Syrian Elephants in the Room

November 29th, 2015 - I acknowledge that the Paris attacks have changed the debate. I understand why France chose to retaliate with air strikes on Raqqa, one of the in fact two capitals of the "Caliphate" the "Islamic State" (IS) pronounced last year. I even get why the German government has decided to support France and all the other countries bombing the IS with reconnaissance capabilities.

However, there still are two elephants in the room when we are discussing fighting the IS, and they ought to be addressed.

The first problematic issue, the first elephant if you so want, is that the IS exists in Syria AND Iraq. Russian President Vladimir Putin has seen to it that currently most politicians in the West talk and argue as if the Caliphate was a problem that is inextricably linked to the fate of "president" Bashar al-Assad. Well, it is not.  As a matter of fact, consider these two things:

1.- If the IS were to be driven out of all Syrian territory tomorrow, with - for argument's sake -  the help of Putin, Assad, the US, all Arabs: Would the IS be defeated? - Clearly not.

2.- If Assad stays in power or not, how much of a difference does it make in terms of the chances of the IS to survive? - Clearly: very little.

What does that mean? It means this: The political future of Syria and the demise of the IS are in fact two mostly separate issues. I know this is counter-intuitive. But looking at it in this way makes the choices in front of us much easier. We do not need Assad to finish the IS. Period.

Which leads me to the second elephant in the room: The fact that the ongoing discussion of whether there should/might/can be a role for Assad or one of his relatives or proxies in the future as a leader of an interim Syrian government that would in one way or another include opposition forces and at a later point in time hand over power to that opposition seems to be based on the idea that Syria still somehow is a state and will be a single united state in the future.

Well... as much as I would like that as somebody who really loves Syria and the Syrians, I believe we should face the possibility that partition, de facto or de jure, is the more likely scenario. Because here is the thing:

1.- Assad is not going to get all of Syria back.
2.- The opposition is not going to be able to get all of Syria under it's control.

This is not purely a matter of military might. It also has to do with legitimacy. Assad has killed hundreds of thousands, but there are millions who support him inside Syria and wish for him to stay in power. It is a fact. These people are spread over a largely coherent mass of land in the country. Most of the rest of the country (not counting IS territory) is strongly against Assad and will not accept a future tole for him or one of his proxies. He has a lot of actual legitimacy in one part of Syria and almost zero legitimacy in the rest of the country.

To put it another way: What if the question is the wrong one? Should we really be discussing a role for Assad for all of Syria at this point in time? I don't think so. But do those people who staunchly support him have a right to be heard? Well, I am not fond of admitting it, but I think they do. (I am saying that even though I personally think he needs to be sent to The Hague.)

It all boils down to this: What is better, a real ceasefire with a de facto partition? Or an agreement pertaining to the whole of Syria, but one that is going to be so feeble that the likelihood it will just jumpstart another round in this terrible war is rather big?

I know, I know, I haven't even discussed the Kurdish issue. And I haven't offered any ideas on Iraq. But hey, there are just a few thoughts.

Good night, Y.






6 comments: