Monday, June 17, 2013

FT: "Those who are urging the US to get more deeply involved in the Syrian conflict now are living in the past"

"... Those who are urging the US to get more deeply involved in the Syrian conflict now are living in the past. They assume that America can and should continue to dominate the politics of the Middle East. But four fundamental changes make it no longer realistic, or even desirable, for the US to dominate the region in the old way.
These changes are the failures of the Afghan and Iraq wars; the Great Recession, the Arab spring and the prospect of US energy independence....President Barack Obama has given some ground to the “arm the rebels” camp. But his reluctance and scepticism are evident – and amply justified. If a full-scale western occupation of both Iraq and Afghanistan was unable to secure a decent outcome, why does anybody believe that supplying a few light weapons to the Syrian rebels will be more effective?
The Great Recession also means that the west’s capacity to “bear any burden” can no longer be taken for granted. European military spending is falling fast – and cuts in the Pentagon budget have begun. With the direct and indirect cost of the Iraq war estimated at $3tn and the US government borrowing 40 cents of every dollar that it spends, it is hardly surprising that Mr Obama is wary of taking on new commitments in the Middle East.
The third new factor is the Arab spring. President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt was a long-time ally and client of the US. Nonetheless, Washington decided to let him fall in early 2011 – much to the disgust and alarm of other long-term American allies in the region, notably Saudi Arabia and Israel....
Finally, the ability of the US to take a more hands-off attitude is greatly enhanced by the shale revolution in the US, which lessens American dependence on Middle Eastern oil.
Accepting that western domination of the Middle East is coming to an end, however, should not be confused with saying that western nations will not defend their interests.
The US has large military bases in the Gulf and, together with its allies, will still try to prevent the Middle East becoming dominated by a hostile power. Despite its role in Syria, Russia is not a plausible regional hegemon. But Iran worries the US; an attack on its nuclear programme remains an option, despite the encouraging result of this weekend’s presidential elections. Jihadist forces, linked to al-Qaeda, will also encounter western resistance – one reason why the Syrian opposition continues to be treated very warily. And the US and its European allies will remain deeply involved in regional diplomacy over Syria.
Western humanitarian instincts will play a role too – as they did in the decision to support the Libyan rebellion. But, as Syria is demonstrating, there is a limit to what the west will take on. Even former Australian foreign minister Gareth Evans, the intellectual godfather of the doctrine of the “responsibility to protect” civilians, is warning against military intervention in Syria.
Despite the US decision to begin to supply military assistance to the rebels, Mr Obama is obviously still wary of deep involvement in the Syrian conflict. More than some of his advisers and allies, he seems to appreciate the limited ability of outside powers to control the new order that it is emerging in the region. The era of direct colonialism in the Middle East ended decades
ago. The era of informal empire is now also coming to a close."


Anonymous said...

Since I seem to have lost your e-mail, here is Assad's interview in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung translated into English:
(Part 1)
Mr. President, the Syrian army has lost control over parts of Syria. Is the country falling apart?

We are not in an ordinary war where we are losing control over parts of the country and control other parts. It is not a war of an army against another army. Our army is instead confronting gangs. It is true that the army has chosen to only advance on areas where that was feasible. Where they chose to, they did. That way we are able to also control every area on which we advance. Hunting terrorists carries a high price. We have no doubt that we will eliminate the terrorists on our soil completely. The problem is the destruction that is created while doing that.

You speak of terrorists. Is each and every rebel a terrorist?

Is it legal in your country to carry weapons, kill innocent people, terrorize the citizenry, do harm and steal? In all countries in the world, anyone who carries weapons – with the exception of the armed forces and the police - to harass and kill people, is defined as a terrorist. And those people in Syria who carry weapons do exactly that. Whether they have an extremist or a criminal motive - for them the designation terrorist applies. Therefore, we distinguish between terrorists and the opposition, which is political and has a political program. Killing and slaughter however is terrorism.

How long will the war last?

Ever since the first days I have been asked, when does the crisis come to an end. My response has been that the crisis could take a long time. Because the external factor is obvious. An domestic crisis can either be fully resolved, or it develops into a civil war. Neither one or the other has happened. The reason for this is the external factor that is trying to prolong the crisis politically and militarily.

