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Hichem Karoui: Considerations about action in Syria
December 02, 2012
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Exclusive to The Gulf Today

Since the Syrian revolution took the military turn, there is probably a real need for advisers and experts in modern warfare and guerrilla techniques, along with the relevant kinds of armament.

According to some reports, the Obama administration is now more disposed to help the fighters get rid of the dictator. There are infallible signs that the countdown for the Assad regime has already started: could the United States afford to be “absent” from this fight for freedom? Granting the US (and the Western) interests in Post-Assad Syria is vital, because of the strategic position and the political role of this country within the Arab world, particularly regarding the conflict with Israel.

The first sign that the US may help achieve the goal of the ultimate battle came when Turkey obtained the Patriot missiles in order to deploy them as a defence against any aerial attack from Bashar forces. Syria is believed to have several hundred ballistic surface-to-surface missiles capable of carrying chemical warheads. The deployment of Patriots is likely to be discussed in an upcoming meeting of NATO Foreign Affairs ministers in Brussels next Tuesday and Wednesday.

However, maybe it is not easy to justify a full-fledged US military intervention – still improbable – but there are so many other ways to provide help and assistance to the Syrians fighting for their freedom. We are now aware that the militarisation of the conflict represents a serious challenge to the future of Syria. Yet, as this process was – alas! – unavoidable, it is important – even vital – to work today on ensuring that it would not prelude an implosion of the country that would destabilise the region for many years to come.

While on the political side, the Syrian opposition has responded positively to the urgent requirement of unification, reaching an agreement between its different factions in Doha meeting (8-11 November), there are still more efforts required to coordinate and enhance the military performance of the revolution and to produce plans for the “day after.”

A little more than a month ago, a policy briefing issued by the Brookings and authored by Salman Shaikh particularly recommended “the establishment of a unified channel of external support to the armed rebels, which currently does not exist. It is high time for the United States to take the lead in establishing this channel.”

Even with all the objections against a direct US military involvement in sight, it is obvious that establishing such a channel is a matter of logistic organisation, in which the US military have the experience, the expertise, and the means. Europe and the NATO allies could also play an important part in this scenario. The debate about the nature and the scope of an eventual involvement in the conflict actually unifies the two sides of the Atlantic. Because of its historic ties with Syria, France has certainly an obvious interest in ensuring that this country would be democratic and stable after the collapse of the dictatorial regime. France has shown many times that it knows how to preserve its interests while protecting the values in which its own people believe – those same values for which, hopefully, the Syrians are today striving. Through France, the whole European Union should be helpful, and committed to the struggle for democracy. France, we know, has much leverage on Syria and Lebanon. Its position and its action matter. Its intervention and its activism on behalf of the Libyan revolution are all to its honour. Something similar is expected for Syria, at least to prove to those who suspect the Western powers of intervening just for oil that they may also intervene for shared values with the Arab peoples. These common values exist. Many of those who revolted against their dictators conveyed the message. Democracy is neither Western nor Eastern today. It is a common goal.

Yet, most of all, if the Western powers decide to be more involved with the struggle of the Syrian people, their cooperation and coordination with the Arab allies are as necessary as expected. Without the cover of the Arab League, little may be achieved and suspicion would prevail.

For the United States, there is also more than a reason that would justify more an active involvement. Not the least among them, the demise of a powerful ally of Iran would utterly weaken Tehran and ridicule Russia. Another reason is preventing an arsenal of non-conventional weapons from falling into the hands of uncontrolled radical groups. The third reason is related to the post-Assad Syria: is the United States really willing to remain out of the game, at two steps away from the Gulf?

The Syrian opposition knows that one of its primary tasks today is the preparation of the Post-Assad era. Recently, in a casual interview with a key member of the opposition, I asked him, “Are you thinking for example of selecting a group whose only task would be the preparation of a blueprint about the Post-Assad era?” He pondered his answer, recognising the difficulty of such a mission. I reminded him of other examples in modern history, noticeably the case of Iraq. He said, “The post-Saddam plans for Iraq have failed. We do not wish to have the same problems.” I said, “You don’t need to have the same kind of exterior intervention. Nobody wants it anyway. However, the failure in Iraq was not due to the new power elite implementation of pre-established post-war plans, but to the irrationality and unrealism of some of those plans. In Iraq, they destroyed the state and did not create a better one. All that they succeeded to do was enforcing the rules of the sectarian divide, which are anti-modern and anti-democratic, by definition.” Lastly, my interlocutor admitted that, all the same, there is a need for a blueprint drawing a road map for Post-Assad Syria. If such a project had to be brought into life in next weeks, it would need to answer the unavoidable questions, not only about how the political scene would be organised, but also about what to do of the army, the Alaouites, and the partisans of the regime. The Iraq case should be deeply scrutinised as to avoid the same mistakes.

My take is that if such a work were performed as it has to be, rationally and equitably, it may encourage those in the international community who are still reluctant to fully and clearly engage at the side of the Syrian opposition and its fighters.

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The author is an expert in US-Middle East
relations at the Arab Center for Research
and Policy Studies (Doha Institute)

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