Saturday, December 17, 2011

Seeing Syria's conflict through the lenses of Egypt and Iraq

Barack Obama should not have a vote about whether Syria's president Bashar Assad is legitimate. His position that Assad must leave makes a graceful resolution of this dispute nearly, if not fully, impossible.

That US position implies continued support for the foreign supplies of weapons that are entering Syria from the territories of US allies that can only make the situation more deadly.

The US has no problem with what happened in Iraq and the neutered state that is the result of the tremendous death and dislocation that occurred there. Crudely speaking, Iraq is far less of a threat to US regional objectives - particularly Israel's military dominance that the US is committed to maintaining - than it would have been if that violence had not occurred.

We just don't know how much support Assad has. There really is one legitimate way to determine what political grouping has how much support and that is elections.

Barack Obama is not Syria's ally. A foreign demand that elections must be post-Assad amounts to an unacceptable foreign demand for regime change. No government would submit to that. It is really a demand for civil war.

There are widespread attacks on government forces. Ambushes, not defensive actions to protect demonstrations. As long as US allies are willing to pay for them (almost certainly directed by or coordinated with the Obama administration) I guess there is no way to stop them, but they are very unfortunate and are an attack on Syria itself more than on Assad.

The way out has always been elections. There were local elections in Syria that have been very sparsely reported in the West. But whether or how western news agencies cover Syrian elections is only minimally important. Elections can not only generate legitimacy for the Syrian government but probably more importantly, they can establish a legitimate domestic opposition. If Assad either wins the most votes in a national election or loses to a Syrian who is not based in Turkey and supported by the United States and hands power to that person, then that would effectively mark the end of this conflict, at least from the point of view of legitimacy.

This is all playing against the background of the US visions for non-Jewish countries in Israel's region. We have Iraq which was neutered by hugely destructive sanctions, invasion, occupation and civil war and that for some time will no longer be an effective regional power. We have Egypt where a pro-US dictatorship is attempting to retain control of foreign policy to keep the country subordinate to Israel while allowing some veneer of civilian control over domestic issues and we have what are effectively pure colonies. Countries like Jordan, Saudi Arabia, UAE and others have relationships with the United States effectively identical to the nominally independent Princedoms of the Indian Raj of Great Britain.

The United States may well fail in Egypt, but the success or failure of the US to maintain control over at least the aspects of Egyptian policy that are most important to it will either way have an important impact on the apparent legitimacy of the US-backed opposition to Assad.

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