Tuesday, July 31, 2012


"To judge by discussions I had with figures close to the Afghan Taliban in Dubai last week, on certain key issues the Taliban leadership and the US administration are far closer than most analysts believe. The chief obstacle to a peace settlement is likely to come not from Taliban links to al-Qaeda but rather from the question of how to divide up power within Afghanistan. My colleagues and I spoke with four people: two former members of the Taliban government (one of them a founder member of the movement), a senior former Mujahedin commander with close ties to the Taliban, and a non-official Afghan mediator with the Taliban. All emphasised the realism of the Taliban leadership, born of their experiences of the past decade, and their willingness to break with al-Qaeda and exclude it and other international terrorist groups from areas under their control.... However, all our interviewees emphasised that the Taliban would only agree to this as part of an overall peace settlement and that they “will never accept anything that looks like surrender”. They also all said the Taliban would be willing to commit to continuing existing health and education programmes, including for women, as long as separation of men and women was guaranteed. This new pragmatism includes acceptance of the present Afghan constitution. All our interlocutors said the Taliban had no serious problem with the constitution as such – but would never agree to it as a precondition of talks, as hitherto demanded by Washington. They expect the constitution to be debated and approved as part of a national debate including themselves. All this is very encouraging. However, it reflects something else, which is essential for a settlement, but much more problematic. The Taliban like the present, highly centralised constitution because they want a strong central government in which they will play a leading part. They do not expect this to be an exclusive part. Three interviewees said the Taliban knew they could not govern without other forces’ participation, and that government must include educated technocrats. They want a strong national army – even one trained by the US – to hold Afghanistan together, prevent a return to warlord rule and deter interference by neighbours. But with whom would the Taliban be willing to share power? Our interviewees said that the Taliban recognised the need to guarantee a share of power to other groups from the existing regime, but were vague on which those groups might be. All said that particular “very corrupt and brutal people” would be utterly unacceptable, but that others, less compromised, could take part. Above all, they stressed the Taliban will never accept Hamid Karzai as a legitimate interlocutor, or participate in a grand national assembly or national elections while he is president. They fear – with good reason, given his record – that he would rig these processes. So this apparent new pragmatism leaves two huge questions open. The first is whether the Taliban could possibly agree to the US using bases in Afghanistan to continue drone attacks and raids against al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Such an agreement would outrage many Pashtuns and give Pakistan a strong motive to wreck any peace settlement through its allies in the Haqqani network; while our interviewees stressed the Taliban’s obedience to Mullah Omar and his comrades, they were studiously evasive about the Haqqanis. The second question is whether, or how, Washington could agree to force its existing Afghan allies to accept a deal with the Taliban that would exclude many of them from power. Would a promise of luxurious retirement to the US or the Gulf be enough to persuade them?... So there seems real room for agreement on a caretaker government of neutral figures to supervise constitutional discussions leading to elections. But with the next elections due in 2014, there is not much time to lose. As soon as the US presidential elections are over, Washington should do its best to open substantial talks with the Taliban and find out whether what we heard in Dubai really does represent their position and can be the basis for peace".
Anatol Lieven, "Lessons from my talks with the Taliban". The Financial Times. 25 July 2012, in www.ft.com.
"Therefore the Vietnamese style of communication was indirect and, by American standards, devious or baffling. Because the United States had become great by assimilating men and women of different cultures and beliefs, we had developed an ethic of tolerance; having little experience with unbridgeable schisms, our mode of settling conflicts was to seek a solution somewhere between the contending positions. But to the Vietnamese this meant that we were not serious about what we put forward and that we treated them as frivolous. They had not fought forty years to achieve a compromise. The Vietnamese method of communications was opaque, designed to keep open as many options as possible and to undermine our domestic position....But the fundamental problem went deeper still. The North Vietnamese considered themselves in a life-and-death struggle: they did not treat negotiations as an enterprise separate from the struggle; they were a form of it. To them the Paris talks were not a device for a settlement but an instrument of political warfare. They were a weapon to exhaust us psychologically, to split us from our South Vietnamese ally, to do divide our public opinion through vague hints of solutions just out of reach."
Henry A. Kissinger. The White House Years. (1979), pp. 259-260.
