Hopeless But Not Syri-us
Over at the new Gatestone Institute, some longstanding friends and I conduct a regular electronic meeting to dissect crisis situations, and let the public read the results after we're done. There are too many moving parts for any individual to follow, and Syria is a case in point: It resembles one of those Quentin Tarantino standoffs in which everyone has a gun pointed at everyone else. Our last exercise came to a striking conclusion: Nothing is going to happen in Syria, except more of the same. Syria will stand as a living monument to the delusions of the Democracy Exporters.
UPDATE: My friend Lee Smith writing at Tablet thinks that Assad will fall, that a Sunni government will replace him, and that this will diminish the Iranian threat. Lee is a terrific journalist, but I disagree on all counts: Assad can't be dislodged from an Alawite enclave as long as the Russians back him (and they will; there's no combination of Sunni forces that could form an alternative government; and the problem of Iran's nuclear weapons development has little to do with Syria. To deal with the Iranian threat, there's a simple solution: Neutralize their nuclear program with air strikes and related pinpoint attacks.
The Turks won't push in, because it's a booby trap for them. The Russians won't intervene, unless Syria's chemical weapons are at risk of passing into the hands of terrorists who might use them against Russian targets. Basher Assad will keep power, at least in the coastal mountains where his Alawite supporters hold sway. Syria's Sunni majority won't push him out because tribal and confessional differences keep them at each others' throats.
Among the journalists involved at the Gatestone project are David Samuels, a contributing editor at Harper's Magazine and one of the most experienced Middle East reporters in the US; Pepe Escobar, the roving correspondent for Asia Times Online; and Rotem Sella, a correspondent for the Israeli daily Ma'ariv. Last weekend we were joined by Tony Badran of the Across the Bay blog, and a Russia expert. I helped assemble this group mainly for selfish reasons: what we came up with surprised me.
For all the blatulating out of the Obama administration and such Republican establishment figures as Sen. John McCain, Syria will remain a miserable, bloody stalemate -- hopeless, but not Syri-us. And that's as good as it's going to get. In June, I quoted Daniel Pipes' pronouncement that "protracted conflict in Syria offers some geopolitical advantages":
It lessens the chances of Damascus starting a war with Israel or reoccupying Lebanon.
It increases the chances that Iranians, living under the thumb of the mullahs who are Assad’s key ally, will draw inspiration from the Syrian uprising and likewise rebel against their rulers.
It inspires greater Sunni Arab anger at Tehran, especially as the Islamic Republic of Iran has been providing arms, finance and technology to help repress Syrians.
It relieves the pressure on non-Muslims. Indicative of the new thinking, Jordanian Salafi leader Abou Mohamad Tahawi recently stated, “The Alawi and Shia coalition is currently the biggest threat to Sunnis, even more than the Israelis.”
It foments Middle Eastern rage at Moscow and Beijing for supporting the Assad regime. Western interests suggest staying out of the Syrian morass.
No-one is going to push Basher Assad out of power, at least not out of his enclave, not while he's got Russian support and chemical weapons.
The Russians aren't going to give up on Assad, and give NATO a chance to attempt another Libyan-style intervention.
The Iranians aren't going to go in, because the Turks won't let them.
The Turks aren't going to go in, because there is massive domestic opposition to going in, and because the Turkish army doesn't want to expose its weaknesses, and because going into Syria would open up the whole Kurdish can of worms (and also because the Saudis don't want Turkey to go in, and Saudi Arabia is financing Turkey's massive balance of payments deficit).
The Sunnis aren't going to get together because they hate each other too much and are financed by different people.
In a nutshell: Nobody is going to give ground, but no-one is going to take too great a risk to conquer the other fellow's ground. So the civil war will go on indefinitely. And that's not the worst thing that can happen as far as American security interests are concerned.