Friday, May 18, 2012

Syria Updates

First off, see if you can parse out our government’s official position on giving weapons to the Syrian rebels, as explained by the State Department’s spokesperson Wednesday:

My translation: Heck yes, we encourage it, and we want you to know that we are. We just don’t want you to be able to condemn us for it.

But I’m still a novice. I could be off.  

Syrian Rebels Stockpiling Weapons in Damascus 

And Idlib and Zabadani, thanks to their patrons in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other gulf states. This is the kind of thing the regime made up in the first months of the revolution to scare people into supporting them.

And that's not all!

"Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood also said it has opened its own supply channel to the rebels, using resources from wealthy private individuals and money from gulf states."

The Syrian resistance is dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood. Not the way the Obama administration is dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood, in the world according to Glenn Beck. Seriously - the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood holds a supermajority on the Syrian National Council, the leading opposition group.

This worries and perplexes me for several reasons.

One is that the SMB was supposedly all but destroyed back in 1982. Bashar's father killed something like 25,000 people to make sure of that. How did they get organized so quickly? And why did no one in the opposition say, "Hey, since we live in a multi-ethnic, multi-religious country, and are trying to appeal to the secular West for support, you know what would be a good idea for this popular revolution we're trying to pull off? NOT HAVING OUR COUNCIL DOMINATED BY THE FREAKING MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD."

So things are pretty much going smashingly well. Any way you can improve on this, America?

"Administration officials also held talks in Washington this week with a delegation of Kurds from sparsely populated eastern Syria, where little violence has occurred. The talks included discussion of ...opening a second front against Assad’s forces that would compel him to move resources from the west."

'Little violence' has occurred there, you say? Can't have that. Bravo, U.S. government. Bravo.  

Syrian Rebels Overrun Syrian Military Base, Kill 23 Soldiers 

 This story from Rastan, near Homs, is pretty incredible. If the preceding story is true, we can expect to see more of the same in the future.

Suicide Bombings Become Commonplace in Damascus

The blast in this video, from May 10, targeted a regime intelligence building in the Al Qazzaz neighborhood of Damascus.

While protests and out-and-out battles are still rare in Damascus, suicide bombings, car bombings and other terrorist attacks are becoming depressingly commonplace. In the giant hall of mirrors that is the Syrian revolution, it's impossible to know for sure who's behind them, but Occam's Razor suggests that they are Sunni Islamic extremists who have learned their lessons from Iraq very well.

The Prospects

A few weeks back, I confidently predicted that the U.S. would use military force to bring down the Assad regime. I’m not so sure anymore. The U.S. government so far seems content to funnel (or encourage the funneling of) weapons to the Syrian opposition while continuing the UN dance, without the trouble of yet another Middle East war. But time will tell.

For most of this revolution, the press and interested observers have been waiting, hoping, dying for a turning point - an event that, if it didn't mark the end of the violence, would at least mark a new phase, a boundary stone to make the revolution intelligible, to separate it into quantifiable bits, a way to mark progress towards wherever it is Syria is going.

Here is my fear: that Syria has already arrived at where it is going. Syria may well have entered a phase of more-or-less permanent civil war. Neither side can gain an advantage over the other, but neither side can afford to relent, even for a second, lest they be destroyed. Outside forces won't be able to force a settlement. Assad is as isolated as he is going to get. The Syrian economy will complete its collapse, but as long as Assad is getting weapons from Iran, and the rebels are getting weapons from the Gulf states, the violence won't be affected by that. Iran would love to see Assad won, of course, but they aren't strong enough to make that happen. And why should the Western powers and Sunni Arab powers intervene militarily, when their key interest - making Assad unable to function as an ally of Iran - is being met perfectly well by the civil war? The same thing happened in Lebanon, and is now, arguably, happening in Iraq.

Eventually, as religious minorities flee Sunni areas and Sunnis flee regime-friendly areas, and it gets more and more costly for the regime to send its forces into the former, pockets of self-rule might pop up here and there in Syria. But it will probably take years of fighting before the opposition is strong enough to expel the regime from Sunni areas entirely.

So this is how a country dies.  

My friends

 Are all safe, as far as I know. In spite of everything, the Iraqi Student Project, where I volunteered last year, had a fantastically successful year – all eight of their students were accepted into American colleges, tuition free. Two of them are friends of mine. I’m so happy to know that these students, who were driven from their homes in Iraq by our invasion and the chaos that followed, will be able to pursue their studies in a peaceful country. They’re all incredibly bright, and God willing, have great things ahead of them. (I’ve been working on Arabic, on and off, for three years, and I can’t imagine taking college courses in it. But they'll be doing just that, and have been for the past year of preparation.) If you happen to see them around in Chicago, St. Louis, Oberlin, Denver, Walla Walla, Memphis or Northampton, make sure you give them a big welcome.

Two of my dear Syrian friends are studying in North America; they arrived here last fall, a few months after I returned to the states. The first's father has left Damascus to join his parents and siblings in a remote Christian village to the north. He still travels to Damascus a few days a week to work, but it's not safe enough to live there anymore.

The second's family lives in a different Christian village north of Damascus, which used to be a half-hour bus ride.Now, anyone traveling that route has to go through a half-dozen checkpoints. The Syrian pound has halved in value since I lived there, and as our leaders rather baldly brag, the economy is being devastated by our sanctions. It's a new reality for what was once one of the most peaceful countries in the Middle East.

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