Syria–Mumbling, Frowning, and Arms Shipments

By Jay Holmes

When we last published an analysis of the war in Syria in April 2013, this was where things stood:

  • Various factions of Islamic fundamentalist-branded gangs had hijacked the conflict.
  • Russia had announced its continuing support for Assad.
  • Turkey’s own Islamic-brand despot Recep Tayyip Erdogan (a.k.a. Yippy) was criticizing the American interventionist approach to the Mideast circus while loudly demanding that the US immediately intervene in Syria to save Turkey from the chaos. Erdogan mumbled this nonsense while simultaneously explaining that Turkey’s archenemies, the “dastardly and disgusting Kurds,” were really always their good friends–good friends with oil to sell.
  • Iran was directing its always-adventurous Hezbolalalalala branch employees to strike against Syrian rebels while continuing the ongoing campaign of murder and mayhem in Lebanon.
  • The Iraqi government, though unable to govern in Iraq, was growing more helpful in assisting the Iranian-backed Shia factions in Syria.
  • Not to be outdone by the Iranian Mullahs, the Gulf petrol-sheiks were sending cash and arms to Syria to counter Iranian goals. The petrol-sheiks were not altogether certain to whom they should hand over the cash and weapons, but they didn’t let that delay their shipments.
photo by James Gordon wikimedia commons

photo by James Gordon
wikimedia commons

If this all sounds too complicated to fit into an Italian comic opera, remember that while it seems too absurd to be real from a distance, the view from the streets in Syria and the refugee camps is far less comical. The 1.25 million-person-sized elephant in the in the Mideast room—the refugees from Syria—are not enjoying their long vacations. If the Syrians that left Syria for Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan are less than thrilled with their lives, their countrymen at home have still less reason to celebrate. In Syria, rival factions frequently execute children for the crime of having been born in Syria.

With their eagerness to occasionally appear relevant, spokesmen for the international cash cow that we sentimentally refer to as the United Nations have since decided that they are certain at least 100,000 people have been killed in the war in Syria. They remain just as certain that they are uncertain what they should do about it, but if things continue at the current murderous pace, the UN might eventually escalate to having a spokesman demonstrate a “dark frown” to assembled journalists.

I am less optimistic than the UN. I will offer my own estimate of 130,000 deaths, but my own personal dark frown will do no more to prevent the next child execution in Syria than the dark frown that the UN will eventually demonstrate. Don’t rush them. The fine art of “grave concern and dark frowns” as practiced at the UN is a slow and well-financed process. It all takes time. They’re still busy bringing peace and happiness to Korea.

Since the spring of 2011, the Obama administration and its partisan pals in Congress have stuck to strong rhetoric and menacing finger waving as a foreign policy response to the Syrian chaos. The White House loudly proclaimed that the use of chemical weapons by Syrian despot Assad’s forces would constitute the crossing of a “clear red line” and the US would not tolerate it. Naturally, opponents of Assad were listening and soon started claiming that Assad had used chemical weapons.

The rebels’ vague hope that Obama would follow up his grandiose statements with grandiose action was not fulfilled. The White House instead responded by explaining that we were not certain that chemical weapons had been used. That doubt was honest enough a year ago, but the current balance of evidence indicates that doubt is not well-founded now. Not everyone is convinced, but on June 14, the US government announced that it had confirmed that Assad’s forces had, indeed, used chemical weapons.

It now turns out that when President Obama said “clear red line,” he really meant something more like “crooked dull pink smudge.” This month, the Democrat-controlled US Senate helped out the President by declaring that the US should support the Syrian rebels by shipping arms to them. The White House agreed and announced that it decided to help arm the Syrian rebels. The Senate quickly followed up its strategy statement with guarantees that it had received (apparently invisible and very magical) assurances that any US arms shipments to Syria would not fall into the hands of any people that were likely to shoot at Americans or American allies.

