France said on Thursday there were no signs that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is about to be overthrown, something Paris has been saying for months was just over the horizon, Reuters reports:
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told RFI radio in December “the end is nearing” for Assad. But on Thursday, he said international mediation and discussions about the crisis that began in March 2011 were not getting anywhere. “There are no recent positive signs,” he said.
He said Syrian opposition leaders and representatives of some 50 nations and organizations would meet in Paris on January 28 to discuss how to fulfill previous commitments.
“Things are not moving. The solution that we had hoped for, and by that I mean the fall of Bashar and the arrival of the (opposition) coalition to power, has not happened,” said Fabius.
The news coincides with renewed divisions within the fractious opposition and fresh speculation that the Obama administration may be able to take a more forceful approach to aiding Syria’s democratic and moderate opposition, albeit short of direct military intervention.
President Obama must “find the happy medium between not committing us to a decades-long ground war and choosing not to do anything,” former State Department official, Anne-Marie Slaughter told the New York Times. A board member of the National Endowment for Democracy, she has been an eloquent advocate of US intervention in Syria.
The talks had been hit by disagreement over whether a transitional government could survive when the Syrian National Coalition President Moaz Alkhatib (above) left in the middle of deliberations, the sources said.
“There is agreement on the need to establish a transitional government but the majority opinion favours not to form it now without secure areas to operate in and enough international support and guarantees for direct recognition,” Coalition member Ahmad Ramadan said. “Otherwise the government will be born paralyzed.”
The Muslim Brotherhood, the only organised force in the Syrian opposition, has made it clear it does not favor a government at present. But opposition sources said the Brotherhood could change its mind if regional powers, especially Turkey and Gulf states, throw their support behind the project.
“Between the military effort and humanitarian and administration needs a transitional government needs up to $40 million a day to operate. There is no point creating a government that cannot meet the aspirations of the revolt,” another source said.
The failure to agree on a transitional authority “is a big blow for the revolution against Bashar al-Assad,” said one representative.
The US and other democracies can still make a difference to the struggle’s outcome by providing assistance to Syria’s democratic forces, says a leading activist.
“[F]unding the moderate Islamists and secularists of the Syrian National Coalition, which will then feed the hungry and fund the fighters, empowering them to buy the weapons they need,” would provide a boost to those democratic forces currently being outflanked by radical Islamist groups, Robin Yassin-Katib (left) writes for Foreign Policy.
“That step will provide those Syrian communities scared of the revolutionary future, as well as the West, with a real Syrian interlocutor — a body that represents a real path to a better future, rather than a collection of militias,” says Yassin-Kassab, the author of The Road from Damascus, who blogs at www.qunfuz.com.
But any assistance must be coordinated and rationalized, George Washington University’s Marc Lynch replies on Foreign Policy.
“The uncoordinated, often competitive, financing of favored proxies by outside players has actively contributed to emergent warlordism, intra-rebellion clashes, and absence of a coherent political strategy,” he argues, while lamenting the fact that “recent American efforts to help organize a mechanism for directing aid through a centralized opposition political-military framework….have withered on the vine, and might not work.”
“There is still little reason to believe that limited measures would suffice to tip the balance of the vicious struggle on the ground,” Lynch contends, but three key developments have changed the terms of the debate:
First, the virtually unbelievable scope of human suffering gives profound urgency to the crisis, while the hopes for a political solution have largely ended. There was a logic behind the diplomatic efforts, of seeking to avoid militarization, isolate Assad at home and abroad for his war crimes and inhumanity, reach out to the Syrian majority in support of a political transition, and prevent a collapse into anarchy. ….
Second, the regime’s growing use of airpower against not only rebels but civilians does change the calculations over some kind of de facto no-fly zone or incapacitation of the regimes air capabilities. …
Third, with the political track essentially dead and the transition to an insurgency and civil war complete, the objections to arming the rebels have largely faded. RTWT
Despite the conflict’s descent into civil war, a political solution remains possible, says Carnegie analyst Sami Moubayed.
“In order to achieve a political solution to the crisis, the Alawite community must be engaged so that its fears are pacified,” he argues. “Balancing Alawite and Sunni demands will be challenging, and giving Alawites disproportionate representation may infuriate Sunnis. But the Alawites must be reassured, and any government that marginalizes their community risks more unrest or perhaps even a long and vicious civil war.”
The US still has an opportunity to “stave off disaster and play a leadership role in shaping Syria’s future,” according to Brookings analysts Salman al-Shaikh and Michael Doran.
“The United States should provide lethal assistance to the Syrian opposition, forge a genuine national dialogue that includes Alawis and Christians, and create an International Steering Group (ISG) to oversee and lend support to the transitional process,” they argue in a recent policy memo to President Obama:
The ISG should include Russia, China, Turkey, and key Arab and European states. It should agree on a number of basic goals for the transition and set benchmarks for their effective implementation.
