Tag Archives: Arab Spring

Syrian Solutions. Do They Exist?

 

It seems every time one watches, reads or hears a snippet of news the exact same depressing situation seems to be playing out in Syria – over and over and over again – in fact, so frequently has this story been aired, I will not torture you with a reiteration of it.

It has been a year and a half to the day since the uprising began yet no solution prevails, in fact, many seem to have given up on the situation all together – a bloody, gruesome stalemate; a failure of humanity if you will. Yet just like every other problematic conflict which has plagued history there must, and will, be a solution. It seems there are a number of ways the Syrian situation could play out: a triumph by one side over the other; a military intervention of some kind, presumably by the “West”; a political solution, most likely involving President Assad stepping down or being removed; possibly even a buffer zone set up by Turkey in the north of Syria to quell the violence. In no way is this list exhaustive or complete in any way, in fact the more perceptive among you may have noticed the absence of the most desirable solution – a ‘meeting of the minds’ between the opposition and the regime. The absence of such an outcome is not a lethargic oversight on my part, (of which there will be many throughout the remainder of the piece) but rather a quasi-acceptance that such a result is now, after all the spilled blood and animosity, extremely unlikely to come to fruition.

Military intervention is often the last port of call in the international community’s conflict resolution kit – grisly, costly and often creating more problems than it solves. However the Syrian situation has been stubborn and unyielding, it has intensified instead of faded and thus a military intervention grows more attractive by the day while remaining almost unthinkable. As an indication of just how unattractive a military intervention is perceived to be, one would point to the fact that a year and a half on, with 10,000-15,000 dead there has been no serious talk of an intervention. This unattractiveness is complex and multifaceted, the linchpin of which surely has to be the fear that should a full scale war erupt within Syria, it’s already fragile neighbours, most pointedly Iraq and Lebanon, would teeter on the edge of chaos themselves. Additionally, Russia’s insistence in standing by the Assad regime as it butchers its own people has rendered the United Nations Security Council as, one again, a toothless  organisation, while the US and its allies seem to have had quite enough of engaging the Middle East in violence – and rightly so. Iran, it seems, is the elephant in the room. It is well known that the Assad regime and the Iranian elite are rather cosy; in fact there is some evidence to suggest that Iranian commanders have been assisting in supplying and coordinating the Syrian military, undoubtedly calling on their own experiences of the 2009 “Green Revolution”. Iran’s political proximity to the Assad regime gives the Syrian situation yet another dimension due to the Iranians current posturing toward the international community and the constant threats they seem to receive and issue, particularly with regard to Israel. Thus from an American point of view a military intervention into Syria – most definitely serving to raise the ire of Iran – would cast a further shadow over the region and in particular their staunchest ally in the Middle East – Israel – something the Americans are not prepared to do, particularly in an election year!

A far more feasible option, at least on paper, would be the implementation of a humanitarian buffer zone by Turkey (undoubtedly assisted by others) in the north of Syria. Although not solving the problem per se, such a security zone would at least (theoretically) provide safe haven for millions of Syrian civilians caught up in the conflict. Additionally such a region could be used to arm and coordinate the Free Syrian Army and its affiliates, helping to unify a fragmented opposition and strengthen the opposition in its quest to topple the Syrian regime. Of course, this solution too is riddled by a plethora of problems. Russia would almost definitely veto any Security Council resolution proposing such a scheme, China may also be opposed to such a blatant disregard for Syrian sovereignty – as China often are. Thus if such a buffer zone were to be put in place it is most likely that it would need to be done unilaterally, that is, not through the United Nations. This is something which is unpopular with many (see Invasion of Iraq in 2003) and unlikely to get off the ground without a nation willing to lead the way, of which there seem to be few to none at the moment. Additional problems will certainly be encountered when applying the scheme on the ground – skirmishes with the Syrian military would be unavoidable; in fact it is hard to see the Syrian government abstaining from a full frontal attack, especially taking into consideration their reaction to a Turkish reconnaissance aircraft entering their airspace for ‘a few seconds’.

A political solution of some kind is the most likely outcome of the Syrian conflict. As we all know political situation change in the blink of an eye, especially in the Middle East in the past year and a half (Mubarak and Ben Ali). It is very hard to see Bashar Al-Assad voluntarily stepping down from the presidency, in fact it is impossible to see; unless of course an inordinate amount of pressure were to be placed on him. The two most likely sources for such pressure would be internally: from his own government and from exterior allies – primarily Russia and Iran. Predicting such a situation is a fools game and one which I will not take part in, however what does strike one as quite obvious is that the conflict will not end if just Assad goes – it must be a holistic change of government and governance, something which is far harder to accomplish. One only needs to look at Egypt in the present day to realise just how deeply rooted and stubborn a political system can be to remove.

Even if one or all of these solutions were to magically work there remains a fundamental and serious sticking point which will prevent solving the conflict in Syria once and for all – what to do in a post-Assad Syria? Reprisal attacks along sectarian lines will undoubtedly be common place, violence and instability is likely to plague the country for years to come creating thousands of refugees and yet more bloodshed. The Arab Spring has opened many a can of worms and has, in many cases, been praised for doing so. I just wonder, could this be one can too many?

