Time for the Syrian phoenix to rise

By: Joseph A. Kechichian

Opposition and army must launch a united effort to build a better country from the ashes of the dying Baath regime

Even Kofi Annan was stunned. As the affable Ghanaian diplomat, who shared the 2001 Nobel Peace Prize and whose chequered tenure as United Nations secretary-general faced an inquiry in the Iraq Oil-For-Food programme that added to the suffering of the hapless Iraqi people, did not expect to be rebuffed by Syrian President Bashar Al Assad. Still, that was precisely what happened a few days ago, as Annan smiled at the cameras barely able to contain his disappointment and anger.

In the event, it was unclear whether Damascus appreciated Annan’s reference to the African proverb, ‘You cannot turn the wind, so turn the sail’, although his avowed optimism as he left empty-handed was clearly unwarranted. A year into the uprising, the Syrian crisis was nowhere near a resolution, which raised a fundamental question: what would awaken the dormant Syrian phoenix?

For a full year, Damascus immersed the country into a two-pronged war, with unending massacres in various cities that were likely to continue for as long as anyone could foresee. Parallel to daily tragedies on the ground, comical diplomatic manoeuvres among so-called major powers, all of which invented reasons to perpetuate their interferences in the internal affairs of other countries, pretended to offer political solutions when everyone knew there were none.

Still, and regardless of any putative vote(s) at the long-compromised UN Security Council, it ought to be amply clear to one and all that Syria’s political future was likely to be determined by the outcome of military operations on the ground.

Serious defections

No matter how unpalatable that option was, the Syrian army confronted daily defections, which gained momentum and that included officers and soldiers from every community.

This much was clear a year into the uprising: the Syrian army failed to impose its will precisely because of serious defections within the ranks and, even worse, because senior officers rejected the political logic of massacring their own citizens even if Baath party minions were all too willing to sacrifice Syrian children for the sake of power.

Indeed, the latter point, namely that a single party wished to monopolise power, was precisely the reason why no solution was in sight. Although the so-called new constitution — that was passed in the February 26, 2012 referendum — allegedly ended five decades of one-party rule, no one in his right mind believed that was about to happen.

Simply stated, Damascus suffered from political ossification, which was akin to what ailed the former Soviet Union when the inefficient Communist Party dominated nations but seldom served them.

Al Assad lost a golden opportunity in March 2011 when he failed to fire senior Baath leader to save Syria from its current predicament and it remained to be determined whether an alternative political institution could be created to assume power after Al Assad without destroying the existing system.

Moreover, the inflexible Al Assad committed an equally egregious error when he failed to reassess his compromised strategic options with Iran, which transformed the bitter internal political conflict into proxy wars. This blunder ended Syria’s leading position throughout the Arab world. Therefore, a year into this epochal crisis, Damascus allowed Tehran, Moscow and others, to transform Syria into an international playground that did not serve Syrian interests.

Though defiant and obdurate, Syrians were shocked that the Arab League expelled a founding member from the organisation, which was a good illustration of the self-created dilemma.

Mistakenly, leading Syrian intellectuals close to the Baath regime believed that Iranians, Russians or even Chinese officials gave a fig about them, unaware that all three countries were involved in their own convoluted goals. Naturally, several Arab states, Israel, along with the US and its western allies, looked after their own interests too, which included a full break of the Iranian-Syrian axis.

Each country aimed to position itself, to best preserve certain advantage, regardless of the price. Truth be told, every capital advanced its own strategic calculations, and it may be accurate to state that no one factored in the welfare and prosperity of the Syrian nation—no matter lofty and largely irrelevant rhetoric.

A year into the uprising, therefore, all that Damascus could offer its citizens was a pledge not to allow Syria to become another Somalia although the massacres in Homs, Idlib and elsewhere made Somalia look good. At this point, neither Annan’s mission, nor the five-point agreement that was recently reached between the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, and Arab League officials were realistic options to save Syria from a full-fledged civil war.

The only two solutions, separately or combined, which could allow the country avoid additional warfare revolved around opposition forces to unite, and for the steadfast military to display their loyalty to the nation instead of a political party. Indeed, the time was ripe for a Syrian phoenix to emerge from the ashes of the dying Baath regime and those who truly wished to see the country survive and flourish intact ought to prepare for the post-Al Assad period with due diligence. A new Syria that displayed democratising mechanisms that protected citizens and ensured freedom for all.

Source: Gulf News

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