Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Somalization of Syria

Counterpunch has an article Israel's plan for Syria) that claims on the basis of supposedly leaked files of conversations between Netanjahu and Putin that Israel is aiming for a Somalization of Syria - just like happened previously with Iraq. The main supposed benefit: Syria now has a strong army and then it would just be a helpless country without power.

A strange but plausable idea...

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Teaching US soldiers hatred

Wired's Danger Room has an article (U.S. Military Taught Officers: Use ‘Hiroshima’ Tactics for ‘Total War’ on Islam) about a course that was given at the Joint Forces Staff College on Islam.

The course puts a lot of stress on texts in the Quran about spreading the Islam over the whole world and killing infidels and it recommends harsh measures to counter that.

Sorry to see such ignorance. The bible has radical passages too if you know where to find them. "Force them to enter" was once a favorite excuse to put people under pressure to convert to Christianity. Just as with Islam what counts in the end is what people do with it. And there are many peacefull Muslims too.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Day After: Supporting a democratic transition in Syria

The U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP) has since the beginning of this year organized a series of meetings in Germany between some 40 representatives of Syrian opposition groups to plan for what should happen after they get the power. The project is led by Steven Heydemann, a Syria specialist at USIP.

My take: 45 carefully selected Syrians being bullied by some American moderator with a bag of money into taking a common position. This happening in deep secrecy - quite different from the openness that you would expect when the foundation is led for a democracy.

Postscript 27-8-2012: According to this article (Opposition presents goals for a post-Assad Syria) this meeting has produced a document: The document, the first of its kind from the Syrian opposition, offers recommendations for writing a new constitution and principles for institution building, and cites South Africa's post-apartheid transition as potentially "instructive". The USIP is to present the report, which was developed at monthly meetings from January to June, at a press conference in the German capital on Tuesday..

Postscript 29-8-2012: Here you can find the report.

Postscript 12-9-2012: Syria page has a reaction: The Day After will be too late.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Permanent optimism

After the attack in Damascus that killed three of Syria's top leaders one can read in many newspapers titles like "Will Syria implode". Others are more cautious but it is striking that no one dares to say the obvious: The Syrian Army is far from fighting at top capacity and no one in the Syrian top has any incentive to give up. So the likely outcome of any support for the opposition is that the rebels will use more violence and that as a consequence the government will use more violence too.

Yet no one has the courage to say this aloud because that would raise the question why the West is so eager to condemn Syria to a further increase of violence while it not only ignores but actively obstructs any possibility for a negotiated solution. An touchy question that raises the question of complicity in the killings.

The master manipulator promoted

According to the WSJ ("Saudi Appointment Suggests Bigger Regional Ambitions") Saudi Arabiƫ has appointed prince Bandar to head of the security service.

Prins Bandar was during many years ambassador in Washington and he was involved in the buildup of the Afghan resistenceafter 1979. Accroding to some sources he was involved in the "Arab Spring" in some countries, including Syria.

It looks likely that we can expect more activity from the Saudi secret service. Unfortunately that will mean more destabilization in other countries in the region.

This article (The Middle East counter-revolution) provides some background. Bandar is part of the Sudairy clan of the Saudi royal family. That clan is in a power struggle with some other parts of the family.

Monday, July 16, 2012

How Annan betrays Syria

A mediator is supposed to bring the parties together, to help them understand each others position, find common points and achieve compromises. From that point of view Annan has not only failed but actively betrayed his mission and his plan.

Annan has not organized a single talk between representatives of the government and the opposition. Instead he holds talks with the government and then tries to deceive us into thinking that that can substitute for talks between the opposition and the government. But that way they will never learn understand each other's position and they are physically incapable of reaching compromises.

By calling for sanctions against Syria Annan has shown his true colors. He is not a mediator. He is a stooge for the US trying to achieve regime change. His appointment was a similar US diplomatic deceit as the Libya resolution that was abused to start a war.

