Sunday, March 18, 2012

Ordem e Progresso para a Siria

The national motto of Brazil is "Ordem e Progresso" ("order and progress"). It is inspired by French philosopher Auguste Comte and his theory of positivism, developed in the 19th century. As much as the physical world operates according to gravity and other laws of nature, Comte argued, society operates according to its own laws. Comte encapsulated the essence of his theory by stating: "l'amour pour principe et l'ordre pour base; le progrès pour but" ("love as a principle and order as the basis;progress as the goal").


John Stuart Mill, the British philosopher and political economist, gave much thought to the construction of a political system in his book "Considerations on Representative Government" which he published in 1861. Mill interpreted the theories of order and progress in his own way when he wrote that "progress includes order, but order does not include progress". 


Brazil might be the perennial next super power, but until the geopolitical attention shifts to South America, we will have to deal with old world problems. What order do we see in today's Syria, and what progress?


Actually none. The order in Syria has completely evaporated while no progress - politically, militarily - is in sight. The Syrian president with the childish mindset, Bashar al-Assad, still clings to the desperate idea that everything is in order, holding a referendum on a new constitution nobody has read, and announcing parliamentary elections for May 7. What a misunderstanding of democracy! How can a public debate on political questions take place, an essential trait of any democratic system, when bullets are flying and shells are fired?


Homs: you cannot fight terrorism with tanks! 


A misunderstood political culture by the delusional Assad, a misunderstanding of the Syrian political landscape by the international community. Despite its tyranny, the Syrian regime is more popular than some people in Europe and the United States want us to believe. Tyrannies are assumed to be unpopular, but history has shown that this is not always true. Very few regimes are created or sustained without substantial support. The Nazi regime of Germany remained, by all measures and accounts, widely popular well into World War II. 


The misunderstandings about Syria have even entered the academic circles of Harvard, an institution I thought to be a beacon of reason and unbiased analysis. The Harvard International Law Journal publishes a opinion-editorial this month called "Strategy for Syria Under International Law: How to End the Asad Dictatorship While Restoring Nonviolence to the Syrian Revolution", a dreadful paper authored by various men and women of honor from the Middle East, China and the US. At the same time that five Syrian opposition groups create a new coalition explicitly without the Syrian National Council (SNC), because they deem the SNC to be a temporary structure infiltrated by the Muslim Brotherhood, Harvard makes the case for the SNC to take over Syria and run the show in Damascus from now on. By promoting the SNC so strongly, I was reminded of the curious case of Ahmed Chalabi, the Iraqi "opposition" figurehead who helped drag the United States into Iraq in 2003. Chalabi promised the Bush administration that the Iraqi people will close their ranks behind the American war machine storming the gates of Baghdad. As we all know, the reality was quite different.


The Harvard paper goes on by linking the future of the Middle East and the success of the revolutions (sic!) in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Bahrain to the fate of Bashar al-Assad - as if he would rule the entire Middle East -, calling the Egyptian revolution a success - it has never happened, it was a military coup - and even goes so far as asking for a "regime change" in Beirut, so that a new Lebanese government can establish "no-kill zones" inside Lebanon to shelter Syrian defectors and other Syrians fleeing the war zone. Instigating a political earthquake in Beirut to push Bashar out of Damascus? Here, my fun stops. These people of Harvard credentials don't know what they are talking about. Could Switzerland have established "no-kill zones" for Jews inside Switzerland in World War II without risking the wrath of Germany? And, by the way: the euphemistically so nicely called "no-kill zones" are actually refugee camps, places with whom Lebanon has quite a dire history and present.


gone shopping: Bashar and Mrs. AAA


China and Russia took a heavy beating after saying no to a UN resolution on Syria in February of 2012. Do they have a better understanding of the realities of Syria? I doubt this. But they have learned from Libya and they don't want to commit the same error twice. Only by saying "no", Russia and China could remain relevant as a political player in the dealings on Syria. Say no first to be begged - and even rewarded! - for a yes later. Saying no kept them in a driver's seat in Syria. Saying yes to UNSC resolution 1973 got them unseated in Libya. Instead of pursuing the unrealistic and dishonest goal of "protecting civilians" in Libya, NATO went after Gaddafi's head, eventually burying him in the Saharan desert. Until this day, China hasn't returned to its oil business in Libya, now run by companies from France, Great Britain and Italy. This year, Kofi Annan consults with Russia and China before and after his trip to Damascus. Is this to the benefit of the Syrian people? It is certainly beneficial to Bashar al-Assad's grip on power, taking advantage of the slow and laborious process that is diplomacy and the inclusion of all parties. But quick fixes never hold in the long run.


So here is my solution for Syria:

  1. Bashar al-Assad steps down and hands over presidential power to his ruthless brother Maher. At least the international community had to deal with a real man with guts from then on, the one they pretend Bashar to be. Bashar and Mrs. AAA can leave Syria for London and finally enjoy the good doctor's life, the life Bashar was groomed for and Asma longs for, shopping for Louboutins and going to country music concerts when their social obligations allow for.
  2. With Maher al-Assad sitting in the presidential palace in Damascus: bomb the place. If you want to kill the snake, go for the head of the snake. If you want to use coercion, do it right. Let's see how Maher deals with this message, if he still holds the line after the bombs have fallen.
  3. Acknowledge that the Syrian opposition is everything but "only peaceful". Only when you have a clear, realistic picture about the situation on the ground, you will see the path that leads to a possible solution. Parts of the Syrian opposition are heavily influenced by Jihadi ideology and the members of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) have learned their trade while serving under the Assads. You know then what implementation of a military doctrine they are prone to favor when battling their former masters and their supporters.
  4. Get the Syrian opposition to speak with one voice. If the opposition remains as disunited as they are, they will never stand a chance against a Mafia family fighting for survival. 
  5. Renew diplomatic back channels talks with figures inside the Syrian regime not belonging to the Assad family. There aren't any diplomatic back channel contacts to be renewed? Strange, since the US rendition flights used to stop over in Syria's torture chambers on their way to Guantanamo just a few years ago. Canadian resident Maher Arar knows a detail or two about this.
  6. With Bashar gone shopping and Maher gone for good, their armed followers will lay down their weapons, and so must the fighters of the Free Syrian Army. Only when this has happened can the political process begin. It will be long, and maybe it will not have the desired outcome, the outcome of a democratic, all including, peaceful Syrian society. But then again: desired by whom?

Saudi Arabia, Qatar, even the United States or Britain, can arm the FSA as much as they want, the FSA will never be able to defeat the Assad army militarily. They lack in numbers and in heavy weaponry. Remember that the Syrian army has tanks at its disposal and until now they have not used the air force. But the FSA can drag on the fight for ever and ever, paralyzing Syria, paralyzing and keeping its allies busy. And maybe that is precisely the most preferable outcome for the FSA's sponsors: no order, no progress, no Syria.