It’s counterintuitive but it’s true. The road to a political solution in Syria goes through further militarization, while saving the whole require working on stabilizing and securing the pieces. Few will understand this logic and many will see it as a conspiracy, as such, it will have few early adopters on the ground, that’s why a solution may take years to come.
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The Sectarian Turnabout
The crackdown in Syria was sectarian in nature from the very beginning, as evidenced by the statements of various Syrian officials at the time including those of Assad himself. Still, thanks to the goodwill and hard work of the country’s pro-democracy activists, it took almost 18 months to transform the revolution into a sectarian uprising. The tide began to turn in the Summer of 2012, during which the overwhelming brutality of the Assad regime, the cynical indifference of western powers, the competing agendas of regional players, and the shameful inadequacy of traditional opposition groups combined to feed the most extremist tendencies on the ground, and Syria began to fracture.
By August 2012, and as I noted in my report at the time, The Shredded Tapestry, the point of no-return in the devolution of Syria seems to have been reached. Only a massive intervention can save the country now, and there are no takers. We may not be able to save the whole anymore, but we might be able to stabilize the pieces so that humanitarian conditions are improved and spillover effects are contained. It will take many years to put the pieces back together. But these processes will not be possible until all sides realize that they cannot have it all.
A combination of pain, anger and ideology will make selling this vision at this stage a well-nigh impossible task.
But, and as my colleague, Amr al-Azm, argues, getting to a point where dialogue over these issued is made possible, requires serious investments in militarization. Indeed, a political solution requires changing the military realities on the ground.
Entering negotiations to hand over power to the opposition requires the regime’s loss of one or more major urban cities. The potential ability to seriously threaten core areas of Alawites, Assad’s tribesmen, and Damascus simultaneously would be significant game changers. The loss of Aleppo and Idlib would put opposition forces within reach of the Homs and Hama hinterlands, core areas of the Alawite communities. The loss of Deir Al-Zor would lay open the desert road Tariq Al-Badiya that swings across the eastern steppe through Palmyra and opens up the eastern and southern approaches to Damascus, where fighting is on-going. Such a threat would force the regime and its Iranian and Russian mentors to reconsider their calculus regarding the containment of the crisis, making them more likely to seriously engage in alternative options, such as negotiations for a transition.
Meanwhile, we should always be weary of Russian leaders waxing wise and reasonable, as Russian President Putin just did:
“Our position is not for the retention of Assad and his regime in power at any cost but that the people in the beginning would come to an agreement on how they would live in the future, how their safety and participation in ruling the state would be provided for, and then start changing the current state of affairs in accordance with these agreements, and not vice versa.”
The question is here: what did Putin do to get Assad to accept sitting down with the opposition to discuss these issues? The Obama Administration was willing to give Putin the lead in this matter for many months, but he produced nothing. Rather he and his officials refused to put any kind of pressure on Assad, whether through the UN or their own outreach. Moreover, in their media coverage and official statements, they wholly adopted Assad’s version of events, and in all their discussions with opposition figures, they put the burden for halting ongoing violence on them! Their strategy was to beat down the victims into submission and prep them to accept whatever pittance Assad chooses to offer them. Meanwhile they kept arming Assad. The net effect of their activities: giving Assad enough time to tear the country apart.
So, pardon us for not buying whatever offer Putin seems to be peddling.
Fierce clashes took place in the plush Mazzeh Neighborhood in Damascus City at night http://youtu.be/cXAoMFeUtKk , http://youtu.be/X5LM3BFKEHk Earlier in the day, missile launchers from the nearby military airport were busy pounding surrounding suburbs http://youtu.be/79Sc_YELW5c
Towns and communities around Damascus continue to come under heavy shelling: Deir Al-Assafeer http://youtu.be/hB1eeGOuilY
Rebels in Damascus Suburbs use their confiscated tanks to pound pro-regime positions around Damascus International Airport http://youtu.be/ZvOlzAEBi6c Clashes also take place near Agraba http://youtu.be/M2Bor8k1EIg
Leaked video shows pro-Assad militias abusing women detainees in Haffeh, Lattakia http://youtu.be/SJMg5SB042c