Syria Calling

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Iran backs Syria presidential election, halt to arms shipments as parts of peace bid
By Associated Press, Updated: Sunday, December 16, 1:51 PM
TEHRAN, Iran — Iran is backing presidential elections in Syria as part of a six-point plan outlined Sunday to halt the 21-month civil war in Tehran’s main Middle East ally.The plan, described by state media and Iranian news agencies, also calls for efforts to halt the flow of weapons into Syria and to hold talks that include the government of Syrian president Bashar Assad.
Iran in the past has offered initiatives to end the Syrian bloodshed, but none are likely to gain any momentum with the main rebel forces that view Tehran as discredited by its close ties to Assad. On Saturday, Iran’s Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said Iran would do all it could to keep Assad in power.
The latest proposals were offered during the opening of a two-day conference that includes 200 Syrian religious and political figures and envoys from countries including Syrian neighbors Turkey, Iraq and Lebanon, according to the semioffical Fars news agency. Key Syrian rebel figures did not attend.Fars said the plan included efforts to halt the flow of arms into Syria, an apparent reference to rebel backing by rival nations, including Turkey and Gulf Arab states such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Iran also is believed to supply Assad’s military with assistance.Later steps include a creating a transitional government to lead Syria toward parliamentary and presidential elections. The reports gave no indication whether Assad could seek to remain in power under the Iran-backed plan.In the statement, Iran also called for release of political prisoners and reconstruction of areas damaged in the fighting.Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has called on the Syrian rebel forces to end the uprising and hold talks with Assad — a move that’s been soundly rejected by opposition leaders.“If the opposition forces in Syria give up their weapons, then the government can be demanded to listen to the opposition views and allow them to express their views,” Khamenei said last week, according to Fars.Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


3:49 PM EST
We have been there and done that.The regional powers have colluded with US government to subjugate Iran. A ragtag coalition in Syria has been considered as a government in exile by more than 140 countries. Yet US is worried about doing anything more than offering lip sympathy.Does that tell you about the complexity of Syria solution?Get Iran across the table to negotiate over Iran’s alleged nuclear ambitions.Or else.Armageddon!…and I am Sid

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Hezbollah says al-Qaeda ‘tricked’ on Syria

by: Karim Abou Merhi
From: AAP
December 17, 2012 5:04AM

HEZBOLLAH chief Hassan Nasrallah has warned al-Qaeda it has been tricked into fighting in Syria, and the rebellion will not be able to topple the regime of President Bashar al-Assad militarily.

“The Americans, Europeans and some governments in the Arab and Muslim world have set a trap for you in Syria,” the head of Lebanon’s most powerful military force said.

“They have opened the entire country for you to congregate there from all corners of the world and kill one another,” he said, in a speech broadcast during an annual university graduation ceremony in the southern suburbs of Beirut on Sunday.

“And you are complicit in this trick,” Nasrallah said.

His comments came amid increased debate over the rise of jihadist groups in Syria, notably the Al-Nusra Front, which was blacklisted as a terrorist organisation by Washington last week for its alleged links to al-Qaeda in Iraq.

“If we assume that these groups which are affiliated to al-Qaeda and its ideology are able to achieve a breakthrough on the ground one day, then they will be the first to pay the price in Syria as they have in other countries,” he said.

The Hezbollah leader, whose group is a long-standing Assad ally, said the situation in Syria “is becoming increasingly complex”.

“The opposition believes they will be able to resolve the battle militarily, which is very, very, very suspect”.

Nasrallah said the conflict pitched a regime “defending its existence out of conviction with the majority of the Syrian people behind it” against an “armed opposition working to topple the regime with a segment of the population in support”.

He said he feared the conflict would be a protracted one, “as long as the armed opposition and its regional and international backers refuse any dialogue with the regime”.

Damascus and its allies accuse Qatar and Saudi Arabia of funnelling arms to the rebels through neighbouring Turkey with Western connivance. The opposition rejects any dialogue until Assad quits.

The Americans want to prolong the Syrian crisis “because more death among the armed opposition, the Syrian army and security services, and the people will render Syria weak, impoverished, devastated and drained”, Nasrallah said.

“It will be crossed off the regional power balance … for the benefit of America and Israel.”





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Inside Syria

Planning for the Syrian endgame

Diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis in Syria have been slow-moving and largely ineffective but events appear to be gathering pace and politicians are talking of a possible endgame.
“The prevailing opinion in Moscow is that the Assad regime has still a lot of resources and that a sizeable part of the Syrian population supports him and that he may weather the storm and if it becomes obvious to the opposition that they can’t win, maybe some parts of the opposition may go for a political agreement that could keep elements of the Assad regime still in power. That is what Moscow thinks will happen and what it hopes will happen.”

– Pavel Felgenhauer, a Novaya Gazeta columnist

On the ground, rebel forces are trying to gain control of the capital, Damascus.

More than 100 Arab and Western countries have now acknowledged the Syrian National Coalition as the legitimate and sole representative of Syrians. But while it has received world recognition it still does not have the stamp of approval from all Syrians.

The leader of the opposition is urging Syria’s minority Alawite community to turn against President Bashar al-Assad – an Alawite himself, facing a mainly Sunni uprising.

The deputy foreign minister of Russia – a strong ally of Syria – has been quoted as saying rebel forces may win the fight.

Mikhail Bogdanov said: “There is a trend for the government to progressively lose control over an increasing part of the territory.”

He added that “an opposition victory cannot be excluded”.

But Russia’s foreign ministry backtracked on Friday, issuing a denial some 22 hours after the statement.

And the US is starting to plan for an opposition victory. The White House has branded one group of fighters, said to be linked to al-Qaeda in Iraq, as ‘terrorists’ – effectively excluding them from any future discussions.
In-depth coverage of escalating violence across Syria

The opposition is already planning for the post-Assad phase and, for most, that will not involve any form of Western intervention.

Al Jazeera’s Zeina Khodr, reporting from the Idlib province, says: “Not long ago, when anti-government demonstrators took to the streets they would appeal to the international community for help. They asked for a no fly zone. They asked the world to supply them with weapons. But they are no longer asking for that. These people are demanding the international community doesn’t interfere in their affairs.”

Is Assad heading for a last stand as the conflict spills into its 22nd month?

Inside Syria, with presenter Ghida Fakhry, discusses with guests: Ammar Waqqaf, a member of the Syrian Social Club, a group advocating reform in Syria; Scott Lucas, a professor of American Studies at the University of Birmingham; and Pavel Felgenhauer, a political analyst and columnist at the newspaper Novaya Gazeta.
“I’m afraid I can’t see the Sunnis of Syria really listening to this foreignly appointed executive rather than an elected person by Syrians … let alone Alawis listening to him. The support base of President Assad or for the central government isn’t at all about Alawites. I’m sorry to say people are being disillusioned by this – there are a lot of Sunnis who support the central government and who do not want the central government to collapse for all sorts of reasons – the least of which [is] not to bring Syria into a chaotic situation or becoming a failed state.

Ammar Waqqaf, from the Syrian Social Club

© 1996-2012 The Washington Post
Hezbollah chief says rebels will not win in Syria
Lebanon’s Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah addresses his supporters during a public appearance at an anti-U.S. protest in Beirut’s southern suburbs September 17, 2012. REUTERS/Sharif Karim

BEIRUT | Sun Dec 16, 2012 11:21am EST

(Reuters) – Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, leader of the Lebanese Shi’ite militant movement Hezbollah, said on Sunday the rebels in Syria could not emerge victorious from the 21-month-long uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.

Nasrallah, a staunch ally of Assad, said: “The situation in Syria is getting more complicated (but) anyone who thinks the armed opposition can settle the situation on the ground is very very very mistaken.”

Syrian rebels accuse the Shi’ite Muslim group of sending fighters to neighboring Syria to help Assad overcome the largely Sunni Muslim revolt. Hezbollah denies these accusations.

The uprising started as peaceful demonstrations calling for greater freedoms but turned into an armed insurgency largely in response to heavy crackdown and attacks by Assad forces.

The revolt pits majority Sunnis against Assad’s Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi’ite Islam. With Sunni-Shi’ite sectarian tensions smoldering in the region, Syria’s conflict has drawn Sunni radicals from elsewhere into rebel ranks.

But Nasrallah, whose Shi’ite movement is despised by Sunni hardliners, said the West and some allied Arab countries had lured al Qaeda-affiliated fighters into Syria to be killed.

“I warn al Qaeda: the Americans and the European countries and Arab and Islamic countries have set a trap for you in Syria, and opened for you a battlefield so you come from across the world … to be killed and to kill each other…”

Alarmed by the growing strength and influence of al Qaeda-inspired fighters in Syria, the United States has put the al-Nusra Front on its official blacklist of terrorist organizations, angering many Syrian rebel brigades.

(Reporting by Mariam Karouny; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

Hi, Sid

Syrian VP says neither side can win war – newspaper

By Mariam Karouny | Reuters – 5 mins ago

Damaged buildings are seen in al-Bayada district in Homs December 13, 2012. Picture taken December 13, 2012. REUTERS/Yazan Homsy

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Reuters/Reuters – Damaged buildings are seen in al-Bayada district in Homs December 13, 2012. Picture taken December 13, 2012. REUTERS/Yazan Homsy

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Demonstrators hold Syrian opposition flags during a protest against Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad, after Friday prayers in Kafranbel near Idlib December 14, 2012. REUTERS/Raed Al-Fares/Shaam News Network/HandoutEnlarge PhotoDemonstrators hold Syrian opposition …

Article: Iran president cancels Turkey visit amid Syria rift25 mins ago
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Article: Syria VP says neither side can win war – newspaper2 hrs 42 mins ago

BEIRUT (Reuters) – Syrian Vice President Farouq al-Sharaa has told a Lebanese newspaper that neither the forces of President Bashar al-Assad nor rebels can win the war in Syria.

Sharaa, a Sunni Muslim in a power structure dominated by Assad’s Alawite minority, has rarely appeared in public since the revolt erupted in March 2011.

The newspaper, al-Akhbar, released only limited excerpts on Sunday from the interview appearing in Monday’s edition, and it was far from clear that Sharaa’s comments represented the view of the government.

But he is still the most prominent figure to say in public that the crackdown will not win. The paper, which generally takes a pro-Assad line, said Sharaa had been speaking in Damascus.

In the first phase of the 21-month-old civil war, which has claimed at least 40,000 lives, Damascus was distant from the fighting.

Rebels have now brought the war to the capital, without succeeding in delivering a fatal blow to the government.

But nor has Assad found the military muscle to oust his opponents from the city.

In Paris, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius of France, one of the major powers most insistent that Assad has lost his legitimacy, told RFI radio: “I think the end is nearing for Bashar al-Assad.”


