“With respect to Syria,” President Barack Obama said yesterday at his joint press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, “the United States continues to work with allies and friends and the Syrian opposition to hasten the end of Assad’s rule, to stop the violence against the Syrian people, and begin the transition towards a new government that respects the rights of all its people. Assad has lost his legitimacy to lead by attacking the Syrian people with almost every conventional weapon in his arsenal, including Scud missiles…”
|Mauritania's Muhammad bin Mukhtar al-Shinqiti|
But with the start this week of Syria’s third year of rebellion, the question remains: Why is ending Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s rule taking so long?
The overriding reasons are six, according to an outstanding scholar, analyst and author from Mauritania, Muhammad bin Mukhtar al-Shinqiti, writing for the “Viewpoint” section of Aljazeera.net.
Shinqiti has a bachelor's degree in Sharia law, a master’s in business administration from Columbia Southern University in Orange Beach, Alabama, and a PhD in the history of religions from the University of Texas at Austin.
In his think piece for Aljazeera, Shinqiti explains the six impediments to ending Assad’s rule at a gallop:
Unlike in Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen, the makeup of the army in Syria is sectarian. Ninety percent of its commanding officers and key battalions are Alawite. Breaking its cohesion is time-consuming and costly.
Giving added strength to Assad’s regime is the mobilization for its defense of the region’s Shiite infrastructure – all the way from Lebanon to Iran. The enlistment takes in most Arab Shiite elites in the region.
The second impediment is Russia’s support of Assad’s savagery, a stand that can be explained culturally and strategically.
Culturally, French political thinker and historian Alexis de Tocqueville envisaged in the 19th century two great nations – America and Russia – advancing toward world supremacy in the 20th century.
“All other peoples seem to have nearly reached their natural limits and to need nothing but to preserve them; but these two are growing,” he wrote, adding:
“The American fights against natural obstacles; the Russian is at grips with men. The former combats the wilderness and barbarism; the latter, civilization with all its arms. America’s conquests are made with the plowshare, Russia’s with the sword. To attain their aims, the former relies on personal interest and gives free scope to the unguided strength and common sense of individuals. The latter in a sense concentrates the whole power of society in one man. One has freedom as the principal means of action; the other has servitude.”
You can blame Moscow’s stance vis-à-vis the Syrian revolution on the culture of “servitude” that is still prevailing in Russia. The largest country in Europe continues to be ruled by a KGB officer, Vladimir Putin, whose administration frowns at the Syrian revolution’s victory prospects for fear of its template resurfacing elsewhere.
Strategically, the Putin administration’s politics on Mediterranean shores are a Cold War throwback.
The culture of “servitude” is equally dominant in China, a single-party state.
Halfhearted backing from Arab governments is the third factor taxing the Syrian people’s rebellion. Libya and Qatar have been the only two Arab states to stand solidly behind the Syrian revolution. Most of the others sufficed with lukewarm diplomatic support. Some stand by Assad either openly or covertly. Algerian army generals oppose any serious step against the regime lest the Arab Spring reaches their country’s borders. Iraq backs Assad to the hilt for shocking sectarian reasons. Lebanon is two sectarian halves.
There is no better indicator of the Arab state’s halfhearted backing of the Syrian people than their choice of two Arab envoys to Syria – namely, Sudan’s Gen. Mohammed al-Dabi and Algeria’s Lakhdar Brahimi. Both Sudan and Algeria are ruled by the military that simply abhor the Arab Spring.
Compare such official Arab apathy with Iran’s unwavering support of Assad financially, politically and militarily at a time when Iran’s defeat in Syria is now a key Arab strategic priority.
The fourth hurdle is Turkey’s hesitancy in arming the Syrian rebels. Turkey made available to the Syrian people two lung transplants, one for humanitarian aid and the other for political breathing. Without them, the Syrian people’s suffering would have been intolerable and the chances of their revolution’s success little.
As a strategic bridge between East and West, Turkey is a regional heavyweight, except that it seems unwilling to take strategic risks and remains committed to the West’s ban on arming Syrian rebels.
Short of this changing, Syria will remain an open wound on Turkish borders and Turkey will likely loose its sympathetic Arab street as well as prospective strategic interests in Arab Spring countries.
The fifth hurdle standing in the way of a dash to victory in Syria is the duplicity of America and Europe’s political elites. They are deliberately starving the Syrian revolution of weapons in order to pooh-pooh and lay siege to the Arab Spring.
Despite the deep chasm between the American and Russian positions on the revolt, for instance, both sides agree on wrecking Syria. America wants Syria destroyed to see Assad out while Russia wants Syria destroyed to keep Assad in.
The West’s embargo on arming the Syrian people is nothing more than a license to the regime to keep killing. It is a replay of the West imposing the embargo on arming Bosnian Muslims once it ascertained the Serbs had secured arms supply lines from Russia.
The sixth cause of the stalemate after two years is the Israeli position and the weight the position carries in American and European decision-making circles.
A (May 2011 Tel Aviv-datelined) report in the Christian Science Monitor said Assad’s downfall would remove a key player in the Iran-led alliance threatening the Jewish state, but Assad’s Syria has been a stable neighbor and maintained a regional balance that Israeli officials and analysts fear could crumble.
The report quoted Giora Eilan, a former national security adviser under former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, as saying Sharon once slammed an Israeli who suggested that regime change in Syria. “Sharon said, ‘Are you crazy?’” he recalls. “The best for the time being, is having a Bashar Assad who is fighting for his legitimacy.’”