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    Greater China
     Jul 28, 2012


Page 1 of 2
Syrian wheel of fortune spins China's way
By Peter Lee

The question before the People's Republic of China (PRC) leadership is how badly it misplayed its hand on Syria. Or did it? Certainly, the solution advocated by Russia and China - a coordinated international initiative to sideline the insurrection in favor of a negotiated political settlement between the Assad regime and its domestic opponents - is a bloody shambles.

As articulated in the Annan plan, it might have been a workable, even desirable option for the Syrian people as well as the Assad regime.

But Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey were determined not to let it happen. And the United States, in another case of the Middle Eastern tail wagging the American dog, has downsized its

 

dreams of liberal-democratic revolution for the reality of regime collapse driven in significant part by domestic thugs and opportunists, money and arms funneled in by conservative Gulf regimes, violent Islamist adventurism, and neo-Ottoman overreach by Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Erdogan.

But a funny thing happened last week. The Assad regime didn't collapse, despite an orchestrated, nation-wide assault (coordinated, we can assume, by the crack strategists of the international anti-Assad coalition): a decapitating terrorist bombing in the national security directorate, near-simultaneous armed uprisings in the main regime strongholds of Damascus and Aleppo, and the seizure of many of Syria's official border crossings with Iraq and Turkey.

The border adventures revealed some holes in the insurgents' game, as far as showing their ability to operate independently outside of their strongholds to hold territory, and in the vital area of image management.

Juan Cole of the University of Michigan laid out the big picture strategic thinking behind some of the border seizures on his blog, Informed Comment:
If the FSA can take the third crossing from Iraq, at Walid, they can control truck traffic into Syria from Iraq, starving the regime. The border is long and porous, but big trucks need metalled roads, which are few and go through the checkpoints. Some 70% of goods coming into Syria were coming from Iraq, because Europe cut off trade with the Baath regime of Bashar al-Assad. The rebels are increasingly in a position to block that trade or direct it to their strongholds. [1]
According to an Iraqi deputy minister of the interior, the units that seized the border were perhaps not the goodwill ambassadors that the Syrian opposition or Dr Cole might have hoped for:
The top official said Iraqi border guards had witnessed the Free Syrian Army take control of a border outpost, detain a Syrian army lieutenant colonel, and then cut off his arms and legs.

"Then they executed 22 Syrian soldiers in front of the eyes of Iraqi soldiers." [2]
They reportedly also raised the al-Qaeda flag.

The forces participating in the operation at the Turkish border crossings were also an interesting bunch - and certainly not all local Syrian insurgents, as AFP reported:
By Saturday evening, a group of some 150 foreign fighters describing themselves as Islamists had taken control of the post.

These fighters were not at the site on Friday, when rebel fighters captured the post.

Some of the fighters said they belonged to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), while others claimed allegiance to the Shura Taliban. They were armed with Kalashnikov assault rifles, rocket launchers and improvised mines.

The fighters identified themselves as coming from a number of countries: Algeria, France, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates - and the Russian republic of Chechnya… [3]
The operation also had a distinct whiff of Taliban-at-the-Khyber-Pass about it, as the fighters looted and, in some cases, torched more than two dozen Turkish trucks, to the embarrassment of the Erdogan government.

Aside from occupation of frontier posts by the kind of hardened foreign Islamist fighters that, before Bashar al-Assad's removal became a pressing priority, served as the West's ultimate symbol of terrorism run amok, things have gotten quite lively at the Syria/Turkish border.

It is alleged that, in order to fill the vacuum left by the departure of Syrian border forces to fight the insurgents in the heartland, the Syrian regime has turned over local security to Syrian Kurdish political groups, and Kurdish flags are flying all over Syria's northeast.

Not to be left out of the rumpus, the president of the virtually-independent region of Iraqi Kurdistan, Masoud Barzani, announced that Syrian Kurd army deserters sheltering in northern Iraq have been organized into an expeditionary force that will, at the proper time, return home to keep order in the Kurdish areas of Syria.

Presumably the strongly pro-American Iraqi Kurds under Barzani can easily be induced to inflict mischief on Assad, but at the same time they will feel little incentive to minimize the Kurdish nationalist headache Erdogan has created for himself on Turkey's southeastern border. [4]

Now that the democratic opposition, the overseas agitators of the Syrian National Congress, and the insurrectionists of the Free Syrian Army have all taken their shot at the Assad regime and failed, at least for the time being, attention is once again turning to "the Yemen solution", a k.a. regime restructuring featuring the symbolic removal of an embattled strongman, lip service toward democratic reform, and the continuation of business as usual under a selected junta of more palatable regime strongmen.

