A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Marrakesh is Far From Damascus

FEISAL:  Yes, Lieutenant? What do you think about Yenbo?
LAWRENCE: I think it is far from Damascus.
BRIGHTON: We'll have you in Damascus and never fear.
FEISAL: Have you been in Damascus, Mr Lawrence?
LAWRENCE: Yes, my lord.
FEISAL: It is beautiful, is it not?
BRIGHTON That'll do, Lawrence. Dreaming won't get you to Damascus, sir, but discipline will. Look, sir, Great Britain is a small country; it's much smaller than yours; a small population compared with some; it's small but it's great, and why?
ALI: Because it has guns!
BRIGHTON: Because it has discipline!
FEISAL: Because it has a navy; because of this, the English go where they please and strike where they please and this makes them great.
Dialogue from David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia, (1962), which opened 50 years ago this month,

Marrakesh is a wonderful place, but it is far from Damascus. The Djemaa al-Fnaa is just the sort of place to appeal to tourists seeking a glimpse of the "mysterious East," and Winston Churchill loved to retreat to the Mamounia hotel to paint. But is Marrakesh the right place for the "Friends of Syria" to be meeting today? It is in the Arab world to be sure, but far from Damascus, The "Friends" will offer recognition to the Syrian opposition, but like Feisal above, they are asking for guns.

I'm not eager for intervention, but I think Syrian dissident Ammar Abdulhanid gets things more or less right in this commentary:
While President Obama’s interview with ABC did not exactly come as a response to my call made yesterday that he should “justify” himself to the Syrian people, the fact that he chose to recognize the National Coalition himself and not do it through Secretary Clinton might indicates that there are those in the Administration who understand the need for striking a positive note with the Syrian people at this stage. Still, the move might be too little too late.
Irrespective of how things will develop in the future, the U.S. now has very few friends in Syria. While America was busy with her elections, the wrong forces were filling up the void left by her absence with their lies, their conspiracy theories and their Jihadis. When Jihadis couldn’t fit, a lie or a conspiracy theory did. The net result – a pervasive sentiment that says: America doesn’t really care about us and her interests are not necessarily commensurate with ours, so there is no reason for us to trust her.
Still, America’s best bet at this stage is to keep supporting the Coalition she just recognized, and has helped form. It’s no less dysfunctional and Islamist-dominated than its predecessor, but it’s the only game in town at this stage, and will remain so until developments on the ground make it obsolete, which they eventually will.
More importantly, the U.S. should work more closely with the new military command recently established by rebels in Antalya, Turkey. Most rebel groups recognize the authority of this new council, and should it be enabled to deliver on their expectations, it will become more legitimate, more relevant and more capable of directing operations on the ground.
Meanwhile, Al-Nusra and its myriad affiliates and sympathizers on the ground is emerging as a third force, that will complicate everyone’s calculations. But don’t expect rebels to clash with Jihadis anytime soon. Whether the U.S. likes it or not, barring some unforeseen development, the two forces will continue their ongoing cooperation against Assad, at least until he is pushed out of Damascus. Then, mayhem will unfold, because by now, the dynamics favoring it are too strong.
Whatever happens in Marrakesh, and however long this tragedy goes on (Josh Landis is now saying it could last through the summer), what happens on the ground is going to be niore important than what happens in Marrakech.


freude bud said...

The notion that we have to "justify" ourselves to the Syrian rebels is more than a little annoying. The civil war is Syria's fight, not ours. The notion that we are morally obliged to play a role is childish and self-serving. I suspect that folks inside the beltway would be more inclined to material aid if they felt that the recipients were grown ups who felt that it was themselves, ultimately, who were responsible for their fates and not some fabulist's hegemon/bogeyman.

David Mack said...

Freude Bud is right. The Syrian rebel leaders I have met seem to be fine folks, and they claim to be inspired by American democratic values. This was also true of all the Iraqi opposition leaders I met starting in the spring of 1991. We know how that turned out. Obama Administration is right to proceed very cautiously and not let either neo-cons or neo-Wilsonian liberals in the human rights lobbies put us on a guilt trip.