I’d like to start this 3178-word Mega-comment by refuting everything said by True about sentiments towards Palestinians in Damascus, with no offense to True intended; I’m not in the messenger-shooting business.
I have never, ever heard a single anti-Palestinian slogan at any of the protests I have attended, nor have I heard any anti-Palestinian slogans in any of the videos on the web, and I extend this statement to clearly sectarian slogans in the same vein. To some extent, relations with the Palestinian community have been affected by the revolution, with the pro-regime groups such as the General Command (القيادة العامة : أحمد جبريل) and Al-Sa’aeqa (الصاعقة) being pitted against everybody else. Yes, the regime finally succeeded in unifying the Palestinians. After the attacks on the Palestinian protest by GC in Yarmouk camp, which happened soon after the attempts to enter the Golan, I have heard Palestinians aligned with Hamas, Fatah, Islamic Jihad, and various others swear up and down that they will do a multitude of unspeakable things to Ahmed Jibreel, none of which I will detail here. The Palestinians are generally with the revolution, and the revolution (at least that is the sentiment here, in the Damascus area) is with the Palestinians.
The Veto Power
I’m Going to do something controversial here and explain one view regarding ‘veto’ concept within the UNSC. Please don’t be too harsh on me.
A long, long time ago, the world was a bloody place. Much more bloodier than it is today. We all recall tales of the great empires of old, and the greater empires of not-so-old. All these great empires had penchant for going at each other. The Persians and the Romans, the English and the French, the Ottomans and the Safavids, and countless others.
Often, we would see wars break out at the slightest provocation. Granted, killing a Serbian prince in itself isn’t going to cause a war to end all wars, but sometimes, many times, it can be a sufficient fuse. What is different in our modern world is the lack of great wars. We haven’t seen super-powers duke it out, not since the Second World War. This is, I think because of two reasons:
- We talk. Imagine the Cuban Missile Crisis without communications between the US and the USSR, or without a forum like the UN.
- Superpowers can bugger with each other without going to war
The second point is basically Veto rights. The legal structure of the UN, and the rules and restrictions placed on war-making within the structure mean that nation-states need to go through various acrobatic acts before they can proactively go to war.
Imagine if Syria was a major strategic asset for Russia, one that the Russians would be willing to go to war over. Imagine Russia not having veto power in such a situation.
To understand veto rights, one must think outside the ‘favoritism’ mentality. The nations that were given these rights at the formation of the UN have been the largest military powers since the late 1940s. A veto is a diplomatic tool that allows one of these nations to defend its interests, rightly or wrongly so, in a way that does not involve military action. This is one of the main reasons the world hasn’t seen two superpowers colliding in a military conflict. The (relatively) little things they used to go to war over are now vetoed into lower intensity.
With that said, Veto powers never were a good idea, and I disagree with the concept.
On the subject of the Russian, and to a lesser extent Chinese position… It is one that brings up many conspiracy theories. One thing that has been clear is that the Russians are intelligent about their foreign policy, and have a tendency to support their allies (even the wacky genocidal ones) to the hilt. Once things go past the hilt though, and all that support is gone. Two examples come to mind here: the aforementioned Cuban Missile Crisis, which ended with an under the table deal between the USSR and the USA that left Cuba out in the cold and Castro swearing with the ferocious rage of someone who just learnt about the realities of Superpower diplomacy, and the Serbian example everybody is talking about.
It isn’t clear though what the Russians see in Syria. True, there is a small naval base in Tartous, but it isn’t one that can be considered of any use in any conflicts it might be needed in other than as a weak retardant, at least for the next few years. Expanded, it might play a role in defending Russia’s assets and allies throughout the wider region, including The Mediterranean region, the Black Sea, the Gulf and the east coast of Africa, but that will take many years to happen.
There is also the Russian fear of similar ‘intervention’ happening on its grounds or much closer to home, but the Libya situation should show them that such action will happen regardless of what the Russians want when the Europeans and Americans put their minds to it, and the Russians do realize that the US is very hesitant in engaging directly in the Russian sphere of influence, as was clear in Georgia, when the Russians Decimated a relatively important NATO ally without any real western resistance.
What seems to me to be the dominant factor in Russian thinking now is the domino effect. The revolution is part of a long line of dominoes around the world, which include demonstrations in the west such as the Spain demonstrations last year, and the greater Occupy movement, as well as the other Arab revolutions. It is conceivable that these revolutions will spread to more regions considered pro-Russian. Prime locations, other than Iran would be the Caucus and Balkans regions, the Asian Soviet Republics such as Kazakhstan, and to Russia itself. It is also clear that once, and if Revolts spread to these regions, some if not most will be supported directly by a large body of Arab revolutionaries, and directly and indirectly by Powers That Care (PTCs). Historically, this has happened as is evident in the Arab Mujaheddin in Afghanistan, Arab support in the various Yugoslav conflicts, and the Arabs in Chechnya. Really, we’re more international than the Americans in our conflicts.