The Senate and its pals in the White House have not disclosed the nature of these magical assurances of a clean and predictable indirect intervention. Perhaps these weapons will include some of the safety devices that anti-second amendment lobbyists often demand. Perhaps the weapons will have magic chips that will prevent them from functioning when people that like shooting Westerners or Israelis are holding them. Perhaps a sensor would determine the degree of Islamic jihadi fervor before allowing the weapon to fire or detonate. No one is sharing that information.

The White House has not said what weapons the US will deliver. Like the Senate, the White House also has not mentioned precisely how it will ensure that such weapons will remain in the hands of the Syrian rebels and out of the hands of al-Qaeda and the other various sectarian migrant jihadi workers that are currently harvesting this summer’s crop of Syrian mayhem. The White House’s announcement to arm the rebels seems to be the result of a need to “do something” while not having any actual policy goals to follow.

The vast majority of the American public responded with a yawn. This lack of interest is easy to understand. With the looming war in Egypt between jihadi factions and the rest of Egypt, the continuing river of cash and US blood flowing into Afghanistan, and the continued drift toward third world poverty status for so many unemployed and low wage earning Americans, it’s tough for the US public to get too excited about Syria. Idealism is a hobby most easily practiced when life is comfortable, and for many Americans right now, life is not comfortable.

Europe is currently busy doing next to nothing about its own dazzling array of economic disasters and immigrant issues. The crowds of deeper-thinking-than-thou devout and loyal Obama admirers in Europe have painted over their “Obama is our Savior” signs with “Hang the war criminal Obama” messages.

Their respective governments, particularly France and the UK, have followed a “whisper” diplomatic policy concerning Syria. They mumble vague statements about chemical weapons and rush to demonstrate frowns for the media before the UN can upstage them. When the cameras are turned, they look to the West and whisper, “Obama, hurry up and get involved in Syria so that we don’t have to.” Their speech writers have already written their denouncements of whatever action the US might decide to take. Just fill in the blanks when the time comes. The US will be blamed for “creating a humanitarian crisis in Syria.”

Europe Frowning on Flag

While it’s easy for me to criticize the US administration for its lack of a meaningful foreign policy, it’s a bit tougher to come up with an approach they might sell to a disgusted American public. One highly-respected foreign policy expert recently published a suggestion that the US concentrate on improving education in the Middle East as a long-term strategy for reducing violence and despair in the region. While in theory it sounds like a great idea, many Americans would hasten to point out that before we reduce the slaughter of children in the Middle East, we might want to do something about the slaughter of children in regions such as Chicago. Before we attempt to educate Middle Eastern children, we might wish to achieve a minimal standard of literacy in places like Detroit, east L.A., and the halls of our Congress. While it’s concerning that Obama and Congress continue to rely on a strategy of “slow drift” foreign policy, it would be even more disturbing for them to pursue a “leap now look later” policy toward Syria. The combination of over a decade of wildly expensive and ineffective US intervention in the Middle East and the declining standard of living for working class Americans has left US politicians with a tough audience concerning foreign policy.

The US and Europe are making small and “low noise” efforts to find and assist legitimate Syrian rebels, but for the moment, those efforts have proven inadequate. For the moment, Assad will not be trying to sneak away from Syria. He and his supporters have staked their lives and fortunes on defeating the rebels at all costs.

In my opinion, strategies for supporting the Syrian rebels without violating our own national interests are possible, but they are not clean and easy. Those strategies would require the White House and Congress to make clear choices and act decisively. It would require them to place foreign policy concerns above 2014 election concerns. The degree to which US politicians will do that will determine whether or not the US will be able to impact events in Syria. For now, expect more mumbling and frowning.

Syrian Sound and Fury–An Update on the Crisis

By Jay Holmes

Things have accelerated in Syria during the last six months—“things” such as the death rate and the refugee crisis, which have increased alarmingly. Putting a number on the death toll is not easy. The various rebel forces and the Syrian government may all at times exaggerate or fail to report deaths. However, it seems likely that approximately 100,000 people have been killed in the civil war in Syria. That is about fifteen times the number of deaths that we in the US have endured in Iraq and Afghanistan, combined.

