THE BLOG

Political and Military Tracks Inseparable in the Battle for Syria

The wavering stances of President Barack Obama's second administration saw settled this week on the following:

* A reversal of the stances taken by the first administration regarding the interpretation of the Geneva Agreement among the five permanent members of the Security Council, in terms of the role to be played by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the political transition in Syria. The new US Secretary of State John Kerry declared that Washington wants to "see Assad and the Syrian opposition come to the [negotiations] table for the creation of a transitional government according to the framework that was created in Geneva."

* A preemptive strike against the stances of Arab Gulf states ahead of the Arab Summit in Doha, meant to influence Saudi-Qatari coordination, which began last week after John Kerry left Doha with stances different from those he announced this week. In Doha, Kerry distinguished between arming the moderate opposition and the extremist opposition, and said that Bashar Al-Assad has "lost his legitimacy" and "decided to destroy his country to remain in power."

* Submitting to the fact that Moscow will not back down from clinging to Assad, especially as Moscow considers the Syrian President to represent a "red line." The U.S. has therefore submitted to Russia's leadership on the Syrian issue, in the hope that the Russians will keep their promises of obtaining concessions from the man they support and the regime they supply with political and military assistance. In other words, John Kerry has wavered to the tune of isolationism until his choice settled - at least this week - on offering concessions to the Russians, in the hope that the latter will themselves obtain concessions from the Syrian regime.

* The emergence of contradiction, carelessness, or even "role distribution" among the United States, Britain and France. Indeed, the statement made by the US Secretary of State, referring to the Syrian President as party to negotiations by name, is in complete contradiction with the stances taken by his British and French counterparts, his allies at the Security Council, as well as in contradiction with the stances of his predecessor, Hillary Clinton. This is in addition to the fact that Kerry spoke the day after statements were made by French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius that American, French and Russian diplomacy were looking into names that would be acceptable to represent the Syrian regime in negotiations, excluding Bashar al-Assad.

* Pulling the rug from under the feet of the Syrian opposition, as Kerry's new stance could lead to inflaming disputes within the Syrian National Coalition (SNC), and to the resignation or removal of its President, Moaz al-Khatib. That is, if this issue has not been restrained in advance, either directly or through joint United Nations and Arab League Special Envoy for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi.

* Giving exceptional momentum to Brahimi's initiative, based on neutralizing the obstacle of Assad's participation or non-participation in negotiations in order to reduce the stringency of the different stances taken by the five permanent members with veto powers at the Security Council. Indeed, Brahimi's approach has so far been based on two things: leaping over the "Assad obstacle" to commence dialogue and negotiations, and considering a "political solution", not a military one, to represent the only solution. This is what he seems to have achieved this week in the language adopted by the US Secretary of State.

It is not clear whether the change that has occurred in the stances of the United States is part of explicit understandings reached with Russian diplomacy, or represents an arbitrary investment by an administration that does not want to "own" alone a fragmented and devastated Syria, now an arena for proxy wars.

It is clear that John Kerry has done away with the objections adopted by Hillary Clinton along with her European partners from the beginning of the debate over the interpretation of the Geneva Agreement, in terms of the role to be played by the Syrian president in the process of political transition, as well as in terms of Bashar al-Assad's fate at the outcome of this transitional process. Clinton had accused her Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, of having deceived her by adopting the interpretation that clang to Assad, which prevented the Security Council from achieving consensus, and led to completely paralyzing international diplomacy and making it impossible for a resolution to be issued by the Security Council. Kerry has overturned Clinton's stances and resolved to side with the Russian point of view. Clinton had based her approach on President Barack Obama's statement that Bashar al-Assad must step down. Kerry, on the other hand, has based his approach on his own understanding of what his president wants in the second administration, and had used the ladder provided him by Brahimi's efforts in order to climb downwards from the precondition of Assad stepping down.

Kerry's stance paves the way for re-launching Brahimi's efforts, based on creating common ground between the United States and Russia that would lead to launching the process of political transition with Assad's participation, or at least without excluding him, and withdrawing the condition that he should step down or leave Syria first. These efforts also lay down the condition of ceasing to enable the military solution, and putting a stop to military support for all sides, the regime and the opposition.