On the ground, rebels said they were launching an operation to seize the central province of Hama to try to link northern rural areas of Syria under their control to the centre.

Qassem Saadeddine, a member of the newly established rebel military command, said fighters had been ordered to surround and attack checkpoints across the province. He said forces loyal to Assad had been given 48 hours to surrender or be killed.

“When we liberate the countryside of Hama province … then we will have the area between Aleppo and Hama liberated and open for us,” he told Reuters.

The city of Hama in the province of the same name has a special resonance for anti-Assad activists. In 1982 Hafez al-Assad, father of the current ruler, crushed an uprising in the city, killing up to 30,000 civilians.

In Damascus, activists said fighter jets had bombed the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp, killing at least 25 people sheltering in a mosque.

The attack was part of a month-old campaign by Assad’s forces to eject rebels from positions they are establishing around the capital’s perimeter. Yarmouk, to the south, falls within an arc of territory running from the east of Damascus to the southwest from where rebels hope to storm the government’s main redoubt.


Opposition activists said the deaths in Yarmouk, to which refugees have fled from fighting in nearby suburbs, resulted from a rocket fired from a warplane hitting the mosque.

A video posted on YouTube showed bodies and body parts scattered on the stairs of what appeared to be the mosque.

The latest battlefield accounts could not be independently verified due to tight restrictions on media access to Syria.

Syria is home to more that 500,000 Palestinian refugees, most living in Yarmouk, and both Assad’s government and the rebels have enlisted and armed Palestinians as the uprising, which began as a peaceful street movement 21 months ago, has mushroomed into a civil war.

Heavy fighting broke out 12 days ago between Palestinians loyal to Assad and Syrian rebels, together with a brigade of Palestinian fighters known as Liwaa al-Asifah (Storm Brigade).

After Sunday’s air strike, clashes flared anew between Palestinians from the pro-Assad Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC) and rebels including other Palestinian fighters, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group.

Some PFLP-GC fighters were killed, the London-based Observatory said. Opposition activists and the Observatory said many were trying to escape the internal fighting in Yarmouk.


In the latest of a string of military installations to fall to the rebels, the army’s infantry college north of Aleppo was captured on Saturday after five days of fighting, a rebel commander with the powerful Islamist Tawheed Brigade said.

Insurgents first reported seizing the infantry college on Saturday, but the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said later that day there was still fierce fighting going on.

The commander whose Tawheed brigade took part in the assault said the rebels had surrounded the college, located 16 km (10 miles) north of Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, three weeks ago.

“At least 100 soldiers have been taken prisoner and 150 decided to join us. The soldiers were all hungry because of the siege,” the commander, who spoke on condition he was not further identified, told Reuters by telephone.

Desperate food shortages are growing in parts of Syria. Residents of Aleppo say fistfights and dashes across the front lines have become part of the daily struggle to secure a loaf of bread.

Violence continued across the country. Syrian forces killed 25 people in the town of Helfaya in Hama province when they shelled it with warplanes and artillery for the first time since February, opposition activists said.

Ten fighters were killed in shelling in Deraa, the cradle of the revolt against Assad.


Damascus has accused Western powers of backing what it says is a Sunni Islamist “terrorist” campaign to topple Assad, a member of the minority Alawite sect affiliated with Shi’ite Islam. It says that U.S. and European concerns about Assad’s forces possibly resorting to chemical weapons could serve as a pretext for preparing military intervention.

In Lebanon, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, leader of the Islamist Hezbollah militia group, said the rebels could not win in Syria.

“The situation in Syria is getting more complicated (but) anyone who thinks the armed opposition can settle the situation on the ground is very, very, very mistaken.”

Syrian rebels accuse Hezbollah, a Shi’ite Muslim group, of sending fighters to neighbouring Syria to help Assad overcome the largely Sunni Muslim revolt. Hezbollah denies these accusations.

Assad’s and Hezbollah’s main ally in region, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, cancelled a visit to Syria’s estranged neighbour Turkey a day after his military chief said the deployment of NATO missile defences along its border with Syria could lead to a “world war”, Turkey’s state-run Anatolian news agency said.

(Writing by Mark Heinrich and; Stephen Powell; Editing by Kevin Liffey)
(c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2012. Check for restrictions at:
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Turmoil in Syria and the Regional Consequences

Tamara Wittes, Murhaf Jouejati, Ammar Abdulhamid, Itamar Rabinovich, Paul Salem, Marwan Muasher May 25, 2011 – Washington, D.C.

As protest movements sweep through the Middle East, few countries exemplify the opportunities and potential pitfalls of political change as well as Syria. Beginning on March 15, Syrians took to the streets in large numbers, demanding a more responsive and democratic government. After an initial promise of reform, the government of President Bashar al-Assad has cracked down on protestors with increasingly brutal force. The continued unrest in Syria has serious implications for Iran’s role in the region, the Israeli-Arab conflict, the stability of Lebanon, and organizations such as Hamas and Hezbollah.

Carnegie and the Brookings Institution co-hosted a panel of experts to discuss the prospects for democratic change in Syria and the implications for the region. Speakers included Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Tamara Wittes, National Defense University Professor Murhaf Jouejati, Syrian human rights activist Ammar Abdulhamid, former Israeli ambassador Itamar Rabinovich, and Paul Salem of the Carnegie Middle East Center. Carnegie’s Marwan Muasher moderated.
The Opposition Movement

Syrian protesters have faced down tanks and risked death and arrest to call for the downfall of the Assad regime, but they still face a long road ahead.
Sources of discontent: Syria is experiencing a bulge in its youth population and the current regime is unable to meet the expectations of these young people in terms of employment and social mobility, Abdulhamid said. Assad had previously blamed Syria’s economic problems on the country’s international isolation, but as the international environment has improved, the regime has faced pressure to deliver on promises of reform, Abdulhamid added.
Roots of activism: The opposition movement did not begin in 2011, said Abdulhamid, but rather is the culmination of many years of groundwork laid by Syrian activists to raise awareness of and build opposition to the regime.
Social base: Protests have been strongest in rural areas and poor suburbs where economic deprivation is highest, said Salem, but if Damascus and Aleppo rise up against the regime, that would be a major tipping point in favor of the opposition. In general, the bureaucracy and the merchant class mostly support the regime, said Jouejati, but many of their children have joined protests.
Organization: The revolt is happening in 30 different places at once and is controlled locally, Abdulhamid explained. This is an advantage, Jouejati noted, because it makes the opposition more resilient and weakens the army’s ability to respond. Yet more organization will be needed to create a credible alternative to Assad. The opposition should try to form a transitional council and call for Assad’s ouster, argued Abdulhamid.
Ideology: There is no sign that the Syrian opposition is led by Islamists. On the contrary, people have started chanting anti-Iran and anti-Hezbollah statements, said Abdulhamid. People are hoping the West will take their side against Assad.
Possible Scenarios for Change

The panelists agreed that a return to the status quo in Syria is no longer possible. Yet the country could still take one of several different paths forward:
Short-term regime survival: The Assad regime could still survive for many months through repression, said Salem. The Iranian regime cracked down hard two years ago and is still around. But eventually the economic situation will become unsustainable, Jouejati argued. Oil production, tourism, and business are all down and the Syrian government is spending money it doesn’t have to create jobs and increase subsidies, he added.
Top-down reform: There is still a small window of opportunity for Assad to lead a democratic reform process, said Salem. President Obama called for this and Turkey is hoping for it, but such a solution is unlikely.
Internal coup: For the moment, Assad appears to enjoy the support of both the military leadership and the Alawite community. Yet either of these two groups could decide that Assad has become too dangerous and try to push him aside to preserve the regime, said Salem and Rabinovich.
Civil war: If the regime doesn’t back down, Syria could see a destructive civil war, explained Salem. The regime has used the threat of civil war to scare minorities into supporting the regime, Jouejati said, and is deliberately stoking sectarianism to increase fears. But if an actual civil war breaks out, the regime will lose because it represents a minority of Syrians, Salem predicted.
Revolution: If more Syrians join the protests, the opposition could see a quick victory of the Sunni majority and the establishment of a new regime, said Salem. But there is still a wall of fear preventing many people from demonstrating, he added.
Implications for the Region

Syria occupies one of the most volatile parts of the Middle East, and any scenario will have far-reaching implications for its neighbors and allies.
Israel: Israel has an ambivalent attitude toward the Assad regime, said Rabinovich. Syria opposes Israel and supports its enemies but Israel doesn’t see a clear alternative to Assad and is worried about chaos on its border. The Syrian regime is deliberately trying to stoke Israeli fears, he added, such as encouraging Palestinians to cross the border fence on May 15 in remembrance of the Palestinian displacement following the creation of Israel.
Hezbollah: The fall of the Assad regime would remove an important source of support for Hezbollah, said Salem. If Hezbollah feels cornered, it could either become more aggressive or lie low, though it appears to be doing the former, he added. Syria may also try to use Hezbollah to provoke Israel and create a distraction from popular unrest at home, said Jouejati.
Lebanon: Lebanon has lived in Syria’s shadow since the late 1960s, said Salem, and the uncertainty in Syria has suspended any progress on government formation because political parties do not know how this will affect them. The biggest fear in Lebanon is a sectarian civil war in Syria, which could create instability at home.
Iran: If the Assad regime falls, it will likely mean Iran will lose access to Lebanon, Hezbollah, and the Israeli border, which would decrease its regional influence significantly, said Salem. Thus, Iran is very worried about Syria and is doing everything it can to support the regime.
The Role of International Actors
The United States: President Obama’s speech on the Middle East was an important step forward, said Abdulhamid, but he should more explicitly call for Assad to leave. This would convince Syrian regime officials that Assad no longer has any international legitimacy, he argued. Wittes said that the United States has communicated clearly to the Syrian regime that it must stop violence, respect human rights, and lead a transition to democracy. The United States is working to expand international pressure against the regime, she added.
Turkey: Turkey has built close relations with Syria over the past few years, said Salem, and it has pushed the Assad regime to reform. It is very worried about possible chaos, but if it is clear the Assad regime will not survive, then Turkey will take the side of the people, he added.
Saudi Arabia: Saudi Arabia has provided strong support to the Syrian regime both because it opposes any spread of popular revolutions and because it is grateful for Assad’s support of its intervention in Bahrain, said Salem. Yet if it becomes clear that the Assad regime will not survive, Saudi Arabia will have to withdraw its support, he added.