Anonymous said...

Are you not partly to blame for the destruction of the country? In the beginning the protests were purely political in nature, and only later did they become an armed conflict.

As soon as the crisis began, and even several years before its onset, we began with reforms. We adopted a number of laws, lifted the emergency law, amended the Constitution and held a referendum. Maybe the West is aware of that, maybe not. What the West does not wish to recognize is this: Even during the first weeks of demonstrations there were deaths among the police, martyrs. How could it happen that police officers were killed during peaceful demonstrations? Among the protesters were armed men who shot at the police. Sometimes they were in places far from the demonstration, and from there they were shooting at protesters and at the police, so one would have the impression that one side had opened fire on the other.

There are centrifugal forces at work in Syria. Several regions of the country are growing more closely aligned with its neighbors. Will the frontiers shift in the Levant?

When you remove the keystone from a stone arch, and that is what Syria is, the entire arch goes to pieces. All games with the borders in the region mean redrawing the map. This has a domino effect that no one will be able to control. It may be that one of the major powers is initiating this process. But no one will be able to stop this process at a predetermined point. There are today in the Middle East new social boundaries, religious and national, in addition to the polical frontiers. They complicate the situation. No one can imagine what the region will look like if the the map is redesigned. It will probably be a map for innumerable wars in the Middle East and possibly elsewhere, which noone will be able to stop.

So how will the regional order look like in the coming years?

If we exclude the scenario of a destructive division of Syria, I believe in a different, positive scenario. The first challenge is the restoration of security and stability, the second is reconstruction. The biggest and most important challenge, however, is to stand against extremism. Because it has become clear that in some societies in the region there have been shifts toward extremism and and an elimination of moderation, especially in matters of religion. This raises the question of whether we will succeed in repositioning these societies, to what they have been throughout history. Some speak of tolerance, some call it coexistence. If someone believes himself to be tolerant, he may one day suddenly no longer tolerate the others. It is also not merely a matter of coexistence, but a matter of blending the different strands of society. That is what had distinguished this region. The other challenge is the reform that we want. The constant question is, what is the best political system that will hold our society together: a presidential system or a semi-presidential one? Or a parliamentary system? What is the appropriate party system? We cannot have religious parties here - neither a Christian nor a Muslim one. Religion in our view is a call to personal faith, not a tool for policy making. The important thing is to accept the other. Without that, there can be no democracy, even if we have the best constitution and the best laws.

Anonymous said...

What is the meaning of secularism in an environment in which the Islamist tendencies are gaining in strength?

The Middle East is a region bound by ideology. Arab society is based on two pillars: Panarabism and Islam. Everything else is much less important. For us in Syria secularism means religious freedom: for Christians, Muslims and Jews, with all their many different denominations. Secularism is necessary for the unity of society and for the feeling of citizenship. There is no alternative. Because at the same time the religions in our region are strong. That is a beautiful thing and not bad. Bad, however, is that fanaticism turns into terrorism. Not everyone is a fanatical terrorist, but every terrorist is a fanatic. Therefore I say: The concept of our secular state is that everyone has the right to freely exercise his religion. No one is treated differently because of his religion, creed and race.

How do you view the "Arab Awakening", which some have called "Arab Spring"?

In spring there is no bloodshed, no killing and no extremism; schools are not destroyed, children are not prohibited from going to school, women are not forbidden to dress the way they want. What we are going through today, is no spring. Look at what is going on in Syria - killing, slaughtering, beheading people, even the eating of human bodyparts.

You accuse countries such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and the United Kingdom of interference. Aren't Russia and Iran also actively involved?

There is a big difference between cooperation among States and the interference in the internal affairs of a state with the intent to undermine its stability. States cooperate with the aim of ensuring their sovereignty, independence, freedom of decision and their stability. The relationship between Syria and Russia, Iran and other countries that are on the Syrian side, is one of cooperation, which is guaranteed and protected by international law. The states cited by you, however, with their Syria policy are meddling in the internal affairs of Syria. This interference is a blatant violation of international law and the sovereignty of the country. It aims to destabilize the country and spread chaos and backwardness.

Anonymous said...

