What Has Prompted the US and the West to Raise Again the Issue of the Syrian President?
The Western Syria-related discussion seeks to once again push the issue of “the fate of the Syrian president” to the forefront, after it had been absent for a few years. So, what lies behind this?
The approach proposed in the media reduces things to existence of a “secret agreement” between Moscow and Washington on the issue, and relies on articles criticizing the Syrian president, which have recently appeared in some Russian media outlets. On the 12th of this month, US envoy James Jeffrey, in an event with the Hudson Institute, made a number of statements on the issue, most notably: “We believe these reports (which were published in Russian media) are accurate. We have talked to the Russians at various levels over the past year. The Russians are not happy with Assad. The problem is they do not see an alternative.”
Widening the Compass’s Angle
Tackling the new upsurge of the “president’s issue” within a short period confined to the past few weeks and months would result in the wrong outcomes when tackling things in this manner, or at least yields inaccurate results. On the other hand, the widening of the angle of the temporal compass, and going back to the roots at the beginning of 2011, may bring us closer to the reality of the proposition and its goals.
Within this vision, one cannot overlook that the “president’s issue” has gone through three stages. The first is the period extending from the end of 2011 to about the middle of 2016, in which the issue was raised constantly; the second extended from late 2016 until a few days or a few weeks ago, in which the issue was reduced to being nearly completely absent; and as for the third, it is what we are seeing now, which was started by Western media, and reinforced by Jeffrey’s aforementioned remark. Hereinbelow, we will scrutinize the first and second stages, in an attempt to clarify the deep meaning of the current stage.
The First Stage: “Assad Must Go”
The popular movement in Syria was taking its first steps when repression and aggression thereof started, which took very different forms: from security repression, to the establishment and installation of an “opposition” trying to lead the movement from beyond the borders, to flooding the movement with slogans that were begging NATO and calling for external intervention, then sectarian slogans from both sides, as well as calls for arming, among other things. It was at this point that Western “Assad must go” statements started appearing.
What is useful in learning from the past is that its results have turned into a reality that no one can deny. Since things are measured by their results, methodical evaluation of the slogans of that stage is now possible to a high degree. In light of the results of the past, that is, in light of the present itself, we can summarize Western goals and their intersections with the desires and interests of the extremists on the two Syrian sides in a set of basic points.
First, forward or backward?
The most solid foundation for the takeoff of the popular movement in Syria was not limited to only being influenced by patterns that appeared in Arab states at the time, and more importantly, it was not only based on the very low level of democratic political freedoms in Syria; above all, it was mainly based on the continuous and escalating deterioration of socio-economic conditions for all Syrians.
One of the most notable indicative figures is the rise in poverty from 30% to 44% during the tenth five-year plan (2005-2009), which adopted the softened name for neoliberalism, that is, the “social market economy”. Not to mention the high level of unemployment, and the enormous devastation of agricultural and animal production (which was not only the result of years of drought, but also immeasurably more, the elimination of fuel subsidies), which pushed hundreds of thousands of people into severely dismal levels around the two big cities.
The aggregate indicator, which condenses to a large extent the scale of misery and the basis for the takeoff of the popular movement, is precisely the index of the distribution of national wealth. By the end of the tenth five-year plan, that is, almost one year before the start of the popular movement, this indicator stood at 75% of wealth going to the profit owners, that is, no more than 20% of Syrians; on the other hand, 25% of the wealth going to those with wages, i.e. workers, that is, more than 80% of Syrians. Today this indicator is even more unfair and brutal.
The foundation for the takeoff of the popular movement was a combination of economic, political, and cultural factors, as well as external influences, but its most solid essence was and still is related directly to the condition of people’s lives, i.e. the economic situation in particular.
There is no complete separation between the economic, democratic, and national situations. Rather, there is a strong relationship among these aspects. The simplest thing to say in this regard is that the absence of political freedoms or their extreme decay was a critical tool in the hands of the profit owners to suppress and silence the victims of plundering and stop them from demanding an equitable distribution of wealth. Nevertheless, the democratic slogan that is hanging in a vacuum, that is, it speaks only of liberties, which are undeniably important, but when it is arbitrarily separated from the socio-economic aspect, it turns into an instrument that is hostile to those who are plundered.
