INSIGHT AND FORESIGHT

September 14, 2013

ENGAGING SYRIA

Syria

Policy is about cost-benefit analysis and trade-offs. In international relations, countries trade choices across the entire spectrum of policy beginning from engagement to disengagement to armed conflict. These involve cooperation, persuasion, dissuasion, threat, sanctions, UN interventions, military diplomacy, force projection, blockades and strikes. In the entire matrix, diplomacy does not cease and must lead to limited successes to avoid a conflict and restore the peace that is equilibrium.

Within the comity of nations, each country has its own matrix of stability and likely to clash with neighbours and global powers over it. In a unipolar world driven by a 21st Century American activism, countries at the receiving end enjoy limited options to exercise real sovereignty. This is the realistic choice Hans Morgenthau terms, ‘smaller powers working within the dynamics of bigger powers’ is further curtailed by unipolarity, globalisation, transcending economies and floating nature of militant threats. Till such time the world does not revert to a multi polar system, nation-states inimical to US policies will continue to face the types of pressures Syria is passing through. The purpose of this statement is not to defend or praise the autocratic regime in Syria, but rather to underline the need of a more equitable equilibrium in international politics.

Democratic revenge what Capitol Hill calls ‘bringing democracy to the world’ on the heels of a crumbling communist philosophy has been a dream gone sour. It provided USA the option of projecting its global reach powered by its Mahan Doctrine. Many larger countries in Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe broke into new nation states on ethnic and religious bases. It has resulted in American global reach into every sinew of the target countries. Those that showed some degree of flair and resistance were flattened by regime change operations. Behind these operations were teams of intelligence operatives, tied aid and trade, non-governmental organisations, special purpose think tanks and select expatriates. In countries like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Gulf States, Africa and Pakistan, military and intelligence diplomacy play a parallel role in achieving objectives.

USA lacks similar paraphernalia in Syria. So the support of expatriates, dissidents and Sunni militants mixed with enlightened moderates form the major pincer to bring down Assad. Backing of any country that has an issue with Syria is the ‘name of the game’.

USA has not exhausted all available options in engaging Syria. For regime change in Syria, time is of essence to USA. Buoyed by regime changes in Iraq, Pakistan, Libya, Yemen, Egypt and Africa, Syria is refusing to succumb and time is running out for USA and its proxies.

It follows that the issue for USA is of a political and not moral nature. USA’s full support to oligarchies in Saudi Arabia and Gulf States deprives it of the high moral pedestal to rub Assad’s nose in the hot sand. Neither is it a case of human rights, equality and liberty. Had it been so, then USA is morally compelled to pressurise oligarchies that are its allies. These regimes have poor human right records, impose draconian laws and exploit imported manpower akin to bonded labour. Their economic success is managed by western multinationals and corporations which mean that USA will exercise a flexible conscience. As written earlier, political economy in the region has been played in a manner that any downfall would create international economic crises. So it is only the lesser ones on whom the axe must fall.

The case of Syria is different.

Syria under a dictatorship had maintained its distance from the forces of modernity whilst strengthening relations with Russia, Iran and factions in Lebanon and Palestine. At the same time, it provided a social welfare programme to its people that provided them world class education, health care and freedom of religious practice. The regime used its cultural and religious heritage to connect with people world over including Hezbollah and Shite connections. In the nature of politics and state preservation, Syria is within its right and options to hedge its defences against Israel and the militant Sunni onslaught being perpetuated by Saudi Arabia and Gulf States.

Consequently, with limited options available to both sides, building bridges of engagement assumes more importance. Diplomacy working towards peace must be given a chance.

A few days ago when the war drums were getting louder with each statement of US Secretary of State John Kerry, the author had opined on twitter that the most honourable and win-win option for all belligerents could be an initiative seized by President Assad. First, the Syrian President will have to hold an inquiry, fix blame and punish those in his regime who could have used chemical weapons at their own initiative. Thereafter he should follow it up by his announcement to sign the Chemical Weapons Convention. It was also recommended that Israel and Egypt should also be persuaded to do likewise. Within 24 hours came the Russian intervention followed by President Assad’s announcement to comply. Consequently, the entire scenario and dynamics have changed.

With these developments in full fury, President Obama appeared out of sorts trying to justify punitive strikes in Syria through remote control. What would he target? Hit chemical weapon stockpiles that on destruction would wreak havoc and bring human misery; bomb all presidential palaces and offices to Stone Age; or destroy some significant military installations? His urgency sounded like a pleading and a confession that US State Department, Pentagon and CIA had lost its plot in midst of un-challenged global domination. It betrayed the reality that US political thought was self-centred and therefore vulnerable to self-destruction. The only allies who support these strikes are equally self-destructive Islamic monarchies.

Given the latest events, the initiative has been seized by Russia and Syria. Military strikes will be counterproductive and trigger a wave of anti-Saudi and anti-Gulf sentiments in the entire Muslim world. International economics could go through a tail spin and so could the big oil companies, finance houses, multinationals and bourses. The reaction may not be immediate but will gradually come under its own dynamics. USA’s construct of Syria will be temporary.

While there is no doubt that Syria repeatedly called the US Bluffs and crossed the Red Lines, USA may have  also gone beyond a point of restoring international equilibrium. The best option is to give international diplomacy a chance and build relations with Syria on its strengths.

The writer is a retired officer of Pakistan Army and a political economist. Email: samson.sharaf@gmail.com

http://www.nation.com.pk/pakistan-news-newspaper-daily-english-online/columns/14-Sep-2013/engaging-syria

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