaggerate or assume all they want … American “regime change specialists” can plan all they want …

    It can only lead to civil war, not regime overthrow.

    I said this May 2011 here.

    Posted by Camille Alexandre Otrakji | June 7, 2012, 9:46 am
  183. @Camille 9:25 AM

    I like your reminder about the individual decisions people make for their families’ futures, and how this doesn’t necessarily match an outside “long-term” perspective on what is “best for the country”. I would be tempted to apply this exact same model to the choices that families make when they take part in sectarian conflict. My reading is that their agency remains – if it makes sense for someone to kill, or fight in self-defence, they will do it, and if giving the enemy in front of them a sectarian name helps them fight, they will do so. This makes sectarian war just war that happens to use sectarianism to make it kill better (analogous to religious patriarchy just being patriarchy that happens to use religion to make it work better). Humans have been just as keen to pick secular utopian political visions as reasons to kill each other, in other contexts. For Syria, this means that we should be worrying about the individual political dynamics in towns and villages that make families band together against other families – if we say it is just the ghost in the machine of sectarianism making them do bad things then we forget what we would do in their place.

    Posted by JH | June 7, 2012, 10:01 am
  184. @ Camille 9:46 AM

    I don’t know, having not been to Syria since my honeymoon in 2010 (!), but I can only hope from the outside that the difference between Syria and Romania is that the Syrian regime is stronger, not that the desire of the people to get rid of the regime is weaker. I do think that Syria has over the last 32 years developed an almost uniquely resilient and penetrative totalitarian regime – I remember being genuinely frightened of its abilities (unlike Egypt’s), despite the fact that I am a white kid with a UK passport. If you are right about the difference between Syria and Romania, then you are right about the prospects for civil war, and about the calculations of casualties. I hope you are wrong, and although this hope is driven by conviction rather than analysis, I cannot bring myself to talk about (and therefore contribute to creating by describing) a Syrian future in which the regime remains.

    Posted by JH | June 7, 2012, 10:09 am
  185. A Swipe at the UK comes Naturally

    While the regime that I live under in the UK certainly thinks that the lives of people in other countries (including Syria) are cheap and their futures are dispensable, it is a regime that cannot and would not countenance large-scale violence against its own citizens.

    JH,

    Not only would the UK NOT countenance large-scale violence against its own citizens, but they hold free elections.

    Until the arab states get free elections and term limits, you can’t even make a comparison between the ME and the West.

    Posted by Akbar Palace | June 7, 2012, 10:15 am
  186. In Romania it was estimated that under Nicolae Ceaușescu, there was a secret security member among each 5 citizens. The Syrian regime this year, while paranoid in many ways, does not come close to the paranoid opression under Ceaușescu.

    The three major differences if you ask me (there are many more) are:

    1) Syria is heavily committed to the Arab Israeli conflict. For many Assad supporters this is a fundamental factor in their decision making process. Romania had no occupied lands and no Palestinian or Lebanese “brothers” to support against an aggressive and strong enemy next door.

    2) Religious and sectarian fears … Romania did not have that.

    3) Just before the crisis which the regime mismanaged, Assad, personally, was a very popular leader, unlike Ceaușescu who was building a multi-billion dollar palace for himself.

    Posted by Camille Alexandre Otrakji | June 7, 2012, 10:20 am
  187. I agree AP. One has to make the comparison though – because Syrians are just as human as the English.

    Posted by JH | June 7, 2012, 10:22 am
  188. I thought that Syrian NGOs were traditionally limited by how many people one could get in a taxI?!

    You are right that many Assad supporters believe in the value of Syrian “support” for the Palestinians, but they are wrong. The regime has been no true friend – just another exploitative patron with a particular penchant for violence and repression. See the camps of North Lebanon again – Syrian occupation was so miserable that people longed to be governed by Israel – at least it would have been an honest fight and a clear enemy.

    Posted by JH | June 7, 2012, 10:28 am
  189. Alex,

    I agree that much of the analysis is based on judgement calls that in many cases obscure the complexities of the situation and that the judgement calls are influenced by ones positions. I also agree that the US wants regime change in Syria. I also agree that the Syrian people are not united around any one solution. But then you leave me hanging, what is the “less ambitious common ground” that Syrians should agree upon?

    What we probably don’t agree upon is that the initiative must come from the regime and it must be credible. At the minimum it should include the Assads retiring somewhere out of Syria.

    Posted by AIG | June 7, 2012, 10:29 am
  190. One has to make the comparison though – because Syrians are just as human as the English.

    JH,

    OK, everyone is human. So? Does that mean, the UK will never go to war again?

    Every people are first responsible for their own country and their own people.

    First.

    Once you’re house is in order, worry about other people. Does that make sense or am I speaking a foreign language?;)

    Posted by Akbar Palace | June 7, 2012, 10:31 am
  191. I don’t think we disagree here, AP. I think that Syrian and English political outcomes have to be comparable because both peoples equally deserve freedom and democratic representation.

    Posted by JH | June 7, 2012, 10:36 am
  192. Could I interrupt this broadcast for a moment to say that you guys and gals all rock?

    Yes this has been a 7iwar tourshan at times but all conversations about difficult political issues are usually like that and this one has been very civil in comparison.

    New post coming this afternoon but pls keep this discussion going.

    Cheers
    Elias / QN

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | June 7, 2012, 11:34 am
  193. Ya Camile,

    You keep saying that these are not your axioms, but all your writing pretty much suggest that you are sympathetic to those axioms!

    Anyways. It doesn’t matter if they are your axioms or not. The point is… (which is the point you did not address), is that they are fundamentally flawed. The Ship has sailed. We are where we are today, and that “other side” need to refresh their set of Axioms to be in line with reality.

    Posted by Gabriel | June 7, 2012, 12:39 pm
  194. Azmi Bishara just put this on his FB page, details of the massacres. https://www.facebook.com/Azmi.bishara/posts/10150864673908803

    Posted by Nadim Shehadi | June 7, 2012, 3:25 pm
  195. Camille, honestly, you cannot believe these axioms.
    1. Assad was negotiating with Israel during the Gaza and Lebanon wars of 2006, actually promissing to control Hamas and Hizballah as part of the deal.
    2. Assad feeds on sectarian fears and provokes them, even creates them. Both in Lebanon and Syria.
    3. Assad’s popularity was 97.6% we all know that. Even those in prisons voted for him.

    I am thinking of setting up a debaathification of the mind service, deprogramming takes about three months and in some cases a fast track can be arranged. In fact Clinton could be the first client, with Kerry, but he will take longer.

    Posted by Nadim Shehadi | June 7, 2012, 3:49 pm
  196. Sponge Baath?

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | June 7, 2012, 4:14 pm
  197. Nadim

    If you are worried about brainwashing effects that much, may I suggest your start with the biggest brainwashing sources?

    http://rt.com/usa/news/smear-campaign-journalists-leonie-244/

    Posted by Camille Alexandre Otrakji | June 7, 2012, 4:36 pm

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