Crisis in Syria: A Brown University Teach-In


I’ll be joining three of my colleagues at Brown this evening at 5:00 PM EST to discuss the situation in Syria. The audience will likely be a mix of students, faculty, and members of the community, and we hope to have a lively discussion afterwards. The event will be live-cast on the Brown University website, so those of you inclined to watch can tune in here.

If your connection is not strong enough to watch the webcast, I’ll be tweeting some of the talking points during the event (@qifanabki).


37 thoughts on “Crisis in Syria: A Brown University Teach-In

  1. Elias,

    Just tell the audience that the Assad government’s plan forward is very simple: “the beatings will continue until morale improves”.

    Also, please remind your audience that, unfortuantely, Middle East governments and Syrians are “split” on this issue, with a large part of the Syrian population in full agreement with this plan (see SC).

    Lastly, the KSA and the Arab Leauge are so utterly upset with President Assad, that they might, just might, pick up the phone and ask the US to retaliate against Assad. These are trying times….

    Posted by Akbar Palace | September 9, 2013, 12:33 pm
  2. Good luck. These discussions tend to become rants against “American Imperialism and Hypocrisy” because of the nature and inclinations of the students attracted to them.

    Posted by AIG | September 9, 2013, 1:24 pm
  3. AIG,

    Very true. I would like to see on these popular placards goin round, instead of “No war ON Syria”, how bout’ – “No War IN syria”. Amazing how humans filter information depending on their ideology. These are the same folks that never uttered a word in the last 3 years while Bashar was having his way.
    All of a sudden, it’s about US foreign Policy and their track record in the last century. The focus has shifted from Syria to ” The US reaching a crossroad of introspection”. Well, we’re all very happy for the US. Great time to discover the “New Age/ Personal development” section of a bookshop.

    Anyways, Russia has taken a stance and asked The Syrian Regime to hand over its stockpiles of CW’s, the West has cocked an eyebrow and backed off a centimeter. The IAEA have renewed contacts with the Iranians, it seems they’d like to communicate. Maybe, just maybe there is a chance of a political solution without military intervention. I’d rather this naive notion than the other that sought a solution from tomahawks.

    Posted by Maverick | September 9, 2013, 5:44 pm
  4. I’d rather this naive notion than the other that sought a solution from tomahawks.


    I don’t know. Israel doesn’t have Tomahawks, but every time they destroy a Syrian target, you can bhear a pin drop. Nothing.

    What does that tell you? I know what it tells me: clobber the bastard.

    Posted by Akbar Palace | September 9, 2013, 9:34 pm
  5. How Dumb Can Obama Be NewZ

    Wait. If you thought the Syria-Obama Farce reached it’s “Believe-it-or-Not” limit, you were wrong! Now Obama is entertaining WMD inspections in Syria!

    What experience does the world community have with Baathists, WMD and inspections???

    The last time we did this, is took 12 years and 11 UNSC resolutions. Except that the world community was totally on-board with the US. Not this time habibi!

    Posted by Akbar Palace | September 10, 2013, 8:52 am
  6. Gee, I thought there was no WMD found in Iraq NewZ

    “It’s big. He has one of the biggest chemical weapons programs in the region and even in the world,” said Dieter Rothbacher, a former U.N. weapons inspector in Iraq who trained members of the team that just returned from Syria.

    “There are calculations that to secure them up to 75,000 ground troops are needed,” he said in a Reuters interview. “It took us three years to destroy that stuff under U.N. supervision in Iraq.”

    Posted by Akbar Palace | September 11, 2013, 12:33 pm
  7. The dismantling referred to took place post-1991.

    No WMD found post-2003, because the Iraqi gov’t had effectively complied with the inspections regime.

    Posted by Roland | September 11, 2013, 4:00 pm
  8. Roland,

    Not according to UNSC 1441 (2002).

