ROBERT KAPLAN ON THE CRISIS IN SYRIA: A COMMENT
"Chaos in Syria benefits nobody. The Turks do not want a long-running refugee problem on their border. The Lebanese are afraid of their own state becoming a battlefront in an intensifying Syrian civil war. The Jordanian regime, already unpopular at home, is also afraid of regional upheaval. The Saudis, even more so than the Jordanians, are terrified of the specter of a major Arab state crumbling -- something they know is not out of the question for their dynasty of octogenarians now in its own tired, Brezhnevite phase. Simply because Riyadh wants to topple the pro-Iranian al Assad does not mean it would be pleased with an extended situation in which nobody is in charge in Damascus. The Israeli viewpoint is similar. The Shiite government in Iraq fears Sunni terrorists being given free rein in the Syrian border area. As for the Iranians, they will do all they can to keep the current Syrian regime in place even as they may privately abhor al Assad's inefficient brutality. (The Iranians effectively crushed the Green movement in 2009 by killing hundreds, not thousands.) The Russians require stability in Damascus only partly for the sake of naval rights in the port of Tartus. Syria and Iran are the two remaining levers the Kremlin has in the Middle East. Moreover, the collapse of a pro-Moscow dictatorship in the Middle East carries the potential to send shivers throughout Central Asian authoritarian states. As for the Americans, they don't want a Yugoslavia-style situation where they are under pressure to militarily intervene.... The Iranians, like the Americans, are already looking beyond al Assad. They are identifying generals and leading businessmen who could rule in his place and maintain the overall regime structure. There may come a point where American and Iranian interests in Syria overlap at least to the extent of agreeing on al Assad's replacement. Though, to repeat, the situation in Syria will probably have to further deteriorate before reaching that stage. Iran has to be made to feel that al Assad is no longer an option. We are not there yet. The fact that Syrian air defenses were able to shoot down a Turkish plane without incurring a military response means al Assad is still formidable. The real horse-trading, if and when it comes, may involve Turkey and Iran. Turkey wants to replace the entire regime structure; Iran wants the opposite. That's why both Ankara and Tehran will need to compromise, identifying high-ranking Syrians, probably military, who will protect each country's interests and upon whom a new regime can be based. If Turkey and Iran can reach some sort of agreement, it can then be blessed by both the United States and Russia. The Obama administration can play a role in this process, but to do so effectively will require more diplomatic realpolitik than it has demonstrated thus far in any crisis. This is all a long shot, but there may be no other way out that averts a worsening civil war.... This may sound like appeasement, but keep in mind that al Assad's Syria, so dependent as it is on Iran, already represents an Iranian satellite. Therefore, any deal between Ankara and Tehran on a new transitional regime holds out the distinct likelihood of a less pro-Iran regime in the future, especially as elections in Syria would eventually be held under any arrangement. For Iran to try to undermine a post-al Assad Syria -- with no land border between the two countries -- to the same extent that it has undermined Iraq will, in addition to being opposed by Turkey, constitute a case of imperial overstretch with self-defeating consequences. Syria's situation is dire. From both a moral and geopolitical point of view, fighting a proxy war with Iran and Russia there is less desirable for the United States than reaching out to them". Robert Kaplan & Kamran Bokhari, "Halting Syrian Chaos." Stratfor: Global Intelligence. 4 July 2012, in www.stratfor.com. How plausible is the scenario that Robert Kaplan draws out for us? On the surface it seems quite plausible, insofar as it assumes that none of the powers concerned wish or want Syria to collapse into chaos and civil war. Unfortunately, the wishes of the outside powers is subordinate to the wishes, or if you like internal, Syrian variables of Syrian-based actors. Primarily of course the regime of Assad Fils. Sans, the ability of the regime to hold-on, all of the bargaining and posturing by Teheran and Moskva would mean absolutely nothing. If the will to resist and try to remain in power, deserts the pillars of the regime, then, and only then will said regime can be said to be ready to collapse. So far, notwithstanding what one sees occasionally on Syria Comment and other places, do I see any strong evidence that the Assad Regime is ready to crumble 1. Conversely, as long as Assad Fils and company are willing to fight it out, then and only then will Moskva and Teheran have any bargaining counters. Au fond, the crisis in Syria, was and is, 'home-made'. It was and is not cooked-up in either Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey or elsewhere. The amusing fantasies of Grazhdanin Putin notwithstanding. Given those circumstances, there is not in fact, much for the outside powers to bargain about or over. No power at present has anything approaching a determining voice in the ongoing conflict. Any more than say any of the outside powers had a determining voice in the Lebanese Civil War of the seventies and eighties. Per contra Kaplan, the war and the chaos derived from it, will continue as long as the internal, Syrian parties to the conflict continue to fight each other. In the absence of general exhaustion, this conflict will only be ended by one party defeating another. Pur et simple. And there is nothing that any of the outside powers can do to change that very simple empirical fact. 1. "Regime's Top Sunni Defects: General Manaf Mustafa Tlass Flees to Turkey." Syria Comment. 5 July 2012, in www.syriacomment.com.