MESOP EDITORIAL : Veteran US Diplomat Hof: Those with Guns Will Determine the Future of Syria

11/02/2013 RUDAW –  By MUTLU CIVROGLU – WASHINGTON DC – Armed opposition is the only way of toppling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a veteran US diplomat said, adding that the US and UN policy of non-lethal assistance to opposition groups is doomed to fail.

“One way or other the US will be sucked into the Syrian issue, either with boots on the ground or through a strategic bombing campaign,” said Frederic Hof, the former special US representative on Syria, who resigned from his post last September.

“The future of Syria will be determined by those who have guns in hand,” Hof said last Friday at a panel discussion in the US capital hosted by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, titled “The battle for Syria.”

“We also have to make sure that only those who we want will have the weapons,” Hof said, adding that Washington’s policy on Syria was built on the notion of  “peacefully managed transition” that Susan Rice was voicing loudly at the United Nations. He highlighted that this policy of non-lethal aid to the opposition and humanitarian aid to refugees, came down to the mission of UN Special Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi.

Hof stated his pessimism to efforts led by Brahimi.  “I do not believe this policy would be successful enough to remove Bashar Assad from power,” he said, criticizing Washington’s “do nothing” policy and suggesting that the US needs a new plan with clearly drawn objectives. “Assad will rather see the country burnt than transition into a democracy and power-sharing. He had options to solve this issue and he still has opportunity to correct the situation, but he is not inclined to do so,” Hof told the panel.

He also warned of the growing jihadist threat in Syria, saying he believed that Assad will soon start re-marketing himself as the best option against radical Islam. Leigh University’s prominent Middle East expert Henri Barkey said he opposed the idea of Washington arming the Syrian opposition.

“The US should stay away from Syria, which is another Muslim country. Unless there is use of chemical weapons by Assad, the US should not get involved. Once you give weapons to the opposition, you cannot guarantee those weapons going to wrong hands,” he said. “In the Middle East, we have no friends except the Kurds. Everybody is an enemy to us. There is no benefit to the US from the Syrian War,” Barkey said. Commenting on Turkey’s position on the Syrian crisis, Barkey said that Ankara wants stability in Syria for economic reasons, adding that Turkey made a wrong calculation on Syria in thinking that Assad would collapse in six months.

Paul Salem, Director of the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, said he saw the Syrian conflict as a “proxy war,” and claimed that a solution can only be found at a global level, involving the US, Russia and China. “The Assad regime prefers to destroy the country rather than power-sharing. Damascus has shown its power and coherence. The regime is indeed a large fighting machine, not only thanks to Iran and Russia but thanks to Alawite backbone,” Salem said.