What now for Syria?

Syria's unprecedented human disaster renders nonsensical all talk about possible victory by either side of the conflict.

    The Syrian crisis seemed to have started to spin out of control last summer, writes Kabalan [AFP]
    The Syrian crisis seemed to have started to spin out of control last summer, writes Kabalan [AFP]

    As the Syrian revolution enters its fourth year, a political solution to the crisis remains as remote as it has ever been. All parties to the conflict appear to be stuck in a vicious cycle as they continue to make wrong calculations and wrong judgments.

    From the very beginning, the regime has locked itself in a state of denial as it continued to claim that it is fighting a global conspiracy aiming at destroying "the axis of resistance". At other times, the same conspiracy is presented as seeking to replace the secular, minority protector regime with 'fanatic jihadists'.

    The opposition, on the other hand, remained as politically naive as it has ever been; believing that its regional and international backers are genuinely interested in the success of the Syrian revolution and the removal of al-Assad regime.

    Inside Syria - Syria's conflict: Three years on

    Washington's miscalculations

    Despite the desire to see Bashar al-Assad leave, the Americans have clearly stated that they do not wish to see his regime collapse entirely, nor do they want his Islamist foes to come to power in Damascus.

    Pundits close to Obama administration circles have gone further by stating that the US has no interest in the conflict so long as it remains contained within Syria's borders as a clash between two of its enemies, Sunni extremist groups against Shias.

    Yet, the Syrian crisis appeared to spin out of control last summer, and the Obama administration thinking proved to be miscalcuated too. The use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime against rebel groups, the direct involvement of Iran and Hezbollah in the conflict and the increasing Israeli intervention, including air strikes on military installations in and around Damascus, have caused deep embarrassment for Washington.

    Hence, after almost three years of sitting idle and watching the Syrian catastrophe unfold, the Obama administration insisted that a follow-up conference for the June 30, 2012, Geneva Declaration by the Syria Action Group should convene and lead to the formation of a transitional governing body from both the opposition and the regime. This did not work out either.

    The regime refused to entertain the idea of a transitional government and insisted on the priority of fighting "terrorism". It was supported by its two key patrons, Russia and Iran. For the regime, it seems that it was business as usual; planning to hold presidential elections this summer regardless of the Geneva process.

    In fact, the positions of the regime, the opposition, and the regional and international actors with interests in Syria have not changed much since the early days of the revolution.

    The positions of the regime, the opposition, and the regional and international actors with interests in Syria have not changed much since the early days of the revolution.

    The reason for that is simply nobody was really prepared to deal with a problem of such magnitude and fraught with such complications, because nobody had expected the Syrian people to ever revolt in the first place. The failure to spot signs of a brewing storm led to disastrous miscalculations with dire consequences.

    Fatal mistakes

    The regime in Damascus thought that it was immune to revolution. Six weeks before the uprising, Bashar al-Assad told the Wall Street Journal that his country was very unlikely to go through the turmoil that hit Tunisia and Egypt because the foreign policy of his government had tremendous support amongst Syrians.

    That proved to be a fatal mistake. And by using deadly force to suppress the uprising, al-Assad was making another mistake; turning peaceful demonstrators into armed militias, fighting not only to bring his regime down, but also to protect their lives, honour and properties.

    Furthermore, by turning the uprising into a sectarian-inspired conflict, he prepared the ground for a full-fledged civil war. Consequently, Syria was turned into a battle ground attracting violent extremist groups from all over the world to take part in a conflict that is increasingly turning sectarian.

    This was al-Assad's calculations as he faced the much unexpected revolution. So what was the opposition's mistake? The opposition's response to the revolution was pathetic, to say the least. Ignorant about regional and international contexts, it called for a foreign military intervention that would never come.

    The regime's determination to fight was also underestimated. The US and Russia positions were misjudged. The inability of the opposition to provide a reliable leadership for the revolution three years after the revolution is also intolerable.

    Syrian rebels divided three years into war

    The human cost

    Having said all that and at this stage of the conflict, one can hardly talk about a good option in Syria, especially after the failure of the Geneva process. No matter what happens, the division between Syrians will take a decade or more to heal.

    Foreign interference has already turned the crisis into a civil war wherein the regime and the opposition find themselves stuck in a violent equilibrium, with neither side having the power to remove the other.

    A prolonged civil war could in turn lead to the disintegration of the state into mini-states defined mainly on sectarian lines; or complete collapse, wherein the current power structure disintegrates before an alternative is in place to manage an orderly transition to a new regime.

    Either way, the human cost will be immense. A massive refugee problem has already developed in and outside Syria. There is no practical way to estimate the cost in terms of immediate economic suffering or the future impact on the next generation.

    Simply put: Syria is experiencing an unprecedented human disaster that makes all the talk about a possible victory by either side of the conflict mere nonsense.

    Marwan Kabalan is a Syrian academic and writer. He holds a PhD degree in International Relations. He is an Associate Political Analyst at the Doha Institute.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera



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