26 Aug 2017 – Asharq al Awsat – Hearing diplomats and policymakers talking about Syria, one is bound to quickly come across a cliché: There is no military solution! But what if the opposite were true in the sense that the five-year plus “problem” couldn’t be solved except through military action?
It is interesting that all those who talk of “no military solution” are doing nothing but taking military action in Syria which, in practice, means dropping bombs from the air and killing vast numbers of Syrians. Just days after US Secretary of State John Kerry came out with the “no military solution” cliché, the Pentagon unveiled a new plan for intensified bombings in Syria. Kerry’s Iranian “buddy” Muhammad Javad Zarif, playing the role of Foreign Minister, repeated the mantra while touring Cuba just a day before his masters in Tehran granted “base facilities” to Russia from which to intensify bombing Syria and kill even more Syrians.
Zarif’s Turkish counterpart, Mevlut (Moloud) Cavusoglu peddled the slogan hours before Ankara announced a new plan for “massive military operations across the border with Syria.” A day later, Turkish tanks rolled into Syria.
Joining the chorus, Russian President Vladimir Putin echoed the “no military solution” slogan just as his heavy bombers were killing Syrians on an even larger scale.Theoretically at least, there can be a military solution to almost any problem in the context of national or international conflicts. Just imagine if we had a power or group of powers capable of committing enough troops and firepower to dislodge Bashar Al-Assad, the Islamic Caliphate, the various freelance groups, and tribal chiefs, each controlling a chunk of Syria.
Such a scheme may take time, but it certainly is doable, especially when one remembers that without foreign money and arms, Assad and other characters who have divided Syria cannot last for long. The honest analysis is that while there is a military solution no one is willing to contemplate it on the scale necessary. So the kiling continues. Why has military action so far failed to end the Syrian crisis?The reason is that powers involved in this imbroglio could be divided into three categories.
First there are the midgets like the Islamic Republic in Iran and Erdogan’s Turkey that suffer from folie de grandeur, having high ambitions but not the means to achieve them.
Next there are me-tooist nations, medium-sized powers such as Britain and France that wish to play in the big league but lack the wherewithal. T hey opt for token bombings that certainly kill many Syrians but achieve little in military terms. (The UK has carried out 52 sorties in more than six months!) Finally, we have the United States and Russia which do have the military power, including potential allies, to wield the really big hammer needed.
However, they too have opted for tokenism for different reasons.
The US has been chained by President Barack Obama’s deep-rooted anti-American analysis of contemporary history in which a nation he now heads is cast in the role of villain and bully. (Obama says he is pained by the US forcing the Emperor of Japan to come to the radio in Tokyo and personally declare his country’s surrender to the US at the end of the Second World War.)
That Obama’s ideological penchant may be the product of noble intentions is not the issue here. What is at issue is the fact that he has prevented the US from performing a role it has held since the Second World War as custodian of stability in various regions, including the Middle East of which Syria is a significant part.
Russia, too, has the firepower and troop numbers to re-write the Syrian script by force, especially now that the US is determined to remain on the ringside. However, Putin is an opportunist determined to win a maximum of advantages with a minimum of investment.
He knows that because of deepening economic crisis and rising social discontent, his regime is heading for a bumpy ride which would make massive military intervention in Syria that much riskier. For the time being, therefore, he is trying to grab what he can: base rights in Iran, expanded bases in Syria, casting himself as a true friend of Arabs defending his friends while Americans stab their friends in the back, and the champion of the global war on terror.
With military action off the table, everyone is focused on a simulacrum of diplomacy centered on two issues: episodic ceasefires and the future of Assad Junior.
As far as the broader compass of the Syrian tragedy is concerned, both issues have become largely irrelevant. Patchy ceasefires are no more than brief intervals in a struggle to the death, only prolonging it. Assad’s future is also a non-issue because he has no future. No one would imagine Assad to regain a position he lost in 2011 or even be able to emerge from his foxhole for a meaningful sortie in Syria. Assad has already entered history as the only head of state that invited foreign powers to come and kill his fellow citizens from the air. He has betrayed the first and most important duty of any head of state: to protect the lives of his people.Almost 80 years ago General Fransisco Franco invited Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy to come and kill Spaniards by aerial bombardment. They did, and one result was the massacre of Guernica which was to become the epitome of infamy in modern history.
Assad is worse than Franco if only because, at the time he invited the Fascists, the general was not head of state but a rebel fighting against the government. Even then, the German-Italian bombing of Guernica claimed under 300 lives, a “trifle” compared to victims of Russian bombings in Aleppo in a single weekend.
Franco won the civil war but never recovered from the tragic error of inviting foreigners to come and kill his people. Assad has no qualms about spreading the red carpet for “protectors” of non-existent shrines from Iran, not to mention mercenaries from Lebanon, Iraq, Pakistan, and Afghanistan coming for killing sprees in Syria.
The Syrian crisis started as a popular uprising demanding reforms. It morphed into a national revolt against the one-party system led by Assad. Because of errors by all sides it degenerated into a mixture of civil war, sectarian conflict and terrorist atrocities.
It has now become a human tragedy on a scale not seen since the Second World War.To end it we have to first scale it back to its origins.
But that is another story.
Amir Taheri was the executive editor-in-chief of the daily Kayhan in Iran from 1972 to 1979. He has worked at or written for innumerable publications, published eleven books, and has been a columnist for Asharq Al-Awsat since 1987. Mr. Taheri has won several prizes for his journalism, and in 2012 was named International Journalist of the Year by the British Society of Editors and the Foreign Press Association in the annual British Media Awards. http://english.aawsat.com/2016/08/article55357165/opinion-syria-assad-become-irrelevant