Syria is a Zero-Sum Game for Iran

Karim Sadjadpour C-SPAN’s Washington Journal, August 19, 2012

Speaking on CSPAN’s Washington Journal, Carnegie’s Karim Sadjadpour explained that the alliance between Iran and Syria has been critical to the Assad regime’s efforts to maintain power during the on-going uprising in Syria. Although the alliance is not based on cultural, sectarian, or ethnic affinities, Iran and Syria have been stalwart strategic allies dating back to 1980. For Iran, “Syria has been its most consistent global ally and provides an important strategic geographic link to Hezbollah,” noted Sadjadpour.  The Iranian regime also “has repression down to a science and is sharing their tactics in this regard with the Assad regime,” he added. For Iran, the perpetuation of the Assad regime is critical in maintaining its regional influence, and Iran has demonstrated it will do whatever it can to aid Assad and his repressive regime, Sadjadpour concluded.
Iran Will Be Central No Matter the Outcome

Karim Sadjadpour New York Times, August 9, 2012

No country stands to lose more from the collapse of the Assad regime in Syria than its lone regional ally, the Islamic Republic of Iran. For this reason, no country has offered more financial and strategic aid to try and keep afloat a drowning Bashar Assad than Tehran.

The Iran-Syria alliance is a not a natural bond between nations, but a tactical-cum-strategic alliance between two authoritarian regimes. Mutual contempt for Saddam Hussein’s Iraq brought them together in 1980, and mutual fear and loathing (in that order) of the United States and Israel has helped sustain them.
Karim Sadjadpour


Iran’s interests are to ensure that Syria remains a geo-political ally and a thoroughfare to Hezbollah. Given their lack of confidence that a Sunni-ruled, post-Assad order in Damascus would guarantee these interests, they’ve doubled and tripled down on Assad, even as civilian casualties in Syria approach 20,000. In this context, international diplomatic efforts by Kofi Annan or others to compel Tehran to abandon Assad are all but futile.In the words of Iranian envoy Saeed Jalili, who met Bashar Assad Tuesday in Damascus, “Iran will absolutely not allow the axis of resistance, of which it considers Syria to be a main pillar, to be broken in any way.” In other words, if the ends are opposing the United States and Israel, almost any means can be justified.

Iran’s combination of agility and chutzpah, however, should not be underestimated. When the Assad regime finally loses Damascus, Tehran will likely try and take credit for his exit, and use their petro-dollars to cultivate and co-opt his successors, much like they did in Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein.

What’s important to Tehran is not the sectarian identity of the men who run Damascus, but their ideological outlook. Can they be partners in resistance?

In contrast to Iraq, however, where their Shiite brethren were a demographic majority, Iran will be working with an increasingly sectarian Sunni population whom they’ve been indirectly complicit in massacring the last two years.

Consequently, until then, Tehran will continue to advocate and pursue two objectives—Assad staying and calm restored—that are irreconcilable and bloody.

This article was originally published in the New York Times.
The Iranian Role in Syria

Karim Sadjadpour BBC, August 7, 2012

Watch the broadcast

Speaking on the BBC, Carnegie’s Karim Sadjadpour discussed Iran’s role in the increasingly sectarian civil war in Syria. For Iran, Syria is its last remaining consistent ally in the international community, Sadjadpour. Thus, for Iran “the results of the Syrian conflict are a zero sum game; they stand to lose in a major way if the Assad regime falls,” he explained. Iran carries significant influence in Syria because of its financial support, its provisions of subsidized oil and arms, and the tactics and strategy it provides. Clearly, Sadjadpour added, the Iranian regime has shared its philosophy of never compromising with a domestic uprising with the Assad regime. Ultimately, the Iranians will continue to “publically call for reform and reconciliation while privately arming the Assad regime,” concluded Sadjadpour. The loss of a firm ally would be too devastating for the Iranian regime for it to plausibly engage in an international effort aimed at a political transition that would remove the Assad regime.
Chaos In Syria And Regional Implications

Karim Sadjadpour NPR’s Diane Rehm Show, July 23, 2012

Listen to the broadcast

As the battle for Aleppo becomes increasingly violent, government troops in Damascus have gone door to door in an effort to clear out the rebels in the capital. Violence continues to spiral out of control with the international community hesitating to take action, due to the complexity of the Syrian case. In recent days, rebels have stepped up guerrilla style attacks in urban areas and the Syrian army has responded with gunships and tanks. Speaking on the Diane Rehm Show, Carnegie’s Karim Sadjadpour explained that over 3,000 people have been killed in July alone and the United States has begun working behind the scenes, along with Gulf States like Qatar and Saudi Arabia, to support the rebels.  Sadjadpour said “I think what the U.S. can do is to help the opposition help themselves, meaning helping them with ammunitions, with weapons, with information, with intelligence.” However, “there’s very little appetite to have U.S. boots on the ground,” concluded Sadjadpour.
Is the Syrian Regime’s Fall Imminent—Again?

Yezid Sayigh Al Hayat, July 26, 2012

Since the beginning of July, the Syrian regime has suffered a series of blows underlining its steady loss of territorial and institutional control. First came the defection of Brigadier-General Manaf Tlas, a Republican Guard brigade commander and close associate of President Bashar al-Assad. This was soon followed by Nawaf Fares, Syria’s ambassador to Iraq and the first senior diplomat to join the ranks of the opposition. Then came what appeared to be a coordinated country-wide offensive by opposition rebels in Damascus and Aleppo—Syria’s capital and second largest cities, respectively—and their capture of several border crossings with neighboring Turkey and Iraq. Last came the dramatic bombing that killed several members of the regime’s “crisis management cell,” key figures of its inner security circle.

This sequence of events has prompted a rush to revise  predictions of when the regime will fall; while previous estimates claimed it was a matter of months, it is now apparently mere weeks away. This is premature. Certainly, the regime is suffering a rate of political, economic, and military attrition that it cannot sustain indefinitely. But the repeated demonstrations of its continued ability to ratchet up its military response to new challenges suggests that it has not yet exhausted its reserves, and that the potential for further escalation of the level of violence is high.
Yezid Sayigh

Not only is the regime’s collapse less than imminent, but the far more likely outcome of the growing challenge to its grip on power is the emergence of the first serious opportunity for a negotiated settlement since the start of the crisis over a year ago. There is evidence that core members of the regime are coming to the conclusion that the regime’s “security solution” is a dead-end strategy, and are consequently beginning to look for alternative paths. Russia may have come to the same conclusion. Top-ranking state officials have taken of late to speaking dismissively of President Bashar al-Assad in private to Arab counterparts. Public statements by Russian diplomats that al-Assad may step down as part of a transitional agreement— furiously denied by the Syrian authorities—are clearly intended to pressure the regime into being more accommodating.

That there is a serious international realignment in favor of a compromise is strongly suggested by the conflicting reactions of the Syrian National Council, which until very recently rejected any deal with the regime. On July 24, George Sabra, a member of the council’s executive committee, said that it would “agree to the departure of Assad and the transfer of his powers to a regime figure, who would lead a transitional period like what happened in Yemen.” The council’s chairman, Abdul-Baset Sida, and foreign relations bureau head Bassma Kodmani quickly denied that the council would join a unity government, let alone one headed by a regime figure. But clearly this is an issue now facing the opposition—as a result, in large part, of the ground it has gained inside Syria during the past two months.

Of course, it is entirely possible that a deal will not be reached. The Assad family and their closest associates are reported to be completely unwilling to acknowledge just how far the balance has shifted against them, or to abandon the military solution in favor of a negotiated transition. After all, while the opposition claims to control 30 to 60 percent of the country, the regime has not yet relinquished any area permanently. With a few exceptions such as al-Rastan, the rebels remain unable to hold any location in which to train, rearm, or assemble for major combat operations without suffering encirclement and assault. Meanwhile, the regime’s hold on the core of the army has not been decisively broken, despite the daily defections and mounting casualties it continues to suffer.

Even if a deal is in fact reached, it is likely to collapse quickly. The regime and opposition will fight on, but a sudden and dramatic swing in the balance remains improbable. Since there is no prospect of external military intervention (despite continuing calls for the establishment of safe areas and no-fly zones), only the defection of an entire army brigade could trigger a chain reaction precipitating regime collapse sooner than expected. Otherwise, it is far more likely that we will see further attempts by domestic and external actors to capitalize on the mounting signs of regime weakness to cobble together new deals and engineer pauses in the armed conflict. Whether these attempts are successful or not, the whole messy sequence will take at least until the end of 2012 to unfold.

This article originally appeared in Arabic in Al Hayat.
Is Direct Syrian Intervention In Lebanon Inevitable?

Yezid Sayigh Al Monitor, May 31, 2012

The clashes that left several people dead and others wounded in Lebanon over the past few weeks have, for the moment, been brought under control; but the risks of the Syrian crisis spilling across the Lebanese border are set to grow, not diminish. The emergence of a de facto sanctuary in northern Lebanon for the Free Syrian Army poses a particular challenge for the government of Prime Minister Najib Mikati. Instructing the Lebanese army to seal off the border would be bitterly divisive domestically, but failure to act decisively could lead, sooner or later, to direct Syrian intervention.

The signs are there. The Lebanese authorities have already received several warnings from Syria demanding an end to the flow of rebels and weapons across their common border. Journalists with access to decision-makers in Damascus relay the message that the Mikati government’s policy of “warding off evil” — i.e. formal neutrality — is no longer tolerable, since it is not preventing northern Lebanon from being used as a support base for the Free Syrian Army.
Yezid Sayigh
Senior Associate
Middle East Center

More from Sayigh…

Rifaat Ali Eid is the head of the pro-Syrian Arab Democratic Party and a leading political figure in the small Alawi community in Tripoli, which has come under attack from armed Sunni militants, reportedly backed by fugitive Syrian rebels. He has given the clearest signal yet of the Syrian government’s possible intentions: “If Lebanon enters the unknown,” he predicted in mid-May, “an Arab army will intervene … the UN will request the Syrian army to enter north Lebanon to resolve the situation there, because it is the most knowledgeable and capable Arab army in this regard.”Eid is a marginal figure in Lebanese politics, but Syria’s intervention in Lebanon in 1976 followed the same sequence: private warnings delivered by Syrian President Hafez al-Assad to the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Lebanese Left; public hints of Syrian intentions issued by Palestinian and Lebanese parties and media affiliated to the Syrian regime; and the claim that Syria was responding to an appeal for protection from Christian leaders. When these warnings failed, a Syrian armored brigade entered Lebanon and stopped just across the border. It was the forerunner of a major Syrian force deployment, which entered Lebanon two months later.

There are several obstacles to a significant Syrian intervention in Lebanon in 2012. First, the Syrian army is already stretched at home, and cannot easily spare the troops – or the armor – for such an incursion. Certainly, establishing a “humanitarian corridor” to protect the Alawi community of Tripoli’s Jabal Muhsen neighborhood would require securing the rest of the city and the Akkar region, a task so fraught with danger as to be unthinkable. The risk of defections would also increase unless units completely loyal to the Assad regime are used, but these already appear to bear the brunt of confronting the rebellion in Syria.