The immediate focus: protecting civilians, minorities and vulnerable groups through the creation of an international stabilization force; addressing humanitarian issues; safeguarding chemical and other unauthorized weapons; and supporting transitional governance and transitional justice efforts. This work should be followed by a longer-term commitment to assisting Syrians on security sector reform, the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) of combatants and supporting a transitional governance roadmap, including preparations for multi-party elections and a constitution-drafting exercise; economic recovery, including planning and coordination on infrastructure and reconstruction; and assisting national reconciliation efforts.
“With U.S. elections now settled, the Obama administration is less constrained by domestic U.S. politics and should now take bold steps to hasten the end of Assad’s regime [and]… create incentives for armed and civilian groups in Syria to cooperate and assume the responsibility that goes along with governing a post-Assad Syria,” analyst Andrew Tabler argued in The Atlantic:
First, Washington should use patriot missile batteries in an offensive capacity against regime aircraft – and deploy them defensively against SCUD and Fatah 110 missiles targeting opposition-dominated areas along Syria’s borders with Turkey and Jordan. … This would help the opposition create vital “safe areas” where civilians could be secure in an organized fashion free from regime airstrikes ..
As an important ancillary benefit, such safe areas would provide a vital place for the exile-dominated National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces (SOC) to politically organize and provide assistance directly to Syrian civilians. If properly defended, diplomats, officials, and aid representatives from the international community could work side by side with Syrians to help alleviate suffering and build a viable government for post-Assad Syria.
Second, Washington should provide a package of intelligence-sharing, military training, and other security assistance to mainstream nationalist, non-extremist groups that have been vetted by Western countries, both to increase their military capabilities and in exchange for any chemical weapons captured from the regime’s stockpiles. ………..
Third, Washington and its allies should provide local communities supporting mainstream groups that cooperate with Washington’s program to secure chemical weapons with a larger civil assistance program. …[which], if part of an overall strategy, would create a positive incentive for civilian communities to pressure armed groups operating in their areas to comply with the program in the short and medium term. This same system of incentives could also be leveraged to disincentivize ethnic cleansing.
“Such an integrated plan would help alleviate the suffering of Syrians, reverse Washington’s rapidly declining support among the opposition, and provide real inducements to armed groups that will soon take over large swaths — if not the entirety — of Syrian territory to hand over any captured chemical weapons to the United States and its allies,” says Tabler, a Senior Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and author of the recent book In the Lion’s Den: An Eyewitness Account of Washington’s Battle with Syria.
“It is understandable that even now, as the last vestige of peaceful protest has long since been killed by regime terror mandating armed resistance, the administration resists the notion that it should somehow enter the arena where the struggle for Syria is actually being fought,” writes Frederic C. Hof, a senior fellow of the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East:
For an administration that prides itself in having brought to an end US military involvement in Iraq, Syria perhaps looks like a trap. …And yet, what if the arm’s length approach to the armed Syrian opposition is precisely the wrong medicine for a patient at or near death’s door? What if an approach seen by its advocates as the very epitome of prudence is in fact the opposite? What if the United States can help shape a decent, civilized outcome in Syria by providing security assistance to select opposition elements, and do so with no US boots on the ground? What if it can help in the context of lethality but consciously elects not to?
“In a recent article, I urged the Syrian Opposition Council and Supreme Military Council to cooperate in forming a provisional government, one offering an alternative to the regime by standing up for Syria’s minorities and for democratic, civil society based on the supremacy of citizenship,” Hof observes. “A person prominent in Syrian opposition affairs wrote soon thereafter to say that the appetite for a provisional government was being dampened by the fear of insufficient material support from the West, a deficit that would cause its rapid failure and permanent loss of credibility, all for the benefit of Assad.”
But it may be too late to avert Syria deteriorating to a failed state, says Hof, a former Special Advisor for Transition in Syria at the US Department of State:
In truth the American taxpayer has hardly been AWOL from Syria’s struggle, as the United States leads the world in providing humanitarian assistance to desperately needy Syrians. And Assad would not be hiding money abroad were American efforts to cut the regime’s cash flow so meaningless or ineffective. Moreover, there is no shortage of people in Syria’s local revolutionary committees who will testify to the efficacy of American technical and non-lethal material assistance. It is all true, it is totally honorable and it reflects real decency. Yet Syria’s fate will likely be decided by men with guns. If a firm, irrevocable decision is in place that the United States will not play in this arena, then it may indeed be too late for Syria as the Assad/al-Qaeda tag team crowds out all other opponents from the ring, making Syria ungovernable, 22.5 million Syrians vulnerable, and neighboring states fully exposed to a catastrophe that could persist for decades.