A friend from Damascus sent the following letter:
I met with some ‘opposition’ figures whose patriotism is above suspicion. Some had been summoned for ‘questioning,’ which turned out to be one of the regime’s ways of holding a dialogue with them. I asked for their latest assessment of the situation. They complained at length, and blamed the regime for starting it all.
I replied, “The issue isn’t who started it. Blame me for it, or say it began with the kingdom of Mari or even Ebla. But there is a problem, and a solution is needed.”
One of them said, “It’s the regime that’s chasing around for a solution, not us.”
I said, “Is seeking a solution an indictment, and refusing to discuss a solution with the regime the height of patriotism and wisdom? Are we supposed to treat the regime’s search for a solution as yet another blot on its record?”
I said, “Do you see dialogue with the regime as treason?”
I said, “So it would seem you want the regime to just simply hand the country over to you. That might be reasonable if your forces were at the gates of the presidential palace. But you’re nowhere near there. The state is disintegrating, people. That means disaster for everyone. It would probably lead to the re-partition of the entire region.”
They said, “Not true. We don’t believe in conspiracies! European non-governmental groups and world figures warned us that Syria and the region are heading for partition, but we informed them that this is out of the question.”
I said, “If Assad announced that he was prepared to do a deal with Israel, how do you think the Americans would react?”
They said, „America supports the regime and the president.”
I said, „In what way? By imposing economic sanctions, demanding his resignation, and putting forward resolutions calling for intervention at the UN Security Council? Enlighten me; explain, so I can be converted.”
They said, „The regime doesn’t do anything about the Golan.”
I said, „Fine. But have you raised the question of the Golan or Palestine in any of your own statements? Are you calling for the liberation of the Golan. Are you calling for resistance to Israel? And what do you make of the way Russia solves its Chechen problem, China solves its problems with its Muslim minority, India solves the Kashmir problem, and your friend Turkey solves its problem with the Arabs, Kurds, and Alawites there?”
I said, „How would you react if the US decides to launch air strikes on Syrian military positions without Security Council authorization in order to create anarchy in the country, as it did in Yugoslavia?”
They said, „No way. America wants the regime and Assad to survive.
I said, „What makes you believe that? Do they give him economic and military aid? Does America protect him from condemnation and intervention at the UN Security Council?”
I said, „Okay, let’s go back to the basic problem. Would you consider holding a dialogue and reaching a solution with the regime without the involvement of the US, Turkey, and the Gulf states?”
They said, „It is the regime that is looking for a solution, not us.”
I said, “Poor Syria.”
Syria today is approaching a new crossroads. Since US President Barack Obama announced that US forces would be withdrawn from Iraq before Christmas, it has become clear that seismic changes are on the region’s doorstep. The coming weeks could witness some major unwelcome developments. These fears are not based on a general reading of the situation, but on concrete evidence reaching several regional capitals about the course that the US, Europe, and their Arab clients have decided to take on Syria.
These countries are acting, of course, in collaboration with various parts of the Syrian opposition. Most prominent of these is the group that is now part and parcel of Western plans and has a controlling majority in the Syrian National Council (SNC). It has become daily more apparent that dissident figures like Burhan Ghalioun, who nominally hold SNC leadership positions, are being reduced to a mere facade. They may do the speaking, but the decisions are made elsewhere. It has, therefore, ceased to matter whether or not Rifaat Assad or Abdel Halim Khaddam join the SNC. Either way, it is their ideas and slogans that will be turned into a plan of action based on the concept of replicating the Libyan experience in Syria — without, of course, considering the dangers or the consequences.
Some, of course, have been quick to argue that the West is not interested in attacking Syria because it does not have Libya’s oil or money. This is an attempt to pull wool over our eyes by pretending that Arab oil states are not themselves deeply involved in this scheme. They have not only offered to fund such a war, but also to fund reconstruction in its aftermath. In any case, Iraq disproved the theory that the West is only interested in oil wealth. The war cost the US far more than it could recover from Iraq’s oil wealth, though its plans for the country were foiled by the Iraqi resistance. In terms of regional politics, and in other respects, Syria is a strategic prize that makes it infinitely more valuable than the riches that some oil kingdoms and emirates may possess.