Bashar Al-Assadimage by Fabio Rodrigues Pozzebom / ABr, Wikimedia Commons

Bashar Al-Assad
image by Fabio Rodrigues Pozzebom / ABr, Wikimedia Commons

In 2011, the conflict was reasonably described as a struggle between the Assad regime and his Shia backers versus anyone else in Syria. The Syrians are a diverse population with a high percentage of post-secondary educated adults. If the Syrians, themselves, had remained the only folks in Syria who were fighting with or against the Assad regime, they might have formed a passable coalition with which to depose and replace Assad by now.

There has always been a core of Islamic radicals in Syria. However, more educated and sophisticated Syrians who are less amenable to primitive agendas such as Islamic fundamentalism or anti-Zionist crusades marginalized the radicals over time. Syrians increasingly wanted something more out of life than anti-Western slogans and a feeble economy.

That’s where Assad’s trouble started. The majority of protesters in January 2011 were not protesting for or against Shia, Sunnis, or other Syrian groups. They simply wanted Assad gone. Having watched news footage of the cruise missile assault and modest air campaign put on by NATO in Libya, they were understandably hopeful that the West would jump on an opportunity to depose an old nemesis like Assad. After all, what Middle East revolutionary or Western observer’s heart didn’t warm by the sight of angry Libyans cornering Gadhafi?

Unfortunately for the people of Syria, the West had strong reasons to avoid investing missiles and men in a Syrian conflict. For one thing, the US and the UK were disentangling themselves from the morass that had festered in Iraq, and both are still involved in propping up the unlovable Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan. Obama was not willing to invest any significant men or material in Syria while still busy in Afghanistan and wondering how Korea and Iran might soon eat up resources. And all of this was occurring with borrowed money from China. The UK was not about to commit to an operation in Syria or any place more distant than the Channel if the US wasn’t taking the lead in cash and dead troops.

A second major factor in Western reluctance to escalate military aid to the Syrian rebels was the simple fact that we have not quite been able to distinguish who they are. Their identity seems to change on a weekly basis.

The nature of the conflict in Syria has shifted dramatically during the last year. Iran does not want Assad gone. Assad is Iran’s submissive and obedient girlfriend that lives next door to Israel and Lebanon. The relationship between Iran and Assad (any Assad) has always been simple. Assad does what Iran tells him to regarding foreign policy. In return, Iran helps prop up Syria against its Sunni neighbors in Saudi Arabia, its Zionist enemies in Israel, and anyone who might get difficult with them in Lebanon. Previously, Iran helped prop up Syria against the anti-Shia Iraqi regime. That particular Iraqi despot was deposed and has now been replaced by a newer, cleaner, more wonderful Shia despot. That change in Iraq has allowed Iran to more easily ship weapons and people to Syria.

However, a resolution of events in Syria would bring the West one step closer to military action in Iran. Because of this, the Iranians, while pledging their everlasting love and ammunition supplies to Assad, hedge their bets by trying their best to co-opt Shia Jihadi types in Syria.

Unfortunately for Iran, and everyone else on the planet, the Iranians are not the only Islamic radical nut jobs acting out their agenda in Syria. With Iraq now in the “Shia camp,” the Wahhabi-influenced Sunni Saudis and their Gulf State allies have more reason than ever to oppose any Shia influence in Syria. To that end, they are backing a variety of Sunni groups in Syria against the Assad regime. Unfortunately, the Saudis and their gulf pals have never exercised much discretion in choosing anti-Shia friends. Al Qaeda, a group of gangsters who pose as “devout Sunni Islamics,” is now easily obtaining cash and weapons for fighting in Syria.

With refugees streaming into their country every day, the Turks have serious angst over the situation at their southern border. The Obama administration recently hailed Turkish president Tayyip Erdoğan, as a new pan-Mideast leader, a lion amongst hyenas, who holds equal footing with top Western leaders. But Erdoğan tripped in the shower. He’s now back to hyena status and has gone from criticizing the US for interventionist policies in the Middle East to begging the US to please, please, please, with sugar on top, do something about Assad.

