62 foreign policy experts, whose political orientation is conservative, wrote a letter to President Obama demanding a greater American role in the Syrian civil war, particularly the creation of "safe zones" on Syria's borders, as a means of supporting the "Syrian people" and precipitating the downfall of the Assad regime. Under normal circumstances, a demand like that can be classified under the "better late than never" category, but not this time.
The well-respected experts should know that there already are zones on the borders of Syria with Turkey and Jordan, which are out of the actual control of the regime, so, the main point of their much-publicized letter is simply irrelevant and outdated. In fact, this blog called for the creation of "safe zones" many months ago, at a time when many experts, conservative or liberal, still debated whether there is a civil war in Syria in the first place, and among those, many advocated the preservation of the dictator as the best possible bulwark against civil war, the results of which would be catastrophic.
What has to be done with the called-for "safe zones" is not specified in the letter, something which is puzzling in itself, though there are references to the need to train and equip the rebels. No specific call for supply of anti-aircraft and anti-tank missiles to the rebels, or for American-operated communication networks, such as Al-Hura to address the Alawite population of Syria, with the specific message that their continued support of the regime put their most vital communal interests at risk. No call to the administration to invest the necessary funds in order to help "convince" Syrian officers that they better defect and join the opposition.
This last point is of major significance, as the Obama administration claimed just days ago that the Assad regime maintains the support of many officers and soldiers by continuing to pay them regularly. So, if it is money that we talk about, the US may have a little more to offer than the besieged Assad regime. Yes, the 62 experts call attention to the chemical and biological weapons controlled by the regime, and this is a timely reminder, but here too they are missing the train, as the Israeli military let it be known that they believe that these weapons are not in danger of falling to the Hezbollah, and even the Russian government warned Assad not to use them.
The letter does not specifically call for a full-fledged military intervention, and rightly so, but it laments the fact that any delay in creating the "safe zones" could jeopardize the chances for the creation of a "multi-sectarian pluralistic Syria."
It is this point that drew my special attention, even more than all the other points which were mentioned above, and as it is customary in the Middle East, there is something here that requires clarification, which the signatories of the letter somehow did not provide us.
Most, if not all of them were strong proponents of the Iraq war of 2003. Yes, the Saddam Hussein regime was criminal and had to be removed. Another question is whether a full-scale war like the one conducted by the US, with the huge human loss for both Americans and Iraqis, as well as the astronomical financial cost, was justified; or if the goal could be achieved otherwise? What is not in doubt though is the fact that the architects of the war wished to achieve a "multi-sectarian pluralistic" Iraq. Well, Iraq may not be so "pluralistic," but surely much more democratic than before, and this is the new and democratic Iraq which is a great supporter of the Assad regime.
Just the other day the Iraqis were the only Arab state which opposed an Arab League resolution calling upon Bashar Assad to leave Syria. Did they do it only because Nuri-Al-maliki was for more than 20 years the guest of the Hafiz Assad regime, or that President Talabani had a Syrian passport until 2004? Gratitude of the Iraqi leaders notwithstanding, here, too, the sectarian factor is the main explanation. Shi'ite Iraq, as well as Shi'ite Iran and the Hezbollah, want an Alawite regime in Damascus, rather than a Sunni one.
So, a humble suggestion to the 62 distinguished experts if they want their letter to be credible and not an election season gimmick. Maybe they should rewrite their letter, and address it to Nuri Al-Maliki and Jalal Talabani, urging them to enable the creation of a "safe zone" along the Iraqi-Syrian border, something that could prove to be the tipping point in the Syrian civil war. After all, Maliki and Talabani owe at least something to their American friends.