In other words, other plunderers aim to preserve the same distribution of wealth, but to replace the existing plunderers, or to share the plundering with them; it is in the interest of those to reduce the slogans and struggles of the plundered to the limits of democracy. That is, they want to make the struggles of the plundered into a tool in their hands to redistribute the plundering between new and old plunderers.
In this sense, it is in the interest of the different types of plunderers – whether they are present in positions where they plunder, or those seeking to occupy those positions – to divide the plundered into two warring groups, each of which defends the interests of its plunderers. Within this framework, it is necessary to develop many tools, among them certainly the sectarian and national tool. Focusing on “opposing the president” (as a person) or “supporting the president” (as a person) facilitates such division. This becomes more achievable with massively pumping it up in the media in the same direction.
Additionally, in essence, what determines the direction in which the popular movement goes, whether to move society and the state forward or backward, is the “distribution of wealth” indicator. A fairer distribution necessarily implies broader political freedoms for the general public, and a reduction or elimination of the forms of repression against them. In this sense, the personalization of (i.e. tying to one person or an individual) the Syrian issue was intended to neutralize and neglect the socio-economic issue, and to devote a political / democratic struggle with sectarian and nationalist contingencies and undertones, all of which are aimed at transforming the general public into tools to keep the wealth distribution system as is, with cosmetic adjustments to the authority.
Secondly, the Libyan / Iraqi Model
The “opposition” that was put together in the beginnings of the popular movement – initially, the Syrian National Council and then the Syrian National Coalition – was quick to reenact the approach and behavior of the Iraqi and Libyan oppositions in begging for NATO intervention. What was required at the time, from the West, was to utilize overthrowing the authority to overthrow the entire state, and to restructure it according to a system of plundering that is more severe and brutal than the existing one. The Iraqi and Libyan examples are too well-known to have to be discussed.
Thirdly, the Tunisian / Egyptian Model
The recurrent Russian-Chinese veto prevented the repetition of Libya and Iraq in Syria. Therefore, the West is pushing towards the Tunisian and Egyptian models. We claim that these two models can be summed up by saying: authority was overthrown, and the existing regime strengthened. That is, the plundering groups that were within and outside the authority, have re-apportioned the plundering, while keeping the general population plundered and suppressed, perhaps even more than before.
To push this model through, personalization was also beneficial, where the problem of the entire country is reduced to one person, the presumed overthrow of whom leads to Syria entering a freedom paradise. The truth is that what was required was nothing more than keeping Syria economically dependent on the West and removing it from the sphere of influence of emerging competitors at the international level, even transforming it where it could become a place to drain the competitors’ means.
The Second Stage: Changing the Behavior, Not the Regime
With Russia directly entering militarily towards the end of 2015, and then the passing of Resolution 2254 with a clear Russian-Chinese effort, the two models – Iraqi / Libyan and Tunisian / Egyptian – became far from being applicable. Therefore, it became necessary for the West to introduce a new tactic whose primary goal is to prolong attrition to the maximum limits, allowing to reach as a result a general decay of the state that leads again to one of the two aforementioned models, and perhaps more than that, a special new / old model that is the Lebanese model, where all warring forces are legitimized, and a supreme agreement among the warlords is established, whereby the country’s division, weakness, and plundering are perpetuated.
In this context, Western propaganda and statements began to move away from the slogan “Assad must go” and began to talk about “the need to change the behavior of the regime, not change the regime”. It is noteworthy that the initiator of this trend was none other than the British, who seem to still be the primary injector of international poison.
Over the last three years, with the continued progress of the Astana track, the Western push began to escalate towards the devotion of a divisive reality in three regions in Syria: the “northeast” by isolating it as much as possible from the rest of the country and by exploiting the Kurdish issue, including isolation from participation in the political process; the “northwest” through an attempt to legitimize al-Nusra and “Syrianize” it, which we have repeatedly covered in Kassioun, and for which shown a lot of evidence; or by “abandoning” the slogan of “Assad’s departure”, provided that the regime remains as is without any change, and in such a way as to allow the attrition and chaos to continue. All this is supported by the ongoing sanctions, which have become a golden pot for the big corrupt forces, and a genocide of sorts against all Syrians.