With so many fish to fry elsewhere, and not very fresh fish at that, and no clear sense of precisely who we would be helping, the White House does not want to escalate US involvement in Syria.

If we observe Western media reports on Syria, the theme of the show is thus: Assad in his convincing performance as a bastardly dictator is losing ground to a rebel coalition led by a Syrian-American citizen named Ghassan Hitto. The show on the ground in Syria is less entertaining and far more complex. While Hitto may have significant support from many Syrians, he does not control the various Jihadi groups ranging from Al Qaeda to the Iraqi and Iranian Shias that are fighting there. If tomorrow Assad were to commit his first kind act to Syria by shooting himself, with or without assistance, it is not apparent that Hitto would be in any position to govern Syria.

The view of the play from Assad’s bedroom balcony is slightly simpler. He sees a lot of different groups fighting against his government forces. He sees many of them committing the sorts of atrocities that he expects his troops to commit, not the other guys. Assad sees an eleven-year-old child from a Sunni faction beheading a Shia man. Assad sees a world beyond Syria that would love for him to drop dead as soon as possible. He might now and then click on a YouTube video showing his old pal, Kaddafi’s, final minutes. What he can’t see is a happy ending if he gives in. Assad crossed the Rubicon while asleep in the back of the boat. He woke up one morning and found himself standing on the wrong shore. What this all means is that Assad and his backers are desperate to maintain the struggle. For him and his well-armed pals, backing down now means stepping backward into a grave.

Some news sources are claiming that an Iranian agent has already assisted Assad to that grave. However, no verification has been forthcoming, and the stories can be traced to a single source, so I can neither confirm nor deny Assad’s reputed death. Meanwhile, various fascinating sub plots are playing out in Lebanon and on the Israeli border as the war continues. Those are a tale for another day.

Today, though, for once, the people of Syria and the West find themselves standing on the same side of a critical question, hoping for the same answers. The question is no longer when or how Assad will move on to the great harem in the sky, but rather, how will Syrians wrestle control of their own country from the hands of the many well-armed hyenas that tear at the body of a dying nation? American cruise missiles and Marines can’t answer that question.

Syria and the Sands of Time

By Jay Holmes

Since I published my last update on Syria in late November, the conflict remains in overtime, waiting for a tie breaker. It’s easy enough to watch the events play out from this safe distance, but for the 22.5 million people living in Syria, things must seem a bit more urgent.

Looking at the human side of the conflict leaves one with a grim view. Since our update, Syrian security forces have killed more than a thousand additional protesters. That indicates the death rate for Syrian protesters, according to UN figures, has sadly risen from approximately 15 civilians killed per day to 25 civilians killed per day.

photo by James Gordon wikimedia commons

photo by James Gordon
wikimedia commons

Bashar Assad, Syria’s dictator, would quickly point out that not all of those killed were unarmed protesters, but it’s clear that most were. According to UN figures, the death toll for Syrian protesters has now surpassed 5,000 lives.

Some Western observers and a few Arab observers are claiming that the UN figure is likely less than half of the actual number of protesters killed. In addition to the over 5,000, there are, depending on who you ask, somewhere between 7,000 and 40,000 prisoners confined in miserable conditions in Syrian prisons. Numbers aside, it is clear that, in spite of the presence of 65 Arab League observers (who are escorted by Assad’s security forces), the Assad regime has become more willing to kill his unarmed citizens.

To consider those deaths from another perspective, the deaths of protesters in Syria have now surpassed the total number of US combat deaths during the 2003-2011 Iraq War. The faces of the dead protesters are less visible to us, thanks to the tight media control in Syria. But if we think of how anguished we have been about our losses in Iraq, we can understand the growing anxiety of expatriate Syrians who have families in Syria.