On the face of it, the talks that Anatol Lieven had with the Taliban recently, which he writes about in last weeks Financial Times, should be regarded as 'good news'. In fact the matter is infinitely more complicated. As the example of the negotiations to end the American involvement in the Vietnam War shows us, by definition the Taliban protestations that they are willing to live under the Western-style constitution that Afghanistan now has and that per se, they are not opposed to the American presence in the country should all be taken with cum grano salis. At the very least, all such professions should be examined closely for any ulterior motives present. For example, in the case of the Taliban and the composition of a future government, it would appear from Lieven's remarks that the Taliban reserve the right to veto any groups of individuals who they might object to based upon some rather vague if indeed nonsensical criterion (id est., since when did the Taliban ever care, if a given individual or group was 'corrupt' or indeed 'brutal'?). Simply viewing the matter objectively it would appear that the Taliban would like to have power, pretty much handed to them on a plate by the Americans and their allies. That those elements in the current regime in Kabul (sans President Karzai that is), who are from the former 'Northern Alliance', AKA, non-Pashtun Afghans, would be frozen out of power and isolated politically, as a preliminary to being neutralized if not destroyed entirely by the Taliban and their allies in a reconstituted regime. Once, that state of affairs has come about and any and all non-Taliban elements have been crushed afoot, previous pour parlers given to the Amerians and their allies, can be quite easily ignored or studiously withdrawn as no longer valid in what they will no doubt proclaim are 'the changed circumstances'. Au fond, the Taliban will, if the West allows them the means to do so, employ what Mussolini one referred to as 'salami tactics', or divide et impera. I see much to interest the Taliban in such a situation, as at present they are still unable to score a military victory over the Karzai government and its Western backers. I see very little to interest either the West or any of the elements in the current regime or its supporters among the majority (fifty-five percent or so of the population) non-Pashtun element in the country. One is tempted to wonder why someone of Anatol Lieven's ilk would think otherwise?

Thursday, July 26, 2012


"The South China Sea dispute between China and some of its South East Asian neighbours –Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei – has reached an impasse. Increasingly assertive positions among claimants have pushed regional tensions to new heights. Driven by potential hydrocarbon reserves and declining fish stocks, Vietnam and the Philippines in particular are taking a more confrontational posture with China. All claimants are expanding their military and law enforcement capabilities, while growing nationalism at home is empowering hardliners pushing for a tougher stance on territorial claims. In addition, claimants are pursuing divergent resolution mechanisms; Beijing insists on resolving the disputes bilaterally, while Vietnam and the Philippines are actively engaging the U.S. and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). To counter diminishing prospects of resolution of the conflicts, the countries should strengthen efforts to promote joint development of hydrocarbon and fish resources and adopt a binding code of conduct for all parties to the dispute. The extent and vagueness of China’s claims to the South China Sea, along with its assertive approach, have rattled other claimants. But China is not stoking tensions on its own. South East Asian claimants, with Vietnam and the Philippines in the forefront, are now more forcefully defending their claims – and enlisting outside allies – with considerable energy...While the likelihood of major conflict remains low, all of the trends are in the wrong direction, and prospects of resolution are diminishing. Joint management of resources in the disputed areas could help reduce tensions among claimants, but the only attempt so far by China, Vietnam and the Philippines to jointly conduct seismic survey in disputed areas failed in 2008. Since then, claimants have strongly resisted compromising their territorial sovereignty and maritime rights, which would be necessary to undertake such projects. In the absence of regional agreement on policy options or an effective mechanism to mitigate and de-escalate incidents, this strategically important maritime domain will remain unstable".
The International Crisis Group
. "Stirring up the South China Seas (II): Regional Responses." 24 July 2012, in www.crisisgroup.org.
