JOSHUA LANDIS ON THE SYRIAN TRAGEDY
The recent Russian military buildup in Syria appears designed to protect Mr. Assad and to provide him and Moscow with leverage against the U.S. and its allies in any diplomatic talks on Syria’s future. Maddening though this may be, it reflects the reality of how diplomacy is conducted: not merely through talks and conferences but also by creating facts on the ground that set the stage for deliberations. While Russia’s presence constrains U.S. options in Syria, it does not vitiate them or render us impotent. Rather than being cowed by Vladimir Putin’s gambit, the U.S. and its allies should continue to insist that any diplomatic solution to the Syrian conflict require Mr. Assad to step down and a representative government to succeed him. And we should reinforce this position with action. A good place to start would be the creation of “safe zones” in Syria that could offer a haven to refugees and places to work with the Syrian opposition. Maintaining such zones would require a significant Western contribution, including air support and perhaps limited personnel on the ground. But as the refugee crisis and ISIS-inspired terror attacks demonstrate, inaction has not spared the U.S. from the costs of Syria’s conflict. U.S. agreement and contribution to creating such zones in Syria should be tied to our regional allies agreeing to provide financial and military support–including in the form of ground forces able to help police the areas. Just as important, our allies must agree to refrain from supporting extremists and, instead, act jointly with the U.S. to channel support and aid to responsible elements of the Syrian opposition. Together, we should redouble efforts to stanch the flow of men, money, and materiel to Mr. Assad and ISIS, which prosper in perverse symbiosis with one another. Regrettably, the refugee crisis is likely the first of many reverberations of the breakdown of Syria and Iraq that we will have to cope with in the years to come. With earlier action, we probably could have prevented it. But it is not too late to reduce the magnitude of the crisis or to stem further fallout from these conflicts by acting more decisively to resolve them.Elliott Abrams & Michael Singh, "The Key to Resolving Syria’s Refugee Crisis? Ending Its War." The Wall Street Journal. 23 September 2015, in www.wsj.com.
"So, why does the West keep supporting those rebels? For the West it’s not a fight about removing Assad rather than fighting Islamic State. JL: This is true, but many top US generals, like the Syrian opposition, continue to insist that Assad is the magnet drawing ISIS into Syria and thus must be destroyed first. This argument makes little sense. After all, when did Al-Qaeda pour into Iraq? Only after Saddam was deposed and the Americans ruled the country. I don’t think any of the US generals who now claim that Assad must be destroyed in order to defeat ISIS would also argue that America had to be destroyed in Iraq in order to rid it of al-Qaida. If fact the US is building up the Iranian supported Shiite regime in Iraq to destroy ISIS, whereas it is seeking to destroy the Iranian backed “Shiite” regime in Damascus in the name of destroying ISIS. The American policy in Iraq is to kill al-Qaida not to accommodate it. I think everyone can agree that Al-Qaeda spread in Iraq because the state was destroyed and insecurity prevailed. The same is true in Syria. When Assad pulled his army out of the East, al-Qaida and other forms of Islamic extremism spread. ISIS spreads where states fail. The U.S. does not use the same logic in Syria that it uses in Iraq. This is simply part of the political landscape in America. You need to understand that the U.S. has two different metrics – one for Iraq and one for Syria"....
"The US will not like what Russian is doing, but it will stand by without opposing Russia too much. We will see if the Syrian army has enough oomph, enough strength to do the things that it claims to be able to do, such as take Aleppo and Idlib. Right now, Russia is confident, the Syrian authorities are confident; they believe that they can win. But I think people in the U.S., the top brass, are thinking that Russia will fail. Obama explained that he believes Russia will be sucked into the Syrian swamp. Evidently Saudi and others are pumping in more TOWs and advanced weapons to ensure Russia does get sucked into a swamp. They will ensure that Assad doesn’t win; it should be easy. U.S. policy makers are betting that in a year’s time, or even less, Russia and Assad will come back to them on bended knee. We’ll see what happens. Of course, in that time, Syria is going to be further brutalized, and a lot more people will be killed".
"The West falsely believes that it can separate the regime from the state. It argues that it can pursue regime-change while simultaneously preserving the state and its institutions. Washington believes it can avoid the chaos it sewed in Iraq. I don’t believe it can. It wasn’t only Bremer that criminalized the Baath Party and disbanded the army. The Shiite politicians he empowered insisted on it. In most Middle Eastern countries, the regimes, for better or worse, have transformed the states into reflections of themselves. They have cannibalized the state. They have crammed their loyalists into every nook and cranny of the national institutions. They had to in order to coup-proof their regimes. They justified it in the name of bringing stability. State institutions are not autonomous. Westerners believe that because their own state institutions are run by professional civil servants, Middle Eastern states are too. But they aren’t. Political appointees make up the entire edifice. They cannot simply be swapped out. Regime-change for an Arab country is not like administration change in a Western country. Destroying the regime means destroying the state. The price of regime-change is chaos. That is the situation in Syria today. It is the situation almost everywhere in the Middle East. Think of Saudi Arabia without the Saudi family. What would be left of the state? Were the Russians to place a Sunni on top of the regime, as the US and opposition insist it do, the Sunni leader would have to smash the state and fire tens of thousands of state employees just as was done in Iraq. He would have to assume that they were disloyal and would seek to overthrow him. He would also in all likelihood insist on putting his cousins and those loyal to him in power. This is what happened in Libya, Yemen, and Iraq. This is the Middle Eastern dilemma. This is one reason U.S. led regime-change has failed so miserably. The United States claims the Middle East needs democracy. But democracy has failed, at least democracy promoted by regime-change. Perhaps, this is why so many people in the world today look at Russia and think: “maybe they’re right? Maybe, the Middle East does need strongmen.”'Joshua Landis, "Regime Change without State Collapse is Impossible in Syria. Landis interviewed by RT's Sophie & Co." Syria Comment. 9 November 2015, in www.joshualandis.com. My acquaintance Professor Joshua Landis interview on Russian Television earlier this week, a small portion of which can be read above, is required viewing / reading for anyone who wishes to obtain an intelligent reading and discussion of what is occurring in the Syrian quagmire. Per contra to the wild and inaccurate statement by the Neo-Conservative ideologue, the egregious Elliott Abrams, the ouster of Assad Fils, would have a very detrimental effect on the remaining shards of stability in Syria. As Professor Landis clearly delineates in the case of Syria and as the example of Iraq in 2003-2004 clearly support, the ouster of Assad and his clique would have the end result of collapsing the remainder of the state apparatus in the country. With the very likely result in turn of an Afghanistan scenario circa 1992-1995 in Syria. With most of the remaining urban areas which are still standing (in particular Damascus) being destroyed as rival militias fight it out between each other. With millions more (perhaps Ten?) refugees crossing the borders of the country. And least anyone forget, the nadir of that cycle of violence in Afghanistan circa 1995, saw the beginnings of the triumph of the Taliban. And we all know I do hope what came of that pernicious event, no?