In what has now become a regular occurrence we may now be in the initial stages of military intervention by the West, again. For Iraq it was its weapons of mass destruction, with Libya it was the possible bloodbath in Benghazi by Colonel Gaddafi’s forces.
Now, for Syria, the threat of civil war is being trumpeted as the reasoning from one Western capital to the other. This is a clear development away from the 15 months of constantly rejecting even the notion of military intervention citing the complicated nature of the of any intervention and the potential spread of chaos throughout the region as the reasons why military action was out of the question.
Western relations with Syria have always been covered with myths, lies and doublespeak; the last 15 months have merely been the latest episode. As the Syrian crisis escalates it is important that we can decipher between the reality and the many myths the West have constructed to hide their true intensions.
Syria may have always been depicted as an international pariah state that supports Hezbollah and Palestinian militants. However, away from public scrutiny the US government has viewed Syria as an important surrogate that is needed in the region. In Iraq the Syrian regime protected US interests by stemming the insurgency and constructing America’s political architecture. Syria played an active role in infiltrating the Sunni insurgents. After the fall of Saddam, many Iraqi’s fled Iraq and sought refuge in Syria. Syria set up militant training camps to recruit and train Iraqi refugees into fighters with the explicit purpose of infiltrating the Iraqi resistance, providing real-time intelligence to US officials.
On the Palestinian issue Syria has engaged with Israel on the two state solution, including the Golan Heights – a US solution for the region. Whilst such talks have been on and off, the Syrian regime nevertheless through peace overtures to Israel facilitated America’s stranglehold over the region. Israel’s prominent daily newspaper, Ha’aretz, ran an editorial immediately after the start of the Syrian uprising declaring Assad to be “Israel’s favourite dictator of all” and that “it seems Assad has wall-to-wall support here, as though he were king of Israel.”
US-EU v Russia-China
The international response to Syria has been depicted for months as Russia and China supporting al-Assad, with the principled US and EU on the other side. It was the UK and France that touted the removal of al-Assad when the uprising began in Syria in April 2011. The US response to Syria until recently has been very clear and was outlined in unequivocal terms by Hilary Clinton in an interview with Lucia Annunziata of Italy’s ‘In Mezz’Ora,’ she was asked whether the US was applying a double standard when dealing with Libyan leader Col. Muammar al-Gaddafi and other Arab dictators who are killing their citizens, such as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. She said “There are deep concerns about what is going on inside Syria, and we are pushing hard for the government of Syria to live up to its own stated commitment to reforms, what I do know is that they have an opportunity still to bring about a reform agenda. Nobody believed Qaddafi would do that. People do believe there is a possible path forward with Syria. So we’re going to continue joining with all of our allies to keep pressing very hard on that.” Hilary Clinton explained that she held out hope that the Syrian government would institute reforms that could satisfy the demands of protesters and end the government-sponsored violence against civilians. There was no hope for that outcome in Libya.
Bashar al-Assad has been a loyal surrogate to the US, the US had no plans to abandon him, as replacing him would be near impossible in a country where he brutally oppresses his people. As the US made one excuse after the other for him, Britain and France beamed his atrocities around the world.
When this position became untenable, as the massacres continued, the US faced a dilemma, the Syrian National Council (SNC) and the Local Coordination Committee (LCC) failed to coalesce into a unified movement. The US hoped to possibly replace al-Assad with a new breed of loyalists, however undermined by internal squabbling and power struggles and having little credibility in the eyes of the people the US turned towards the UN to buy itself time.
Various proposals were put forward with regards to Syria from sanctions to UN observer missions and a resolution condemning the Syrian leadership with vague prospects of intervention. This action i.e. the involvement of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and the resolution to the Syrian crisis, effectively placed the solution to the Syrian crisis in the hands of the superpowers, who themselves were all competing with each other.