However, the Syrian regime may regard a brief, more limited “mopping up” operation in the border zone as a dual deterrent. This kind of operation could serve both to underscore to the Lebanese the potential costs of granting sanctuary to Syrian rebels, as well as to demonstrate the regime’s determination and capacity to act, thus discouraging other neighboring countries from allowing similar sanctuaries on their soil. A limited cross-border operation in northern Lebanon would act as a “dress rehearsal” for the wider armed conflict that may develop if the Syrian crisis degenerates into full civil war, or the Friends of Syria gear up for their own military intervention.

There would be other advantages to a cross-border intervention from the Syrian regime’s perspective. The United States would no doubt condemn an incursion into Lebanon, but its stance would be complicated by its own concern  – shared by other Western governments – about the possible emergence of al-Qaeda-style jihadism in Tripoli. Its inclination to assist the Lebanese army might similarly be tempered by a reluctance to get overly involved with a government in which Hezbollah is represented. Russia is likely to regard a limited Syrian operation as a legitimate act of self-defense, despite recent statements by its foreign minister holding the Assad regime primarily responsible for the bloodshed in Syria.

The reactions of Syria’s other neighbors would be no less complex. Turkey would certainly protest a Syrian incursion into Lebanon; but it has repeatedly sent its own military into northern Iraq in pursuit of guerrillas from the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK), and may yet claim the right to act similarly against them in northern Syria, where their presence has increased. Iraq, which currently holds the rotating presidency of the Arab League’s council of foreign ministers, has its own problems with Sunni militants and is reported to have exchanged information with Syrian intelligence over the infiltration of jihadists from its territory into Syria. Jordan, whose king was the first Arab leader to call on al-Assad to step down last year, has tightened controls over the smuggling of arms across its border, and has seen its trade with Syria actually increase since the economic embargo was declared last November.

The most significant impact will instead be on Lebanon’s fragile domestic politics. So far, the Lebanese political class appears committed to defusing sectarian tensions and pulling the country back from the brink of violence. The all-party dialogue called for by President Michel Sleiman on June 11 is timely, but it will have to do more than produce agreement on broad political principles. Somehow, against the odds, it must generate a national consensus on how to handle the Syrian crisis and the de facto rebel sanctuary in the north. Otherwise, a Syrian incursion will become more likely (even if not yet imminent), and Lebanon will edge closer to the tipping point of its own delicate internal balance.

This article was originally published in Al-Monitor.
The Syrian Opposition Needs a Political Strategy

Yezid Sayigh Commentary, May 11, 2012

The Arab League is calling on the badly divided Syrian opposition to unite, in order to “negotiate as one bloc with the Syrian government.” To that end, it has invited main opposition factions to meet under its auspices in Cairo in mid-May. A ten-person committee representing the Syrian National Council, the National Coordination Body, the Kurdish National Council, and the Syrian Democratic Platform have been meeting weekly since mid-April to formulate a common vision of a post-Assad Syria. But unless the opposition develops a clear transition plan and a credible political strategy for winning over key sectors in Syria, it will fail in bringing about change.

A challenge bedeviling the opposition since summer 2011 has been to agree on quotas for factional representation, the distribution of top posts and leadership committees, and operating procedures within a unified organizational framework. But even if the factions reach some formula for unity in Cairo, they will still not be ready for the complex challenges that lie ahead, whether or not serious talks with the regime actually take place.
Yezid Sayigh

For example, the Syrian National Council has accepted the “comprehensive political dialogue” called for in the Annan peace plan only rhetorically, and has no credible strategy to engage and make progress in such talks if they take place. The SNC has assumed that renewed regime violence will inevitably abort the entire process and relieve the opposition of the responsibility to have a credible negotiating plan.

More importantly, the Syrian opposition has not yet developed a strategy to chip away at the regime’s support base. To foment change, the opposition needs to encourage dissent and splits within the regime’s core ranks and support base. Minorities that have rallied behind the regime out of fear of the alternative need to be reassured of their post-Assad future. And the large urban middle class that dislikes the regime but is deterred by the high costs of openly opposing it and discouraged by the opposition’s disunity and militarization needs to be convinced that the opposition offers a credible alternative.

These sectors of Syrian society are key to tipping the struggle for power in Syria. Indeed, the actions of the Friends of Syria are premised on the assumption that the economic and financial sanctions they have imposed on Syria might eventually prompt core regime members to remove President Bashar al-Assad or prod the country’s minorities or urban middle classes into open opposition. Yet in the absence of a political strategy to channel the distress of these social sectors and convince them of a viable alternative, simply hoping that sanctions will somehow produce the desired results is no strategy at all. Indeed, the current approach is prompting an exodus of businessmen from the country, and of senior army officers who slip into Turkey rather than lead their units into rebellion. This is eroding some of the very sectors upon which opposition hopes are at least partly pinned.

The Friends of Syria can afford to live with the lack of a political strategy, but the opposition cannot. It has yet to negotiate and draft what veteran Syrian activist Michel Kilo calls “a practicable political pact . . . defining the features of the phase of the transfer of power, how long it will take, the tasks of this phase, and ways to liquidate tyranny, present a democratic alternative, and ensure the people’s rights and so on.” Announcing a convincing transition plan is equally important whether, against all odds, a substantive dialogue starts with the regime or if the regime persists in waging indiscriminate violence and eliminates the possibility of a negotiated transition or interim pact.

The opposition must go well beyond simply demanding the regime’s downfall or articulating highly idealistic visions for a future democratic Syria. Formal commitment to democracy and rule of law, political and cultural pluralism, civil and human rights, equality for all citizens, and freedom of opinion is highly commendable, but making clear how the country will get there is another matter.  Nor is it enough to present general proposals for the procedures and mechanisms through which a new constitution may be drafted and approved or for a new electoral system. Democratic transition in Syria unavoidably means negotiating formulas for power sharing and guarantees for individuals, parties, and communities that have the most to lose. Otherwise they can raise the costs of transition very considerably.

The toughest question facing the opposition is how to convince Alawis—or at least a significant portion of them—that they have a stake in a post-Assad Syria. This is closely related to the issue of what the opposition proposes to do with the ruling Baath Party should it be toppled from power, and with the senior army officer corps and the internal security apparatus. The latter two must certainly be democratized, and the disproportionate representation of Alawis in top positions corrected. But this must be done without pauperizing wide cross sections of the Alawi community that depend on employment within the state sector and without alienating the community through collective punishment.

Indeed, planning to criminalize the Baath Party, as happened in Iraq, would be unwise. This is not so much because the Syrian Baath claims 3 million members—whereas its Iraqi counterpart adopted an elitist approach, deliberately keeping its number small to ensure loyalty and effectiveness; a great many members of the Syrian Baath will owe it no special allegiance if it loses power. Rather, the rationale for coexisting with the Baath Party in Syria is that it will provide an institutional means for Alawi participation in formal politics and a potential parliamentary vehicle that is far from being a mere front for Alawi interests.

The opposition is not, in any case, in a position to dissolve the Baath Party, or to dictate terms. It faces a hard enough time cohering and formulating common rules for political dialogue and engagement within its own ranks. And yet the opposition—and some of its key external backers—has yet to absorb the full implications of being up against a regime that is weakened but still far from being on the ropes. Those in the opposition who use their belief in the inevitability of the regime’s fall to absolve themselves of the obligation to develop a political strategy that can bring about a real transition risk becoming marginal and irrelevant.

Every transitional experience in the region over the past decade—not least that of Iraq since 2003—confirms that democratic transition goes through several stages, each posing multiple and possibly bloody obstacles. The process will be slow, but convincing those who are anxious about the identity and intentions of their future leaders requires engagement and a clear strategy.

This is where the significance of the Annan peace plan lies: in compelling the Syrian opposition to develop a comprehensive transition plan and a political strategy for engaging the regime—whether through negotiation or confrontation—and appealing to key constituents within the country. The opposition won’t persuade Assad to share or leave power simply by doing this, but it can hope to generate pressures within his support base and help build political and social constituencies whose engagement is essential in pushing toward transition and whose participation will be essential for post-conflict political reconciliation and economic reconstruction.

Indeed, whether talks take place in the near future or not, the outcome of the Syrian standoff depends on shifting Syria’s internal political balance within the next six-to-nine months. By this time the combined effects of attrition among regime ranks, currency devaluation, and fuel shortages affecting summer irrigation and winter heating may broaden receptiveness to the opposition’s political strategy. But first it has to have one.
The Syrian Opposition at the Crossroads

Yezid Sayigh Al-Hayat, May 3, 2012

The Syrian opposition is coming to a crossroads. The persistence of the United Nations and Arab League may eventually result in the “comprehensive political dialogue” called for in the peace plan put forward by their joint envoy, Kofi Annan. But the badly fragmented Syrian opposition may suffer further divisions during what will inevitably be complicated negotiations with the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, fraught with contentious compromises and halfway solutions. Conversely, should Annan fail, the existing opposition coalitions would face the no-less-daunting challenge of effectively controlling dynamic forces and processes on the ground in Syria. And those forces seem just as capable of producing yet more fragmentation and new local contenders for political and military leadership.

Either way, it is abundantly clear by now that the external actors with the means to unseat Assad by force will go no further than they already have, certainly so long as the opposition remains badly divided.
Yezid Sayigh

At the Friends of Syria meeting in Paris on April 19, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke of the “need to start moving very vigorously in the [UN] Security Council for a Chapter 7 sanctions resolution” and revealed that Turkey might invoke Article 4 of the North Atlantic Treaty. Both of those steps could trigger collective military action in response to threats to international peace or the security of member states.

But Russia remains firmly opposed to the Chapter 7 option—which the United Kingdom has also described as “premature.” And Turkey has not yet taken any of the practical steps that would signal that it imminently intends to undertake military action on its common border with Syria.

Instead, when Arab League Secretary General Nabil al-Araby recently invited the divided Syrian opposition factions to meet in Cairo in mid-May, he called on them to unite in order to “negotiate as one bloc with the Syrian government.” This suggests that external actors have no immediate plans to move beyond tightening economic sanctions, even if the diplomatic process remains overshadowed by violence and offers little credible hope for a resolution of the crisis.

These realities apparently left their mark on the Arab League’s Council of Foreign Ministers, which on April 26 called for the UN Security Council to take action to end the killing of civilians in Syria under its Chapter 7 powers to “restore international peace and security.” But the council hastily withdrew that initial statement and issued a revised draft that made no mention of Chapter 7. It instead reaffirmed the Arab action plan of January 22 that called on Assad to hand over power to an interim president—a demand that is conspicuously absent from the Annan peace plan, which the Arab League still endorses. That suggests serious disagreement and uncertainty within the region and international community over how to proceed.

