Sparring Over Syria

Syria is the greatest tragedy after Afghanistan, Iraq and Rwanda. Yet, the discussion over this tragedy is becoming tangential, turning attention from the carnage taking place in Syria on a daily basis. For most people, it is a matter of global power politics. How does one explain the situation in a way that it becomes clear that Syria is being destroyed bit by bit as scores of Syrians die every day?
A hypothetical equivalent of Assad family’s stranglehold would be a 30-year rule by Ziaul Haq, followed by that of his son till today. Syria’s misfortune would have been the fate of Libya and Egypt as well if the Arab spring had not intervened to put an end to the interminable rule of Qaddafi and Mubarak.
Egypt and Libya are still in a state of turmoil. That is understandable when dictators rule for three or four decades turning countries into personal fiefdoms, destroying what little institutions exist and avoid any schema for succession except designating their scions as future rulers.
But in Syria, where the son rose thirteen years ago, the situation is hopeless, to put it mildly. One tenth of the population has fled their homes. The number of dead and wounded is by now a matter of statistics and not of human suffering. Branded as a reformist at the beginning, Bashar quickly returned to his father’s repressive and brutal ways. He is the only survivor among the Middle East dictators targeted by popular uprisings.
Bashar’s obstinacy is the root cause of the current mess. Anyone possessing an iota of compassion for his people would have sought refuge in a friendly country long ago. But evidently the Assads and their entourage are made of a different material.
The Syrian army has played a most disappointing role in the worst crisis their nation has faced. It is astonishing that the country with the most frequent coups in the Arab world finds itself in an bind where the army continues to play the role of executioners on behalf of a most ruthless dictatorship.
Had the Syrian generals cared for their people, Bashar al-Assad would have been shipped off like Ben Ali or put on trial like Mubarak. The Egyptian army removed Mubarak from power once it became clear that the soldiers would have to kill Egyptians on a large scale to keep Mubarak in power. The Egyptian generals’ role in the past few weeks is not beyond reproach but at least they acted to stop the country drifting towards civil strife.
There are enormous risks in fuelling the civil war through proxies of bigger players. If the trend persists, it threatens the annihilation of a nation and the destruction of a country. The country has become the new battleground for regional and global power struggles. It may push a large part of the Middle East into the claws of sectarian fighters. That Russia continues to support a moribund regime is worrying and makes a mockery of the Russian people’s own overthrow of a totalitarian system.

The west has become worried at the rise of Islamists following the successes of Arab uprisings. The UN option to take strong action against the Assad regime became complicated from the realisation in Moscow and Beijing that they were being short-changed in Libya. Hence, a sense of resignation that the Assad regime might be the less bad option. But at what cost?

The only way to save the Syrians is that Saudi Arabia and Iran, together with other Middle East players like Turkey and Egypt, with the backing of the P-5 help find a safe exit for Bashar. His continued stay in power is a recipe for the death of another hundred thousand Syrians and millions more becoming destitute or refugees.

This approach is needed because, among other things, the remaining superpower is fumbling for action after the wily British got out of the tandem that has traditionally made rain or sunshine since WWII. The inconvenience of being a major power is that you have to behave like one. With the superpower so unsure, other nations are taking refuge behind condemnation of the use of chemical weapons but opposing foreign intervention.

In reality, foreign intervention is already rife in Syria and so is the rise of sectarian and jihadi forces. Several Middle Eastern nations would like the US and its allies to intervene more directly to bring the Syrian regime to its knees. But that option is not on the table because Washington, London and Paris are fearful of what happens after Assad. The Syrians will continue to die or leave their homes for safety as the power centres watch the carnage in equanimity. Just like they did when the Rwandans continued massacres of fellow citizens on an unprecedented scale.

Obama’s speech of September 11, vowing to punish the Syrian regime for using chemical weapons, gives no hope of an end to the massive killing by conventional means by the regime or the rebels. After Obama’s decision to delay the vote in Congress, attention is focused mostly on the proposal to take hold of Syria’s chemical arsenal.

There is no serious effort to prepare a road map to bring the two-and-a-half-year old conflict to an end. All that is being said by the major powers or regional players leads to the conclusion that the killing spree will go on with international organisations updating figures of dead, wounded and homeless. All is set to prolong the civil war.