Sergey Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister said: “Russia was not going to accept any resolutions that might open the way to foreign intervention or that would pre-determine the political outcome in Syria.”Russia and China attempted to complicate the US plan in Syria by opposing attempts to pass a vague resolution and then using this as a cover for militarily intervention. It was under the guise of imposing no fly zones in Libya that the West armed the Benghazi rebels, trained them, France, Britain and the US then cultivated links with different personalities to maintain influence after the overthrow of Gaddafi. Both Russia and China generally oppose the West and use the forum of the UN to oppose Western planes. Such positions are generally weak and the veto from Russia was no different. Aside from a naval refuelling facility in Syria, Russia lacks any political influence in Syria. The stance by primarily Russia and then China is in reality was weak attempt to influence the Syrian crisis.
In truth Britain and France have always been calling for military intervention to oust al-Assad, as this will give them the opportunity to intervene in the country and shape the nation where their interests can be protected post – al-Assad, whilst the US has obstructed this by utilising various delaying tactics, which will allow it the time to construct a replacement for al-Assad.
The Kofi Annan Plan
The Kofi Annan plan, endorsed by the West, allowed the regime time and space to commit arguably its worst atrocities since the start of the uprising. The UN observers have been impotent; the earlier Arab league observer mission was at times complicit with the regime. The idea was to allow time for the various fractured opposition figures – most of whom utterly lack credibility – to be manufactured into a government in waiting that would be compliant with Western interests; which would then replace Assad.
This plan has been nominally useless as the ceasefires prior to it. The task of observers is to inform the international community of unacceptable actions of those they have under observation. The international community was fully aware of the violence. The issue in Syria is not that the world is unaware of the violence, but that it is not able or willing to take steps to end it. Bashar al-Assad’s regime had shown that it is willing to do whatever it needs to do to defeat the opposition. It has retained the support of the military to suppress the opposition. Philip Gourevitch, the US author and journalist said: “In real life, the UN has effectively run cover for the Syrian regime's bloody campaign by deploying Kofi Annan, the weak and accommodating former secretary general, to Damascus. The peace plan Annan cooked up with Assad in late March is another soap bubble, and the UN military observers who are supposed to monitor it are useless – or worse: when the butchery began in Houla, the regime told the UN monitors to stay away, which they did, bringing back bad memories, from the mid-nineties, of the false promises of protection that were extended, under the UN flag, to the people of Bosnia and Rwanda before they were abandoned to their killers.”
The US has recently touted a Yemen style arrangement – where the ruler and his immediate coterie are removed, but remnants of the regime remain in power, so maintaining the status quo as far the West is concerned. President Obama, together with the leaders of the G8 at Camp David in May 2012 stressed the need for al-Assad’s departure. He pointed to Yemen as a model for a political transition that could succeed in Syria. Following this the US National Security Advisor Thomas Donilon also stated that Obama raised the issue of a peaceful transition plan on the Yemeni model with the Prime Minister of Russia, Medvedev, on the sidelines of the G8 summit at Camp David. He added that this plan would be on the table for talks between Obama and Putin at the first meeting bringing them together after the G8.
In reality there exists no such model as the Yemen model. What took place in Yemen was an Anglo-American struggle over the country. The British Deputy Foreign Secretary for Middle Eastern affairs Evan Louis while meeting the Yemeni Ambassador in London on 24th November 2009 clarified regarding the situation in Yemen: “What is happening in Yemen is a proxy war.” The US used the war on terror to undermine Ali Abdullah-Saleh by accusing Yemen of being a hub for Al Qaeeda, Ali Abdullah-Saleh attempted to appease the US with a host of security guarantees which allowed the US to carry out drone attacks in the country. The Arab spring gave the US the opportunity to remove Saleh, who however dug in his heals with the support of Britain and in the face of demands by his own people to leave. He agreed on many occasions to a transition deal but constantly backtracked. The US continually called for theimmediate transition of power in Yemen, whilst Britain stopped at reforms. An eventual deal was struck in February 2012 which handed over Saleh’s powers to Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi, the Yemeni vice-president, giving Saleh a dignified exit.