Under these circumstances, the Syrian regime has an opportunity to keep opposition and international ranks divided. There are no genuinely new faces or parties competing in the parliamentary elections scheduled for May 7, but Assad continues to dangle the possibility that the opposition may be allowed to join—or, according to some reports, even head—a new government.

The regime is also said to be floating the idea of reviving the “national dialogue committee” under government auspices. Predictably, this would include supposed “opposition” parties handpicked, if not created, by the regime, while excluding the principal movements that reject dialogue with Assad until the conditions stipulated by the Annan plan are implemented in full. Regime proposals are unlikely to gain traction with the opposition or its regional and international backers, but Russia and some Arab states—such as Iraq and Egypt—may present them as opportunities to keep negotiations going.

In the meantime, those seeking the unconditional departure of Assad have remained focused on identifying “tipping points”—which, when reached, would prompt key institutional actors or social constituencies inside Syria to move decisively against the regime—and searching for the means to reach them. A common expectation among external actors is that senior Alawi military commanders will remove Assad themselves, as the cost to their community in both lives and livelihoods increases and the realization deepens that, in the long run, the regime cannot win. Another is that ever-increasing economic and financial sanctions will push the country’s businessmen and large middle class into openly challenging the regime, delivering the critical mass needed to secure its downfall.

These expectations only serve to highlight the glaring lack of a political strategy capable of generating and expanding these hoped-for splits in regime ranks, or of convincing middle-class Syrians to move into open opposition. These citizens may dislike the regime, but they are deterred by the high personal costs of defiance and worried about the potential alternative to the Assad regime. Any political strategy looking to turn the tide in favor of the opposition will have to convince these Syrians that it is less than suicidal to publicly come out against the Syrian leadership.

Such a strategy must also address the opposition’s most difficult and potentially most divisive questions: Is power sharing an option? If so, under what conditions? And if not, how does it propose to deal with existing senior government officials and civil servants—or with the Baath Party itself—in the new Syria it seeks to establish? These questions demand responses, not because this will persuade the top ranks of the regime to compromise, but rather to reassure those constituencies and the swathe of society they represent and neutralize them, if not win them over.

This is a problem for the opposition as a whole, but it poses a particular problem for the principal opposition coalition in exile, the Syrian National Council. Inside sources reveal that its key Western and Arab backers, which recognized it on April 1 as “the umbrella organization under which Syrian opposition groups are gathering,” do not feel it is living up to expectations. Some privately await the emergence of new leaders and movements within Syria that demonstrate greater political and organizational coherence.

But this will take time. Until then, the existing opposition movements are faced with the prospect of entering into a formal dialogue with the regime for which they remain unprepared. Without substantive proposals that can enhance their credibility among the diverse audiences inside Syria, the chances of weakening the regime remain slim, leaving only a prospect of continuing violence. .

This article originally appeared in Arabic in Al-Hayat.
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Streetwise Professor
December 10, 2012
The Wages of a Zero Sum Mindset, Russo-Syrian Edition
Filed under: Military, Politics, Russia — The Professor @ 3:50 pm

Russia’s defense of Syria’s Assad is overdetermined.  (And don’t believe for a minute its claims that it is not protecting Assad: walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, flies like a duck-it’s a duck.)

There are military-diplomatic reasons.  Syria is a long-term ally in the region-Russia’s last one.  Syria provides Russia with its only port in the Med.  Russia has legitimate fears of another jihadi outpost, this one at the heart of the Middle East.

There are domestic political reasons: in a reprise of its role in the Holy Alliance, Russia’s extreme fear of an popular overthrow of the government leads it support any regime facing popular opposition, no matter how odious that regime might be.

But a big reason can only be described as psychological, and rooted in Russia’s obsession with the Cold War, and in particular its loss in the Cold War to the US,.   Recent Russian squealing about the US’s alleged lapsing into a Cold War mentality (e.g., the Magnitsky Act) is so much projection that reveals just who really thinks about the Cold War non-stop. More generally, Russia is obsessed with respect, and regaining its great power status.

Putin for one marinates in these obsessions.

One effect of this obsession is the pronounced tendency to oppose reflexively anything that the United States supports, or that Russia even suspects it might support.  Hence, the fact that the US is attempting to orchestrate Assad’s ouster is sufficient for Putin and Lavrov and the rest of the gang to oppose it.

Ironically, in so doing they are jeopardizing Russia’s more objectively-based reasons for wanting to maintain a foothold in Syria.  By creating obstacles to every attempt for the UN or NATO to get rid of Assad and transition to some other government, Russia (assisted by China) has ensured that the conflict has become a protracted war to the knife in which the most radical forces-jihadi forces, in particular-have decisive advantages.  Given its longstanding relationship with all aspects of the Syrian military and security forces, and its connection with Assad, if anyone could have brokered an outcome that would have avoided the bloodshed and chaos that have occurred in the last two years, and which will almost get worse when the inevitable comes to pass, it was Russia.  But it dug in its heels, permitting Assad to hang on, and to escalate, and to make a cataclysmic end almost certain.

When this end occurs, Russia’s influence in Syria will be nil, and its image in Syria and the Middle East generally will be deeply blackened.  It can kiss Tartus good bye.  There will be a major jihadi enclave that much closer to Chechnya.

If it had not responded so reflexively to western initiatives to find some way of getting Assad out, and indeed, if it had utilized its connections and influence, it could have preserved something.  Instead it will lose everything.  Even overlooking the humanitarian catastrophe that is unfolding, and the dangers that a post-civil war Syria will pose to its people and the region, and just looking from a purely self-interested Russian perspective, Putin and Lavrov played this badly.  The opposite game will prove very expensive for Russia.  Yes, the US would have gained from Assad’s departure, especially at the outset (not so clear now, given how things have gone, but his eventual departure is inevitable).  In the Russian zero sum world view, given the salience of the US in the Russian mind, that was sufficient reason to fight for Assad to the bitter end.   But it will prove to be a grievous wound, and an entirely self-inflicted one
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Never underestimate Russia’s ability to cut off its nose to spite its face. It occurs over and over, not only on the national scale but on the personal scale as well. The sovok mentality.Comment by Gordon — December 11, 2012 @ 1:50 pm
@Gordon. Exactly. Like the old joke about the Russian granted a wish by a genie: “I wish that my neighbor’s cow dies.”The ProfessorComment by The Professor — December 11, 2012 @ 3:31 pm
@Professor,Actually, the genie/cow joke goes like this:
Genie to Muzhik: “You are asking me for the third time that you neighbor’s cow dies. But he only has one cow!”In a similar vein:
After a cattle epidemic… “It ain’t a pity my cow died. It’s a pity the neighbor’s survived.”
“I’d rather my cow die than the neighbor have two cows.”
“There’s no more joyous sight in life, than a neighbor’s roof on fire.”I just remembered a good genie joke, however…
Muzhik finds a bottle, rubs it, a genie pops out.
– I can grant any wish you want. But your neighbor gets double of anything you get. You wish for a cow. You get one, but your neighbor gets two. You wish for a barrel of gold. You get one, but your neighbor gets two. Etc..
Muzhik thinks for a moment…
– Poke one of my eyes out.Comment by So? — December 11, 2012 @ 8:37 pm
Well, after closing Lourdes, Cam Ranh, opening up a “multi-modal NATO logistics terminal” (don’t call it a base!) in Ulyanovsk, continuing “megatons to megawatts”, I wouldn’t exactly call Putin anti-American. Although some say, he became anti-American after being snubbed after the first two. Anyway, I’d say it’s simply incompetence. When you build your apparatus based on loyalty, you get brain-farts like that. Putinism of the brain. It can turn outright grotesque, absurd… shameful even.Comment by So? — December 11, 2012 @ 8:52 pm
Those are all priceless, @So? And all so spot on.Re the brain fart. The few deaths of adoptees in the US are of course tragic. But the reasons that these kids are here are (a) the population of orphans and abandoned children in Russia is huge; (b) few Russians adopt; and (c) the orphanages in Russia are little short of a holocaust. Americans are giving these kids a chance by adopting in Russia, and having to navigate a cesspool of criminality and corruption to do it.Would that Russia’s touching concern for orphan Russian children extend to, you know, kids in Russian orphanages. Talk about obsessing about the mote in your neighbor’s eye, and ignoring the beam in your own. A lot of things about Russia are infuriating, but there is nothing more infuriating and disgusting than their hypocrisy and cynicism about adoptions.The ProfessorComment by The Professor — December 11, 2012 @ 10:32 pm
Are we absolutely sure that Assad will fall? For over a year I have heard overly optimistic media reports that the tide has turned and Assad is finished, yet he’s managed to soldier on.Granted, he has slowly lost more and more control of Syria, and his ability to impose force is severely degraded. But the war could easily go on for another year or more. Both Iran and Hezbollah are assisting him, plus he has a core area of support within the country – the religious minorities who know any Sunni lead government will treat them like garbage once they are installed.I think chances are still pretty good for Assad to survive somehow either still as ruler of Syria (although if so, the civil war will likely last two years or more), or as ruler of a rump Alawite state on the coast (where the Russian base is at). I think either would satisfy the Russians just fine.Despite what the media believes, insurgents do not have invulnerable morale, nor are there unending numbers of them. I think the decisive battles of the Syrian civil war still need to occur.Comment by Chris — December 13, 2012 @ 11:34 am
@Chris-I discounted reports to that effect until recently. These things tend to tip rapidly and decisively, but establishing the time the beleaguered force will disintegrate is hard. But to me the pace of degradation of his forces seems to have picked up, so I think it is inevitable. Yes, the decisive battles are yet to come, but when they do come I can’t see Assad’s forces winning.Interestingly, today Russia’s Deputy FM, Bogdanov (if I remember his name correctly) admitted that Assad was losing, and that it was necessary to contemplate the prospect of his fall. I thought he was going to break into tears. That’s a big concession by the Russians.The ProfessorComment by The Professor — December 13, 2012 @ 1:30 pm
January 5, 2006
Filed under: Uncategorized — The Professor @ 11:47 pm

“Streetwise Professor” is the web persona of me, who happens to be Craig Pirrong.*   My day job (to the extent that I have a real job) is as Professor of Finance and Energy Markets Director of the Global Energy Management Institute at the Bauer College of Business, University of Houston. I have been in academia since 1989–shortly before the Ferruzzi soybean squeeze on the Chicago Board of Trade in July of that year, which was quite propitious and which had a big impact on the trajectory of my career. I have a PhD in Business Economics from the Graduate School of Business at the University of Chicago.

