TODAY’S MESOP COMMENTARY : JOSHUA LANDIS (GULAN MEDIA)
6.2.2014 – Gulan: What kind of changes might the Geneva second conference bring to the Syrian situation?
Landis: it is unclear. President Assad and his team believe that they were in a strong position because he believes that the world—United States and Europe— would be with him as the solution to increasing jihadism and chaos in rebel Syria, but it turned out that secretary John Kerry is not going to take a play into this game, instead he held to the idea that there must be a regime change in Syria that Assad must go, and that he will not compromise on this. This position, of course, is a bit confusing as they are for the Syrian government, because they believe they are winning the war, but it is also confusing for analysts because United States is asking for regime change and is going to do nothing. There is a gap between the rhetoric of the Obama administration and the reality of not doing anything on the ground.
Gulan: As you see both the US and the UK stated that there is no future for Assad in Syria, but on the ground their positions are not strong, doing little to oust Assad. How do you read this contradiction?
Landis: well, it means war is continuous. It means Assad continues to fight and that there will not be a truce and obviously the west believes that the rebels can win or somehow they will isolate Assad and force the Syrian regime to carry out a coup against Assad. This has been a long time dream of Americans and it has never worked, and I don’t think it will work today because any midlevel Syrian regime person who raises his voice to ask Assad to leave, it will be immediately sent to prison or killed. So it is hard to see who is going to ask Assad to leave inside Syria.
Gulan: Assad’s allies in the Geneva II mentioned that throwing Assad is a red line and it is his right to re-elect himself. However, the opposition does not believe in an election to be held under Assad’s regime. So what does this mean to you?
Landis: I think many people in the opposition and many people in the regime believe that neither side can win. Despite the rhetoric, I think there is a growing sense amongst the people in the Middle East that nobody is going to win. This depends largely on Iran and Saudi Arabia agreeing to some kind of compromise in Syria. We are far away from this now, but eventually Iran and Saudi Arabia will have to come to temporary terms on what they can accept unless Saudi Arabia is willing to do what it says it will do, which is to send real money, hundreds of billions dollars, to defeat Assad and to really build up the opposition into a force. Of course this has big dangers for the Kurds because if Saudi Arabia puts this kind of money into Syria to get the outcome at once, the Arabs will also fight the Kurds.
Gulan: How is it possible to resolve the issue of the refugees if a political solution is not to be made?
Landis: that is a big question and in some way it is our surprise so little is conducted in order to bring about an agreement on less than a full month of break… the regime may stay in southern half of Syria to the western coast and the rebel would pick the middle in the east and the Kurds might in the very far north east and there is a solution to stop the fighting or slower down and allow people to begin carry on their lives and even go home, of course this is not an ideal solution because every side wants to win everything. So it is a bit surprising Kerry so strong on regime change to Assad, which means that the Unites States has to support the rebels more and Saudi Arabia can support the rebels more in order to continue to put pressure on Assad. I think they must feel that Assad is not weak enough and the war must go on in order to weaken Assad more and this means more refugees and more destruction.
Gulan: on the other hand, opportunity is not given to Iran to participate in the Geneva II, to what extent will this give more time to Assad to remain in power?
Landis: this is unclear. If Iran continues to support Assad, of course he will stay in power longer…
Gulan: if Geneva II cannot find suitable solution for the Syrian question, don’t you think that this means the international community has no solution for the Middle Eastern problems and crisis?
Landis: I don’t think they do. I think it is very clear that they don’t think they do because the United States has spent about two million dollars on Syria so far. That is equivalent to several days of fighting in Iraq. So clearly president Obama and the west in general believe that they do not have a solution and basically the Syrians have to find it out. … So, many Syrians are looking to America to fix Syria for them especially many middle class and upper class Syrians who look at the Islamic opposition with fear and look at Assad’s government with fear, and they can’t find any solutions for themselves except for a western… I think we will see war and instability in Syria for decades like Lebanon.
The difference between Lebanon and Iraq is that in Lebanon the Syrian army entered and took guns to the hands of different militias such as Hezbollah and is still in Lebanon. In Iraq, the Americans in a sense fulfilled its task. The biggest task was that they defeated Saddam Hussein and disarmed his army and criminalized the ba’eth party and they destroy Sunni power, but perhaps the most important part was that they suppressed all the Shi’ite militias that challenged for power because there were many powerful militias that if did not take control of them, they would have turned Iraq into a decade of a war and the Americans of course help Maliki build his own militia and his own army around his state and in a sense provided some stability for Iraq. In Syria there will be no foreign occupying power; there will be no Syrian Army like in Lebanon; no American Army like in Iraq, and this means that the militias–which there are many– and the Syrian army–which is like a militia– are continuing to fight each other for a long time.
Gulan: how is it impossible for United States to intervene in the Syrian Situation?
Landis: Under Obama is not going to happen. It is very clear that president Obama has decided not to get involved in Syria. He is not going to spend time and money on Syria. The next president may decide to spend more money but chances are–he won’t… even republican. Nobody wanted Obama to intervene in Syria because no Americans wanted to spend money on Syria. Americans don’t know what Syria is, they don’t like it, they don’t like the fact they spent billions of dollars in Iraq, the don’t like the fact that the America is failed in terms of their own national interests in Afghanistan and Iraq and they don’t want anything to do with the Middle East. American people want to spend their money at home.
The Kurdish people are making advances. The one success of Geneva was the declaration of autonomy by the Kurds because the Syrian opposition refused to invite the Kurds to Geneva, they want to ask and announce their autonomy and they set up a district, and declare that they are going to have a vote, and if they have a vote for month, this will be a triumph, a beckon of democracy in Syria… The Kurdish PYD has many women fighters; it is very encouraging, it is a point of success. There has been surprising amongst many; they have worked together from one end of Rojava to the other… This is promising. They have showed an extraordinary amount of unity despite divisions and disagreement over who should rule and other things…
Joshua M. Landis is Associate Professor and Director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma. He is a member of the Department of International and Area Studies in the College of International Studies. He is also the President of the Syrian Studies Association.He writes “Syria Comment,” a daily newsletter on Syrian politics that attracts some 50,000 readers a month. It is widely read by officials in Washington, Europe and Syria. Dr. Landis travels frequently to Washington DC to consult with government agencies and speak at think tanks.