The existing regime remained, one crony was replaced with another, albeit on this occasion one loyal to the US rather than Britain. This is the reality of the Yemen model being touted for Syria.
After fifteen months of actively doing nothing, the West may need to intervene, because it fears the people’s revolt will defeat the regime; and that would not be in Western interests. The US is now openly calling for military intervention as an option as its interests are being affected. Its interest are at stake as the Ummah of Syria have rejected America’s proxies and are working to replace Assad with a sincere Islamic leadership. The Assad regime has been unable to quell the uprisings in Homs, Hama, Idlib and the stand-off has reached Aleppo as well as districts on the outskirts of Damascus – the seat of the regime. This has worried the US as well as the al-Assad regime who resorted to massacres such as Qubair and Houla as the people of Syria will replace Assad with a sincere ruler and not another puppet.
This recent development, has seen not the people of Syria, but the US and Europe constantly highlight the prospects of civil war. A civil war if it was the case would be between the Sunni’s and Alawites and would deflect from overthrowing the al-Assad regime. This would not only give the US further time to construct the post al-Assad regime - a strategy the US utilised in Iraq, but is now the pretext of foreign intervention. This can already be seen as the West has accused foreign insurgents of supporting the Free Syrian Army, thus tarnishing the FSA with the same brush as the Sunnis of Iraq were i.e. being helped by al-Qaeeda.
The Ummah of Syria who is fighting to remove al-Assad has increased their capability, which has worried the US. This is why military intervention is being seriously considered. The Ummah in Syria has been at war for over a year now, with experience and aid from defecting Syrian troops, their fighting acumen has improved. The sharp increase in the number of destroyed Syrian army tanks and armoured fighting vehicles over the last month attests to the capability the Ummah. The influx of fighters from other countries as has been reported has also bolstered the Ummah. This influx includes experienced Syrian and Iraqi fighters who fought in the Iraq War against US forces. Their experience in improvised explosive devices (IED’s) would appear to have had an enormous effect on the Ummah’s capabilities to inflict casualties and damage on the Syrian military.
This is why the Syrian military has in the last few months avoided costly armoured attacks on rebel-held urban areas where armour is more vulnerable. The regime is starting to rely more on artillery and attack helicopter support. Artillery and aviation offensive operations has continued with the military’s main assault units - the 4th Armoured Division, Republican Guard and 14th Special Forces, as well as the Shabiha, a local mercenary force, around Damascus.
Military intervention by the US and its allies will be to stop the Sunni Muslims overthrowing the al-Assad regime and engineering a transition. Any type of intervention is an immensely challenging task as the Sunni Muslims make up over 85% of the country’s population and control a similar amount of territory. Any foreign intervention in the country would need a large number of troops flown into the country in order to protect Aleppo, Damascus and Homs, the country’s largest and most important cities. Alongside this the country’s military Silos and heavy weapon depots will need to be secured.
The nightmare scenario for the US would be Sunni’s overthrow the al-Assad regime and take over the organs of the country including weapons depots and heavy military equipment. This will allow the Ummah to carry out an insurgency against the US and take on whatever the US deploys in the country.
In this scenario the US will need to deploy more than just Special Operation Forces (SOF’s), use the Alawites against the insurgency and work to fracture the Sunni resistance. A similar strategy was used in Iraq to break the insurgency.
In summary whoever possesses the country’s military equipment, air defence and heavy weaponry will probably prevail.
The last few weeks has seen the Syria crisis develop as the Ummah have made some significant strides in overthrowing the regime. The US until recently worked to construct an alternative, loyal leadership to al-Assad, however this has been complicated by the strides the Ummah has made. This has worried the US, who has now changed its tone with regards to intervening. It is unlikely the US can intervene immediately with the US presidential race beginning in July 2012 for elections in December 2012, however if the Ummah in Syria is on the path of overthrowing America’s loyal surrogate, civil war may well become the excuse to halt the Ummah’s demand for Islam in Syria.