I went to the trouble of sending a polite and innocent journalistic query to the Syrian security forces and the Assad government via a safe intermediary, but neither has responded. My best friends and Assad’s best friends don’t have a history of playing nicely together so their lack of response is no indication of anything other than the fact that they don’t like my friends.

Speaking to the rebels is a bit easier if we’re not too particular about which random rebel we speak to. While the rebels remain in agreement that Assad should depart Syria in his jet, his yacht, or a garbage bag, there is not yet a strong consensus about what a post-Assad Syria would look like.

The hordes of the interested outside parties remain unchanged in Syria. The Arab league does not want to see a change to a regime influenced by Russia, by Western states, or by business interests other than their own. To that end, they have promised to send more observers to Syria, and they have throttled Syria’s banking system by halting trade with banks from other Arab League nations.

Iran would like to see anyone “not Sunni” in charge in Syria as long as they are willing to continue recognition of Iranian suzerainty over Syria and Lebanon. Normally, Iran would be conducting more desperate efforts to influence events in Syria because Syria is important to it for the control of Hezbollah operations in Lebanon. The Hezbollah gang has what Iran considers to be an unfortunate tendency. It often starts imagining itself to be an independent political entity capable of being all grown up without Iran. Given that Syria is 74% Sunni, and that Shiites are hard to find in Syria, Iran’s long term prospects in Syria are not looking too good.

Russia, or at least the “Putinos” in Russia, would like to see anyone of any religion or no religion in charge in Syria, as long as they happily continue purchasing vast quantities of military toys from Russian factories allegedly financially controlled by Putin and his closest Putino pals. In Putin geopolitical theory, the “new” Syria would allow an expansion of Russia’s naval base in Syria to house the imaginary vast Russian Mediterranean Fleet that Putin fantasizes about while doing whatever it his he does at night before he goes to sleep. (His poor wife….)

My guess is that, after considering the ongoing nuclear disasters at Russian Northern Fleet naval bases, the average Syrian is not going to be thrilled by the prospect of becoming Russia’s latest Naval success story. Given that the average Syrian is aware that Assad and his tiny Alawite minority could never have taken and held power in Syria without Soviet intervention, it seems likely that Syrians would love to be nobody’s naval base, and they would likely spend their defense cash any place but Russia.

Western Energy moguls would love to see vastly expanded oil pipelines built to transport Arabian and Iraqi oil to a Syrian Mediterranean port like Tartus. That would be lovely for Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States. It would be lovely for energy moguls, and for western oil addicts like you and I. It would be a dark nightmare for Iran. Threatening to cut off the straits of Hormuz would be no fun for the fake mullahs running Iran if the only tankers sailing the Straits were all Iranian.

Secondarily, Western energy moguls would like to see further natural gas development in Syria with taxpayer financed foreign aid from Western nations. Why let those silly Syrians use that natural gas if you can export it to Europe at huge profits while generous Western Taxpayers finance the deal and pay huge prices for the oil? That would be crazy. So who was behind the recent oil line attack in Syria? I can’t be sure, but the attack suited Assad, Iran and nobody else.

When energy moguls are not watching, other Western moguls would like Assad to be gone by any method that does not involve them having to spend cash, expensive cruise missiles, and political capital. Western governments would like a safe transfer of Syria’s nerve gas stockpiles (some of which once belonged to his neighbor, Saddam Hussein) for destruction and disposal. A Syrian government run by the majority of Syrians and not by gangsters claiming to be religious authorities would make the West happy.

So what abut the people doing the bleeding in all of this? What do the Syrians want?

Since having an opinion has not yet been legalized in Syria, and since a departure by Assad won’t guarantee freedom and justice for them, it’s hard to know for sure. I am willing to make a few guesses. They would like their security forces to stop killing them. They would like unemployment rates lowered. The religious leaning rebels in Homs would like a Sunni theocracy, but they are in the minority and might not be able to pull it off. If Assad leaves, dies, or in the unlikely event that he becomes a nice person, Syrians might be able to form a working parliamentary government.