Looking at my cv one might have a hard time identifying a common thread, but it is there. My formal training is as an industrial organization economist, but I took the PhD finance sequence at Chicago. My thesis was on an application of core theory, completed under the tutelage of a great economist, Lester Telser. I think core theory is an extremely valuable tool, but the profession is not quite so enthusiastic. During my first academic job in the Business Economics Group at the Michigan Business School, recognizing that core theory was not my road to academic success, I was casting around for a new research direction, and Ferruzzi provided it. Through a series of serendipitous events, I had the opportunity to work on a project evaluating how to re-design the Chicago Board of Trade Markets to reduce the likelihood of a repeat of the events of July, 1989. This led to many academic spinoffs.

Specifically, the Ferruzzi episode and my work on the CBT project made me aware of many interesting points of contact between finance and IO, and much of my research has explored that nexus. I’ve written a good deal on manipulation in financial markets–manipulation is a manifestation of market power, which is a core concept in IO. Since exchanges have some legal responsibility to prevent and deter manipulation in financial markets, I became interested in the incentives that exchanges face in carrying out such tasks. This in turn required an analysis of the organization of governance of exchanges–another IO-related subject. Moreover, it soon became clear that the incentives of exchanges to adopt efficiency enhancing measures also depends on the nature of competition between them, the analysis of which resulted in several articles on the “macrostructure”–the industrial organization– of financial markets.

Along the way, the study of commodity markets like soybeans or oil which have been manipulated from time to time sparked an interest in commodity price formation and commodity price dynamics, and their implications for derivatives pricing. My most active research in this area focuses on electricity prices and electricity derivatives, but I am also working on models applicable to storable commodities.

My academic work has also allowed me to serve as an expert in legal cases involving commodities and derivatives.

Outside of academia and litigation consulting my time is spent primarily with my family–my wife Terry, and my daughters Renee and Genevieve. I have a deep interest in history–particularly the history of the US Civil War–that dates back to my childhood, and that I continue to pursue through reading and travel; I would have become a historian if I had been independently wealthy. I am also a big Chicago sports fan, although I have to say that the Cubs’ persistent ineptitude is slowly draining me of my interest in baseball, and the Bulls–oy. The Blackhawks–double oy. The Bears, you say? Well, we’ll see if they’re for real or not soon.

* The original version of this page didn’t include my name.   Never really thought about it.   I wrote it in haste late one night in January, 2006, and didn’t really look at it after it was originally posted.   I didn’t intend for this to be an anonymous blog, and I certainly gave enough biographical and photographic evidence to let anyone interested figure out who I am.   Indeed, many people figured it out, and I also gave out the blog name to a lot of folks.   I’ve edited this bio page to include my name because a reporter who has interviewed me from time to time in the past came across it, and thought that the blogger sounded familiar, but wasn’t sure it was me.   So, now there’s no possibility for confusion.

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[…] Streetwise Professor Craig Pirrong, Professor of Finance and Energy Markets Director of the Global Energy Management Institute at the Bauer College of Business, University of Houston, talks with DerivAlert about the evolution of the central clearing and the dangers of placing too much emphasis on clearinghouses. […]Pingback by Q&A: Central Clearing – A Road Paved with Good Intentions | Brian Brown’s Website — June 27, 2011 @ 6:40 am
[…] the Volcker Rule. She appears to be citing Craig Pirrog, who also seems worth a read: The problem is, even if you agreed with Posner and Weyl in principle […]Pingback by Suzy Khimm Gets It On “Prop Trading” « Rhymes With Cars & Girls — February 20, 2012 @ 5:51 pm

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The Lede – The New York Times News Blog
October 25, 2012, 10:34 am 53 Comments
Ask Janine di Giovanni About Reporting From Syria

Janine di Giovanni, whose report on the battle for the Syrian city of Homs appears in Thursday’s New York Times, reflects on the experience of reporting from the country in this post for The Lede. She will also respond to selected questions from readers about covering the evolving civil war there. Please post your queries for her in the comment thread below.

PARIS — I took the first of several visits to Syria in June 2012, legally, with a rare journalist’s visa, to report from the government side.

I flew from my home in Paris to Beirut, then got a driver and traveled to Syria. Damascus, the world’s oldest inhabited city, seemed to carry on business as usual — though there were already the car bombs, and the wounded soldiers in the hospital. I could look out the window of my hotel, the Dama Rose, and see women in bikinis drinking beer to hip-hop music at pool parties, then see the smoke of bombings in the background. I had worked in the Middle East for two decades since I was a cub reporter, but this was my first time in Syria.

On my second trip, I traveled alone with a driver from Beirut to Damascus, which normally takes about three hours. This time, the checkpoints, sandbagged refuges of soldiers, were so heavy that it took about four. The driver was nervous and we had some difficulty at the border, but finally, I saw the hills outside Damascus where it is said that Cain killed Abel, and I felt relieved that we had made it. The U.N. observers had recently been pulled out, and there were only a few left at the Dama Rose so I decided not to stay there, thinking it might now be more of a security risk.

Instead, I stayed in a small hotel where I felt I would go more unnoticed. It was unnerving. I was the only Westerner. There were some Syrian refugees from Homs who had enough money to stay in a comfortable hotel. It was a bit like “The Shining” — my floor was empty, and, on all my trips, I had the feeling I was being watched, my computer hacked and my phone listened to.

Of course they were. But I worked in Iraq in the Saddam Hussein days, and I am used to getting dressed in the dark in the bathroom and not talking when a waiter comes to the table. Still, my paranoia was high — to say the least. There were a few nights when I put a chair under the lock on my door, which I did in Liberia during the civil war. In Syria, it was for no particular reason other than that I was by myself. Not that those chairs would have done anything if anyone wanted to come get me.

The third trip, which I just returned from, was the most dramatic.

The Ministry of Information gave me permission to work with government soldiers in Homs fighting rebels. It wasn’t quite an “embed” — it was more me driving to Homs from Damascus, about two hours, and calling someone on a cellphone who came to pick me up. I have to say that the woman in Homs who organized my trip, a government official, was kind and polite, well dressed and helpful, and did not try to interfere with what I wanted to do. She said it was dangerous, and asked if I wanted to take that risk. I said I would until I felt uncomfortable — that I had been doing this a long time and usually had good instincts.

We drove toward the front line and at some point had to get out and go on foot because it was too dangerous to go by car. We had to climb through bombed-out buildings, glass everywhere, through tunnels that the rebels had previously used — basically punched-in walls of buildings that led to other buildings. It was real urban warfare. The Syrian Army had just pushed the rebels out, so this was now Syrian Army territory.

A few local people were still, living near the front line.

I saw some old women pushing carts of wood or food, and spent some time with a family, and finally reached the soldiers. When I reached their position, there were a group of about a dozen exhausted-looking government soldiers who had been up all night. You realized then that they fight for hours to take the tiniest bit of territory. In this case, they were clearing the Free Syrian Army, the rebels, out of a school.

They welcomed me politely, not used to seeing journalists, and probably not a woman. I can understand some Arabic but don’t speak it, so I had an interpreter with me, and the men did not treat me in a menacing way. The commander took me to the closest point to see a rebel sniper nest, about 300 meters away, and within seconds, we heard shooting. I stayed a while with them.

They were polite. And proud. They began to sing pro-Assad songs.

That night, there was very heavy fighting with that small unit — I had wanted to stay but they made me leave because they felt it was too dangerous. But I could hear heavy shelling from my small hotel in the center of Homs.

I had a cup of tea with the main commander, whose “office” was an old bombed-out shop. I was given standard soldier fare — heavily sugared tea and a cigarette. He was in his 40s but looked older, and we tried to talk but he looked totally burned out. It struck me that war is always monstrous, no matter what side you are on. Even though I was with men who defend Bashar al-Assad, they believe in what they do. They were fighting, they felt, to stop their country from becoming a “Salafist kingdom.”

When I asked how many men he had lost, he suddenly grew silent. “Too many,” he said. “All too many. And all too young.”

The Homs I drove through was wrecked — I had been to Homs two months before, but now it looked more like parts of Grozny or Jenin, where I have also worked.

We stayed in a simple hotel in Homs loaded with Mukhabarat — the feared intelligence service — but for some reason, because I was invited, I did not feel the usual anxiety. We stayed two days and then heard that there was fighting on the outskirts of Damascus, more bombing and another fight in a northern suburb. We wanted to get back and not be locked out of the capital.

Back in Damascus, I checked into my hotel and made some calls. My friends were growing more and more scared. War had come to the capital. I had lived through the siege of Sarajevo, and I remember that in the beginning no one thought it could happen — the road blocks, the electricity turned off, the lack of water and food for nearly four years, along with heavy fighting and shelling. I begged friends of mine there to leave as soon as they could.
Middle East, News, world, Damascus (Syria), Homs (Syria), Syria
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Susan Dirgham

Dear Janine, I lived in Damascus for 2 years, teaching English at the British Council there. The people of Syria impressed me greatly, and I couldn’t imagine Syria being anything but a secular country. It has such a diverse population. If Syrians were not to live in harmony and not to respect each other’s faith equally, the door would be open to a genocide the likes the world hasn’t seen for decades. And it would not be just minorities targeted, but also open-minded, secular Sunni Syrians – who make up the majority of the Sunni population.

I revisited Syria in April 2011, and have followed events there closely. I share the fears of the soldiers that the Salafis and Wahhabis are intent on pushing their extremism onto Syria -perhaps the most religiously tolerant nation in the ME . Their fight and the tremendous suffering across the nation are going to be ongoing unless this militant extremism is condemned by the outside world. Your work at trying to present the point of view of people motivated to put their lives at risk for what they believe in – the survival of the secular state – has to be admired. Sheik Qaradawi, a prominent Sunni cleric with links to the Muslim Brotherhood, said on Al-Jazeera, “If it is necessary to kill 1/3 of the population of Syria to overthrow the ‘heretical’ regime, then that is OK.” When will such extreme, chilling calls for what would amount to genocide be headline news in the west? They and support for extremists must be condemned.
Nov. 16, 2012 at 9:56 p.m.
j. von hettlingen

Ms di Giovanni, while in Syria, had you ever tried to find out what has happened to Mrs. Asma al-Assad and whether you could have an interview with her?
Oct. 25, 2012 at 4:26 p.m.
Pompano Beach FL

Ms. Di Giovanni states: “Even though I was with men who defend Bashar al-Assad, they believe in what they do. They were fighting, they felt, to stop their country from becoming a “Salafist kingdom.”

I ‘m not sure, but I get a distinct impression that she harbors some level of incredulity regarding the men who defend the Assad regime believing in what they do.

Perhaps these men are well aware that powerful and highly influential Islamic leaders across the Islamic world have called upon their followers to go to Syria to kill the “infidel” Assad, and establish a state of the Caliphate. These leaders are more often than not Salafists, Wahhbists, or close first cousins to them.

If I, who have no vested interest in Syria am aware of this, I’d think that they, on the spot, would also be aware of it.

