Why do I say that?
The International Community is still at a loss and bitterly divided as to how to deal with the situation in Syria. Whilst we can all think of numerous examples where both China and Russia have ignored their own present sage advice of ‘don’t get involved, let the Syrians sort out their own problems’ that doesn’t make it any less valid.
Actions on the ground indicate that what constitutes not getting involved is a moveable feast. Russia is still supplying arms to Assad whilst America is covertly, nudge nudge wink wink, supplying the Free Syrian Army with almost everything they don’t need to beat the Government forces and nothing that they do. Even young Willie Haig is giving the Free Syrian Army radios and bandages. The French add a certain Gallic volubility to the situation and the UN are doing what they do best, wring their hands in horror, organise yet another doomed peace initiative and have lengthy lunches, sorry meetings, where they discuss the situation. Let’s say that not getting involved constitutes not putting boots on the ground or trying to enforce a no-fly zone.
A reasonable definition perhaps but one which ignores the motley collection of Russians skulking around the place and Turkish incursions into Syrian airspace in what might be termed, a little prematurely perhaps, as the Kurdish Autonomous Area. I’m sure the Free Syrian Army has a collection of foreign advisers as well, not to mention the Al-Qaeda affiliated suicide squad on their annual holidays from Iraq and Saudi Arabia.
OK, let’s say not getting involved constitutes not making grandiose statements about no-fly zones and regime change. Apart from US President Obama making grandiose statements about red lines and the use of chemical weapons. At least that’s a change from lines in the sand. Incidentally, the ‘line in the sand’ is not a new concept. The Romans were having a spot of bother with the then ruler of Egypt and most of Asia, Antiochus the Fourth. His father, Antiochus the Third, had fallen foul of Rome and been forced to surrender his fleet. The son secretly rebuilt it and Rome was not amused. Meeting in Alexandria, the Roman envoy Popillius Laenas reportedly drew a circle in the sand around Antiochus and demanded that he agree to withdraw from Egypt before stepping out of it. A bit classier than anything George Junior ever managed to mangle however I digress.
OK, so let’s say that not getting involved means not actually doing anything particularly effective. That means that the Free Syrian Army has no air power, no heavy arms and no solid support, either internal or external. Despite numerous predictions, Assad is still in power and shows no signs of being in a conciliatory mood, despite making soothing noises to the new UN envoy who is proposing a new peace plan that even he says is almost bound to fail.
How is he winning?
To put it simply, divide and rule, or at least divide and kill. The Syrian Kurds are not getting involved because they like their little bit of autonomy. Assad can afford to let them believe they have some sort of control over their own destinies because they don’t pose any real threat to him and the Turks are just champing at the bit to bomb them anyway. The Syrian Kurds live in a non-mountainous area of Syria, perfect for Turkish aircraft and long-distance artillery to have a good go at them and no hills to take to when that happens. As long as they don’t overtly support the PKK (the Turkish Kurd organisation) Turkey will leave them alone, but the threat is there. If Assad retains control, then Turkey may not feel quite so muscular about slapping the Syrian Kurds around, hence the Syrian Kurds have politely shown the Free Syrian Army the door and refused to support them whilst keeping very quiet about the Turkish Kurds.
The Christian community is beginning to feel the pressure and Assad is gradually drawing them into the conflict. They are being encouraged to arm themselves and defend their areas against the ‘terrorists’, aka free Syrian Army. If they don’t, Government forces move into their areas and helpfully defend them, usually by killing them so the ‘terrorists’ can’t. Of course, should Assad contrive to lose power the predominantly Sunni Free Syrian Army may not be particularly well disposed towards the Christians. Life eh? Full of difficult decisions, shall we be massacred now or later? I don’t read any reports of outraged vicars pounding their pulpits and demanding action be taken to help their Christian Brothers in Syria, nor come to that of any American preachers speaking out. Probably Christian leaders are worried about ‘the Crusade thing’, but obviously Christian Brotherhood is about as effective as Muslim Brotherhood in defending their fellow coreligionists. Don’t confuse the latter with THE Muslim Brotherhood who have effectively seized power in Egypt and are waiting in the wings in Syria (and Jordan and Lebanon).
Speaking of Jordan and Lebanon, Assad has managed to export trouble there as well. In Lebanon, sectarian violence between Sunnis and Alawites periodically erupts and Jordan is slowly being inundated with Syrian refugees. Most of those are Sunnis so not only is Assad quite pleased to see them go but they are causing trouble for the Hashemite regime, who also currently enjoy a measure of internal dissent. Hassan the Second hangs onto power by being a nice chap and giving the Palestinian Jordanians a bit more of a say in running the country and a few more civil rights, like being able to own their own property for example, but the majority Palestinian Jordanians aren’t a particularly happy bunch. They are Sunni of course, as are most of the Syrian refugees currently in Jordan and as indeed are the Free Syrian Army. Not only do we have the possibility of a Syria split into three, briefly, but we have the prospect of some sort of civil war in Jordan.
Syria briefly split into three? Ah well you see we might see an Alawite enclave, a Sunni area and a Kurdish Area, until the Turks decide that this is just too encouraging for the PKK and do something about the Syrian Kurdish area. Invade it? Well maybe not but they can be a bit excitable and who would stop them? Assad in his Alawite stronghold would most likely love to watch the Turks and the Syrian Sunnis fight each other to a bloody standstill, and then he could take back the rest of Syria, always assuming he loses it in the first place, which is looking increasingly unlikely.
In the meantime, roughly one percent of the Syrian population have crossed a variety of borders. Turkey doesn’t really want them but can cope. Lebanon really doesn’t want them because they don’t like Syrians in general and the last thing they want or need is an influx of Sunnis who want to have a go at Alawites. Jordan we’ve already discussed which leaves Iraq. Not a popular place with the refugees, so just maybe there won’t be a problem there. In any event, the Sunnis are a majority in central Iraq, so presumably they’d be welcome, just so long as they didn’t expect to be fed or housed for any length of time.
I haven’t mentioned Iran. Iran’s influence in the area is waning as the Saudis take a regional diplomatic lead against them. Iran would dearly love to see Assad survive, but he probably is wondering how much help to him they’ve actually been. Given the absence of any outside military force intervening and the paucity of heavy weapons in the Free Syrian Army, I really think that Assad is winning. Whether winning constitutes hanging on to the whole of Syria remains to be seen, but I seriously doubt if Asma has their bags packed.
Apologies for the gap in articles. There’s been a lot happening in my life recently, most of it bad but I’m pleased to say that finally there is light at the end of the tunnel and it might not be the train coming. In any event, as tough as I think I’ve been having it others are definitely having it far worse and my thoughts, as always, go out to them.