[By Lara Keller Last Updated 6th June 2017]
Criticism of detached myopia of West-centric expert Marc Lynch on Syria.
Please see the recent article in “war on the rocks”: http://warontherocks.com/2016/10/whats-really-at-stake-in-the-syria-debate/#comment-852041
This article suffers from a number of basic limitations:
1. The objectives of the Syrian activists are to end the war, reduce human suffering and end the brutal dictatorship of the Assad Clique. All these goals are essential, as anyone with a sufficient knowledge of the regime and the recent Syrian conflict will know. The tone of this article is not just detached in the non-partisan sense, but detached from the idea of Syrians as agents of their own destiny.
2. The “interventionist ideas” are wider than the author suggests. I would suggest looking at Charles Lister (http://warontherocks.com/2016/09/a-plan-for-winding-down-the-syrian-civil-war/). The wrong concept is being used by the author. The strategy is about partnership, blocking or making counter-productive the use of advanced weapons to blitz the opposition into submission, and provide sufficient resources to enable the Syrian opposition to structure itself, and provide security in terms of safety, food, medical and housing security.
3. This conflict is the result of an uprising against 45+ years of brutal dictatorship based on mass torture, murder and exploitation. The “strategic trajectory of the war” can be changed if the Syrian opposition has the tools, and is sheltered from advanced weapons of mass terror.
4. The structure of the conflict is dependent on the nature of external support. Assad has the advantage of committed foreign supporters, committed to the preservation of his dictatorship. The opposition has had little and confused support from the West. The Sunni authoritarian regimes of the Gulf do not want the opposition to win and cannot be seen to allow it to lose too easily.
5. The author assumes that Shiite militias from Lebanon, Iran and Afghanistan are full of fighters who are glad to fight and die in Syria. They are mostly mercenaries bought or forced into this struggle. Even Assad’s Alawite militias are finding it hard to find fresh recruits, for a regime that has confined the fruits of exploitation to a narrow circle. Everyone is extremely tired of the conflict, but Assad has a fundamental problem. Assad depends on advanced weaponry, which is only successful because the opposition has no effective counter measures.
6. The “horrifying cost” of the conflict includes for Syrians an endless Assad dictatorship if he wins. The author does not seem to grasp this. He seems unaware what Syrians have endured for the last 45+ years, and that this cannot continue as inequality increases each year.
7. The resources of Iran and Russia are exaggerated by the author, in the concept of endless escalation. Their military strength is more illusion than reality. Russia has escalated involvement, not just because the opposition were making advances, but also because of the West’s reluctance to give adequate support. The failure of the West to respond to outrages by the Assad regime, effectively gave the green light to closer Russian involvement.
8. Syria is not principally a civil war. It is an uprising of an opposition demanding representative government against a brutal dictatorship. This is not to say that sectarianism has grown as a problem, with authoritarian regimes in the region wishing to fuel it.
9. A strategy of consequences against Assad regime military resources for serious war crimes and a strong adequately equipped opposition, would have led to a political solution long ago. The author gives the impression that Assad can escalate the conflict at will. The resources open to him depend on the calculations of his authoritarian supporters. The author invokes the “logic of strategic bargaining” as if the nature of the external backers of the sides in the Syrian conflict are similar. The authoritarian regimes in Russia, Iran and Syria rely for their legitimacy on the illusion of their inflated strength. Appeasement by the West has encouraged escalation by inviting these regimes to bolster this illusion at low risk. Remember how the Soviet Union collapsed after its disastrous illusion destroying involvement in Afghanistan.
10. The ethical imperative to support the Syrian people is not only due to the terrible human cost, but because a people stood up to a brutal dictatorship that has ruled since 1970 by the threat and use of systematic torture. This physical and moral courage is fundamental to all progressive instincts.
11. The author is wrong, as a lot of the argument is about “the moral calculus of action”. There is a strange wish by many progressives to become apologists for Assad, based on dodgy so called “non-corporate” media sources which are just cheap propaganda channels.
12. Activists in the West respond to the courage of the Syrian people and their suffering which is overwhelming the responsibility (around 90%) of Assad and Putin regimes. They are well aware of the failures of previous “interventions” in the MENA in the last two decades. Progressives have only been involved in blind opposition to intervention, and have not attempted to shape policies of constructive partnership with people in the MENA region. They do not feel that the West must act regardless of the chances of success. There is a problem with the wider public who feel something should be done, but have been convinced to believe that past actions have not been grossly inadequate, and that this shows that little can be done.
13. The article referenced by the author by John McCain is not about forceful action for its own sake. His argument is that conflicts in the MENA region, around authoritarianism and sectarianism will be exacerbated by the Assad regime remaining in power. He is highlighting the costs of inaction.
14. The author states that for critics “The lessons of Iraq and Libya loom appropriately large”. These critics come with assumptions that lead to large distortions of the truth. They lack scepticism of the myopia, competence or motivations of those responsible for Western “intervention”. They do not listen with sufficient attention to the people deeply involved with the struggle in these countries. The real lesson of Iraq is that it was an invasion designed to create chaos in a deeply sectarian alienated environment. The real lesson of Libya is that it was an uprising, which received insufficient support for the opposition to create an effective government after the ousting of Gaddafi, against the spoiling actions of MENA dictatorships.
15. The next Clinton administration may take the approach in Syria of repeating the mistakes of the past. It would do well to discount experts like the author Marc Lynch on the grounds of detachment from the reality of Syria, discount the subtle polished Assad apologists and instead listen to Syrians. Get to the people deeply interested in the welfare and rights of ordinary Syrians.