Not too long ago, Assad issued a “Finitiative,” that is, an initiative to end all initiatives, calling, allegedly, for dialogue with the opposition. Now, opposition leader Moaz Alkhatib has repaid Assad in kind by issuing his own “Finitiative” calling, purportedly, for dialogue with the regime. Both finitiatives were clearly designed for purposes other than those declared and were meant primarily as acts of continued defiance, even if some failed to detect the defiance involved in Alkhatib’s finitiative. For while, Assad’s finitiative was meant to rally troops and consolidate support and control rather than enter into any real dialogue with the opposition, Alkhatib’s came as a revolutionary act meant to break a political stalemate in the ranks of the international community and to push for a real policy to help resolve the situation in Syria in a way commensurate with the expectation of the majority of average Syrians from all communal and political backgrounds. Assad’s finitiative was, then, a defensive act, a last stand of sorts. But Alkhatib’s finitiative marked the opposition’s first real offensive on the political front.
The New “Finitiative”
Even intelligent observers of the Syrian revolutionary scene seem to oppose the recent initiative launched by Syrian opposition leader Moaz Alkhatib calling for conditional dialogue with the Assad regime. At the heart of their opposition lies the fear of the uncertainty that a political process brings with it and of the potential for re-legitimization of the regime as a byproduct. They fear that the revolution itself might be undermined and suffocated. But their fears are misplaced.
As Alkhatib himself has clearly said in his Al-Arabiya interview (some of the main points were covered by NBC as well), the armed struggle will continue irrespective of his call. Indeed, Alkhatib is under no illusion that he could stop the armed struggle nor does he want to. That is exactly what makes him different from other figures calling for dialogue: he endorses the dialogue and the armed struggle (not to mention nonviolent action). As such, what he is doing can in no way undermine the revolution. The armed struggle has become self-sustaining by now, even if arms flow remains unsteady. Unless Alkhatib, or whoever, can at one point produce a political vision and a plan that can be adopted by the majority of rebel leaders, then, nothing will change. So, where is the danger to the revolution then in what Alkhatib is doing? Opposition members need to understand is keeping pressure on the regime on all fronts, the political, the economic and the military, is a duty and not a choice. The rebels are doing their part, but the political opposition remains missing in action. It’s this maligned initiative by Alkhatib that has finally put them on the map.
Reports from various activists on the ground, and social media chatter indicate that the average Syrian seems to have responded well to Alkhatib’s initiative. While the emotional plea that Alkhatib made to Assad when he told him in his Al-Arabiya interview to “look into his children’s eyes and find the solution there” may not have an effect on Assad, and sounded all too naïve to so many opposition members, it does seem to have hit home for many average Syrians, further denuding Assad in the eyes of still silent segments, and adding to Alkhatib’s credibility. Indeed, in the public eye, Alkhatib now appears as one of very few members of the opposition who can support the revolution without being oblivious to the suffering of the people as well.
Moreover, and to set the record straight, again, Alkhatib's initiative is not meant to change the policies and attitudes of the Russians, Iranians and Assad supporters, but the attitudes and policies of the American and other western governments, by showing them there are those in the opposition with real leadership potential, and that the Syrian Opposition Coalition can be relied upon to produce a viable provisional government. As such, Syrian opposition groups need to give Alkhatib more time to act and should judge the success or failure of his initiative by the change it can produce in western policies towards supporting the opposition and the rebels. And we don’t have to postpone our judgment for too long. If, by May, the Obama Administration has not adopted a more proactive attitude towards inernveion in Syria, then, we can judge the initiative to have failed. Personally, I would still judge it as a laudable effort that deserves to have been made, and I would still see in Moaz a good and courageous leader for having embarked on this course and tried something different for change.
Some may find it strange that I support Alkhatib’s initiative, because, somehow, I am considered to be a hawk. But what I actually stand for is adopting a set policies based on a real understanding of the Assad regime and the realities on the ground. I have longed argued that military and political processes are not mutually exclusive, and should not be thought of with an either/or mentality. For unless rebels make serious military gains, including neutralizing Assad’s airpower, no viable political process can be launched. Moreover, no political process can be seen as credible if it is not led by figures who can appeal to the grassroots and to the average Syrian, irrespective of his political stands at the moment. We did not have such a figure until Moaz Alkhatib entered the scene. The fact that many believe that U.S. Ambassador Robert Ford played a key role in facilitating the emergence of Alkhatib on the scene is a good argument in favor of greater U.S. involvement in support of the opposition. Perhaps by offering military support to the rebels, the U.S. can help empower the credible and moderate leaders emerging in their ranks as well.