And Bashar Assad? What he wants today is to not star in a you tube video about how unskilled Syrian teenagers dispatch nasty dictators. His long term hopes are becoming more difficult to imagine.

With Assad’s banking system crumbling and desertions from his military increasing, it’s hard to imagine a happy future for him. Assad may be using his rose colored sunglasses to see a future where Western nations are so busy with the nasty little mullahs in Iran and their uranium issues that they never intervene in Syria, and he simply remains in power.

The sands of time will continue to run, with or without Western military intervention, and Assad should know and remember that sand is always corrosive. Assad could perhaps call up the jovial director of the Venezuelan Club Commie Resort and ask if Uncle Momo’s reservation is still available. The trick would be getting from his house to Hugo Chavez’s resort without being shot in the back by the frightened and badly outnumbered clan he would be leaving behind.

Normally “Good Luck Bashar” would be a handy phrase for ending this article, but I won’t pretend to wish him any such thing. Instead, I will offer my humble best wishes to the people of Syria. In my estimation, the majority of them are decent and reasonable people. If it is left up to them, the better country that they build for themselves need not be a threat to anyone else. A Syria that concentrates on it’s own well being would be an improvement for every reasonable person concerned.

Syria is Heating Up

By HOLMES

This past Wednesday, November 16, the rebellion in Syria escalated significantly.* A team of rebel commandos lead by, and possibly completely manned by, deserters from the Syrian military attacked an important intelligence center that Syria’s secret police used to combat the rebels. On Thursday, November 17, a second raid was conducted against the offices of Syria’s Ba’ath party headquarters.

One of the interesting things about the raids is that the attackers may be based in Lebanon. A glance at a map indicates that, in geographic terms, launching a raid from Lebanon would make good sense. But in political terms, it represents a new turn of events.

Both Syria and Iran have maintained strong influence in Lebanon for several decades, and Syria has acted as Iran’s forward base for the Iranian controlled Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. My best guess is that Turkey has not yet reached the point where they will allow anti-Assad activists to conduct raids from Turkish soil. Therefore, if the raids are, in fact, being conducted from Lebanon, it begs certain questions.

Have the Iranian and Syrian governments suddenly lost so much control of events in Lebanon?

Also, as recently as a week ago, Lebanon had allowed Syrian government forces to repeatedly enter its territory to kill and capture escaped Syrians. So why would Lebanon now allow the Syrian Free Army or other Syrian rebels to conduct raids in Syria?

The answers will, at least in part, lie with Hezbollah, and Hezbollah makes no decisions without Iran first telling them in detail what those decisions will be. Has Iran decided to stab their only ally, Syria, in the back? Is Iran now betting against Assad? Is Iran placing more then one bet on the same game? It may be. If Iran is indeed burning a political candle at both ends, then what payoff is it expecting?

Based strictly on the open source news available from Syria and Lebanon, I will make a guess. Iran may likely have been trying to find a contingent replacement for their Syrian boy, Assad, for the last two months. Iran backs and controls Hezbollah, but it does not trust Hezbollah with more information than it absolutely has to. Any contacts generated by Iran likely occurred without the use of their Hezbollah Pizza and Bomb Delivery Service. But Iran may not have succeeded in “going to the mountain” as they say in that region. The mountain may have gone to Iran.

It was only a matter of time before one or more senior Syrian spooks or army officers approached Iran to offer their services as newer, better, more loyal despotic pals with great new features. What particular gifts might the would-be kings be carrying to Iran?

The gift that always matters most to Iran is any gift having to do with Israel. We likely will never know, but I can’t help but wonder if the latest spy round-ups in Iran came with help from some senior member of the Syrian intelligence community who needed a bit of assistance with his retirement planning.

Experienced analysts working on Syria won’t be betting on an overtly Iranian-controlled rebel succeeding in Syria. The Syrians have fallen out of love with Assad, but they haven’t fallen in love with the archaic Iranian leadership.

