Friday, August 5, 2011
The Syrian Opposition And the American Condition
By Hassan Haidar
There are many questions about where the US truly stands on what is happening in Syria, and about the reasons for Washington’s delay to call on Bashar Al-Assad to step down, despite the escalating campaign of bloody repression in various cities. And although the Obama Administration is providing some answers to these questions, they remain brief, ambiguous and unable to convince of the soundness of the approach that has been adopted towards the situation in Syria, which seems to have reached a dead-end for both the regime and the opposition alike.
Indeed, the regime in Damascus, which chose the security-based solution to the issue then backtracked a little bit and tried to buy time by talking about reforms, has gone back and made a final decision in the battle of Hama, exceeding the point of no return and sending messages in every direction that it is willing to take the bloodbath all the way to the end if the world continues to insist on changing it.
As for the opposition, which one American diplomat compared to “a river flowing without stopping, yet without anyone to make use of its water or produce energy from it”. Indeed, it has only its steadfastness in the face of a tremendous imbalance of power with the regime, which has security services experienced in oppression, as well as its wager on the element of time, in hopes of rifts taking place within the ranks of the army, something which remains difficult to predict.
The Americans, who have understood the Syrian message, have not responded to it at the level required, with their stances and their criticism still not meeting expectations, under the pretext of fear of the “unknown” which the fall of the regime would bring. They have sufficed themselves with threatening to strengthen and broaden their sanctions, making them reach sectors of the economy which they know full well could bring the regime to its knees, because they would deprive it of means to fund its services. Yet they do not go that far, and this is why they have leaked information about Iran providing the regime with billions of dollars in aid while Tehran can barely sustain itself.
But what is this “unknown” which the Americans fear?
During the meeting which took place between Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and some of the representatives of the Syrian opposition residing in the United States, the most important question that was not asked addressed the issue of political repositioning in the region and the stance on Israel in case the regime in Damascus were to change. Neither did the State Secretary ask such a question nor did the opposition members address the topic, and the discussion continued to revolve around unifying the opposition, clarifying its demands and the difficulty faced by Washington in finding the appropriate means to pressure the Assad regime while it is being protected by Russia.
Clinton did not hear the keyword that would allow her Administration to justify a qualitative shift from merely criticizing repression and calling for reform to calling on Assad to leave. The Syrian opposition – or a large number of its constituents – does not alone have the final say on this sensitive issue, as one of the main criticisms leveled by opposition members at the Assad regime is that it has made use of defiance as a false slogan to squander the land and establish undeclared peace with Israel. How could they then provide the Americans with concessions in advance and talk about peace, as long as Syrian land remains occupied?
The previous Arab experiments were safe bets for Washington. Indeed, Tunisia and Libya are far from the frontline of confrontation, and Egyptian opposition movements have all asserted their commitment to the peace treaty with Israel. In the case of Syria, on the other hand, change could – according to Washington’s fears – lead to reviving the Golan front, despite the fact that the opposition will for many long years be busy rebuilding civil society and gradually establishing democracy after four decades of tyranny.
And until the parties to the Syrian opposition can agree on a unified view of Damascus’s position and role in the region, American stances on the Assad regime will remain lax and vague, as long as no change takes place from within Syria that would force the US to express itself clearly.
This commentary was published in al-Hayat on 04/08/2011