Syria’s Civil War?

No Fly Zone in Syria?

The Syrian episode of the Arab Spring seems to be stagnating in a horribly violent phase. The majority of protesters have remained true to non-violence, only to see continued repression and killing by the Assad regime (somewhere around 2,700 killed.) Some have turned to violent revolution based on the Libyan experience, though this number is reportedly in the minority. Internationally, western countries have tried and failed to pass a watered-down resolution at the United Nations, leading many to contemplate the possibility of establishing a no-fly zone over Syria. Needless to say, a lot has happened.

  • The Formation of the Syrian National Council – Ehsani, Syria Comment: The Syrian National Council was formed on Sunday as an umbrella coalition of opposition figures to the current leadership in Damascus. There will be a general assembly of 190 members who will be elected next month. The council will also have a 29-strong general secretariat representing seven opposition factions. These factions include representatives from the Damascus Declaration group, a pro-democracy network; the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, a banned Islamic political party; various Kurdish factions; the Local Coordination Committees, a group that helps organize and document protests; and other independent and tribal figures. [Despite the formation of this council, the opposition is still very divided. The recent surge in violence in Homs is a perfect example of this critical division.]
  • Syrian National Council Publishes Maps of Syrian Air Defenses – David Kenner, Foreign Policy: The Syrian National Council (SNC), which was formed on Sunday as an umbrella coalition of groups opposed to President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, hinted strongly that it was in favor of a no-fly zone over the country by publishing maps of Syrian air defenses on its website. [The likelihood of a no-fly zone in Syria?]
  • The Import Suspension Decision was Indeed Temporary – Ehsani, Syria Comment: Staying on economics, the Arab spring has sparked a sharp fall in foreign direct investment. Egypt, for example, is expected to experience a drop from $6.4 billion last year to a mere $500 million in 2011, a 92% slide, according to a report from the Kuwait-based Investment and Export Credit Guarantee Corp. Foreign direct inflow into Syria are forecast to fall by 62% from $1.4 billion in 2010 to around $500 million this year. Remember that the initial goals of the Syrian government under Mr. Dardari were based on attracting close to $10 billion a year. Interestingly, investments are pouring into Iraq. The country expects FDI to more than double to $3.5 billion this year. [As always, Ehsani covers a lot in this article. I find this part the most interesting.]
  • Turkish PM Says Set to Unveil Syria Sanctions PlanReuters: Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday he would set out his country’s plans for sanctions against Syria after he visits a Syrian refugee camp near the border in the coming days, stepping up pressure on President Bashar al-Assad. [With relations between Ankara and Damascus completely shredded, what will happen when Assad stays in power?]
  • The Uncomfortable Reality in Syria – Tony Badran, Now Lebanon: The Obama administration is slowly coming to grips with the uncomfortable reality that its preferred scenario of a peaceful transition in Syria is looking less likely. As much as it had hoped to avoid it, the administration finds itself having to develop contingency plans as signs of armed resistance to Bashar al-Assad’s regime are becoming increasingly visible. [Badran criticized the Obama policy to Syria, but hardly suggests an alternative. The limited sanctions against Assad are merely symbolic without an universal sanctions effort as Assad can buy and sell elsewhere, yet the US has very few alternatives.]
  • The Arab Spring and Syria’s Long Winter – Fehmy Saddy, Al Jazeera: States, just like people, are born and can die. Modern Syria was created after World War One, and the present crisis presents the risk of its disintegration into small and separate entities with foreign dominant powers. It is ironic that the Baath Party which promotes Arab unity, would be the party that presides over the disintegration of a once united and strong Syria. Over the past several months, Syrian officials have chosen to persist in viewing the crisis from a single and short-sighted perspective. Even after six months of daily demonstrations, heavy causalities and international condemnation, they are still incapable or appreciating their predicament. [Saddy offers three possibilities for Syria: international intervention, civil war and a peaceful settlement that even he admits is ‘wishful thinking.’ His international intervention option relies completely on the ability and willingness of the US to pressure Russia and China into caving on a UNSC resolution. Saddy writes as if this is unavoidable; I am more skeptical. Of course, this means that the only other option is…]
  • Assad is Dead, Long Live Assad – Simona Sikimic, The Majala: Now firmly in its fifth month of anti-government protests and counting, Syria’s future hangs in the balance. Unlike Egypt, Tunisia, or even Libya, where international forces, populations and armies mobilized in one direction, no such clear-cut alternative has emerged in Syria. This uncertainty has boxed both sides into a corner, allowing President Bashar al-Assad to pledge reforms but enact few, and pushing the Syrian opposition to bicker over its quest to offer a viable solution. With Syrians unable to keep their house in order and the sectarian question serving as warning to tread carefully, the international community has also largely sat on the fence, waiting for an as-yet elusive game changer. However, in the surrounding climate of insecurity, the ongoing stalemate is the only thing more terrifying than the crackdown, for as the ultra-realist Henry Kissinger once warned, “If you don’t know where you are going, every road will get you nowhere.” [Sikimic opines that there is no good direction at the moment and, thus, it is best to wait. Yet if the world waits too long, it will be too late for anything.]