People seeking “progress” are not beating down the doors to get into Iran or hoping for Iran to drop in and settle things for them. There is an Islamic fundamentalist contingent in Syria, but it is badly outnumbered. So why would Iran place such a long shot bet?

Iran would bet against Assad for two reasons. For one, it’s a low cost bet. They are simply telling Hezbollah to allow certain events to occur. Even if Assad were to survive the uprising and become aware of Iranian duplicity, so what? In the first place, he never thought that the Iranians were anything but weasels. They were simply weasels who let him play on their team. With no other teams offering a place Team Weasel, was a great gig for Assad 1.0 and Assad 2.0.

And beyond that, what choice does Assad have? Is he going to become France’s new best friend? Is he going to be invited to take a front row seat at the christening of Kate and William’s baby? Is Michelle Obama going to give him a kiss on his robotic face? No, no, and no.

Assad has no choice but to put up with whatever Iran does. He needs Iran more than Iran needs him. From Iran’s point of view, it is better to pick the potential new despot or multiple potential new despots rather than allow someone else to decide the issue, because anyone installed in Syria that Iran doesn’t back is not likely to be its new pal.

The other reason why Iran would act with seemingly little concern for its own long-term interests is that it usually does. Iran is convinced that it can continue to get away with doing pretty much whatever it wants to do. It has, at times, paid a heavy price for its petulant, anti-social behavior, but that has never prevented Iran from repeating its mistakes.

If Hezbollah no longer has Assad’s back, then it’s time for Bashar Assad to dial up London and ask for a last minute date to the prom. If Assad had assurances that he would not face arrest after killing nearly four thousand Syrian rebels this year, then he might go down to the river and pay the boatman to cross back over to the UK.

London might not answer Assad’s call, but the UK would at least ask Turkey to call him back. (“We already have a date. . . . Why don’t you take Assad to the prom?”) At a time when Turkey is desperate to increase its stature in the Islamic world and, in particular, with the Gulf States, it would like nothing better than to be seen as the peacemaker in Syria.

A bigger blood bath in Syria can still be avoided, but time is running out.

Any questions about the situation in Syria?

Click here for a recent run down on Syria, Syria’s Assad has Crossed the Rubicon

Syria’s Assad has Crossed the Rubicon

By Jay Holmes

On January 27 of this year, protests began in Syria against Syrian dictator Bashar Assad. Bashar (a.k.a. Assad 2.0) quickly attempted to crush the protests before they could gain any momentum. He was unable to declare a state of emergency because Syria was already under a state of emergency. He did not revoke the civil rights of the people because they didn’t have any civil rights to revoke. The state of emergency and revocation of civil rights happened in 1963, and Bashar’s father, Hafez Assad (a.k.a. Assad 1.0), never lifted the state of emergency after taking power in Syria in 1970.

Assad 2.0 — Contrary to appearances and popular belief, Bashar Assad was not kidnapped by Western scientists and replaced with a remote controlled robot. This is an actual picture of the actual Assad.

So who are these Syrian protestors, and what do they want? They are a variety of groups from culturally distinct areas across Syria. They are, basically, a combination of anyone in Syria who doesn’t happen to be a member of Assad’s Alawi Islamic sect.

Like his father before him, Assad 2.0 has relied on his fellow Alawi sect members to fill most of the important government positions, including military and police leadership. However, 88% of Syrians are not Alawi. Most of the protestors are from the 72% Sunni, 10% Christian, and 3% Druze populations.

Bashar Assad replaced his dead father as Syrian dictator in January 2000. He has spoken of economic reforms since then, but effective economic reform in Syria would require Assad to reduce corruption. In order to reduce corruption, he would have to remove from office the same Alawi officials who guarantee his security and replace them with non-Alawi officials, eliminating that security for the Assad clan. By violently suppressing the Syrian “Arab Spring” protestors, Assad avoided this scary task, but the road of protest suppression took him somewhere he had not intended to go.