Lebanon and Iraq are marked by sectarian tensions. Are Sunnis and Shiites of both countries bringing their conflicts into Syria?

If you have sectarian political systems in neighboring contries, religious unrest or civil war - as was the case in Lebanon 30 years ago – then one cannot but be unfavorably affected oneself. For that reason Syria got involved in 1976 in Lebanon to protect itself and also to protect Lebanon. That is why we also care about what is happening in Iraq because we are directly affected. To be against the war in Iraq, was therefore crucial, despite the American threats during that time. Sectarian systems are dangerous.

Fighting on the side of the rebels in Syria is the Nusra front. Who are they? Who supplies them with weapons and money?

The Nusra front is a branch of Al Qaeda. It has the same ideology. You can find it in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan. Funding is provided primarily by anonymous individuals and organizations which share its ideology. They have staggering amounts of money and weaponry. The donations go directly to the Nusra front, it is difficult to track down sources and recipients of these resources. The Nusra front aims for the establishment of an Islamic state and is mainly based on the Wahhabi creed. Ultimately this leads to the concept of Al Qaeda - see the situation in Afghanistan. This concerns first of all women. The Nusra Front wants to impose Islamic law, the Sharia. This is a deformed and distorted form of Islam. On Youtube you can get an idea of ​​their barbaric acts. On Belgian TV you could recently see how an innocent man was beheaded with an ax. The members of the Nusra front come from Syria, other Arab and Islamic countries and from Europe.

How do you assess the Syria-policies of France and Britain?

I believe that France and Britain have a problem with the – in their opinion - bothersome Syrian role in the region. They and the United States are looking for lackeys and puppets who will impose their interests. We refused to do that. We have always been independent and free. France and Britain are historically colonial powers. Probably they have not forgotten that. They act in this region through placeholders and collaborators. It may well be that France and the United Kingdom are steering Saudi Arabia and Qatar. We should not ignore the fact that politically and economically France and Britain are dependent on petrodollars. What is happening in Syria is a chance for these countries to marginalize a non-submissive state and look for a new president, who is a yes-man. They have not been found him and they will not find him in the future either.

The EU has not extended its arms embargo against Syria, but has not yet made a decision to supply arms to the rebels.

I can not say that the Europeans are on the side of Syria. There are countries that have a hostile attitude towards the Syrian government, especially France and Great Britain. The other countries, above all Germany, are asking rational questions about the shipment of arms to terrorists. What would happen? Firstly, Syria would be even more destroyed. Who would pay the price? The Syrian people. Secondly, the Europeans are delivering weapons and know that they deliver these to terrorists. Some distinguish between "good" and "bad" fighters, in the same way they used to differentiate a few years ago between "good" and "bad" Taliban and a "good" and a "bad" Al Qaeda. Is that reasonable? If the Europeans deliver weapons, Europe's backyard becomes terrorist, and Europe will pay the price. Terrorism means chaos here, chaos leads to poverty, and poverty means that Europe is losing an important market. The second consequence would be the direct export of terrorism to Europe. Terrorists will return battle-hardened and equipped with extremist ideology. For Europe, there is no alternative to cooperation with the Syrian government, even if Europe does not like it.

Anonymous said...

Do you view yourself as part of the fight against terrorism?

Reason tells you that. Unfortunately, many leaders in Europe are not acting rationally, are not realistic and not objective. Instead they allow themselves to be led by negative feelings rather than by reason. Politics deals with interests, it not based on love or hate. You should ask yourself as a German, where your interest lie in what is happening in this region. What is happening here is against the interests of Europe. Because Europe has an interest in the fight against terrorism.

Quite a few people see the Lebanese Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. It is fighting on the side of the Syrian army, for example in Qusair. There is evidence that Iranian Pasdaran are training Syrian army units. Do you need these allies?

Media try to convey the image that Hezbollah is fighting, because the Syrian army is weak. In reality, we have been achieving great victories for several months in various regions, which are perhaps more important than Qusair. But that is not reported. No one but the Syrian army is fighting in those areas. There are also local citizen militias who defend their own areas together with the army. That is one reason for our success. Quseir assumed particular importance because of the declarations of western leaders that Qusair is a strategically important city. That's an exaggeration. In the city there were however many armed men and weapons arsenals.