  • Slow Motion Revolution – Firas Maksad, The Majala: The true choice Turkey faces is between, on one hand, watching a slow motion revolution that results in further bloodshed, and on the other hand, hastening the demise of a regime that poses a growing threat to regional security. By bringing its full diplomatic and economic pressure to bear, Turkey can tip the scales. Ankara must understand that the longer Assad remains in power, the more likely it is that he will revert to desperate ethnic and sectarian tactics that could rapidly spread across Syria’s borders. Such an eventuality is at odds with Turkish national interests and could serve a significant blow to AKP’s “zero problems” foreign policy. [Maksad encourages Turkey to create real diplomatic and economic pressure on Assad, but does not explain what exactly this means – outside of the rather vague option of using control of water resources. There is much more that Turkey can do – and is doing – than this United States, but this is still awfully limited.]
  • Saving Syria From Civil War – Mona Yacoubian, Foreign Policy: As Syria’s uprising lurches toward its seventh month, fears that the country will descend into a sectarian civil war are mounting. Several troubling developments suggest the potential transformation of Syria’s popular demonstrations into armed insurgency and sectarian chaos. Long feared as the Syrian uprising’s nightmare scenario, a sectarian civil war would be catastrophic for Syria and could enflame the region. With such high stakes, averting a sectarian war in Syria is critical for ensuring the stability of a region amidst momentous transformation. [Yacoubian focuses on the need to pressure the Syrian business and military elite  to defect from the regime. Importantly, Yacoubian notes that an important and necessary step will be to downplay sectarian tensions in order to lessen fears of discrimination – particularly of Alawites – in a post-Assad Syria. This is certainly important, but will be a difficult task as Assad is using sectarian tension as a tool to split the protesters and retain loyalty of his remaining supporters.]
  • Reactions to the UN Vote – Ehsani, Syria Comment: The U.S. and the E.U. are still smarting from last night’s veto decision at the U.N. [Various reactions to the vetoed UN resolution and discussion of a new EU sanction.]
  • Paying a Price at the Security Council – Paul Pillar, National Interest: The unfavorable turn in the Security Council proceedings, however, can partly be blamed on the Western governments’ own missteps. The resolution did not get the backing of any of the BRICS, which besides China and Russia also include Brazil, India, and South Africa. The BRICS pointed out that the earlier Western-proposed Security Council resolution authorizing the use of force in Libya was supposedly about protecting endangered civilians but turned into a prolonged NATO intervention aimed at overthrowing the Libyan regime. The BRICS say they do not want something similar to happen with Syria. [I don’t understand why anyone is surprised that this resolution failed. Russia and China previously warned the west that they would veto such a resolution and the regime change operation in Libya was clearly going to have adverse consequences on western multilateral efforts. I believe someone wrote about that earlier…]
  • Stupidest. Sanctions. Ever. – Dan Drezner, Foreign Policy: Although the Assad regime has essentially declared war on much the Syrian population, there is one coveted demographic that they have yet to alienate — the business elites in Aleppo and Damascus.  By and large the anti-Assad movement has yet to penetrate Syria’s two largest cities.  If sanctions could be designed to target those sectors of the population in particular, then the Syrian regime might feel its “selectorate” slipping away, undermining the regime even further. [Drezner calls the enacted-then-immediately-repealed import ban sanctions imposed on the Syrian business elite by the Assad regime. As the business elite represent one of the remaining bastions of Assad-supporter it was a very dumb move. Not much analysis here, but amusing among a list of rather depressing reads.]