From NYT “As Syrian War Drags On, Jihadists Take Bigger Role”

“But greater attention has been focused on a Qaeda involvement in the uprising since mid-July, when fighters professing allegiance to the terrorist organization appeared during the opposition takeover of the Bab al-Hawa border crossing with Turkey. In one video, five fighters declared their intention to create an Islamic state. (Mainline Qaeda ideology calls for a Pan-Islamic caliphate.)”

Mainline Qaeda, Salafist, Wahhabist, ultra-orthodox Muslim… it doesn’t matter. It’s all the same. They spell the death of secularism, and they oppress or kill anyone who isn’t a card-carrying member of their club or who leaves it.
Oct. 25, 2012 at 2:10 p.m.

No, it is not all the same, and the largely pragmatic Islamist government in Egypt is just one proof.

Politics with an Islamic vocabulary is still politics, good and bad. Your assertions about what “they” do are simply groundless. Instead of lumping “them” together unhelpfully, let’s learn whom we can deal with and who is tolerant. The idea that this war is about Salafi revolution is false, though there is a sectarian aspect to it and some Muslim fighters have been lured into the fight. But dont take the religious expressions literally — the Assad regime makes use of them as well.
Nov. 16, 2012 at 9:56 p.m.
Ex Expat
Middle east

Bleary-eyed? Repertorial impressionism as reporting? THat’s all you can say about Assad’s totalitarian onslaught? Come on! Who cares if they are bleary-eyed — what are the eyeS like of the civilians who have had to escape the attacks of the Syrian army? The point of view of the Syrian army is just propaganda. This is all dubious because of its source. Poor bleary-eyed victims — is what Janine’s’s trying to say — making us feel sympathy for the murderers. NY times – give us a break- no more of this; do not serve as a conduit for Assad propaganda, please. What I’d like to know — what is the essential unstated fact in this is whether Di Goivanni had to have her copy passed by the Assad regime censors. If you are the NY Times you will answer.
Oct. 25, 2012 at 2:08 p.m.
New York

Hi, Janine. Standout reporting from Homs and glad you made it out safe. I’m interested to know what ultimately led you to agree to report this story by yourself and, understanding now what you saw, whether you think the coverage of the war has been thorough enough to capture what’s really happening on the ground. Again, thanks for taking the risks.
Oct. 25, 2012 at 2:06 p.m.

I agree: interesting that the translation is here not ‘Syria and Allah,’ as is the case. I know that millions have been butchered by Christianity through the Crusades and the Inquisition in the European middle ages, and the Christian conflicts in Ireland, yet today it is bewildering to recognize how many Muslims butcher other Muslims as well as all other religions in so many countries around the world while crying out the name of ALLAH! How is it possible to justify this? How can any thinking person not associate ‘Allah’ with anything other than treachery, butchery and terror, given the reasons given for killing so many in the name of Islam. One would think it was the Dark Ages. More frightening, is the realization that the ‘Arab Spring’ is not resulting in the moderate platform for democracy and freedom so many in and out of the the various countries had hoped for, but rather the confused basis for harsh Islamic ideology which will continue to sternly repress women, Christians, Jews, and other ethnic and religious denominations throughout the Mideast. Then, Assad biggest backer Iran, is on the precipice of nuclear weapons. What happens then?
Oct. 25, 2012 at 2:06 p.m.

So, how’s this different than what went on for years in Vietnam and what’s going on for over a decade in Afghanistan? We take a hill, a neighborhood, a city or a province at enormous cost in treasure and dead and maimed soldiers. Eager reporters report on the ‘progress’ being made in the war. A day, a week, a month, a year or few later the Talibans and the Jihaddists take it back. And, round and round we go in circles. But hey, we create a lot of jobs. It’s all worth it, right?
Oct. 25, 2012 at 2:05 p.m.
Sofia, Bulgaria

Not a Syrian death, not a piece of destruction, not a single refugee that is not ultimately the responsibility of the United States.

30,000 dead. I wonder if any of you have any sense of what it means to be dead, or to have lost your family and friends in war.
As is said in Jim Jarmusch’s movie, Limits of Control:

He who thinks he’s bigger than the rest
Must go to the cemetery
There he will see
It’s a handful of dust.

As Russian UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin has said:

“It’s all about Iran. It’s all about geopolitical complexion of the Middle East,” he said.

“It’s all about the changes, some unexpected to our Western colleagues, which came about as a result of military intervention in Iraq and change of the political structure there.

“I’m not making any revelations to you, there is not a serious person I have talked to who would have any doubt about it, that a major geopolitical battle is being fought on the fields of Syria which has nothing to do with the interests of the Syrian people who are not interested in being the objects of this kind of geopolitical competition.”
Oct. 25, 2012 at 2:05 p.m.

Gee, you’re saying that the USA is responsible for everything going on in Syria. Not one death or piece of destruction is the responsibility of Assad, Iran, Muslin Brotherhood, Al-Quaeda, Russia, China, etc!!! Quite an amazing statement to make about a country (the USA) that, to be very blunt, the majority of its population could not locate Syria on a map if asked. I’m sorry, but most people in the USA don’t really care about or know what is happening in Syria.

Is the USA involved and has interests in the conflict? Yes, we have some, but far less than the other major players. We basically don’t want the violence to spread around and destabilize the mid-east even further. We have a very limited role and influence in this matter.

And, of course, the Russian ambassador who you quote is entirely neutral in this affair!!! Russia is far more involved as they try to protect one of their very last “ally” in the mid-east. The fact that they are shipping weapons to Syria and blocking most efforts in the UN to try to stop the Civil War makes his statement look silly; unless you change the “our Western colleagues” to ‘us’. They desperately do want to keep Assad in power, regardless of what the majority of the Syrian people want.
Nov. 16, 2012 at 9:56 p.m.

The old world around the globe with lots of jobs is seems to be over. Every nations is crying for jobs. The same in Africa, if there is jobs then less will pick up arms.
Oct. 25, 2012 at 2:05 p.m.
steven odzer
ny ny

time for war to end…. steven ozder
Oct. 25, 2012 at 2:05 p.m.
Joel Sohn
Boston, MA

Let’s jsut make sure that Brooklyn does not get to look like Homs in twenty years time.
Oct. 25, 2012 at 2:05 p.m.
Cumberland, MD

The rebels who claim they want democracy only do so for the benefit of the naive who support and believe them. What they really want is a Salafist dictatorship – the Taliban in Syrain so to speak. We are naive to think that democracy will result of Assad goes – IT WON’T.

We really should stay COMPLETELY OUT OF THIS – no aid of any kind to rebels.And we should insist that Turkey stay out of it too and not act as a safezone for rebel fighters – since that makes them co-belligerants.

Believe a rebel victory is far worse than Aasad stying in power.
Oct. 25, 2012 at 2:05 p.m.
Paul Skillicorn
Austin, Texas

When I hitched through this whole region back in the early 70s — 3 months from Beirut to New Delhi — you could identify people by their religious affiliation, but it was “cultural” and not “theological.” Indeed, the average person couldn’t cite much detail when it came to the underlying details of his or her “religion.” “Tradition,” was the predominant answer when the question “Why?” was asked. Back then, religion was secondary. It was not “central” to what was going on. Yes, you had the local despot, and yes, that despot tended to favor one sect or the other . . . but if you played by the rules, things tended to work. Today, that it has changed. Now it is all about religion — and those religious positions are hardening everywhere. The big losers in the Middle East have been Jews and Christians, but Ismailis and minor Islamic sects have and are also being decimated. That issue now lies at the center of the Syrian “problem.” The Christians, Ismailis and Alawites have absolutely no recourse at this point. They “know,” with absolute certainty that any result other than Assad clinging to power will result in all of them having to leave Syria. So, they fight on to the finish.
Oct. 25, 2012 at 2:05 p.m.
Cleveland, OH

I can’t believe people are so naive about the fighting in Syria. Rebels are not fighting for democracy, they are just using it to acquire sympathy from western countries. These middle estern countries are different crom us because without a powerful leader, religious infight would consume the country. Thus they need a different kind of government, think about Yugoslavia! See what happened after Tito passed away? The Americans have never had a war on their own territory and never understand the destructive force of a modern war.
Oct. 25, 2012 at 2:04 p.m.

All I have to say is: Wow. For both parts. And thanks.
Oct. 25, 2012 at 2:04 p.m.
Stuart florida

You have two bad sides! Assad a dictator son of a father who was perhaps worse. And, the Muslim Brotherhood who when we cheer removal of dictators happily fill the gap while our President watches on! Egypt, Libya, Afghanistan, and others in Africa getting ready to join Muslim Brotherhood like North Sudan one of the biggest killers of population in the South.

Oh Yeh! Things are getting better in the Middle East and Africa!!?
Oct. 25, 2012 at 10:23 a.m.
giacomo carletta
Northeast US

Not sure what your agenda is, but I’m actually going to try to answer your rhetorical question.

Yes, things are getting better in Libya, but it is up to the Libyans to sort it out. Lost count on how many Americans died during the Qaddafi overthrow. I think it was around zero, if I recall correctly.

No, things are not getting better in Syria, and you are correct in that there are no clear good guys. Better put, the good guys are forced to team up with some really bad guys to overthrow a regime that has some good guys and bad guys but mostly protects minorities from other bad guys but that rules with an autocratic government that has insidious ties to terrorist groups and Iran. There – does that make everything nice and black and white for you?

Do you, by any chance, have a comprehensive foreign policy solution in your back pocket that you’d like to share with the group that will guide us unequivocally to the best solution in Syria? I’m sure it would be appreciated about now.
Oct. 25, 2012 at 11:11 a.m.

We don’t need to be sticking America’s nose in everyone elses business, though we are probably supplying both factions with weapons, remember Iraq, that turned out well, democracy does not come from the barrel of a gun…
Oct. 25, 2012 at 10:23 a.m.
New York

I believe that Mao said “political power comes from the barrel of a gun”. Another dictator, Joseph Stalin, said when asked “what will the Pope say?” replied “how many divisions does the Pope command?” The point is that in all these types of struggles, it does finally get down to brute force before the issue is decided. Sad but true.
Oct. 25, 2012 at 11:11 a.m.
New Mexico

Just goes to show there are humans on both sides of the war. The real “badguys” are the one’s at the top.
Oct. 25, 2012 at 10:19 a.m.
New York, NY

These “Rebels” are just another arm of the Men’s Rights Movement. Around the globe, frustrated men band together in brotherhoods that cloak their true desires. When the smoke clears, men and women seeking better lives for themselves and their children will have lost ground. Advances will only have been made by those seeking approval from the Dapper Dans of the West.
Oct. 25, 2012 at 10:19 a.m.
Christof Zalka

I’m glad that for once we get a view from the Syrian government’s side. Congratulations and thanks. I feel that our media have been very one sided and superficial in this conflict, basically cheering on the rebel and acting as an instrument of the western strategy.
Oct. 25, 2012 at 10:18 a.m.

