Tuesday, May 08, 2012

AN UPDATE ON SYRIA: WHY THE ASSAD REGIME WILL NOT GO QUICKLY...

"I doubt he will have a lot more success than the US has had in Iraq or Afghanistan, although, his army probably understands Syrians a lot better than US troops and commanders did Iraqis. But they will likely be provoked into over-reacting to terrorism, road-side bombs and demonstrations as they have already been. They can only lose the battle for hearts and minds. The Alawites cannot regain the battle for hearts and minds. They can only instill fear and play on Syrian anxieties about turning into a failed state, such as exists in Iraq. That is what worked in the past for the Assad regime. The regime has no new tricks up its sleeve. Syrian State TV is now trying to demonize the Saudi monarchy for being descended from Jews and backwards. That says a lot about the regime's tactics.
Joshua Landis, "Ceasefire Efforts Unlikely to Work". Syria Comment. 8 April 2012, in www.syriacomment.com
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"The Arab world of 2012, moreover, is not the same as in the 1990s, when Saddam Hussein managed to restore the state of fear to the rebellious south of Iraq. Activists in Syria expect that both the peaceful protests and the armed opposition to the regime will persist. If a ceasefire takes hold, they will use it, they say, to regroup. And they will grab every opportunity, even if it is a short visit by the handful of UN monitors now on the ground, to take to the streets and demand the downfall of the regime. In the months to come there will be hand-wringing over the international response. In the end, though, it is the evolution of the protest movement in Syria’s embattled cities and towns that is likely to have the greatest impact on Mr Assad’s attempts to cling to power"
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Roula Khalaf, "Assad's allies back President to complete term." The Financial Times. 25 April 2012, in www.ft.com.
The suppositions of the comments by the usually well-informed and wise Professor Landis of Syria Comment and the Financial Times's Beirut Correspondent, Roula Khalaf, are unfortunately both extremely questionable and at the same time, widespread in the Western press. The reasons for this are quite simple, notwithstanding the alleged changes ushered in by the 'Arab Spring' of 2011, there are only three models for ousting regimes in the Near & Middle East (word to the wise: Democratic elections so far have not proven to be one of these...): i) military coup d'etats overthrowing a weak and or unstable government, of which the most famous being those which brought to power the Free Officers in Egypt in 1952, the Baath regimes in Syria in 1963 and in Iraq in 1968 among numerous others; ii) foreign interventions leading to the overthrow of an existing government: Iraq of course in 2003, Persia in 1941 and 1953 and Libya in 2011; iii) a popular revolt leading to the removal of a soft, authoritarian regime, `a la Persia in 1979 and more recently, Egypt and Tunisia in 2011. Now by any rational definition, the Syrian case fits none of the above scenarios. It is neither 'weak' or really yet unstable and few will hazard that an internal, Army coup d'etat, will be able to eject the Alawite-Baathist, Assad Fils regime. Indeed, the regime entire raison d'etre, is such that a classical military coup d'etat, is pretty much impossible to successfully mount. As per the issue of foreign military intervention, while no one may doubt that an armed intervention using a combination of ground (Turkish) and air (Anglo-American) power could within a month or two deal a crippling blow or blows to the regime in Damascus, the most pertinent question would be 'at what cost'? Apparently, from the perspective of the most important actor in this equation, Ankara, the likely costs are too high for it to contemplate military intervention at the moment. No doubt, if there was a complete collapse of the entire Syrian state apparatus, resulting in a Somalia circa 1992 scenario, the AK regime might change it mind soo enough. But at the moment, there is nothing approaching a collapse of the Syrian state, qua state apparatus. As long as that is the case and as long as Russia and Peking, refuse to sanction United Nation's approval of outside military intervention `a la Libya last year, then I cannot fathom any likelihood of overt, outside military intervention. The final scenario is one which Khalaf hints at in her article: that under the new dispensation of the Arab Spring, the previous iron logic of the unconquerable nature of state power in the Arab World, is no longer true and via persistent if not indeed increased popular demonstrations, the Assad regime will eventually collapse and or withdraw / give-up power. To my mind this is a ex hypothesi which has very little by way of validity: simply put, the Baathist regime can only superficially (if at all) be said to resemble the fallen regimes of Ben-Ali & Mubarak. With numerous caveats and qualifiers, those two regimes can be said to have been 'soft' authoritarian regimes, regimes which while de facto undemocratic, did provide for a very limited (if toothless) political pluralism, with contested elections, a semi-free, albeit, muzzled press (with television being completely state controlled), with a limited, semi-autonomous civil society structure. With the military, also enjoying a limited degree of if not more (AKA Egypt), of autonomy. In Syria, like Iraq under Saddam Hussein, and Libya under Qaddafi, nothing of the sort existed. All three regimes, were 'one-party' states in the classical, 'totalitarian' sense, of the term. The upshot being from my perspective, that a simple collapse of the regime's due to public demonstrations akin to what took place in Egypt, Tunisia and prior to that in Persia, is completely farfetched if not indeed fantastical. Finally, I see little chance, per contra Professor Landis, that the military opposition has any chance of ousting the Assad regime 1. As we can see above, no regime in the Arab World has ever been ejected from power via a civil war & or uprising, not even as recent events have demonstrated, in Yemen. And while the opposition may perhaps score some local and limited victories, that is a far cry from being able to either militarily defeat the regime, or even continuously hold territory. With to my mind the Iraq scenario circa 2003-2008, being of little relevance, insofar as the Sunni insurgency against the American imposed regime, ultimately failed, hence the pro-Persian, pro-Assad, anti-Sunni policies of the government in Baghdad 2. As per the Afghanistan scenario, that to my mind also makes for little sense due simply to the fact, that either Afghan insurgency (that of the 1980's or that of the 2003 to present), was and is, au fond, unsuccessful, insofar as sans the cutting off of Russian economic assistance, the Najibullah regime would potentially have remained in power indefinitely. With possibly the same thing being true of Karzai government. Need one add, that given the sheer size of Afghanistan compared to Syria (almost four times larger), as well as the fact that Syria is a much more urbanized and denser country, makes any likelihood of a classical, guerrilla insurgency almost impossible to imagine succeeding. To conclude, in the absence of outside military intervention, look to see the Assad regime remain in power for sometime to come. Albeit with perhaps facing the same degree & type of violent, increasingly Islamist, terrorist and other attacks that we saw in Algeria in the 1990's. A situation which failed however to result in the downfall of said regime in Algeria, one might add...
1. For a good analysis of the Syrian Regime, see: Raymond Hinnebusch. "Syria: from 'authoritarian upgrading' to revolution?" International Affairs. (January 2012), pp. 95-113. For a good starting point for discussion of the pre-Arabl Spring Arab World, see: Fouad Ajami. "The Autumn of the Autocrats." Foreign Affairs. (May/June 2005), pp. 30-35. Of course, by employing the mot 'totalitarian', I do not mean to imply that the Baathist regimes in Syria and Iraq were / are by any means 'Totalitarian' in the same way that some scholars claim that the former Soviet Union was 'Totalitarian, et cetera. Merely that the level and degree of autonomous civil society organized outside of the state apparatus, was / is severely limited in these states, as compared to say the former regimes in Egypt and Tunisia.
2. For a well-informed discussion by a British academic, who was formerly stationed in Iraq as a 'Political Advisor', to the American Ground Commander in Baghdad about Baghdad's pro-Persian, pro-Syrian, anti-Turkish and anti-Sunni foreign policy, see: Robert Tollast."Iraq Update: A discussion with former US military Advisor Emma Sky." Global Politics. 6 May 2012, in www.global-politics.co.uk">

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