A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Syrian Muddle

Clearly, the muddle over what to do about Syria is, if anything, getting more muddled. The battle of Qusayr is being claimed by Bashar al-Asad as a victory, one won on Syrian territory with the aid of combatants from Hizbullah in Lebanon. As the West still argues over greater involvement on the side of the rebels, Hizbullah has plunged in head first. MEI Adjunct Scholar Charles Dunne asks the hard question, "What Happens if Al-Assad Prevails?"

The US-Russian brokered agreement to hold talks in Geneva ("Geneva 2," they're calling it) isn't spurring much optimism.  Bilal Saab isn't terribly optimistic about "Supporting the Syrian Rebels in Geneva." And elsewhere, Aaron David Miller, who's been to quite a few, warns of "The Perils of Peace Conferences."

Walter "Pat" Lang brings a career intelligence analyst's opinion to the debate:
"You  have to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold'em..."
The US policy towards Syria is a total muddle, conceived in ignorance of the human facts on the  ground and motivated by "dogooderism" that thinks all the world is a graduate school seminar in which professors and students can re-design the fate of humanity to taste.
Tell us what you really think, Pat.

While I respect the deeply held opinions on both sides of the intervention question, I think we nneed to realistically assess what is happening on the ground. First, the battle for Qusayr is, if not won, at least tilting towards the Syrian regime, and Hizbullah's open and unapologetic involvement is a major challenge to the rebels.

Secondly, what about the S-300s? If the US and Russia are really trying to broker peace, the decision to sell sophisticated surface-to-air missiles to Syria underscores Russia's continuing commitment to the Syrian regime. While Israel's recent air strikes inside Syria may be the overt justification for the S-300 sale, one of the main elements in the potential intervention package advocated by supporters of the rebels, a no-fly zone, could be undermined once the missiles are in place. Calling it a game-changer is not an exaggeration.

I do think the situation is shifting at the moment, and not in favor of the rebels. While intervention has some eloquent advocates, who insist the model is not Iraq but Libya, where a no-fly zone worked. But Syria is not Libya and the geopolitics are totally different. I sense little real domestic will in the US and Europe to support military intervention. The tragedy of Syria seems to be deepening, but it is far from clear that any of the proposed approaches is going to end the killing. I wish I could be more optimistic.

1 comment:

David Mack said...

It looks bleak when viewed from Beirut, but that is not the whole story. Despite their disorganization and in-fighting, the Syrian rebels have some significant advantages over the government in northern and eastern Syria. Also, watch what is happening along the Syria-Jordanian border. Here there is relative success in the American strategy of working with the Jordanians and Saudis to arm and train some carefully vetted Syrian rebel units. There really are multiple fronts with different stories. I recommend highly the article in Foreign Policy by Bilal Saab.