Reflections on Syria

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Some commentators say “Syria is not Iraq”. I presume they mean that the US should not shrink from being proactive on Syria, on the side of the rebels, because of the debacle in Iraq. These pundits therefore urge the US to intervene openly in Syria by supporting the rebel groups fighting Bashar’s regime. My answer is that the way both neighboring states have evolved politically, post independence, from Britain and France, does exhibit striking similarities.So in a sense Syria is Iraq (in reverse) though not in the sense these commentators parse that term. Saddam’s Iraq was dominated by his Takriti Sunni clan a distinct minority in Shia majority Iraq. The result? The marginalized majority Shias [and the Kurds] revolted against Saddam’s autocratic rule a number of times. Each time their rebellion was squashed through force. In Syria Hafez Assad, belonging to the minority Shia Alawite clan in a Sunni majority country, seized power in a coup in 1970.He was Commander of the Syrian Air Force and Minister of Defense at that time. The majority Sunnis had to tolerate this anomalous situation which continued after Hafez’s death in 2000, when power was assumed by his son Bashar. Earlier in 1982 Assad pere had put down a revolt against his rule by the Muslim Brotherhood elements based largely in the city of Hama. It does not require much reflection to discern that in any country the shelf life of a minority regime is limited. Majorities do not like being under the thumb of minorities-despite blandishments token or otherwise- who are lording over them politically and economically. Let’s not forget what happened to the ruling Tutsis in Rwanda two decades ago. The UN and the major powers were largely bystanders while 800,000 Tutsis were massacred. It was a horrible indictment of the international community which failed to stop the genocide taking place in front of their eyes.

The Syrian people are suffering horribly.70,000 have been killed, four or five million are refugees.Bashar’s army has used planes to bomb and kill what his regime calls “terrorists”. President Obama, understandably cautious after the setbacks suffered by the US in Iraq and Afghanistan, is loath to intervene militarily in Syria, which could turn into another quagmire. He has put his faith in diplomacy which is not a bad thing. Kerry has met Lavrov in Moscow a couple of days ago. Both statesmen have reportedly agreed to convene an international conference soon to halt the blood bath in Syria and arrive at a negotiated solution. The main question is whether both protagonists are willing to sit around a negotiating table. Secondly can Russia, Assad’s main patron and supporter, persuade him to relinquish the Presidency in return for guarantees that he would not be tried for war crimes by whatever government replaces him? This scenario is not impossible although obstacles will be many. Russia can play a key role. If diplomacy fails then the US, the West and the Arab League will have to confront Bashar militarily and see him off through force of arms.Then they will be confronted with the issues of rebuilding Syria.  The experiences of Iraq may prove helpful, one hopes. The wonderful people of Syria deserve to start living normally after two years of war, destruction and privation.

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