Russia claims to have stopped providing military supplies to the regime in Damascus, with the exception of those that fall under old contracts, which means that the Syrian regime is still receiving weapons from Russia. At the same time, Moscow wants Washington to pressure the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), and in particular Saudi Arabia and Qatar, into not supplying the Syrian opposition with weapons, under the heading of reining in the military solution and containing any armament to either extremist jihadists or the moderate opposition. But neither Moscow nor Washington has the ability to rein in or contain direct or indirect Iranian support to the regime in Damascus, in weapons, equipment or fighters. The claims of Russian diplomacy about its ability to influence Tehran in turn wavers between shallow pledges of guaranteeing this or that at times, and at others admitting that Moscow has no serious influence on Tehran when it comes to either the nuclear issue or the regional role Iran seeks to play. Indeed, Tehran is clear in considering the Syrian war to be its own, and in insisting on preventing what would be a strategic loss for it if the regime in Damascus were to fall.

What is happening now can be considered to represent reorganization and realignment at the regional and the international levels over the events in Syria, which have turned into a collective tragedy and a catastrophe afflicting an entire generation, and perhaps several generations. Thus competition and concomitance have returned between the track of military solutions and the track of political solutions simultaneously, and there is in fact in some cases the resolve to change the balance of military power on the field - through armament - in order to support diplomacy and force the Security Council to take decisions. Weapons for diplomacy may seem like an oxymoron, but this is part of what active countries in the GCC have decided. Indeed, they want to support Brahimi's efforts and end the paralysis of the Security Council. They are today of the opinion that this will only be possible by changing the balance of military power on the field. This is why the coming phase will from now on be witnessing the use of a combination of "guns and politics" in order to reach the goal sought by the countries of the GCC, which is - in the words of a seasoned Gulf analyst - an Assad-free region and a Syria not owned by Iran. In other words, it is likely that the armament of the Syrian opposition will increase to change the balance of military power, which is in favor of the regime as a result of the military support it is receiving from Iran and Russia.

Indeed, without this, GCC diplomacy considers that Russia will not facilitate the work led by Lakhdar Brahimi towards a political solution, and that the Islamic Republic of Iran could achieve strategic victory at the expense of GCC countries, if the latter were to fail to seriously invest in reversing the balance of military power on the field. Thus, the concomitance between the political and the military tracks in the battle for Syria will expand further. Indeed, the United States and Russia seem today to have reached a bilateral understanding on the political track, after John Kerry put his weight behind a political solution in partnership with Russia and its leadership, without excluding Assad. And this represents an important juncture that could lead to bringing Brahimi's efforts to fruition, but could also - on the other hand - allow him to meet with dire failure.

In parallel to this, the US Administration seems to have some sort of understanding with the countries of the GCC over the necessity to take great care and caution when arming the moderate opposition, and to ensure that no weapons fall into the hands of the al-Nusra Front and similar groups. Indeed, there are features of a "nod" of agreement over the necessity of changing the military equation on the field, so as for the new military balance of power to form an incentive for Russian concessions and to affect direct Iranian contribution to the Syrian war, which comes at a very high cost. Britain and France have entered as party to the equation of arming the opposition, and that is an important change as well. Whatever one is to call these understandings, militarization or politicization of the conflict, competition and correlation in the battle for Syria have left behind a disaster for the children of Syria, and one which all those concerned should give priority to and take practical and effective measures to provide aid.

According to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), the number of children who have suffered harm from the Syrian crisis has reached two million- in other words, half of those who have suffered harm inside Syria, whose number is estimated at four million. There are now 800,000 child refugees outside the country, 500 thousand of them in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt, according to UNICEF, which announced that it was facing a severe lack of funding and may have to reduce the size of its assistance before the end of the month. It is in need of $195 million to meet the basic needs of women and children who have suffered harm. That is an amount GCC countries alone should be able to provide immediately, at least out of compassion for the children of Syria.

Save the Children, a British charity, issued a report this week, two years after the eruption of the conflict in Syria. The report states that Syrian children are facing disease, malnutrition and psychological trauma, in addition to girls being forced into early marriage, not to mention prison and rape. The report also states that both sides of the conflict are increasingly recruiting young boys as fighters, and even as human shields, adding that "rape is being used to deliberately punish people." This is what is happening to the children of Syria, while the race between the track of politics and the track of guns becomes inflamed and warns of a coming phase of escalation - that is, unless a miracle were to occur, in the form of a bilateral American-Russian understanding over the various trade-offs put forward as clauses in the "Grand Bargain".

Indeed, they are both repositioning themselves, as are regional and local players. And in the best of cases, negotiations could begin over a process of political transition, in parallel with developments on the battlefield, accompanied by international and regional role distribution in Syria after the infighting.

RaghidaDergham.Com

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