"For many observers, rising frictions between China and Japan over a group of remote and uninhabited islands in the East China Sea are worrying enough. But if some influential Chinese nationalist commentators have their way, the spat over the Japanese-controlled Senkaku islands – which Beijing calls the Diaoyu – could widen into a dispute over a much more important archipelago. In a fiery editorial earlier this month, the Global Times newspaper urged Beijing to consider challenging Japan’s control over its southern prefecture of Okinawa – an island chain with a population of 1.4m people that bristles with US military bases. “China should not be afraid of engaging with Japan in a mutual undermining of territorial integrity,” the Communist party-run paper declared. Major General Jin Yinan, head of the strategy research institute at China’s National Defense University, went even further. He told state radio that limiting discussion to the Diaoyu was “too narrow”, saying Beijing should question ownership of the whole Ryukyu archipelago – which by some definitions extends beyond Okinawa. While the Chinese government has offered no endorsement of such radical views, their open espousal by senior commentators is likely to be deeply unsettling both to Japan and other neighbouring nations. “Challenging Japan’s sovereignty over the Ryukyus would indeed be a break from the past,” says Taylor Fravel, a Chinese security expert at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who argues that Beijing has tended to limit its territorial claims for the sake of clearly defined borders. Chinese questioning of Japanese sovereignty over Okinawa is based on the prefecture’s roots in an independent state known as the Ryukyu Kingdom that won control of the archipelago in the 15th century. Ryukyu kings paid formal tribute to Chinese emperors, a practice allowing lucrative trade that continued even after the kingdom was conquered by a Japanese feudal domain in 1609. Okinawa only officially became part of Japan in 1879. But such arguments could be diplomatically incendiary. “Once you start arguing that a tributary relationship at some point in history is the basis for a sovereignty claim in the 20th century, you start worrying a lot of people,” says June Teufel Dreyer, a China and Japan specialist at the University of Miami. “Many, many countries had tributary relationships with China.”'
Katherine Hille & Mure Dickie, "Chinese nationalists eye Okinawa." The Financial Times. 23 July 2012, in www.ft.com.
The latest statements coming from official and semi-official Chinese commentators as per the Financial Times article on Monday, give the lie, almost completely as per the bien-pensant / Panglossian reasoning of the International Crisis Group sort. It is obviously the case, that for primat der Innenpolitik, reasons, there are elements in the PRC, which view belligerence and indeed perhaps sotto voce, expansionist policies as being legitimate. It is obviously the case, that these elements are so far, not in control, or should one say, complete control of Chinese foreign policy. With that being said, it is self-evident, that the re-balancing by weaker, regional actors, such the the Vietnamese, the Philippines, South Korea and of course Japan, by actively encouraging American involvement, both diplomatic and military, is, far from being a harbinger of more conflict (pace the International Crisis Group), is au contraire, a necessary ingredient towards a healthy stabilization of the region. Sans, such American and Western involvement, there is a real danger of a PRC flucht nach vorn policy towards these issues taking hold. With evil consequences to be the end-result. Or as E. H. Carr, noted correctly in his entre deux guerre, magnum opus, The 20 Years Crisis:
"Biologically and economically the doctrine of the harmony of interests was tenable only if you left out of the account the interest of the weak, who must be driven to the wall, or called in the next world to redress the balance of the present 1."
1. E.H. Carr. The 20 Years Crisis: 1919-1939. (1939), p. 50.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012


"As jingoists in China and Japan work overtime to ratchet up the two countries’ dispute over the Senkaku islands in the East China Sea, their governments should make haste to deploy the statecraft needed to defuse tensions. The uninhabited rocks of the Senkaku are administered and controlled by Japan, whose government leases the islands from a private owner. For now, the resource bounty of the archipelago is limited to fish. But sovereign possessions of the slightest current value are made more attractive by creating claims to exclusive economic zones under the law of the sea. With China’s rise have come more forceful claims from Beijing over a long string of maritime footholds in surrounding waters, rattling nerves in neighbouring countries. For the Senkaku, a status quo that had worked well is now being disturbed by rabble-rousers on all sides. Chinese fishermen are challenging Japanese control; last year the coastguard arrested the captain of a Chinese fishing vessel. In Japan, Shintaro Ishihara, Tokyo’s belligerent governor, has been raising private funds to purchase the islands for commercial development under the Tokyo regional government. The damage that this freelance flag-planting could do to relations with China prompted an unheard of public rebuke from Japan’s ambassador in Beijing. The law of the sea is a means of settling territorial disputes – but it relies on sensible behaviour by states in grey areas. In other parts of the world, countries have managed to agree joint resource development without renouncing competing sovereignty claims. Beijing and Tokyo have everything to gain from following such examples – especially as they have already pledged to work together on gas exploitation elsewhere in the East China Sea. That could best have been done by leaving the existing Senkaku arrangement in place. Yoshihiko Noda, Japan’s prime minister, has announced a plan for the central government to buy the islands. This change in approach is bound to anger Beijing – though it seems as much designed to foil Mr Ishihara’s more provocative intentions. If Mr Noda’s scheme secures that the islands remain undeveloped, this may be the most promising means of steering sovereignty issues back into dormancy. But Mr Noda must quickly muster some deft diplomacy so that Beijing can be persuaded to let the issue pass. For this to succeed, all governments with a stake in the island group should recall that the cost of open conflict dwarfs any value to be had from controlling it".
