Monday, 5 October 2015

Breaking up Syria is hard to do


Obama's weakness has turned the Syrian war into a proxy war in which the Saudis, the Turks and now the Russians take sides. I do not understand why the Russians are criticised by the West and not the Saudis, who are trying to topple the Assad regime, or the Turks who are trying to defeat the Kurds. Turkey and Qatar were helping ISIS - though so at times was Assad. I am not sure how much anyone understands what is going on, including Russia and the USA.

I hope a negotiated peace can be made between the regime and the non-ISIS rebels and Russian support for Assad I hope will bring the latter to the negotiating table.

I wonder if Syria, an artificial country, can or should survive but I cannot see how it could be partitioned. Partition could have worked in Libya but in Syria it is much harder to imagine. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said a couple of weeks ago that President Assad is seeking to establish a "mini-Syria," which would comprising Damascus, Hama, Homs, and Latakia. I do not think this is practicable, as Latakia on the coast and its hinterland, where most Alawis live, is at the opposite end of the country from Damascus. 

It is not true to say the Sunnis will never accept the Assad regime - Damascus controlled by Assad is mostly Sunni. Alawis, Sunnis and Christians have lived together without problems for centuries in Damascus. However, Iran was recently reported as wanting the regime to clear hundreds of thousands of Sunnis from Damascus in an exchange of population with Shias elsewhere.

A statelet around Latakia would offer the Alawis and the Assads a safe haven and be the sort of enclave that Russia has created in Moldova and Georgia. But who would rule the Sunni state? To ask the question is to see that partition cannot work. A complete victory for the Assads over the whole country might be the one thing that would bring peace but would require as much bloodshed as Putin's suppression of the Chechens and seems, even with Russia's help, impossible.

A victory for Assad would resemble the description Tacitus puts into the mouth the Caledonian chieftain, Calgacus.
To robbery, slaughter, plunder, they give the lying name of empire; they make a solitude and call it peace.
Still after what we have seen in Iraq and Libya even such a peace seems more attractive than seemingly endless fighting and chaos. However it seems impossible except if the regime makes peace with some of the 'moderate opposition'.

One Wilsonian liberal, George W. Bush, is responsible for Iraq. What a shame that another, Obama, is charged with finding a solution to Syria. We need a conservative like Kissinger. 

No-one except the USA is in Syria to attack ISIS and the Americans have been completely ineffective. Their intervention has helped ISIS. Hillary Clinton said this week that removing Assad is the first priority, not ISIS. Russia is trying to help Assad, rather than fight ISIS. Turkey is trying to fight the Kurds, rather than fight ISIS. Qatar and Turkey originally backed ISIS. 

I hope a reformed regime and the bureaucracy survives. The USA and UK want to remove Assad. Putin might be able to engineer the replacement of Assad and his family, if he decides it is in Russia's interests. if that happened it might make it easier to find peace and avoid a partition that would be unlikely to last.

1 comment:

  1. I lost faith in Owen Matthews after he said the Russian Whites in the Civil War were as bad as the Reds (had they come to power they could have been as bad as Franco, he thought) but Matthews has written a good article in the Spectator:

    "Assad will doubtless now attempt the impossible — recapturing the 80 per cent of Syria that he has lost since the beginning of the insurgency that has cost 220,000 lives so far. So Russia’s intervention may, ironically, end up strengthening the hand of Isis and other Sunni extremists who see Assad’s Alawite sect as apostates, who are now backed not only by Shia Iranians but Russian Orthodox infidels too.

    But fundamentally, Putin is much more interested in being seen to project Russian power than in fixing Syria’s war. His aim is to hold up Britain and America as paper tigers whose indecision has created a policy vacuum on Syria, into which Putin has confidently stepped. The Russian operation is small and portable enough for Putin to be able to roll it up in a week — and declare victory if and when the going gets tough. That, as he knows, is more than Britain and America have been able to do in any of our recent wars."