Meanwhile, one thing is clear: by failing to be more proactive, the Obama Administration has done a lot of damage to the cause of democratic change in Syria and the region. But course correction is still possible.
Roger Cohen makes an excellent argument for U.S. “Intervene in Syria,” and hits it on the head with his assertion that a “political solution cannot be achieved unless the balance of power is altered.”
I agree with Brahimi that there is no military solution. Syria, with its mosaic of faiths and ethnicities, requires political compromise to survive. That is the endgame. But this does not mean there is no military action that can advance the desired political result by bolstering the armed capacity of the Syrian opposition, leveling the military playing field, and hastening the departure of Assad essential for the birth of a new Syria. Assad the Alawite will not go until the balance of power is decisively against him…
It is time to alter the Syrian balance of power enough to give political compromise a chance and Assad no option but departure. That means an aggressive program to train and arm the Free Syrian Army. It also means McCain’s call to use U.S. cruise missiles to destroy Assad’s aircraft on the runway is daily more persuasive.
Indeed, it is about time we saw the Obama Administration endorsing such efforts instead of blocking them:
Last summer, as the fighting in Syria raged and questions about the United States’ inaction grew, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton conferred privately with David H. Petraeus, the director of the C.I.A. The two officials were joining forces on a plan to arm the Syrian resistance.
The idea was to vet the rebel groups and train fighters, who would be supplied with weapons. The plan had risks, but it also offered the potential reward of creating Syrian allies with whom the United States could work, both during the conflict and after President Bashar al-Assad’s eventual removal.
Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Petraeus presented the proposal to the White House, according to administration officials. But with the White House worried about the risks, and with President Obama in the midst of a re-election bid, they were rebuffed.
Shadi Hamid, Director of Research in the Brookings Doha Center, makes a similar argument:
Another unfortunate feature of the ongoing debate was the tendency to treat the military option and the diplomatic "alternative" as mutually exclusive. They never were. On the contrary, they could have been pursued in parallel. In Bosnia, NATO power forced the Serbs to the negotiating table, leading to the Dayton Accords and the introduction of multinational peacekeeping forces. In Libya, the Qaddafi regime showed more interest in negotiating with the opposition after military intervention, rather than before (Within a few weeks of the NATO operation, Qaddafi envoys were engaging in ceasefire talks).
Albeit, Hamid might be right, perhaps, the Obama Administration is too late:
For Syria, it is likely too late. Notwithstanding something sudden and entirely unexpected, the international community will not intervene. That does not mean that the Syrian people are doomed. They will likely "win" in the end, but their victory, if we can even call it that, will have come at a much greater cost - in the sheer number killed - than was necessary. It will have come at the cost of a country destroyed, of sects polarized beyond any hope of reconciliation, of Salafis and Jihadists ascendant, of a state too torn and divided for real governance.
I have made similar arguments in my recent paper, still, I hope that we are both wrong, and that course correction is still possible.
Rebels bring down a helicopter gunship in Ma’arrat Al-Nouman, Idlib (Feb 1) http://youtu.be/yYtPsqmQlZU
Rebels in Daraa City, use improvised missile launcher to target a loyalist headquarter http://youtu.be/uIcWwDbdaSc , http://youtu.be/J-Gg_7zK_SE As clashes continue http://youtu.be/6OUVd-J3OIg
Rebel encirclement of the Kuweiris Military Airport, Aleppo, continues http://youtu.be/u1c0HMx3azk
Rebels in Kafrenboudeh, Hama, try to take down a helicopter http://youtu.be/ajGEDC9axlo
In Damascus City, clashes between rebels and loyalist troops continue in several key neighborhoods: Al-Qadam a tank pound rebel positions http://youtu.be/Sty9J9RLtPg Rebels defend their positions using RPGs http://youtu.be/djwJXnBtrjY Yarmouk Camp the pounding continues http://youtu.be/LWLHBybHlTw Same in nearby Tadamon http://youtu.be/g9SFhyLyPkM
Meanwhile, aerial bombardment of Eastern Ghoutah continues: Douma http://youtu.be/Q0ojPfw_Sy0 Locals caught in a state of panic http://youtu.be/7_F2wOTm-_Y Kafar Batna http://youtu.be/py0a91xskkE Local panic http://youtu.be/gxFGwFBp1f8 Saqba http://youtu.be/d4ZqQmiC0OE
To the West, in Daraya, Damascus Suburbs, tanks continue to encircle rebel positions http://youtu.be/vgIHePQfCv0 and the pounding of the town of Zabadani by heavy artillery continues http://youtu.be/qpyRfdLNEFI To the North, MiGs pound the town of Yabroud http://youtu.be/6oH1yvdDasM