The Third Stage: Assad Must Go
Coming back to the present, we must pay attention to the fact that the composition of the “continued chaos”, with its many and varied carriers, has started to rapidly deteriorate through and by the Astana track. This is most evident by the Sochi Agreement on Idlib, which pushed the US to almost blatantly demonstrating their support for al-Nusra and its government, the “Salvation Government”, in hopes of delaying the complete elimination thereof.
Likewise, with the northeast issue, regarding which it has become clear that the extent of the Russian-Turkish agreement is in a steady, albeit slow, upward movement, in parallel with signs of intra-Syrian consensus thereon.
Additionally, the formation of the Syrian Constitutional Committee, and primarily through the Sochi Congress efforts, should be an added warning to the US, indicating the actual start of the implementation of Resolution 2254.
We would be blind if we ignore the two non-papers of the Small Group: Tillerson’s non-paper of January 2018 and Pompeo’s non-paper of September 2018. These two documents unquestionably confirm the Western intent to push Syria toward partition, or at least federalism, in parallel with the shape of authorities and the relationship among them replicated from the Iraqi model, particularly from the 2005 Bremer constitution.
All of this cannot be achieved if the Syrian people got their opportunity in self-determination. Therefore, it is forbidden from a Western point of view to reach any real Syrian consensus that stems from the will of the people. What is required is to not reach an agreement so as to extend the war and prolong the exhaustion of (the West’s) opponents, and when it is reached, it should be a supreme agreement among the warlords who pledge the country to a new long-term plundering project.
Thank You, Jeffrey!
Before confirming what we believe to be a valid conclusion about the Western goal of re-laying on the table the issue of “the fate of the Syrian president”, we must give great thanks to James Jeffrey, because his unprecedented insolence provides great assistance as it makes it easier to explain US goals with his own words, not ours. Just as his anti-Astana statements and the demand to bury it, as well as his statement on al-Nusra and attempts of legitimization thereof, he now helps us in explaining US intentions in Syria, and implicitly the intentions of going back to the personalization rhetoric, by looking at his exact words in the event with the Hudson Institute we mentioned earlier, which took place on the 12th of this month (the full transcript can be read here):
“Our military presence [in Syria], while small is important to this whole overall calculation. So we urge the Congress, the American people, the president to keep these forces on. But again, this isn’t Afghanistan. This isn’t Vietnam. This isn’t a quagmire. My job is to make it a quagmire for the Russians.”
The personalization of the Syrian crisis has played a destructive, and obstructive role to change and to reach a solution, since an early stage; it was used initially by the West, and then from the internal extremists and on both Syrian sides of the parapet, to perpetuate the state of war, to perpetuate the sectarian rhetoric, and to cover up the real plans that are hostile to the Syrian people, plans that are adopted by forces on both sides claiming to be supporters of the Syrian people.
Personalization of the issue has played a major role in neutralizing fundamental socioeconomic propositions, and packaging them with general propositions on freedoms, repression, etc., which has effectuated disregarding real revolutionary changes in favor of cosmetic changes, or to prevent change at all.
At this stage, when the clear facts indicate that the full implementation of Resolution 2254 is imminent, especially through the efforts of the Astana group, the West jumps back in and as usual in a subversive manner, pushes towards a new imaginary polarization, between “with” and “against”.
Determining the fate of the presidency in Syria is a matter of national sovereignty, and no external side has the right to interfere in it, neither positively nor negatively, neither by calling for departure nor by calling for anyone to stay. Both types of intervention contribute to the same nasty quagmire, the quagmire of the colonial mentality that treats the Syrian people with self-declared superiority. Moreover, they together complicate and delay the solution, and therefore they are in the interest of those who do not want change.
Determining this issue, and other issues, is undoubtedly the right of the Syrians and Syrians alone. Enabling Syrians to exercise this right in an honest, fair, and free manner requires immediately launching the comprehensive implementation of Resolution 2254. Everyone playing any other note, whatever their musical composition might be, is working against the interest of Syria and Syrians.