  • Syria Needs More than Sanctions – Mark Katz, National Interest: Yet the U.S. and its allies could provide money, arms and other support to the Syrian opposition. Airpower could be deployed to destroy Assad’s military bases and equipment now used to suppress the Syrian people. Assad now enjoys a near monopoly on the use of force, but Washington and its allies would raise the costs that the regime’s personnel face in obeying orders to suppress the population. At the same time, such actions would reduce the costs of defecting to the opposition. This alone could go a long way to change the dynamics of this hitherto one-sided contest. [I couldn’t actually finish this article. Katz is arguing that the US should ignore international law, give the United Nations the middle finger – again – and act unilaterally. Certainly, the blowback would be less than in Iraq, but then again, there is little incentive for the Obama administration to start another war in the Middle East. Best line: “So far, however, the Obama administration has preferred to act according to international law and not unilaterally, as the Bush administration did.” Yeah, I suppose you could read this garbage.]
  • Syrian No-Fly Zone has Joe-mentum – Josh Rogin, Foreign Policy:  Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) became the first senator to publicly call for an internationally imposed no-fly zone over parts of Syria, in an exclusive interview on Tuesday with The Cable. “I’d like to see us begin to consider some safe zones inside Syria, particularly along the Turkish and Jordanian borders,” Lieberman said in the basement of the Capitol, while waiting for a subway car to take him to his Senate offices. When asked if he meant there should be a no-fly zone over parts of Syria, he said. “I’d be in favor of that, yes.” [More calls from the ‘do-something’ crowd without actually thinking about what it would mean.]
  • Assad: Syria will shower Tel Aviv with rockets if attacked by foreign powers – Haaretz: Syria will strike Israel and “set fire” to the Middle East if foreign forces choose to launch a military strike on the protest-ridden country, the Iranian news agency Fars quoted Syrian President Bashar Assad as saying on Tuesday, referring to remarks made by the Syrian leader during a meeting with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu last August. [This information comes from an Iranian news source that cites a conversation Assad had with the Turkish FM, so it is not an open threat. That being said, Assad is one crazy dude and it is possible. Though I would think that Iran would hesitate to attack American warships and Hezbollah would hesitate to start another war with Israel all to protect Assad. Probably empty threats, but frightening nonetheless.]
  • Is the US Best off Sticking With Syria’s Assad – Ed Husain, The Atlantic: This weekend’s opposition meeting in Istanbul, though fractious and acrimonious, is a sign of attempts at unity among Syrian democracy activists. However, the lesson from Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya is that this generation does not possess the political networks or clout to mobilize the masses after the overthrow of a regime–the revolutionary booty almost always goes to Islamist and salafist movements, at least for now. [Another ‘democracy is only good when we get to chose who wins’ kind of article. “I have nothing but profound admiration for the courageous protestors who risk their lives daily in some of Syria’s major cities,” says Husain, but concludes that those brave people shouldn’t be allowed to pick their own leaders. On a related note, William McCants has an informative article in the current Foreign Affairs about the difference between political Islam and Al Qaeda. Perhaps Husain should read it.]
  • Key Syrian City Takes on the Tone of a Civil War – Anthony Shadid, New York Times: The semblance of a civil war has erupted in Homs, Syria’s third-largest city, where armed protesters now call themselves revolutionaries, gun battles erupt as often as every few hours, security forces and opponents carry out assassinations, and rifles costing as much as $2,000 apiece flood the city from abroad, residents say. [Is this what the opposition needs or wants? Well, no. See below.]
  • Threat of Civil War Unites Syrian Opposition – Graeme Smith, The Globe and Mail: The threat of a civil war appears to have been one of the concerns that pushed the fractious dissidents to set aside squabbles about their goals and methods. Representatives from disparate groups – Islamists, technocrats, leftists, Kurds, Christians – spent more than two months in talks, often disagreeing about issues such as how to engage the international community and whether civilians should take up weapons. [United against armed resistance, for those who don’t want to read the article.]
Photo from Syria Leaks

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