Earlier this week, the Syrian revolution marked its third anniversary. But in some Western quarters, the word “revolution” has given way to “civil war,” despite the fact that the Syrian revolution is perhaps the only real revolution in modern Arab history.
Civil war? Why not? It is a comfortable term that expresses the disregard that has been shown towards the revolution, or should we say, the betrayal of that revolution. It has become necessary for the Syrian regime, Iran, the West, Russia and China to downplay the political and moral significance of the Syrian revolution by dealing with it as a civil war.
After three years of blood, tears and suffering, it is in each of these countries’ interest to portray what is happening as civil war so that they can avert their eyes from the Syrian people’s spontaneous uprising which, actually, remained peaceful for almost a year in the face of criminal and fascist oppression.
In civil wars it is wrong to take sides, given that there is neither a sheep nor a butcher, neither an oppressor nor an oppressed, neither a murderer nor a victim. “All are equally to blame,” as Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov might put it.
And the Syrian civil war is a very complex situation as U.S. President Barack Obama, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and former U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford seem to believe. This kind of stance is also what we should expect from the new star in the U.S. arena of inaction, namely the new U.S. Special Envoy to Syria, Daniel Rubenstein.
Nobody knows anything
A couple of days ago I read the aptly-titled “Nobody Knows Anything,” an article by Naval War College Professor John Schindler. It deals with the ignorance of the younger generation running U.S. foreign affairs—most of them under 45—when it comes to the basics of politics and deterrence.
Schindler borrowed the title of an article from the screenwriting legend William Goldman’s 1983 Adventures in the Screen Trade. Schindler writes: “Goldman repeatedly cites a line, ‘Nobody Knows Anything,’ meaning that despite vast hours and sums spent by Hollywood on testing films with audiences, nobody in Tinseltown really has a clue how a movie will do at the box office until it’s actually released. It’s all guesswork, and always has been.”
Schindler says the recent Ukraine crisis has comprehensively revealed that U.S. foreign policymakers do not have the vaguest idea what the outcomes will be of their maneuvers and options.
He continues: “I have repeatedly explained just how weak I think the Obama foreign policy team is, filled with impressive-sounding people who clearly cannot handle a real struggle with Moscow . . . Recent weeks have made abundantly clear that the White House simply does not know what to do when confronted with hard problems being pushed by hard men who are more than willing to use cunning violence and naked intimidation as a matter of routine.”
He explained that “the rot goes far deeper than this White House, and is not confined to any party,” Schindler adds: “A related factor here surely is that the United States has groomed a whole generation of foreign policy wonks-in-training who lack any real understanding of how the world actually works. These impressive-on-paper people—let it be noted they are legion in both parties—the under-45s . . . are no match for the stone-cold killers of the Kremlin, led by the Chekist-in-Chief [Russian President Vladimir] Putin.”
Nice words, indeed. And perhaps they frankly explain the bland, or rather clumsy, reaction of Washington and its European Union followers to the geopolitical–strategic step Moscow is mulling.
In fact, facing such circumstances, it would have been better that Washington and its allies did or said nothing rather than make ridiculous announcements and take weak measures that will neither change the equation nor deter Putin from moving forward with ensuring the failure of Ukraine as a sovereign entity, while capitalizing on Russia’s large influence in the country’s eastern and southern parts.
Washington's attitude towards Syria
Schindler’s words about the modest capabilities of U.S. foreign policy planners and makers may be true. However, the way in which the U.S. has been dealing with Syria is different. In fact, it is worse. Washington’s attitude towards Syria has been not only clumsy, but also suspicious.
Without the need to refer back to Jeffrey Goldberg’s interview with Obama published in The Atlantic—which I presume constitutes the most important document revealing Obama’s true attitude towards the Middle East—we have also noticed an attempt to bluff almost all the regional players.
In “Three Years of War in Syria,” a critical article published in the neo-con Weekly Standard, Lee Smith accuses the White House of launching a campaign of “half-truths and lies” over the past three years to mislead the US public regarding Obama’s true intentions towards Syria, in particular playing down Iran’s rise in the Middle East.
Facing such circumstances, it would have been better that Washington and its allies did or said nothing rather than make ridiculous announcements and take weak measures that will neither change the equation nor deter Putin from moving forward with ensuring the failure of Ukraine as a sovereign entity, while capitalizing on Russia’s large influence in the country’s eastern and southern parts.Eyad Abu Shakra
Smith writes: “The history of the Syrian civil war is also a chronicle of White House mendacity,” a reference to Obama’s sarcastic remarks in an interview with The Atlantic about “people saying, ‘They’re [Iran is] winning in Syria.’—“It’s [Iran] bleeding them because they’re having to send in billions of dollars. Their key proxy, Hezbollah, which had a very comfortable and powerful perch in Lebanon, now finds itself attacked by Sunni extremists. This isn’t good for Iran. They’re losing as much as anybody.”
What is worse than Obama’s words is what Ford said in a recent interview with Asharq Al-Awsat. He said one of the lessons that the U.S. has learned from the Iraq experience is that in Syria there is no U.S. solution, and that “it is going to have to be an international community solution which the US will be a big part of, but not the only part.”
This remark first lacks logic and, second, insults people’s intelligence. By saying this, Ford adopts the White House’s belief that intervention in Iraq was a mistake that must not be repeated. In this argument, Ford is actually ignoring the political and military reality that this intervention produced, namely surrendering Iraq, Syria and Lebanon into the hands of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
This reality—if Washington really rejects it—requires correcting the “mistake” by changing it on the ground. However, what is suspicious about Ford’s comments, and by extension the White House’s stance as confirmed in the interview with The Atlantic, is the fact that Washington is today building its regional strategy on the basis of the continuation of the effects of that putative “mistake,” because it does not consider the current Iranian regime as an enemy, but rather a regional partner.
Syria and its revolution—or shall we say the very Arab identity of the region—are paying the price of this partnership.
This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on March 20, 2014.
Eyad Abu Shakra (also written as Ayad Abou-Chakra) began his media career in 1973 with Annahar newspaper in Lebanon. He joined Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper in the UK in 1979, occupying several positions including: Senior Editor, Managing Editor, and Head of Research Unit, as well as being a regular columnist. He has several published works, including books, chapters in edited books, and specialized articles, in addition to frequent regular TV and radio appearances.