What then was the role of Hizbullah?

The terrorists had begun to bombard villages along the border that are aligned with Hezbollah. It was unavoidable that Hizbullah intervene with the Syrian army to end the chaos. The Syrian army is a large army, and is able to carry out its mission with local citizens in all areas. If we really needed help, we would have brought these Hizbullah forces into the countryside around Damascus. You know that fighting is going in the outskirts of Damascus. Damascus is much more important than Qusair, Aleppo is also more important than Qusair, as are all the major cities. This propaganda had two aims: Firstly, to show that Hezbollah does the work, and secondly, Western and international opinion was to be incited against Hezbollah.

How large are the units of Hezbollah in Syria?

There are no units. There are individual fighters along the border, for example where the terrorists were to be found near Quseir. They have supported the Syrian army in its purges along the Lebanese border. The forces of Hezbollah are stationed towards Israel and can not leave the south of Lebanon. Even though Hezbollah did send fighters to Syria, how many can it be? Several hundred? We are talking about a battle with a hundred thousand Syrian army soldiers. Several hundred can influence the outcome in one area, but they do not change the balance of power in Syria.

Anonymous said...

The governments of France and Britain say they posses evidence that the Syrian army has used chemical weapons. Now, the American government says the same thing. Why do you allow the inspectors of the UN only access to Aleppo?

Let's start with the announcement of the White House, with the 150 deaths over a period of one year. Militarily, conventional weapons can kill a lot more people in a single day than that number over one year. Weapons, designed for mass destruction, are capable of killing hundreds, even thousands at once. Thats's why they are used. It is therefore illogical to use chemical weapons to kill a number of people which can be achieved using conventional weapons. France and Great Britain and some American and European leaders have claimed that we used these weapons in some areas of Syria.
We have neither declared that we possess chemical weapons, nor that we do not possess them. Chemical weapons are weapons of mass destruction. If Paris, London and Washington possessed only one piece of evidence for their claims, they would have shown it to the world. Where is the chain of evidence, which should lead to the conclusion that "Syria used chemical weapons"? To prove that it was the terrorists who use chemical weapons, we asked the UN to send a team of investigators to the area where the terrorists have used chemical weapons - and that was in Aleppo. The French and the British blocked this request. If the commission had come, it would have found that terrorists did use chemical weapons there. All that is said about the use of chemical weapons is a continuation of the lies about Syria. It is an attempt to justify more military interference.

Why then do you refuse UN inspectors?

It will become clear that France and Britain are bypassing the truth. They wanted the commission to get access to all areas and do the same work that was once done by the weapons inspectors in Iraq. In doing that they have interfered in matters that do not fall under their authority. We are a state, we have our army, we have our secrets. We will not allow anyone to gain insight into them, not the UN, not France, not Britain, not others.

Anonymous said...

Why is the Syrian army bombarding residential areas?

We hunt the terrorists, wherever they go. They often go into residential areas. Take the example of Quseir. Western media reported 50,000 civilians in Quseir. The number of inhabitants was originally much smaller. As the terrorists seized the town, the inhabitants left. We found almost no civilians when we moved into Quseir. When the terrorists come, the civilians leave any place, and fights break out. This is evidenced by the fact that most of the victims are members of the military. The civilians who were killed are victims of terrorists who carried out executions and used civilians as human shields. Large numbers of civilian victims are killed by suicide attacks and car bombs. The remaining deaths are either Syrian or foreign terrorists.

Now that your army conquered the city of Quseir: Why not use that to reach out to the opposition with the aim of a national reconcilition?

From day one we have reached out to anyone who wants a dialogue. We have never wavered in this attitude. We held a national dialogue conference at the beginning of the crisis, while at the same time, we were fighting the terrorists. We should not lump everyone together under the term opposition, we should not lump together politicians with terrorists. You have an opposition in Germany, but it carries no weapons. When we speak of opposition, we mean politicians. We are always ready to enter into a dialogue with these politicians. That has nothing to do with Quseir. I do not think that national reconciliation is an appropriate term. We do not have a civil war here like in Lebanon. It is also not a question as between whites and blacks in South Africa. Here we have a dialogue that aims to get out of the crisis and get the terrorists to lay down their arms. The Geneva conference is pursuing these policy objectives. So, the political process has not stopped. There are obstacles however from the outside - Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, France and Great Britain. They do not want dialogue. Rather, they want the continuation of unrest, and that causes the delay in the dialogue and in the political solution.