Defection and the FSA
What we must understand is that the defectors are, at the same level, are reacting in a manner consistent with what we all saw in Egypt most recently, and in places such as Romania and to a lesser extent Tunisia previously. The only difference is that while the decision to defect was taken by the highest echelons of military command in the aforementioned cases, here in Syria we have a complacent and criminal high command that is in the end, part of the cult-leadership. This in turn caused people much lower in the chain of command to take personal initiatives based on their moral ideals. Initially, the FSA focused on defending protests. The reason that large-scale protests such as the ones we see in Homs before the invasion, and the Suburbs of Damascus is because off camera, there are FSA soldiers on the rooftops defending the protesters from any Assadist attack. Later on, the FSA grew in confidence, to a point where it started engaging the military in offensive action. Sometimes, these attacks have had an adverse effect on the FSA in the short-term or long-term, such as the recent offensive on the eastern Ghouta, which has unearthed a lot of inefficiencies in the FSA, and a lot of things that need sorting out.
In short, these guys have acted as a military force with some sense of professionalism. They have acted as a sponge for any civilians who might feel the need to bear arms, which is an important function as it forces these civilians who will inevitably appear in any such situation to act within a framework that isn’t a local-militia framework. They have isolated themselves from political action on all levels, which is in all ways a good sign. They have refrained from engaging in fights over petty disputes, regardless of the tensions that do exist on the ground between commanders, and at the higher levels, especially with Colonel Riad Al-Ass’ad or however it must be spelt. They have not isolated themselves from the populace in most instances, which is also a good sign.
There have been difficulties. The inability to use heavy weapons, and lack of effective counters to these weapons (which for some reason, Khalid Tlass, in his third incarnation isn’t so vocally lobbying for). The near impossibility of getting weapons in from across the borders, especially with the Jordanian gov’t trying to put a stranglehold on all weapons going through its borders, Hezbullah’s effective cornering of the arms market in Lebanon early in the revolution, and the shoring up of the Iraqi border by the Malki Government. I’d also like to call out the Muslim Brotherhood, who have been going on a membership drive, forcing activists and FSA members to swear allegiance to the MB before receiving a penny of support from the Brotherhood. Yeah, this is gonna be interesting in the long-term.
My point is, and this is mainly addressed to Zenoubia, your plan won’t work, under current circumstances. The Regime hasn’t shied away from assassinating any leaders who might be a threat to it, in fact, they’ve been doing it from the start, starting with Alawite military leaders back when Hafez took over, up to people who look like they might be leading the chants on the ground, such as happened in Midan during Rammadan. This has been one of their cornerstone policies, to kill anybody who might have any semblance of leadership skills or charisma. Tell me, do you know any ‘leaders’ of the Alawite sect whose sur-name isn’t Assad? They existed before 1982. Do you know any labor or union leaders who are in any way prominent? Parliamentarians? Heck, even government officials who might be slightly non-Baathist. I could think of Dardari who was always critical of the government, at least economically. Look where he is now. In Syria, prominence is a death sentence. Become too prominent, and you have sentenced your whole family, nay, your whole community to disfavor, if not annihilation. But then, you are asking of Syrians something that has been refused by all other Peoples who have been put under similar situations. Look at Egypt, Hosni only wanted to stay until the September elections in the end, and the protesters refused. Give these people time to pack their bags, and they will use that time to rob the country of everything that isn’t nailed down, then go for the stuff with the weakest nails. Believe me when I say this, in Zabadani, the Assadist forces have looted villas even of their door frames. Yes, door frames. This is how kleptomaniacal the regime is. In Egypt, the situation was a lot easier and simple than it is here. It was clear that Hosni was not going to be allowed to stay by the military, and there wasn’t as much violence, nor as much blood. Please note, a lot of people have much at stake here. It is clear that if the regime is given any breathing space, in any form, it will go on a cleansing campaign against all FSA members, all the people in the LCCs, anybody who as much as raised a finger to help a wounded protester.
And then you have the whole post-election. What then? We went the whole nine yards, proven our pre-proven thesis true, and the regime has not handed over power because it is clear, that whatever happens, the name of the game is Don’t Hand Over Power To The Masses. Is the international community going to come and save our souls, like it didn’t in Iran, and like it resoundingly didn’t in Burma? Are we going to protest peacefully, maybe do a sit-in like the one that happened in Clock Tower Square, or Tiananmen? Or are we going to bear arms against a regime military that will be much, much more prepared? What comes after the elections?
Please note, that the FSA has the most legitimacy out of any opposition group in the eyes of the people on the ground. This is because they are the epitome of counter-Assadist-culture… Let me explain:
This will sound sexist, I apologize. I’ve previously mentioned that the regime isn’t the window dressing called the cabinet, headed by the prime-minister. It’s the extended family and cronies who control the Mukhabarat and to a lesser extent the army. To understand the administrative/bureaucratic environment this group has nurtured, grown, and grown from, one has to run the gauntlet only Syrian males with brothers, and a few unfortunate women do. It is called dealing with the army.
