Monday 4 March 2013

Looking for winners in Syria

Cynic says John Kerry is telling Moaz al-Khatib: "We'll supply the FSA with 1.5kg NIDO milk cans"

Forget scenes of Syrians scattered in neighboring countries and waiting for blankets and canned food.
Overlook images of internally displaced Syrians being hunted down by shells hitting their breadlines or missiles and barrel bombs burying them in basements or caves.
Disregard pictures of brutal practices by regime forces and of some grim operations by nonnative fighters.
In his weekly think-piece today, the editor-in-chief of pan-Arab al-Hayat Ghassan Charbel says, “Forget all that and focus on a simple question: Who is winning in Syria?”
Charbel answers his own question as follows:
Syria-watchers recognize the Syrian regime put up fierce and exceptional resistance to rebel efforts to dislodge it either by peaceful or military means.
Unsurprisingly, that’s unlike the other regimes that were swept away by the so-called Arab Spring. The reason is that the Syrian regime has been building a political party and a military and security machine for the past 40 years. And unlike the regimes outwitted by the Arab Spring, [Alawite] people fanatical about their faith back the Syrian regime.
It is equally argued that defections got nowhere near the backbone of the regime’s military and security machine. But instead of the machine maintaining a tight grip on every span of Syrian territory, it is now sitting back in parts of it.
And the military and security machine’s capacity to pulverize the areas outside its control in no way proves its aptitude to win them back.
The Syrian army seriously ruined its credibility after using its arsenal internally and exposing its unending reliance on Iranian and Russian supply lines to continue fighting.
The army’s success in recapturing a township or a bypass is far from being a serious accomplishment. And nothing points to the Syrian army’s propensity to win the war and turn back the hands of time.
Examining the Baath Party status does not require due diligence and analysis. The party that monopolized the leadership of the state and society is dead.
It was buried when the regime announced its own reform measures. And Syria’s Baath can’t even emulate its counterpart in Iraq, which can at least claim to have been brought down by foreign intervention.
The opposition can say it made massive sacrifices and noticeable advances on the ground, except that a decisive win remains beyond its reach.
Also, the successes of Jabhat al-Nusra may yet prove taxing. One of the army’s first tasks in a changed Syria – if there is one – will be to write off the successes of al-Nusra and of the other roving fighters.
Much is said about Russia recouping its clout and imposing itself as the compulsory doorway to a solution. But despite Russia’s role in and outside the UN Security Council, Iran remains the Number One player in Syria. Moreover, it is impossible for any solution in Syria to uphold Moscow’s status ante the outbreak of the Syrian revolution.
Much is also written about Iran preventing the Syrian regime’s fall and about the lack of a solution without Tehran’s approval. But here again, Iran won’t possibly be comfortable in a post-solution Syria as it is with the current regime. The implication is that Iran is now on a damage limitation mission.
And since Iran’s backing of the Syrian regime effectively stoked the fire of a Sunni-Shiite conflict in the region, you can safely say Iran is not winning.
Despite the differences, the same can be said of Hezbollah in Lebanon. The party can help prevent or delay the regime’s fall, but only at a very high cost for Lebanon, which lately joined the Sunni-Shiite fray in Syria. Part of the very high cost will also be borne by Hezbollah proper in terms of its sect’s relations with Lebanon and Syria’s Sunni communities.
Ditto for Iraq in light of the [pro-Syrian regime] stance taken by the Nouri al-Maliki government.
America too can’t claim to be winning in Syria.
The Syrian tragedy exposed the shortcomings of America’s role under Barack Obama. It exposed Obama’s America as being tired, enfeebled and hesitant, though justifiably shunning reckless policies.
You can say we are in the midst of a regional civil war -- a protracted and destructive conflict. That’s why the talk about limited, sketchy and uncertain gains.
Chances of negotiations are extremely low. Changing the power balance would require a torrent of military aid and rivers of blood.
The sure thing is that the Syria we knew two years ago is forever gone.