SYRIA: THE CURRENT ALTERNATIVES
"If the Geneva peace conference scheduled for January 22, 2014 features a credible proposal by the Syrian opposition for a transitional governmental alternative to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, the conference itself can contribute to the end of corruptly brutal clan rule in Syria. If the opposition presents a national unity roster featuring prominent people—including Alawites—who have served honorably and competently as senior civilian officials and military officers, it might set in motion the rapid unraveling of a regime that has wrecked Syria and brought nothing but hardship, sorrow, and pain to all Syrians, including the community from which it springs. Currently, the Assad regime is riding Iranian-raised militias to a series of tactical victories north of Damascus. Syrian military forces loyal to the regime—predominantly Alawite in composition—have suffered heavy losses over the past two years. Some of these units are spent. Tehran needs the Assad-Makhlouf clan to sustain its Lebanon-based strategic deterrent against Israel (Hezbollah). Yet within the Alawite community there is anguished questioning about the sacrifice already rendered and suffering still required to sustain the clan and its employees. The absence of a credible, attractive alternative is all that binds this community (and some other minorities) to the regime. The Syrian opposition can, at Geneva, loosen those shackles. Will it do so? There is little ground for optimism. The Syrian National Coalition has roots in Syria that are shallow at best. Dubbed the legitimate representative of the Syrian people and designated as the leader and heart of the Syrian Geneva delegation by those calling themselves the Friends of the Syrian People, the Coalition never received the support it needed to establish a governmental alternative inside Syria. Sensitive to accusations that it is useless, dysfunctional, and disrespected by the West, the Coalition is understandably reluctant to go out on a limb with a transitional government roster that might anger activists inside Syria who have borne the brunt of regime atrocities. Like political parties everywhere, the Coalition must be attentive to its base. Sadly, and for reasons not entirely of its own making, the Syrian National Coalition has no base. Recent events have highlighted the extent to which respectable Syrian nationalists in the opposition have been sidelined, and the recent suspension of non-lethal assistance to the Free Syrian Army by the United States further attests to this reality. Fighters affiliated with the recently formed Islamic Front—a coalition of armed, non-al-Qaeda Syrian Islamist groups opposed to the Assad regime—recently seized some US-supplied, non-lethal materiel from the Free Syrian Army. Personnel of the Islamic Front can now dine on meals-ready-to-eat and communicate with one another using equipment paid for by US taxpayers. General Salim Idris, the very capable officer through whom the United States wanted all weaponry and equipment for the armed Syrian opposition funneled, has seen forces he had hoped to command migrate to Islamist formations whose sponsors and supporters deliver arms, ammunition, and money, as opposed to rations, medical kits, radios, and pickup trucks. The Coalition-affiliated Supreme Military Council and the disparate units of the Free Syrian Army loosely associated with it are now essentially out of business. This state of affairs means, in essence, that the Obama administration can be tempted now to abandon altogether its awkward pretense of supporting the Supreme Military Council. That support, such as it was, never amounted to anything important despite the good intentions of Secretary of State John Kerry and the hard work of some dedicated US operatives. Even if the administration were to decide now that the persistence of the Assad regime and the rise of Islamism in the armed opposition are developments that threaten regional stability and therefore US interests, it would be an operational challenge of the first order to resuscitate an entity gradually starved to death while on periodic, ineffective life support. The effort may well be worth making, if for no other reason than political Islamism of the variety transcending the Muslim Brotherhood has scant popular support in Syria. Yet things that should have been done in 2012 are now so much harder in 2013, much to the detriment of vulnerable populations in Syria."Frederic C. Hof, "Syria: Geneva and the Alternative to the Assad Regime." The Atlantic Council. 11 December 2013, in http://www.atlanticcouncil.org
"Zahran calls for cleansing Damascus of all Shiites and Nusayris. (“Nusayris” is the old term that referred to the Alawites prior to the adoption of “Alawite.” It is considered a term of abuse by Alawites. “Nusayri” refers to the founder of the religion, Ibn Nusayr, and is used by rebels to underscore the assertion that the Alawite religion is man-made and not sent from heaven. For the same reason, Muslims object to the old Christian appellation, Muhammadans, because it suggests that Islam was founded by Muhammad and not God. Christians, of course, believe there is no problem being named after their founder, Christ – but, of course, Christ is considered to be God. Not so Muhammad or Ibn Nusayr by their followers.) Alloush calls for ridding Damascus and Greater Syria of the evil works and impure deeds of the Nusayris, using Qur’anic language throughout to underline their deviant ways. Such language makes Assad’s effort to demonize the revolutionaries and rebels easy. On hearing this sort of talk from the leaders of the revolution, Alawites and other non-Sunni sects worry that their struggle is a fight for their very existence. Unfortunately, the regime treats the opposition with the same sort of extreme language, calling them terrorists, takfiris, and al-Qaida who are not true Syrians. Bigotry and religious intolerance has become a hallmark of the Syrian struggle as both sides try to annul the humanity of the other and completely dismiss each other’s concerns as conspiracies derived from evil. Iranian Ayatollahs have recently issued fatwas of their own, legitimizing religious war in Syria. See: Prominent Shiite Cleric Backs Fighting in Syria about Iran-based Grand Ayatollah Kazim al-Haeri, one of the mentors of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr."Joshua Landis, "Zahran Alloush: His Ideology and Beliefs." Syria Comment. 15 December 2013, in www.syriacomment.com. The analysis of Frederic Hof, is rather standard of the bien-pensant, neo-liberal, Anglo-American intelligentsia as per the Syria conundrum. The fact of the matter is that at this stage, there are per se for the Western Powers, no 'good' alternatives. Merely shades of 'bad' or 'worse' alternatives. Given what has gone on in Syria in the past three plus years, the early hopes of circa the late Spring of 2011, that an 'Arab Spring' uprising would sweep the regime from power and see a secular, semi-democratic and pluralist leaning, majority coalition in power is completely and absolutely gone. In retrospect of course it could be argued that the Western powers should have intervened and swept the Assad regime from power in say July 2011. But of course given the exhaustion of the Anglo-Americans in particular with the various conflicts in the Near and Middle East, such a scenario was and is possible to realistically contemplate occurring. The opposition to such a policy of force and 'regime-change' would have sank the politician who proposed it. Especially, since in order to occur, such intervention would have to have had a ground force aspect to it. Mere air power would not, repeat not have resulted in overthrowing the Assad Regime. Hence, the non-intervention policy of the West and in particular the Americans. And of course any such policy is still unpopular, and thus the still current non-intervention policy of the American President in particular. Given the impotence of the Western powers, the only thing to hope for at this point, notwithstanding its sordid aspects is for a victor, a quick, total victory by the regime. Certainly on the fact of it, the Assad regime is, brutal though it may be, a better alternative than the various Islamic Groupings who now form the core of the opposition. And as Joshua Landis analysis shows, such people are not very pretty to behold. To put it very mildly indeed. Ultimately, the regime of Assad Fils, is the only faite de mieux available in Syria at the moment.