    Posted by Akbar Palace | September 11, 2013, 9:17 pm
  9. Interesting images on the BBC of the Maaloula battle — Syrian Christian militiamen (“home guards”) emphasizing their confessional identity whilst battling al-Nusra et al. on behalf of the Assad regime. How is this going down in Lebanon? While the Assads always had some Lebanese Christian allies, the major Christian parties (Kata’ib, Lebanese Forces) typically presented themselves as champions of Lebanese independence against Assadist-Syrian hegemony. The former Patriarch, Nasrallah Sfeir, filled the anti-Syrian political vacuum on the (Maronite) Christian side during much of 1990s and 2000s. Now, though, the Assad regime is mobilizing symbols of confessional Christian militancy for its own purposes. Does any of this portend a reshuffling of the “pro-” and “anti-” Syrian political forces in Lebanon itself?

    Posted by James Reilly | September 12, 2013, 10:58 am
  10. James Reilly,

    Listening to Lebanese and Syrian posters over a number of related websites tells me that theree is no “reshuffling of the ‘pro-‘ and ‘anti-‘ Syrian political forces”.

    The pro-regime are the Shia, Alawi, Christians (and other minorities who fear a Sunni backlash), those that depend on a government paycheck in Syria, and a few individuals who haven’t had a family member or friend disappear.

    Everyone else is most likely anti-regime. Oh, academics (who account for less than 0.01% of the population) are always pro-Assad as a university requirement for tenure*.

    *just kidding?

    Posted by Akbar Palace | September 12, 2013, 11:48 am
  11. The endurance and extent of Lebanon’s polarization that we have seen since 2005 — “March 14th” vs. “March 8th” — is unusual in Lebanon’s post-1943 politics. More typically, Lebanese political alliances have been subject to kaleidoscopic shifts every few years, whereby yesterday’s adversaries become today’s allies and vice-versa. Is this a correct reading of Lebanon’s post-1943 political experience? Could the time be ripe for another major realignment?

    Posted by Jim Reilly | September 12, 2013, 7:12 pm
  12. Jim Reilly,

    As complicated as Lebanese politics seems to be, doesn’t it boil down to typical ME culture and even human nature: backing the strong horse.

    Today that’s Hezbollah. If Assad and the Baathists are gone,
    that would cause a “realignment”. With Obama in office, this won’t happen.

    Posted by Akbar Palace | September 12, 2013, 9:15 pm
  13. QN,

    Are you still doubting that the regime is responsible for the CW attack?

    Posted by AIG | September 16, 2013, 5:15 pm
  14. This could confuse a few people despite the fact that it makes perfect sense:

    “Report: Netanyahu urged Kerry to accept deal on Syria WMDS
    Wall Street Journal says during Sept. 11 phone conversation, Israeli premier told US secretary of state Russia wasn’t bluffing and that diplomatic solution to Syrian chemical weapons crisis was possible
    Published: 09.16.13, 12:52 / Israel News

    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged US Secretary of State John Kerry last week to try to reach an agreement with Russia to seize Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal as an alternative to an American strike on the Assad regime, the Wall Street Journal reported Monday.”

    Neither our Generals nor theirs have wanted any damn thing to do with a hot war blowing up Syria’s hold on her CW stores and scattering them to the winds. That has always been the premier security concern for Israel and perhaps the politicians have finally listened to them.

    Who could possibly object to US/Israeli coordination on Syria?

    The American diaspora and their friends and enablers? Ya’ll know who you are.

    Posted by lally | September 16, 2013, 9:47 pm
  15. I still think the US should use Baathist assets for target practice.

    Posted by Akbar Palace | September 16, 2013, 10:53 pm
  16. AIG

    I don’t know that I ever doubted they would use the weapons, just wondered why they would choose that moment of all moments to do so. We haven’t yet seen proof of who actually ordered and carried out the attack. The UN report is silent on this issue, as far as I’ve heard.

    Was it actually carried out with the full knowledge of the regime’s top leadership? Was it a renegade attack by some commanders who were taking revenge for a massacre in Latakia? Was it a rebel-led false flag? I haven’t seen anything yet that settles this question.

    New post later coming this week…

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | September 17, 2013, 8:10 am
  17. QN,

    The UN report is not silent. It provides circumstantial evidence that makes it clear beyond reasonable doubt that the regime did this: Many surface to surface missiles were used, there was high quality sarin on most missile fragments, there were Russian letters on missiles, the missiles were fired from regime held areas. What kind of “proof” are you looking for? An Assad confession?

