Thursday, March 22, 2012

Some tips for Annan on Syria

The Security Council just adopted a resolution of Syria after a report from Annan who proposed a six-point peace proposal.

Here some thoughts on how I would approach negotiating the Syrian conflict. This is a blog and I am not a diplomat so I will use a style that stresses clarity over diplomatic niceness.

Vs Assad:
- stress the need to discipline his troops. Torture and unnecessary destruction may work in the short term to relieve the stress from the troops and to intimidate the enemy. But it makes him a loser in the fight for hearts and minds.
- encourage him to make local compromises. Building trust with the opposition will take time so cherish small compromises.
- tell him that he is the president of all Syrians and that he should show that. One can discuss whether the devastation in Baba Amr was necessary or not. But one should feel sorry for the population that now has to live in devastated houses and may have lost relatives.
- ask him to make openings for the opposition to come back.
- stress that he cannot ignore the Muslim Brotherhood. He must find a way to engage them.
- discuss local leaders who keep their community together in the present climate. Stress that such behavior should be encouraged and copied.
- tell him that we no longer live in 1982. With internet, easy money transfers, cheap telephone and travel and widespread car possession the world is now much more connected and he needs to reach out.
- Assad has shown himself prepared to negotiate and has introduced some reforms and released many prisoners. Discuss with him a road forward.
- tell him that if he doesn't play his cards well there is a real chance that he will lose power in a revolutionary way. So he should do better to prevent unnecessary polarization between Alawites and Sunnites as that might backfire later on.
- tell him that one day Syria will be a prosperous democratic country and that he should work towards that goal. Ethnic polarization will harm the progress towards that goal and may also harm the long term position of Syria's minorities.

Vs the opposition:
- Talk with many different opposition leaders. Be prepared to form a "coalition of the willing".
- Stress the costs of revolution. Let them have a look at the devastation and human costs of the revolution in Libya and ask them is them if this is really what they want.
- condemn their offensive at the end of January for destroying chances for peace.
- challenge the exiles and emigrants. It is very comfortable to be radical from your arm chair in Los Angeles. It were the exiles who destroyed Yugoslavia and the Tamil areas of Sri Lanka with their support for radicals. Don't give them a chance here.
- challenge the revengeful: some who lost relatives in 1982 or recently may just be filled with hatred against the Assad government. But such an attitude does not offer hope for finding a compromise between Syria's many different political groups.
- Tell them that a peaceful transition with compromise offers a much better long term chance for democracy than a revolution. Compromise is the heart of democracy. With a zero-sum winner-takes-it-all mentality democracy is doomed and you are on your road to the next dictatorship.
- Stress that any compromise will contain a clause to reintegrate opposition fighters. Many of the young fighters have the feeling that they have burned the bridges behind them and that they have no choice but to fight till the bitter end.
- stress that "Assad must go" demonstrations are revolutionary and not democratic. This is not how peaceful opposition should look.
- tell them to focus on content and not on people. The primary goal should be more freedom and prosperity for the Syrians - not having some other people in the power seats. The task of the government is to serve the population and if Assad is prepared to do that it is ok. And it is much better than some revolutionary place holder who thinks he entitled to a high position because of what he did in the revolution. They will notice that once this mentality change happens the step towards democracy will become much smaller.
- tell them that a revolution always brings a backlash against the former rulers and their supporters. This applies the more as Syria's opposition lacks any leader of the stature of Mandela who might be able to impose his own vision. Tell them that for that reason you think it very unlikely that Syria after a revolution will be democratic and tolerant - no matter how well the intentions of some insurgents may be - and that you see an real need for a negotiated solution.

Vs the US:
- see also opposition part
- talk with Obama about how disgusting you find his behavior in Libya where the Western resistance to compromise led to a protracted civil war, many unnecessary deaths, a devastated country, anarchy and needless polarization.
- stress that the policy of regime change results in a world where everybody feels bullied not to speak out against the US but where at the same time there a great resentment against it.
- discuss how America's previous democratization project - the color revolutions - ended. Stress that the sorry results were not coincidental but a logic consequence of revolutionary change.
- Stress the value of negotiations in democracy and how undemocratic America's refusal to talk with Assad is.
- condemn hypocrite US behavior such as demanding Assad to withdraw his troops from the cities while at the same time encouraging and equipping the rebels to enter there.
- discuss the issue of Syria's "support for terrorists". Talk about how real this still is and suggest other solutions.

Vs Saudi Arabia:
- see also the US part
- ask them what they really want. As stricter dictatorships than Syria they can't be really interested in democratization.
- discuss the Saudi Iran obsession. Mention that secular Syria is not a natural ally for fundamentalist Iran and that Saudi policies have driven them in each others arms.

What not to do:
- don't ask for regime change. How Syria should be governed in the future should be the subject of negotiations and not be predetermined.
- don't ask for surrender. Asking the government troops to withdraw from the cities means that the government should surrender the cities - including their pro-Assad areas - to the rebels. This is not a realistic demand. As the rebels lack a central command the only way to arrange for armistices is to have local negotiations where both sides commit to specific rules that prevent one side to draw disproportional advantage from an armistice.

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