The course and pace of developments in Syria makes it necessary to re-evaluate the situation and reconsider positions. It may help to make some brief points:
– The experience of Lebanon is far more applicable to Syria than the experiences of Egypt or Tunisia, or even Libya or Yemen. This is due to the country’s sectarian divisions, political alignments, and regional role, as well as the nature of foreign interests involved.
– Any intervention – in whatever form – by the US-European Western alliance in league with the Gulf states and Turkey must be utterly condemned and rejected. Any equivocation on the issue of foreign intervention amounts to tacit acceptance of it. All current forms of foreign-sponsored sabotage in Syria (weapons, money, incitement, etc.) should also be resolutely opposed.
– Some Arab players are actively attempting to prepare for military intervention in Syria on behalf of the West. This role, the worst-kept diplomatic secret in the region, should no longer be shrugged off or covered up. We should firmly oppose the siege to which Syria is being subjected, including economic and political sanctions. We should also be more discriminating and wary of being misled. This applies to the tales about militarization being told by various opposition groups and anti-Syrian Arab media. Virtually every gunman these days is being portrayed as an army defector, presumably to convey the impression of a split in the military in order to encourage one in real life. Similarly, while reports have started to indicate that around half the people being killed are members of the army or security forces, the headlines remain the same: “20 Killed in Syria,” the implication being that the regime killed them.
– Syria’s enemies have been furiously making the case for economic and financial sanctions as though this were a Syrian popular demand, while trying to delude public opinion that these sanctions would only target the regime, its institutions, and leaders. A brief glance is enough to make plain that the sanctions in fact target the population, and especially the merchant class, in order to turn them against the regime. Everyone knows that the structure of the regime – and the support it receives from Iran, Iraq, and elsewhere – will mitigate the effect of sanctions on it. The sanctions program, which is being constantly ratcheted up, does not aim to force the regime into concessions. Sanctions aim to disintegrate the state and increase public resentment toward the regime, so that groups which support it, or are neutral, turn against it. The purpose is not to press the regime to make reforms or changes, but to bring it down, period.
– Turkey and the Gulf states are clearly seeking to establish powerful footholds inside Syria – as they did in Libya – so as to be able to influence the country’s future and undermine its regional influence. It is no coincidence that the US, Europe, and their Arab clients want Israel to maintain a low profile so that its involvement does not discredit the regime’s enemies. We saw the same spectacle in Lebanon after the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. The West and the Arabs tell Israel to keep quiet, „We’re doing the job you want done.” But the same problem could recur. If the combination of opposition and external military, security, and economic pressure fails to bring down the regime, Israel will be revisited and asked to revert to its preferred war-waging role. For Syria, quite simply, is a central pillar of support for the resistance against Israel.
– None of this must be allowed to detract from the crime of killing protesters or arresting tens of thousands of citizens. It is a moral and political imperative, not merely ‘for the record,’ to condemn such behavior by the regime and its army or security forces. The regime must understand that nobody can overlook or excuse this, or act as though the killings, arrests, and torture never happened. Accordingly, one of the first steps taken toward reform must be action to bring those responsible for the killings to trial, however senior they may be.
– Any reform process needs interlocutors to participate in discussing and formulating reforms. The central question has to be about what regime Syrians want, not what reforms the regime wants (and certainly not what external powers want). The regime’s actions have to be open to scrutiny, and the opposition has to be able to speak its mind freely. This, quite simply, requires open media – meaning an immediate halt to any kind of censorship, which stifles discussion or thwarts it from the outset.
It takes no great effort to appreciate that Syria is going through the hardest of times at present. What happens there now has consequences for everyone in neighboring countries. There may be some in Syria who have grown weary and who will rely on the devil to get rid of the regime. We can never accept that, for we know what it means.