    Posted by AIG | September 17, 2013, 11:33 am
  18. AIG,

    Also, the missiles had Russian markings on them…

    Posted by danny | September 17, 2013, 12:52 pm
  19. I think QN is looking for the sales receipt.

    Posted by Akbar Palace | September 17, 2013, 2:05 pm
  20. Circumstantial evidence, but not “clear beyond reasonable doubt,” in my view, especially given the presence of UN inspectors within the country at the time.

    If I had to assign probabilities, I’d say it’s 75-80% likely the attack came from the regime side, but still unclear where the order originated. If the UN verified some of the reports coming from German intelligence and elsewhere about Syrian army communications referencing the attack, then I’d feel better about assigning 100% likelihood.

    Call me crazy, but there’s something about WMD pretexts for military action in the Middle East that makes me uneasy.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | September 17, 2013, 2:36 pm
  21. Call me crazy, but there’s something about WMD pretexts for military action in the Middle East that makes me uneasy.

    Here’s something else that’s crazy:, doing nothing about 100,000 dead.

    How many deaths will it take till he knows
    That too many people have died?

    Read more: Peter, Paul & Mary – Blowin’ In The Wind Lyrics | MetroLyrics

    ‘Israel wanted Assad gone since start of Syria civil war’

    Posted by Akbar Palace | September 17, 2013, 3:05 pm
  22. Akbar Palace

    Doing nothing about 100,000 dead is a separate conversation that is not directly connected to WMDs. One can be pro-intervention and not 100% sold on the WMD theory. Or one can be certain the regime used chemical weapons and be against military intervention.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | September 17, 2013, 3:12 pm
  23. QN,

    How does the presence of the UN team in Damascus impact the evidence? It is like saying that evidence against a criminal is less persuasive because there were many policemen in the town where the crime was committed. Furthermore, the inspection team had a specific mandate and only because Assad caved to pressure was it allowed to inspect the new attack. HRW documented that the regime tried to destroy evidence by extensive bombing (much more than usual) of the areas initially attacked with CWs. Criminals are stupid and the way decisions are made in authoritarian regimes makes them look stupid many times.

    If you think there is a 25% chance that the rebels did this, you need to give reasonable answers to the following questions:
    1) How did the rebels get several sarin filled missiles with Russian markings?
    2) How did they get to regime areas to fire them?
    3) Why would they use these weapons against themselves and not against high valued targets, like Assad’s palace for example?
    4) Why didn’t the use the same trick a second time and put the last nail in Assad’s coffin? Why wasn’t there another attack? If the rebels have the ability to organize such a complex false flag operation, why didn’t they organize a second one?

    25% is a high percentage and the evidence does not warrant such probability.

    Posted by AIG | September 17, 2013, 3:41 pm
  24. Can I get a 10%? 8%?

    If you think there is a 100% chance the regime did it, you need to give a reasonable answer to the question of why they launched the attack when they did other than: “Criminals are stupid.”

    The question of how they got the missiles and how they got to regime areas to fire them is not so compelling to me. Grant I know little about the availability of such weapons and the difficulty of launching them. Are these weapons that would only be available to the Syrian army? Haven’t the rebels used chemical weapons in the past as well? Shouldn’t this be a cause for doubt, at the very least, before proceeding to a 100% conclusion?

    The other questions are legitimate. I don’t have good answers to them.

    As I said: 75%-80%. With the latest report out of the UN, maybe the percentage is closer to 90%. That’s pretty high in my book. But the UN has not pointed its own finger yet directly at the regime, when it has not been afraid of doing so in other conflict situations.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | September 17, 2013, 3:59 pm
  25. Also: the criminal/policemen analogy is not quite right.

    The policemen are not milling around randomly in some town when the crime randomly occurs. They are a special investigative unit sent to a specific location to investigate allegations that a suspect committed a murder with a specific weapon, at some point in the past. Then, when they show up, the suspect suddenly commits a massacre with that weapon, in the plain light of day.

    There’s stupid, and there’s insane. How do you account for this recklessness by the regime?

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | September 17, 2013, 4:05 pm
  26. QN,

    Why did they kill Hariri? Because they think they can get away with it! Why the attack now? because they knew people would say; there’s no way they’ll do this when the UN inspectors were there! they have been getting away with small attacks for months now…

    CIA/Foreign intelligence have ample evidence(apparently enough to convince the warmonger Obama); that the dots are connected!

