Civil Wars and a New Sykes-Picot? |
Al Hayat - 28 August, 2012
Author: George Semaan
If it is true that the regime in Damascus is willing to discuss President Bashar al-Assad’s resignation in the context of negotiations with the opposition as announced from Moscow by Syrian Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affairs Qadri Jamil, there was no need for it to order its military units to escalate the fighting and the pressures to achieve decisive gains on the ground before the end of this month. This is logical, unless it wanted to enhance its negotiating position on the eve of Lakhdar Brahimi’s launching of his mission next week, while carrying a project for a transitional phase “that does not include Al-Assad.” But if the regime is able to settle the situation, why would it accept such a project to begin with? Why would it defer the defeat of its opponents? What military men will have a role in the next stage, at a time when the daily tolls of victims and massacres are beyond description?
For their part nonetheless, military circles believe that the regime’s implication of the air force in the ongoing war on a daily basis not only represents the epitome of the violence it is practicing against its people, but also points to the clear inability of the land forces – with all their divisions, branches and formations – to ensure enough units to deter the challenge throughout the country. Had it been able to settle the situation, it would not have hesitated to strip the Free Army and the armed groups it is confronting of all the border crossings linking Syria to its neighboring states. And had it been able to settle the situation, it would not have crossed the border into Tripoli, the capital of North Lebanon; would not have carried out skirmishes along the Jordanian border; would not have used the Iraqi airspace to strike its opponents or vacated the arena in the northern regions for the Kurdish movements that are hostile towards Turkey and aspire to establish their own Syrian Kurdistan.
The existing military balance between the regime and the opposition since the eruption of the revolution was not imposed by the military arsenal enjoyed by both sides, considering that the discrepancy has been and still is clear and blatant. It was imposed by the facts on the ground, the most important of which being the opposition’s determination to move until the end in its effort to topple the regime, regardless of the sacrifices and the regional and international positions. It was also imposed by Russia’s and Iran’s determination to prevent the regime’s collapse, regardless of the confrontations, and even if they are held widely responsible for the killing and destruction witnessed in Syria and the country’s subsequent division. It was also imposed by the determination of Damascus’ opponents among the Americans, Europeans, Turks and Arabs to prevent the opposition’s collapse at whichever price.
The regime’s opponents, even if they have so far abstained from carrying out direct intervention as they did when dealing with Gaddafi’s regime, wish to topple it no matter how long this might take. For their part, the regime’s allies are fiercely defending it, even if this were to lead to Syria’s destruction or division, aware of the fact that it is unable to settle the situation or regain its control over the country. Hence, it would be an exaggeration to say that the regime will have the final say within a week or two, just as it would be an exaggeration to say that it will collapse tomorrow or the day after. Indeed, it has neither lost its strong fighting circle nor Iranian and Russian support at the Security Council and on the military arena. Moreover, some believe that the loss of the commanders of the crisis management cell and the expansion of the confrontations throughout the country, facilitated Moscow’s and Tehran’s direct management of the operations’ scene.
This was the equation that pushed Kofi Annan to resign. So did his departure force the conflicting sides to reconsider their positions and try to exit this predicament with a settlement that would please all the parties and whose main headlines would be drawn up by Brahimi, or are these positions a new maneuver serving all the sides? That way, Russia and Iran do not appear to be key partners in what is happening to Syria and its people, and the United States and its partners do not appear to be unable to meet the challenge. It is as though they all need a new time-gaining round.
Realpolitik or pragmatism presuppose that the United States learned from the experience in Iraq - which is now under Iranian control and might later become under Russian control - not to mention the frail political system which only lacks the official announcement of the country’s division. This is why it has refused and is still refusing military intervention, and prefers a solution that would uphold the state’s structure and especially the military one.
Turkey which has been and is still launching threats and warnings every day, did not show for one moment any wish to carry out an intervention whose repercussions over the Turkish domestic arena cannot be controlled. At this level, there is no need to recall its positions which have opposed and are still opposing any attack against Iran, as it does not want to lose everything it has built throughout a decade in terms of political and commercial relations and dreams of restoring a missing role. Moreover, it does not want to be a scapegoat in the heated international conflict over Syria.
As for the Arab states – especially the Gulf ones – which are engaged in bitter conflict with Iran on more than one arena, it is certain that none of them wishes to see the eruption of a fourth war in the Gulf.
Since his arrival to the White House, Barack Obama adopted steps aiming at restoring consideration to international action and cooperation under the umbrella of the United Nations, after the previous administration launched two wars without any UN assignment and provoked burdens and enemies. This inclination was seen on several occasions, the last of which was the intervention in Libya but in accordance with a UN mandate. Washington thus pushed Paris, London and the Arab League to the forefront, and until this day, it has not moved at the level of the Syrian crisis except in the context of the Security Council. This has facilitated and is still facilitating Russia’s and China’s opposition of any resolution they do not like vis-à-vis this crisis. And based on this approach, America might not head towards war against Iran in case it were to insist on the production of its nuclear bomb without an international resolution, among numerous other reasons which might force it to show reluctance at the level of the war option.
Also based on this approach, the American administration is not concealing its need for a Russian role in the ongoing conflict over the Iranian nuclear file, and did not hesitate to invite China to become part of a partnership in the Pacific Ocean, even if it is renewing its bases from Vietnam to Australia and the China Sea! At this level, both Moscow and Beijing benefitted from the American-Iranian conflict in the Great Middle East, without reaching the point of allying with Tehran or engaging in confrontation with Washington. The two countries thus set up a series of interests with both sides, which is known by the two conflicting parties. Nonetheless, their need for the two powers has been and still is necessary.
Washington wishes to work with Moscow and Beijing in the context of the existing international order, in order to exchange interests in several areas. Moreover, it needs them to solve numerous problems threatening peace and security in this or that region, not to mention the intertwining commercial, financial and economic interests which are shared by China and America and constitute a priority at the level of the relations between the two states. For their part, Moscow and Beijing also need Washington, which required an agreement of necessity. This is why they approved – without any reluctance – all the sanctions adopted by the Security Council to contain the Islamic Republic’s wild behavior and force it to discontinue its nuclear program, but continued to oppose any Western military action to stop this program by force. In the meantime, America which is demanding the toppling of Al-Assad’s regime never called for the toppling of the regime in Tehran, and is still putting forward approaches and settlement plans to reach an agreement with it!
What the United States has tried and is still trying to do is strike Iran’s “foreign positions,” at the head of which is Syria, knowing in advance that Russia and China will not relinquish these two countries that constitute precious bargaining cards for them in any deals or arrangements related to the Middle East, Central Asia and the future and security of energy in these two areas. And while Washington has been trying hard to besiege Iran in the region while relying on Turkey, its Arab allies and the new regimes produced by their spring, Moscow and Beijing are trying hard to deter the Western tide from the Mediterranean to Central Asia, and face the Sunni tide which will have repercussions on the Muslim population in Russia and China, as well as on the Islamic countries that constitute a vital space for the national security and strategic interests.
In light of this major standoff, the question is: Are those fighting inside and over Syria convinced that a military settlement would be impossible and that an agreement is required as per Brahimi’s plan? Are the latter convinced that the continuation of the language of arms might drown the entire region in civil wars which the regime in Damascus is eager to export outside its border to Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Turkey? But if Brahimi is not luckier than Annan, will Syria and its Crescent bid farewell to the old Sykes-Picot and welcome another new one?