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Archive for October, 2013

Oh, Yea, That Syria “Thing” Is Still Goin’ On

Monday, October 28th, 2013

Recently relegated to about page 7 of the front section of your favorite newspaper, the fighting, dying and sadness goes on in Syria.  With chemical weapons seemingly out of the equation, the Assad government may now be relying on other methods, as the Washington Post op-ed’ed on October 21st:

“Starving in Syria

Syria’s crisis averted? Not so fast.

TWO MONTHS AFTER a horrifying sarin gas attack propelled Syria to the center of Washington’s attention, the episode appears to have been forgotten. International inspectors say their implementation of a plan to eliminate the regime’s chemical weapons arsenal, which ended up being President Obama’s response to the crime, is proceeding relatively smoothly. In Congress, the foreign policy debate has moved on to Iran. Crisis over? Mr. Obama seems to think so — and so does Bashar al-Assad.

In an interview published last week by the Lebanese newspaper al-Akhbar, the sanguinary Syrian dictator sounded positively cheerful about his situation. He doesn’t even “regret” losing the chemical weapons arsenal, al-Akhbar reported. “He regards them as deterrent weapons that are now obsolete.” As Mr. Assad explained it, the stocks of sarin and other gases were meant as a check on Israel, but Israel has developed effective countermeasures and Syria’s ballistic missiles are now a stronger threat to the Jewish state.

True, he had hoped to use his chemical weapons stocks — which hadn’t grown since 1997 — as a bargaining chip to induce Israel to give up its nuclear weapons, Mr. Assad said. But now the arsenal has been traded for a much more tangible benefit: “to remove the threat of aggression” by the United States. That has allowed the regime to go back to waging a merciless war against civilians. In recent weeks Syrian planes have resumed bombing in urban areas, while ground forces have come up with a new way to eliminate resistance in the Damascus suburbs that were the target of the Aug. 21 gas attack: They are blocking food supplies with the aim of starving their residents.

Secretary of State John F. Kerry says he’s convening a peace conference late next month in Geneva. He says the outcome must be a transitional government that excludes the Assad clique and is agreed to by both sides . But Mr. Assad isn’t concerned. Geneva, the dictator said, “may take place just to please Russia,” which induced the Obama administration to accept the initiative. But he doubts it. “The West’s problem is that the camp it supports in the negotiations is divided and has no control on the ground.” If there is a conference, the regime will insist that the president remain in office until his term is completed midway through the next year and that he has the right to “reelection.” There’s no indication that Russia objects to this.

Mr. Assad’s latest statements might be dismissed as so much bluster. But they are entirely plausible. The regime did manage to trade an arsenal that had outlived its original purpose for the cancellation of a U.S. military onslaught that might have tipped the balance in the civil war. That deal prompted further divisions in the U.S.-backed opposition and triggered a number of rebel groups to switch allegiance to an Islamist front. The Geneva meeting is looking doubtful, in part because U.S. diplomats are unable to explain how it could lead to Mr. Assad’s departure. Perhaps it’s no surprise that it’s Mr. Assad rather than Mr. Obama who wants to talk about this. For the United States, it’s a bleak and shameful picture.”

In conjunction with the Post’s comments, I recommend to you an August, 2012 paper, “Syria 2013: Preparing For Persistent Turmoil”, created by the Clingendael Institute, also known as the Netherlands Institute for International Relations.  Some comments from the paper are worth pointing out here, remembering this was written in 2012.

“Without international agreement on a unified non-military response to the crisis, the foodgates are further opened for regional powers to pursue their interests in the region and supply armed groups fighting against Bashar al-Assad.  The approach of the Arab states rests entirely on military support for Islamist groups in order to bring Assad down as soon as possible.

Western contemplations quickly lead to the recognition that the price of outsting Bashar al-Assad has become too high, and that a ‘stable enemy’ is a more desirable outcome than the domination of a crucial region by a web of al Qaeda affiliated groups.  The immense human loss in Syria’s sectarian violence, and the fear of al Qaeda gaining a stronghold in the heart of the Middle East account for the Western decision to withdraw their support for the Free Syrian Army.

The decreased influx of weapons and funds almost immediately causes the Syrian opposition to loose ground.  Although it is able to uphold its guerilla tactics for a few more months, regime troops eventually launch a decisive military blow and push the opposition fighters out of strategically important places.  Although parts of the country remain in the hands of non-state armed groups, the regime restores its control over Syria’s main cities.

….the fragmentation of Syria into different areas of c is a serious possibility.  This would create space for regional (non-state) actors, among which al Qaeda affiliated groups, to exert power and gain influence.”

Did the writers consider the possible use of chemical weapons?

The writers did consider that al Qaeda would put some many assets inside Syria, based on a view that it could represent a safe haven.

The entire paper, which does a great job of prognosticating about possible alternative futures for Syria, and also examining some of the internal and external influences and considerations, can be found at

The Middle East and surrounding areas looks for the foreseeable future to be where, among other phenomena, more and more countries seem to be heading toward more and more instability and unpredictability……and more potential threats to US national security.

Let us know what you think.  Send me a note at, and I’ll share your views with our readers.



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