Or, as the Syrian National Council put it on July 24:
"We would agree to the departure of Assad and the transfer of his powers to a regime figure, who would lead a transitional period like what happened in Yemen," SNC spokesman Georges Sabra told AFP. [5]
The SNC's statement found a prompt echo from US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, according to Xinhua:
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Tuesday urged Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to plan a political transition in his violence-plagued country. "We do believe that it is not too late for the al-Assad regime to commence with planning for a transition, to find a way that ends the violence by beginning the kind of serious discussions that have not occurred to date," Clinton told reporters … [6]
It is perhaps unnecessary to mention that for the last few months the groups steadfastly opposed to any "serious discussions" have been the anti-Assad coalition and the SNC, while Assad, backed by Russia and China, has been gamely attempting to cobble together a loyal opposition with sufficient heft to credibly discuss political reform.

But all of a sudden, it seems not everyone is singing from the same hymnal:
Earlier Tuesday, some Western media reported that SNC spokesman George Sabra said the main opposition group was willing to accept a transition led temporarily by a member of the current government if President Bashar al-Assad agrees to step down.

"This is an utter lie. Neither Mr. Sabra nor Ms. Kodmani has made these statements," SNC European foreign relations coordinator Monzer Makhous told Russia's Interfax news agency, referring to Bassma Kodmani, the SNC's head of foreign relations.

Makhous said the opposition would not agree to accept talks with the Assad government as "no persons associated with murders of the Syrian people could participate in the talks." [7]
It remains to be seen how the AFP or Secretary Clinton - or, for that matter, the unhappy spokesman Georges Sabra - respond to this rebuke.

One catches hints of a possible disconnect between Gulf-state intransigence (which has driven the "Assad must go" rhetoric of the last year and a half") and US and EU dreams of a quick, face-saving resolution along the lines of Yemen.

A "Yemen solution" would probably also be acceptable to Russia and China. Instead of Syria becoming a pro-Western/Sunni dagger aimed at the heart of Shi'ite Iraq and Iran, it would instead become a dysfunctional, expensive, and bloody liability for the West and the Gulf Cooperation Council.

In other words, just like Yemen.

There are, however, problems with the Yemen precedent for Syria that go beyond the unwillingness of Saudi Arabia and Qatar to settle for anything less than a triumphal march into a conquered Damascus.

The key event in the "Yemen solution" was President Saleh getting blown up in his palace mosque. Although he wasn't killed, he was injured badly enough that he was removed from the scene for several months as he underwent medical treatment, allowing a new crew in the presidential palace to undertake the transition.

The anti-Assad coalition had worse luck with the bomb in Damascus; Assad was not present at the meeting, he is still the face of the Syrian regime, and his inconvenient presence makes it more difficult for the international community to claim victory in principle while allowing the regime to survive in practice.

There's another problem with the Yemen solution; although there are continued news reports, leaks, and analyses - and, most recently, a proposal by the Arab League - ballyhooing the idea that Assad can receive immunity from prosecution for crimes against humanity under the International Criminal Court if he agrees to leg it to Russia, there is no way for the coalition to provide a convincing guarantee to him, let alone his family and associates under the current state of affairs.

The fact is, the entire purpose of the Treaty of Rome, which set up the International Criminal Court, was to prevent this sort of sordid deal-cutting.

In practice the ICC is something of an unhappy mutant. Its fundamental premise of "universal jurisdiction" - the idea that bad guys could be prosecuted in the courts of any member country - was undermined by the United States and other countries not to keen to see their political and military supremos vulnerable to prosecution in some remote do-goodery or hostile jurisdiction.

The result was an unwieldy two-tier system. Those states with a masochistic desire to permit other nations to interfere in their criminal affairs ratified the treaty, becoming "states parties". Within this exclusive club, universal jurisdiction reigns.

States that merely signed the treaty - "non states parties" - are not subject to universal jurisdiction. Their miscreants can only be brought to justice by the consent of their own governments or if the UN Security Council decided that the overriding demands of international security merited the opening of a prosecution.

This was still not enough for the United States, which took the ungraceful step of "unsigning" the Treaty of Rome.

Yemen had placed itself in the exalted company of the United States by also "unsigning" the treaty in 2007, so a successor regime has no immediate recourse to the ICC and ex-president Saleh's fate is in the sympathetic hands of the United States and the rest of the UN Security Council. 

Continued 1 2 






Israel catches Turkey in two minds (Jul 27, '12)

Holy war in Syria and the course of history (Jul 26, '12)

Syrian carnage sends bloody message (Jul 21, '12)


1.
Sinking feeling in the South China Sea

2. Israel catches Turkey in two minds

3. Islamic militants take aim at Myanmar

4. Behind the scenes of ASEAN's breakdown

5. Holy war in Syria and the course of history

6. Dalai Lama stirs controversy in Kashmir

7. The rise and fall of Turkey's Erdogan

8. German intelligence: al-Qaeda all over Syria

9. Small peninsula shapes global history

10. Israel stirs on the eve of Middle East war

(24 hours to 11:59pm ET, Jul 26, 2012)

 
 



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