Anonymous said...

With whom you are willing to sit down at a table?

With any opposition that carries no weapons, does not support terrorism, and has a political program. The opposition has to prove itself in elections, that is local elections and - most importantly - parliamentary elections. We are dealing with forces that call themselves opposition. Here we have two questions: What is their base in the population? What is their political program? And then we act accordingly.

Why you have so far not negotiated with the opposition in Syria?

We invited anyone who considers himself a dissident to the first dialogue conference of 2011. Part of the opposition came, others turned down the invitation on the grounds that we were not conciliatory enough. What does that mean? What do we offer them? Ministerial positions in the Cabinet? They are not represented in Parliament. How can we know who deserves to be in the government? This requires criteria and rules. This has nothing to do with the moods of the day. The only opposition, which is now in the government, is the opposition which won seats in parliament. To make myself clear: The state is not the property of the President, so he can distribute gifts of ministries. It is a national process, and a constitutional government is to be determined by the people. Our doors are open.

Is there room for a political solution?

If the opposition is independent and national, we have no problem. The opposition abroad presents its reports to Western foreign ministries and their intelligence agencies. Those who finance them, dictate their decisions to them. For us, opposition means that it represents a part of the population and not a foreign state. To be a genuine opposition, you have to live on Syrian soil with its people as well as its problems and daily needs. Only then can this opposition be part of a political process.

You said that you do not negotiate with slaves, but only with their masters. What does this mean?

I have made this comparison in order to clarify what is really happening. One could see on television how the French Ambassador spoke in Syria with the Syrian opposition, how he ordered it around and even insulted it. In another video opposition members have testified how the American ambassador to Syria insulted them. In practice, we will conduct negotiations with the United States, France and Great Britain as well as their tools, Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. The forces that call themselves the opposition abroad, are mere employees and in that sense slaves.

What do you expect from the conference on Syria, to be held this summer in Geneva?

We hope that the Geneva Conference will mark important step to advance dialogue in Syria. Especially since we published at the beginning of this year a vision for a political solution. We should not ignore the fact that there are states that are not interested in a success in Geneva. These are the same states that support terrorism in Syria. Should the conference succeed - and that is what we hope - in prohibiting the smuggling of weapons into Syria and the infiltration of terrorists - there are now terrorists from 29 countries - then this is a basis for success. If this were not to happen and terrorism continues: What then would be the value of a political solution? A political solution is based on stopping the smuggling of terrorists and weapons into Syria. We hope that the Geneva Conference will begin with this point. If it managed to ratify this, I would consider the conference a success. Without this result, the conference would not be a success.

Anonymous said...

What would be the consequence of a failure of the conference?

If the Syrian crisis does not end, it will spread to other countries, and the situation will deteriorate. Even though reason compels all to be interested in a success, the opposition abroad would lose their funding,should the conference be successful. If you have neither money nor a base in the population, you have nothing.

Can a transitional government emerge from Geneva, with people from different political camps?

We have agreed to an enlarged government, which represents the different factions and prepares parliamentary elections. Those who succeed in these elections, will take part in the government, those who don't, will have no place in it.

It is said that after so much bloodshed, a new political beginning is possible only with new leaders. Are you willing to give up your office as President?

The Constitution stipulates the duties of the President. His term ends in 2014. If the country is in state of crisis, then the tasks of the President are bigger and not smaller. Obviously one cannot let the country down during a crisis. Again and again I compare the situation with a ship caught in a storm. Just imagine, the captain leaves the ship and flees on a rescue boat. To give up under these circumstances would mean to commit a major act treason against the nation. It is a different matter, if the people decide that someone should lose his office. How can you find out if the people want you to give up the office? Either through elections or a referendum. In the referendum on the new constitution 58 percent of the voters participated . 89.4 percent voted for the new constitution, which is a good indicator. The president is not the problem. Other states want the president to abdicate in favor a lackey determined by these countries.

Anonymous said...



P.S. What is your email again?