On a windy March morning, Assad woke up to find himself on the wrong side of the Rubicon. While the Syrian protestors failed to gain his ear, they succeeded in gaining the ear of the International Court of Justice (“ICJ”). The ICJ did more than talk. They listened. Now, Assad can no longer take his money, his wife, and his mistresses and buy an estate and some social standing in England.

Bashar Assad is, in large part, the product of the powerful Alawi sect, but he is also the product of a British medical education. During his father’s three decades of bloody gang war rule that included a bloody gang war between his father and his uncle, Assad 2.0 had been given the luxury of living in the comparatively bucolic Western Europe as an ophthalmologist.  Whatever pleasant visions he might have harbored concerning the future of Syria, they were quickly banished by the day-to-day reality of remaining in power in that country.

Standing now on the wrong side of the Rubicon with no way to cross to the peaceful, distant shore, Assad has few options and fewer friends. His minority ruling class can count as friends the Iranian-controlled Shiite Hezbollah in Lebanon and the distant Iranian government. Syria had, at times, fantasized that Turkey was it’s staunch ally, but Turkey has now opened its country to political asylum seekers from Syria.

Key Syrian anti-Assad activists, such as Syrian Ba’ath party founder Shibliy Aisamy, mistakenly sought safe haven in Lebanon, and have been kidnapped by Syrian police. Hezbollah holds sway in Lebanon and will continue to back Assad as long as it is told to by the Iran’s ruling mullahs.

Turkey is another story. Hezbollah has no power in Turkey, and it cannot influence Turkey’s friendly treatment of anti-Assad protestors.

The death of Libyan gangster Moammar Qaddafi was bad news for Bashar Assad. With Europe and NATO now free of their military obligations in Libya, Assad can no longer count on NATO nations being too busy to bother with him. But not all NATO nation taxpayers are anxious to burn more cash and spill more blood by intervening in Syria. If the future complexion of the Libyan government is difficult to discern, then any future Syrian government is nearly impossible to predict. NATO nations can’t know what they would be backing.

Hezbollah maintains a disciplined and ruthless rule in southern Lebanon, and Hezbollah’s puppet masters in Iran are desperate to prevent a secular government from forming in Syria. Various factions in the chaos that we call Iraq also want to avoid secular government in Syria. Saudi Arabia wants Saudi-friendly Sunni rule in that country, and Jordan, Israel, and the West would be happy to see a secular, democratic government installed.

So what do the Syrians want? It’s perfectly clear that the majority of them want the Assad cabal gone. It’s completely unclear as to what they want in its place.

In the short term, Assad will use what he calculates to be the minimum force necessary to remain in power. He does not want to attract intervention, but he does not want to leave, and his options for leaving Syria grow less attractive as the bodies pile up.

In order for the Syrian protestors to remove Assad from power, they will need outside help. To get that outside help, they will need to decide what their vision of Syria will look like, and they will need to share that vision with the outside world. If the Syrian uprising presents the world with a view of Syria’s future that is significantly more appealing to the West than the status quo, then Western governments might be motivated to intervene on their behalf.

That intervention, if it happens, need not be military. Everyone living on the shores of the Mediterranean understands what NATO is, and now they understand how far it will go in intervening to remove a despot from the Mediterranean shores. They also understand just how easily NATO can do that. Syria does not present Europe with the same petroleum motive that Libya did, but there are limits as to how much Europe, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf States will tolerate from Assad.

If the Syrian Transitional Council succeeds in forming and sharing a vision beyond Assad’s departure, there will still be an easy way out of the potential violent mess that is brewing in Syria. If Assad is offered an escape from the hell of his and his father’s own making, he might be willing to board that ferry to re-cross the Rubicon. Trying Assad in court is less valuable and less important to mankind than allowing the Syrian people a chance to move forward into the twenty-first century without a repeat of the chaos that we now see in Iraq.

Whatever hopes and visions others might harbor for the Syrian people, only they can form and communicate those visions.

When I gaze into my crystal ball I don’t see the opposition going away. What do you see in your crystal ball? Any questions?