Leader, "Save the Senkaku from from Jingoism." The Financial Times. 9 July 2012, in www.ft.com.
"Beijing will establish a military garrison on a group of disputed islands in the South China Sea, China's defence ministry said on Monday, a move likely to provoke further tensions with its neighbours. The troops will operate from Sansha in the Paracel Islands, one of two archipelagos in the South China Sea that are claimed by both China and Vietnam. The garrison, approved by the Central Military Commission, "will be responsible for the Sansha area national defence mobilisation and reserve forces activities", the defence ministry said on its website. The ministry did not say when the garrison would be established, but the move to station troops on the Paracels is likely to provoke Hanoi's ire. Beijing's move last month to designate Sansha as its administrative centre for the Paracels and the Spratly Islands prompted a rare demonstration on Sunday in the Vietnamese capital against China's territorial assertions".
The Daily Telegraph, "China plans garrison to 'defend' disputed islands." The Daily Telegraph. 23 July 2012, in www.dailytelegraph.co.uk.
The announcement by the PRC is of a piece with recent Chinese foreign policy dealing with this issue: full of belligerent posturing and endeavoring to intimidate its neighbors. Per se the policy itself is probably much less than meets the eyes: it is more likelier than not to a drum banging, exercise to get domestic political attention, than something which is meant to seriously threaten its neighbors. Au fond a policy of primat der Innenpolitik, formulated no doubt to take public attention off of the Bo Xilai scandal. Albeit Peking would of course be quite content if countries like Vietnam, the Philippines or Japan were to give up opposing Peking's claims to its off-shore island shelf. The fact is though that while a potential harbinger of the future, as of to-day the PRC does not yet possess the means to seriously pursue a policy of force vis-`a-vis its neighours, much less when the latter is backed by the Americans as currently is the case. However, as a recently cogent analysis on the American online, intelligence forecasting company, Stratfor noted:
"Despite the lack of clarity on its maritime policy, China has demonstrated its intent to further consolidate its claims based on the nine-dash line. Beijing recognizes that policy changes are needed, but any change has its attendant consequences. The path of transition is fraught with danger, from disgruntled domestic elements to aggressive reactions by China's neighbors. But by intent or by default, change is happening, and how the foreign policy debate plays out will have lasting consequences for China's maritime strategy and its international position as a whole1".
By definition, the problems posed by the potential for conflict in the South China Sea and elsewhere is not a problem caused by 'jingoists' from all sides. There is only one country which threatens verbally if not worse, on a regular basis to employ force against its neighbors, and that is the PRC. To pretend `a la the bien pensants of the Financial Times and elsewhere that Peking is willing to return to a more rational and less aggressive policy is indeed the very mid-summer of madness 2.
1. Rodger Baker & Zhixing Zhang, "The Paradox of China's Naval Strategy." Stratfor: Strategic Forecasting. 17 July 2012, in www.stratfor.com.
2. For an example of a archetypical, bien pensant type of 'see no evil, hear no evil...', et cetera, from the equally bien pensant, American Council on Foreign Relations, see: Bonnie Glaser, "Armed Clash in the South China Sea: contingency memorandum number 14." Council on Foreign Relations. April 2012, in www.cfr.org. See also, along similar, Leibnizian & Panglossian lines is a report from that greatest of all bien pensant organizations: the International Crisis Group: "Stirring up the South China Sea II: Regional Responses." 24 July 2012, in www.crisisgroup.org.