    In a top down leadership; there’s no way Bashar did not know!

    …or shall we show some Israeli drones flying over the site ala Nassrallah?

    Posted by danny | September 17, 2013, 4:09 pm
  27. Danny

    It may be that they thought they could get away with it. Or maybe they didn’t care one way or the other. Maybe Assad knew that the international community would be hamstrung by its divisions and proceeded anyway. Hard to know for certain.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | September 17, 2013, 4:20 pm
  28. QN,

    I am also not 100% sure, but 10% unsure is “beyond reasonable doubt”. The standard of criminal law for conviction is not certainty.

    On the question of how the rebels got the weapons, I find it very compelling. The rebels never used sarin nor have they been shown to have delivery systems for chemical weapons. Who else could these weapons belong to? Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon have no chemical weapons. So they could have only come from Israel. Otherwise, someone got these weapons through Lebanon, Turkey or Jordan without being caught and that includes the trucks used to fire these missiles from. All these scenarios have close to zero probability.

    The regime did not think it was reckless because they thought they would not need to let the UN team investigate that particular attack. Till now, the Russians say in public that they are confident that the rebels are responsible. The regime was counting on Russian support and their only mistake was that they did not see the Russians forcing them to allow the UN team to investigate the particular crime. Bear in mind that the regime is also playing the Russians. They know that Putin cannot drop them or concede their atrocities because he would look like an idiot. He is basically stuck supporting them almost no no matter what.

    Posted by AIG | September 17, 2013, 4:24 pm
  29. How have the rebels delivered chemical weapons in the past? And how hard is sarin to procure or produce? As there are documented instances of CW use by the rebels, mightn’t it be easier for them to access them than you are proposing? Also, the Turkish border is very porous… we have all kinds of groups and weapons getting across. Plus, how do we know that the missiles and launching systems weren’t seized from the various bases that the rebels have captured over the past several months?

    I don’t want to sit here pushing the regime’s narrative, but I think it’s worth keeping in mind that some of the rebel groups have shown themselves to be just as bloodthirsty and ruthless as the army.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | September 17, 2013, 5:23 pm
  30. In the past the rebels used chlorine and other chemicals that can be made from household cleaning materials and pesticides, nothing like the high grade sarin the UN documented. Furthermore, the quantities they used were very small, nothing like the amounts the UN documented. The missiles used were specifically made for a chemical payload (documented in Appendix 5 of the UN report). Unlikely that the rebels captured any of those. Also, trucks are large targets that were driven to regime areas and somehow survived, not even one was detected. If the regime would have destroyed or captured such a truck, would they not have paraded it by now?

    I totally agree that some rebel groups “have shown themselves to be just as bloodthirsty and ruthless as the army”. But that just diminishes your argument because they would have more likely used the weapons against high value targets if they had them no matter what the cost to the civilian population of Damascus. I am not doubting the intentions of some rebel groups, just their ability to get hold of so much weapons and deploy them from within regime controlled area. This point is also related to the issue of why they only fabricated one attack. If what you describe happened, there would have been more than one attack by now.

    Posted by AIG | September 17, 2013, 5:40 pm
  31. I’m about 60%% sure the Assad regime is responsible for using CW. And thats more than enough proof for neocons*.

    *Neocons hate stringent regulation

    Posted by Akbar Palace | September 17, 2013, 7:09 pm
  32. Why reading these comments am I reminded of Abu Samir and Abu Michel …

    B’ette Aussie Leb.

    Posted by Bernadette Salame | September 18, 2013, 12:44 am
  33. Good points. I’m not unconvinced.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | September 18, 2013, 9:47 am
  34. QN,

    Consider this also:

    And read also Chiver’s personal blog referenced in the linked article above:

    He is basically saying what I have been saying.

    Posted by AIG | September 18, 2013, 10:17 am
  35. Sounds like the picture is becoming clearer by the day.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | September 18, 2013, 10:25 am


  1. Pingback: What Can Iran Deliver on Syria? | Qifa Nabki - September 18, 2013

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