This US position doesn't make sense. The idea is that the removal of Assad will weaken Iran and that that will be to the advantage of the US. But Syria is no asset for Iran and there are better ways to achieve change in Iran. In fact the whole story is just typical neo-con nonsense. The neo-cons thrive - just as Europe's right extremists - on feelings of hatred. One can be sure that when they achieved all their present goals they would immediately think up new enemies that should be eliminated.

A real mediator would do the following:
- Openly pressure all international governments to openly support negotiations – with no preconditions
- Openly pressure the Syrian government and opposition to negotiations.
- Be clear how deadly and devastating the conflict will become if it is fought till the bitter end. Discard illusions about the regime breaking down: it is propaganda that wants us to forget the bitter price of fighting till the end.
- Openly support local armistices and give publicity to them.
- Make negotiations not dependent on a truce. It is well known that the truce initially won’t work very well. Parts of the rebels have openly announced not to respect it and many others are only afraid of bad pr if they don’t at least verbally respect it. Only when negotiations turn in real results might this position change. Negotiations are also needed to handle the inevitable violations of the truce.
- Start with talks about common points like peace, less repression, more political freedom and economic monopolies. Take care that negotiations won’t become zero-sum struggles about power.
- Don't wait of the opposition to become united. Find local representatives instead.
- Be aware that negotiating takes time. There will be breakdowns and stagnation and it may take many months. Aim for small gains to keep momentum. A big part of negotiating is trust building and that takes time.
- Openly criticize the satellite television preachers from Saudi Arabia who are polarizing the situation like “we will chop their flesh” Arour and “kill a third of the Syrians” Luhaidan. Put pressure on Saudi Arabia and other countries to get these modern Radio Mille Colines out of the air.
- Remember the opposition and the world that for any government public order is of primary importance. Even in the US with its long democratic tradition things have turned quite ugly when Occupy Wall Street was seen as a threat. Assad's behavior is sometimes extreme, but less so than many would like us to believe.
- Remember everyone that a revolution very probably will bring extremism and hatred. Revolutions have a tendency to get out of hand and in Syria all the precondition for that seem present.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Guerrilla strategy in Syria

As a student a long ago I was like many others a bit infatuated with guerrilla movements in Latin America. Along the way I learned how guerrilla works and it is not nice. It is a strategy of polarization. They start by killing government employees and when the enevitable government reaction happens they are quick to point out any excesses or damages. They see this as a propaganda war where lies are allowed if they help the cause. This cryout over government injustices is supposed to bring them more internal and foreign support.

In any country most people just want to go with their life and initially support for guerrilla's tend to be low as people see them as disturbers of the peace. But as the violence becomes worse the government no longer seems such a good guarantor of peace and support for the guerrilla rises among those who share some of its political goals. If it rises far enough people start to believe that the guerrilla has a genuine chance to win and opportunists start crossing the line too.

A guerrilla has nearly always a civilian counterpart. That counterpart contains both hardcore guerrilla supporters and people genuinely committed to peace. That mix makes it for the regime hard to crack down on it while at the same time it supports the insurrection. Recent "non-violent" strategies like we saw in the color revolutions make a such an opposition an even more powerful tool for a guerrilla.

A guerrilla has to be ruthless with any traitors. But the consequence is that often keep this ruthlessness when they become the new government.

In Syria we see all these strategies back. The armed opposition is ruthless in expanding its influence whenever possible - no matter the price in casualties. That they stayed so long in Baba Amr was no mistake: it was a deliberate strategy to make civilian victims for propaganda purposes. Rebel held territories are not free: many are expelled or killed. And while we still see some opposition members walking freely in Damascus in rebelheld territories such a freedom of opinion is not allowed.

A guerrilla seldomly works without foreign support. Such support provides a base in the initial stage and it provides money to keep going when things are tough. We see this in Syria too. The uprising would have ended long ago under Turkey's previous government.

The Russians know this game better than anyone else as they played it in the past. They know what a bloody game it is and how often it ends in a repressive regime. So they are abhorred that the US - claiming moral superiority - is now playing the same game and supporting guerrilla fighters in Syria and other countries.