Friday, July 20, 2012


"On Wednesday, an apparent suicide bomber in Damascus attacked a meeting of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s war cabinet, killing Daoud Rajha, Syria’s defense minister, and Asef Shawkat, who was the President’s brother-in-law. The attack was the most striking in a series of signs that Syria’s uprising has tipped into a full-blown civil war, as the Red Cross has now labelled it, with the war’s momentum now favoring the rebels. (The intelligence and access required for an attack to succeed against a crisis-cabinet meeting suggests that the rebels are running sources inside Assad’s security apparatus.) Other recent signals include sustained fighting around Damascus; the reported withdrawal of Syrian forces from the Golan Heights to combat the revolt; the spread of persistent violence to most of the country’s provinces, drawing in virtually every unit of the Syrian security services; and significant, accelerating defections of diplomats and military officers. Assad is finished. What seems left to discover is how much time will be required before he is either killed or flees; how many more Syrian civilians will die before the war turns to a struggle for post-Assad ascendancy; and how much longer the United Nations, undermined by Russia, will continue to embarrass itself by failing to craft a political transition or reduce the indiscriminate killing of Syrian civilians by state-security services. This sentiment itself is not new. For many months, it has been the blustery habit of Assad’s opponents, including those in the Obama Administration, to declare that the Syrian President’s time has come and gone. But those declarations have been mainly a form of political argument. Western governments have sought to persuade Assad that, realistically, any durable peace in Syria will require him to negotiate a departure from office, or perhaps an accommodation, such as the one that has taken place in Yemen, where the former dictator, Ali Abdullah Saleh, has left office but held onto considerable power. Now, Assad’s coming demise seems less of an argument than an observation. It looks probable that the President will take his place among the war’s victims, at the hands of a coup-maker within his ranks, or else at the hands of a rebel attack, in the manner of Muammar Qaddafi’s death at the climax of Libya’s rebellion. It is conceivable that Assad could slip into exile, perhaps to a dacha outside Moscow, where deposed Soviet clients and spies used to settle into retirement and give the occasional bitter interview to a Western correspondent back during the Cold War. In a structural, demographic, or resource sense, Assad and his fear-governed security state have always been the weaker party in the war. They represent a minority of the country’s population, the Alawite sect, with support drawn from other groups, such as the Christian community and business classes. (Rajha was a Christian.) The revolutionaries, drawn mainly from the Sunni Muslim population, draw upon the will of a demographic majority. More than a year after its start, the revolt also enjoys open and covert support from a number of very wealthy and resilient countries, including Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United States. Assad’s geopolitical support team—Iran, Russia, and an ambivalent Iraq—are not as well positioned".
Steven Coll. "News Desk: Deaths in Damascus." The New Yorker. 18 July 2012, in www.newyorker.com.
"Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps the end of the beginning."
Winston S. Churchill. Mansion House Speech, 10 November 1942, speech on the occasion of the Allied victory at El-Alamein.
The events this week in Damascus have shown up the indisputable fact, a fact which I in all honesty would not have predicted for quite some time to come, that the regime of Assad Fils, is perhaps on its last legs. I employ the mot, perhaps deliberately, since, while the assassinations this Wednesday of such core elements of the regimes inner sanctum, has dealt it a very hard blow, per se, what occurrred is more akin to a coup de tete, more than a coup d'etat. Meaning, that blow that the regime has taken, is more deadly to the regime's prestige and to its functioning, rather than per se akin to a military defeat. Which is not to gainsay the fact that as the Financial Times reports in to-day's edition, that portions of the borders with both Iraq and Turkey have now been seized, at least temporarily by the rebels 1. And that in addition, for a time, rebel elements seized portions of the capital itself. However, as the FT reported later on to-day, it would appear that the self-same rebel forces were withdrawing from the inner portions of the capital and that some of the border posts which were taken by the rebels are back in government hands 2. What the events of this week highlight, is that there may perhaps be a chance that the Baathist regime might, if not necessarily collapse, then fragment into a Alawite core, along the coast, and abandon the capital. Conversely, it could very well be, that the regime, could unleash completely indiscriminate warfare on the civilian population akin to what Assad pere did back in the early 1980's. Something which, so far we have not quite seen, as the regime's usage of firepower has been while grossly disproportionate, has not been on the same level as say what occured back in Hama in 1982 or what the French did circa 1925-1926 in Damascus itself. Of course, the fact that the regime's hand has been stayed is not due to any purity of motives, but simply due to the fact that the regime fears that wholesale bloodshed, will have the end result of Western military intervention. Something that the Assad regime no doubt prefers to forestall at all costs. My own, lastest, not perhaps very reliable prediction is that unless the regime were to collapse in the next few weeks or alternatively to withdraw from Damascus proper and regroup in its Alawite heartland, then the likelihood is that the regime will not, repeat not collapse and that it is more likelier than not to regain the advantage over the rebels. Assuming that is, that the West fails to overcome its unwillingness to militarily intervene in the conflict.
1. Michael Peel, Borzou Daragahi & Roula Khalaf, "Syrian rebels seize border posts as Russia nad China veto UN sanctions." The Financial Times. 20 July 2012, p.1.
2. Michel Peel & Borzou Daragahi, "Syrians flee as violence escalates." The Financial Times. 20 July 2012, in www.ft.com.

Friday, July 06, 2012


"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.