For most men, their first encounter with the army is when they go to create their army book. One does not truly know how debilitating, stupid, backwards, solidified, idiotic, neurotic, resentful, corrupt, nepotic, authoritarian, dictatorial, stupid, ignorant, stupid, bureaucratic, banal, inefficient, careless, dirty, uncreative, kleptomaniac, sectarian and stupid the regime can be until you have created your army book. If you’ve tried to pay the Badal, it is an even better learning experience.
Imagine a system where each person you have to deal with declares their price before servicing you, or even has their price written down on a chart to simplify the process, and EVERYBODY has a price you must pay. Imagine a system where you can be trapped in a requirement-circle that has you going from desk, to desk, to desk with each person referring you to someone else for reasons you can’t ask, lest you know about the arcane secrets of the military’s conscription offices. Imagine mistakes made by office clerks that could ruin your life, put you in jail, or have you paying huge fines, and these mistakes happen all the time! Imagine going through a process with no known end. Imagine getting to that end, only to find out that there is some minor detail that is wrong, and you have to do everything all over again. Imagine trying to tell an officer with the brain of a goose, the skull of a moose and the psyche of a rat that he might have made a tiny mistake in processing your documents, only for him to slap you and tell you he’ll shoot you the next time he sees you in his office. Imagine being told you haven’t processed your documents, or that yes, they know they processed your documents and that everything is good in them, but they lost them because some rat of fate had to choose your file in the archives to make its nest, and thusly, the rat has pressed you into conscription even though you’ve done ta’ajeel dirasi. Yes this has happened.
Now imagine the people at the head of such an apparatus. Imagine how they think, how they managed to create such a monstrosity, how they may have fought to keep the cleansing acids of reforms away from their growing hell-beast, how they grew it and in turn grew from it. These are the people we are dealing with. And these are the people who the FSA have turned away from. They have taken everything these devils have built, and refused to indulge or be complicit in it. They are the embodiment of the opposite of dealing with the army. They are the only white knights most anti-regime young Syrian men see in a sea of uncertain and gloomy darkness, where the world stood silent with its trillions of dollars of arms, they came with their AKs and RPGs to defend them from the military behemoth of despair. I hope you now understand why people see the FSA as central to this revolution, regardless of its many flaws.
SWOT Analysis Proposal
It looks like everybody left the SWOT analysis post, so I’m going to post my two cents here: After some thinking, a crude suggestion has formulated itself. First of all, we might be better off doing multiple SWOTs, one for each player. Defining each player will be the difficult part, as in multiple cases it isn’t clear where lines should be drawn for each group, among other things. Each SWOT analysis should be curated by one person who is tasked with the management and verification of the information going into their SWOT, as well as understanding the actual process itself. The comment section of a blog post isn’t really the best place for such discussions, as it lacks many tools to make things easier. I would suggest something like Crabgrass (made by the Riseup collective) or Asana, as well as other software, maybe a CMS or a wiki? I’m sure that specialized software for this stuff exists.
Participation in most SWOTs should be open, and the main person responsible for managing each one is the curator of that SWOT.
SNC site is up, and they seem to have a project in the works called ‘One Thousand Years for Syria’. The idea is for volunteers to sign up one year of work for Syria in their respective fields of expertise after the revolution is finished, and it is an applause-worthy program. This is the sort of stuff the SNC, in my opinion, should be focusing on. Not trying to cuddle up to the west, and isolate Iran, Russia, Hezbullah and Hamas. Optimally, the Swot analysis should be hosted by the SNC, and so far the only good thing I’ve seen coming out of its activities alone is a severe mistrust and dislike now ingrained into every Syrian’s mind towards all politicians, post revolution.
Since I’ve gone into SNC-Bashing mode again (It’s addictive), I’d like to point them towards the Libya Rebuilding Taskforce, which was a seventy strong team of Libyan experts in various fields based in Dubai that was tasked with formulating what the LTC should do after capturing all of Libya. Rebuilding, infrastructure, policing, electricity and water supplies, stuff like that. Mr. Bourhan: I know the deep deep corridors of politicking are a trap for any politician with good intentions, but you are not a politician, you are an opposition figurehead for all of Syria. More of this stuff will show us that the post-Bashar political scene will be less like Lebanon, which the SNC is emulating within itself right now and more like the UK, where politics is (mostly) about policy, nation development is debated by people who care and decisions (mostly) are made based on facts (mostly), studies, research, and inquiries not by bigoted politicians on testosterone fueled vendettas and criminal enterprises. And you know what, initiatives like that, if crowdsourced, can really make Syrians feel like tomorrow’s Syria will be a different place, as if their intellect, creativity, knowledge and patriotic feelings will be felt by those on top, having a positive effect on the decision-making process, and the country as a whole. Market that, not foreign intervention.
Note from OTW: This post first appeared as a comment from hazrid on 7ee6an (here). It elicited a response from Zenobia (here) and further narrative elaboration on the corruption in the regime’s army from Sheila (here) as well as from Zenobia (here), and on the self imposed exile of MGB (here)