The US & the Arab Spring

 

Just like any other country, the United States and its’ leaders are driven primarily by national interest – in effect, selfishness – putting their own needs and wants above those of others. To do otherwise would not only be illogical but would undermine the very essence of international politics and foreign policy formation. Leading on from this, it is plainly obvious that stability in the Middle East would be of great benefit to America. This is exemplified by the multiple wars in this region led by America in pursuit of a stable, harmonious and submissive Middle East. America’s interests extend far and wide across what is regarded as the least stable and most influential region of the world. From economics to politics, security to human rights, the Middle East is a constantly evolving, generally unstable, yet deeply influential part of the world which the US has been, in many ways, unable to dominate. Thus it would be naive to the point of ignorance for anyone to resolutely state that America upheld its’ democratic values during the Arab Spring. Instead the US presented a two-faced policy with regard to the developments in the Arab world – rallying for democracy in the public eye yet remaining mostly quiet in the real world.

Washington’s options in relation to their policy towards the Arab Spring can, in essence, be simplified to stability vs. democracy. The Obama administration astutely inferred that backing either one horse or the other would create for itself problems, uproar and unpopularity, particularly in the Middle East – a region not renowned for its love of America. Instead Washington slyly portrayed itself as pro-democracy through many words, the culmination of which came in President Obama’s May 19th speech. In reality however, words were all they were; Washington’s actual position on the political situation in the Middle East remained unchanged as it had been for the past half century and could we really blame them? From a political standpoint Washington’s deep, ‘unshakeable’ commitment to Israel meant the formation of good relations with Egypt’s (now deposed) dictator Hosni Mubarak in order to secure peace for the Jewish state. This relationship was literally bought by the American’s through the $1.5 billion in annual aid, most of which was spent on security forces, the very same forces which attempted to crush the January 25th uprising across the country. Clearly, American support for the previous Egyptian regime is undeniable, many would classify the US as an accomplice to the thirty year despotism and ensuing crackdown, they traded support of a dictator in return for stability – stability vs. democracy, and it’s pretty clear which triumphed.

It could be pointed out that, although the US failed in upholding its intrinsic values in Egypt (and many other states) the backing of the UN Security Council’s no-fly zone over Libya and resultant aerial engagement of Muammar Gaddafi’s loyalist forces demonstrated Washington’s support for democracy. In reality this is a flawed argument, not only did America, the world’s only superpower, fail to lead this intervention, but they only joined in with the intention of saving the world from a brutal bloodbath – a humanitarian intervention, not a stand for its’ political values. Instead, it could be said that Washington’s backing of the no-fly zone was to establish a sense of stability, for had the international community not intervened, chaos and anarchy would surely have ensued. Furthermore, Washington’s ‘good deed’ in Libya was offset by their blunt refusal to intervene in Bahrain – a crucial ally and home of the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet. This yet again demonstrates Washington’s two-faced approach to the Arab Spring, prioritising stability over democracy, national interest over intrinsic values. The Bahraini situation not only gave rise to Washington’s failure to protect the rights of the thousands of democratic protestors, but also demonstrated US complicity in the brutal foreign-led crackdown carried out by the ‘Peninsula Shield’. This intervening force was comprised mostly of Saudi security forces, forces who receive military equipment and training from the USA. In possibly the most outrageous contradiction, President Obama himself said: ‘we will support open access to the Internet, and the right of journalists to be heard – whether it’s a big news organization or a blogger’ . When it came to action however, Washington fell dismally short, standing idly by as Bahraini blogger Zainab Al-Khawaja was ‘brutally arrested’ , not to mention the shameless internet censorship conducted by many of its Gulf allies. Throughout the Arab Spring a recurring theme began to evolve – elaborate, promising rhetoric by Washington yet very little, if any, action. This phenomenon was no accident, instead it was the subtle (or not so subtle in the case of Bahrain) evidence that the US prized stability and influence over democracy in the Middle East.

Perhaps the most blatant evidence of the United States’ real intentions lie in the current massacre taking place in Syria. For better or for worse the US has refused to intervene in this situation, possibly fearing reprisal attacks from Syria’s staunch ally Iran through it’s proxies in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip on Israel or even America itself. The morality and ethical values displayed by Washington with regard to its failure to act on Syria are complicated, it is not a clear cut situation, there is no clear path to peace, yet despite this clouded sense of right and wrong one thing is clear – Washington has once again deliberately chosen to preserve stability outside of Syria at the cost of the many thousands of Syrian democratic protestors. The actual Syrian situation and possible intervention may be complicated but this fact is as clear cut as ever.

The Middle East was, is and will continue to be a complicated, intertwined and unstable place and the USA will continue to be a world superpower, at least for the foreseeable future. This being said Washington’s foreign policy choices throughout 2011 and continuing to this day are blatant and obvious to even the simplest minds. The stark reality is that, despite the fluffy sunshine rhetoric exhibited by the Obama administration with regard to their determination to uphold democracy throughout the Middle East, they have knowingly and deliberately chosen to abide by a realist, national interest-driven foreign policy. Is this so shameful?