Friday 10 February 2012

Syria’s pathway to global internationalization

Illustration by the late M. Kahil from my press archives

While monitoring the regional media for challenges now facing the Arab Spring, I fell on a think piece worthy of note written by Fawaz Traboulsi, Associate Professor of History and Politics at the Lebanese American University in Beirut, for Egypt’s

Traboulsi is a prolific author who has written extensively on Arab history, politics, social movements and popular culture. His piece in Arabic for Shorouk traces Syria’s footprints on the path to what he calls the “global internationalization” of its “internal crisis.”

Follow the footprints with the author:

Dr. Fawaz Traboulsi
Daily warnings by the Syrian regime against any meddling in its internal affairs have come full circle. The regime has dragged everyone on earth into the pinnacle of involvement in its internal affairs, i.e. global internationalization.

Not once did the Syrian regime search for an internal solution because it never recognized it faced an internal crisis.

It initially “regionalized” the conflict by inviting Ankara and intimating that neighborly and neo-Ottoman Turkey, under the leadership of its Justice and Development Party, is worthy of acting as go-between in the Syrian crisis.

Damascus promised Ankara roles, conciliations and concessions. It proposed giving [ministerial] seats to the Muslim Brotherhood even before offering any to the civilian opposition.

And not to lose the thread, I won’t go here into the “strategic regionalization” involving Iran.

Damascus then “Arabized” the crisis by turning to gas-rich Doha, which quickly co-opted the Arab League in Syria’s “internal affairs.”

Damascus preempted the comprehensive Arab initiative by welcoming the Arab monitors. The League initiative called, among other things, for the withdrawal of army forces from urban area, a ceasefire and dialogue with the opposition. Damascus exploited its avowed acceptance of the Arab initiative and the observer mission to launch the first, then a second, blitz against Homs in the name of “decisiveness.”

Collapse of military “decisiveness” in Homs, Deraa and elsewhere procreated a new front in Zabadani, rural Damascus, and in cities, townships, villages and other beleaguered spots.

Damascus then “Russianized” the crisis prematurely. Moscow obliged by proposing to host a dialogue between the government and the opposition. Damascus quickly aborted the proposal while the opposition was still pondering its conditions for accepting the Russian proposal. And when the Russian leadership was mulling Syrian government lineups and leaking names of likely premiers and cabinet ministers, Damascus was still proclaiming its opposition to any meddling in its internal affairs.

Concurrently, the regime did not stop for a moment its overt and covert negotiations with the U.S. administration.

What’s new then, now that “internationalization” has turned global with transfer of the Syria file to the United Nations?

Ceaseless shelling of Homs, Zabadani, Deraa and other targeted and beset townships and neighborhoods drove the daily death toll to three-digit figures during the UN Security Council debate of the Syria crisis that culminated in Russia and China’s double-veto.

Ban Ki-Moon was meanwhile raising his rhetoric to protest “the use of excessive force,” which in international parlance means the number of people killed exceeds 20 or 30 a day. His reaction was the first sign of globalization.

The revolution remains predominantly restricted to peaceful mass protests in more than 500 spots across the bloodied country. The regime’s military operations, meanwhile, continue to be primarily targeted at civilians.

Sergei Lavrov’s visit to Damascus was another herald of global internationalization. He heard -- then relayed -- a pledge to end the violence that had left 90 people dead on the eve of his arrival in the Syrian capital. He also parroted what we heard from President Assad in his last public address – namely, that a presidential decree calling for an early referendum on a new constitution was on the way.

Perhaps Lebanese who greeted the Russian-Chinese double-veto with celebratory gunfire and regime supporters who cheered Lavrov and his spymaster colleague in Damascus were unaware Russia is now in the grip of spooks, mafias and fanatic nationalists and is no more the superpower of the Cold War era.

It’s not an overstatement to say “global internationalization” plunged Syria -- and not only its regime -- in a bazaar of deals and compromises revolving around NATO’s missile shield, rivalry between gas and oil producers, the prospects of future relations between Iran and Turkey, Iran’s nuclear agenda and, last but not least, Russia’s search for a new role in the region and the world in anticipation of the decline of American supremacy as sole superpower.

Obviously Russia snatched Qatar’s role as the intermediary in the Syria conflict even though Moscow linked its Syria initiative to the Arab League’s.

But by espousing the Syrian regime’s account of the crisis, by equating regime violence with the violence of armed groups and by apportioning greater blame on the latter, Russia undermined its role as honest broker in the Syria crisis.

In turn, the United States and Europe continue to look at the Syria crisis through one eye: Who would better protect the northern border of the State of Israel and how? And who holds greater sway on Hezbollah and its military arsenal?

It is also worth noting the United States at one point floated the idea of a transfer of power to the Syrian army before falling back on the GCC’s Yemen template and starting to urge Assad to stand down.

The U.S. in other words has no qualms about saving any existing regime when its leader can be sacrificed through delegation of his presidential powers to his second in command. It has no qualms about setting up transitional governments and granting presidents immunity from future prosecution for crimes committed against humanity and corruption. It has no qualms either about championing political pluralism so long as this does not undercut the prerogatives of a civilian Executive authority sustained by the army.

Global internationalization is now the subject of “give-and-take” between the Russian plan focused on saving the regime and its head and the latter Euro-American blueprint. The common denominator between them is to get the masses off the streets and emasculate the revolution.

The major powers can impose a solution from above, but they cannot stop the process of root changing the regime in Syria. Not only because Damascus is unable to appreciate the crisis and believes the regime can be patched up or maybe changed from within, but also because it refuses to acknowledge the aspirations of those people who took to the streets clamoring for a New Syria committed to independence, democracy, dignity and social justice.