Are not we tired of doing WAR?
Are not we tired of watching WAR?
Are not we tired of being fed WAR to read of, and about, WAR daily.

Our children and young adults play video games of WAR 24/7.

We American’s think nothing of WAR being a vile, and evil thing.
We American’s have never been touched by WAR, here upon our shores.

As Obama explained in his debate the other night —
We Americans support WAR and the manufacturers of WAR materials.
Our American-Manufacturers of WAR materials sell more to other nations
than the next 10 largest Nation-Manufacturers combined.

How Does That Benefit You and I ?????


The Military Industrial Complex keeps all the Profits.

A change in government would be a great thing to happen…
Oct. 25, 2012 at 10:18 a.m.
San Francisco

Once again, where is the UN? They do nothing unless the US is leading the charge (and paying the bills). Shameful.
Oct. 25, 2012 at 10:18 a.m.

Just keep US soldiers and military out of this one. So far so good.
Oct. 25, 2012 at 10:18 a.m.
New York

Applaud DaveD on this sentiment. The Syrian Civil War is looking most like the Spanish Civil War in that it is internal, becoming protracted and neither side seems able to muster the overwhelming military power needed for a final victory. Ultimately, Nazi Germany weighed in on the side of Franco’s forces which helped tip the balance for his victory in Spain. Who will play the part of the Germans in Syria? Let us hope it is not the United States.
Oct. 25, 2012 at 1:37 p.m.
Sofia, Bulgaria

Every single death in Syria, every single bit of destruction, every refugee, entirely ultimately the responsibility of the USA.

As Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s UN ambassador has said:

“It’s all about the changes, some unexpected to our Western colleagues, which came about as a result of military intervention in Iraq and change of the political structure there.

“I’m not making any revelations to you, there is not a serious person I have talked to who would have any doubt about it, that a major geopolitical battle is being fought on the fields of Syria which has nothing to do with the interests of the Syrian people who are not interested in being the objects of this kind of geopolitical competition.”
Oct. 25, 2012 at 10:18 a.m.

I know Syria very well, I have lived there. It strikes me that the Western politicians and the communis opinio here are still hoarding idealistic dreams of democracy. The so-called Arabic Spring has nothing to do with what in our culture democracy should be. Lybia is a conglomerate of feuding tribes, Syria is a conglomerate of religions and cultures. It requires another type of government to keep this dynamic balance intact and to prevent civil war, especially between sunnites and the other groups – christians and, even more, shiites. What we see in Syria is a sunnite attempt to gain power. They know that to get sympathy and help from the West you have to use the word Democracy – so they do. The Russians are less naive and have not only learned from Afghanistan but also from what western actions and support have “achieved” their and in Irag, Lybia and Egypt: moslim fundamentalists in power, suppression of other religions christians fleeing the country.
In Syria you could meet priests and nuns of all christian denominations “in the wild”, freely walking in the streets. That will end when these rebels should gain the upper hand. GFor Lebanon and Jordan the outlooks are just as bleak when the status quo should change.
The western rhetorics about democracy in the Middle East is an example of political hypocrisy: why don’t we see the same “democracy supporting” attitude concerning Bahrein, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and the Emirates? Oops, we have oil interests there…
Oct. 25, 2012 at 10:18 a.m.

Every democracy is based on common principles. When that consensus is no longer there anything can happen. Even the US fell into a civil war when its basic consensus fell apart.

What Syria now needs is that basic understanding how it can be a country where Alawites and fundamentalists who consider Alawites pariahs can live toegther in one country. For that it needs negotiations. Unfortunately Washington is not interested in negotiations and actively obstructing them. For the State Department democracy is just an excuse to get rid of unwanted dictators.
Oct. 25, 2012 at 2:04 p.m.
Alan Harmony
New York

Sooner or later the free world will step in and aid the Syrians in their fight for freedom. It is troubling to know that the Gulf States would aid in fighting Assad, but not to assist creating democracy.
Oct. 25, 2012 at 9:13 a.m.

It’s not as simple as that. If al-qaeda is involved with the rebel groups, what kind of democracy would be created?
Oct. 25, 2012 at 10:18 a.m.

Why impose Democracy? It surely doesn’t help in the long run.
We’ve tried it. It doesn’t work. Look around you. Got a Job?
Oct. 25, 2012 at 10:23 a.m.
New York

This war is between Shiites and Sunni. The rebels are Sunni and the Gulf States, along with Saudi Arabia are also Sunni. Bahrain recently put down a Shiite revolt with the help of Saudi Arabian troops. It is definitely not about democracy.
Oct. 25, 2012 at 1:37 p.m.
Gennady Shkliarevsky
Rhinebeck, NY

I wish that the shelling of Bani Walid in Libya and the use of chemical weapons by pro-government militias there would also get some attention by the NYT.
Oct. 25, 2012 at 9:13 a.m.

NAW, that doesn’t sell papers.
And the nation really doesn’t want Americans there.

Turkey is the new cop on the block.
They want the job.
And Obama wants out.

Similar to Nixon in South America.
“Yankee go home” And we did.
South America did fine.

North Africa is the trading partner for Europe, not America.
East Africa and Central Africa is the trading partner for China and Russia.
We have West Africa to trade with, and do.
Although using them as our garbage dump is really sad.
Check it out. Start with Ghana.
Oct. 25, 2012 at 10:45 a.m.
Philadelphia , PA

Interesting editorial decision to use “Syria and God” instead of “Syria and Allah” as the translation of the soldiers chant.
Oct. 25, 2012 at 8:52 a.m.

epistemology — you’ve won the HITS THE NAIL ON THE HEAD award.

Thank you.
Oct. 25, 2012 at 10:42 a.m.
New York

Allah and God are the same thing. It is also possible that many of the government troops are Christians.
Oct. 25, 2012 at 1:38 p.m.

The antı-battle is so hard..because oposıtıons are devided in three groups-
al-kaeda is equal to esad.
Oct. 25, 2012 at 8:51 a.m.
Cumberland, MD

Turkey has made itself a co-belligerant by aiding the rebels and providing safe -havens for them.

Turkey is part of the problem not part of the solution. And lately Erdogan is turning from Turkey’s secular traditions and making it more of an Islamist state — hence his suport for fellow Islamists like the Al-Quaeda rebels, like Moursi of Egypt.
Oct. 25, 2012 at 1:38 p.m.
South Carolina

The “rebel” fighters are largely foreign extremists funded and armed by gulf state monarchies which allow no democracy within their own territory. Terror bombings and the killing of journalists are some of their tactics. Their goal is not for a democracy in Syria. These facts are seldom mentioned in the NYT reporting.
Oct. 25, 2012 at 8:51 a.m.

Read All 5 Replies

Al-qaeda is also involved with the rebel groups.
Oct. 25, 2012 at 10:18 a.m.
giacomo carletta
Northeast US

Michelle G, the sources are not easy to find, but they exist. Try for an experienced analyst’s take on a large variety of open source documents. Much of the analysis over the past year has supported Martin’s assertion, at least partially. Martin’s statement is abit stronger than the one I would make, personally, but there’s probably an equal chance that he’s right and I’m wrong.
Oct. 25, 2012 at 1:37 p.m.
Cumberland, MD

The NYT and other press have published that fact that there is a flood of foreign jihadist fighters from Libya, Afghanistant, who are Salafist and claim Al Quaeda membership.

It has also been published in the NYT and elsewhere that these foreign fighters are funded by the Gulf States.

Just “google” the topic and you will find lots of sources.
Oct. 25, 2012 at 1:38 p.m.
M Andrew.
New York

Where are these people getting all their supplies?
Oct. 25, 2012 at 7:57 a.m.

As Obama explained in his debate the other night —
We Americans support WAR and the manufacturers of WAR materials.
Our American-Manufacturers of WAR materials sell more to other nations
than the next 10 largest Nation-Manufacturers combined.

How Does That Benefit You and I ?????


The Military Industrial Complex keeps all the Profits.

A change in government would be a great thing to happen…
Oct. 25, 2012 at 10:18 a.m.
Pompano Beach FL

“Where are these people getting all their supplies?”

Obviously from those that support them. I’m assuming that when you say “people”, you mean those that are participating in the coup to oust Assad, who self-define as jihadists.

The jihadists are supported by the Saudis, Qatar, Turkey, Salafists and Wahhabists and terrorist groups like al Qaeda. They’re supported by imams, mufti’s, mullahs, sheiks, and clerics that have called all Muslims (Especially Sunni’s) to wage jihad in Syria against Assad, who they‘ve labeled a heretic and infidel. These are the ‘religious’ leaders that also call for the eradication of all Christian churches from the Arabian Peninsula. Just your average ‘tolerant’ peace spreaders.

It’s also been reported that NATO equipment and ‘covert’ personnel (CIA etc) have been facilitating the transfer and movement of arms, supplies and foreign jihadists across borders into Syria.

Obama and Clinton hyave been providing ‘aid’ for months, defined as “non-lethal” … despite the reports that the jihadists are known to take anything that can be turned into cash, do so, to purchase more weapons… like the SA-7 surface to air anti-aircraft shoulder mounted missiles.

Clinton and Obama just approved/sent 45 million US taxpayer dollars to the jihadists, who, as of last March, have “cleansed” 80,000 Christians from the Homs district.

There’s more, but the above might help you to get started in your research. Check out alJazeera for info. And Memri.
Oct. 25, 2012 at 10:42 a.m.
Mount Rainier, MD

Assad:you are such a butcher!
Assad: you do not deserve to lead your people
Assad: you will never be able to lead your country even if you win this war because you will lose the battle
Assad: you have no credibility

And the same applies to all those others that have supported you through this destruction of human lives, dignity, and whatever property these poor people had.
Oct. 25, 2012 at 7:57 a.m.
New York

Some of those supporters include the Eastern Orthodox Church and other Christian groups as Assad is considered the protector of Christians in Syria. The Russians support Assad beause over 30,000 Russians and their families live in Syria and they are primarily Christians. Should the Sunni rebels, including Al Queda, win this war the fate of Christians and their churches in Syria will be perilous.
Oct. 25, 2012 at 1:38 p.m.
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publish date : 7 Wednesday December 2011      23:24
Iran-Turkey’s Role in Solving the Syrian Crisis
The Western and U.S. policy in support of regime change in Syria, followed by Turkey, will lead to the creation of a rival political-security block between Iran and Turkey.

By: Kayhan Barzegar

The Western and U.S. policy in support of regime change in Syria, followed by Turkey, will lead to the creation of a rival political-security block between Iran and Turkey thereby weakening any cooperation efforts in the context of regional peace and security. This policy endangers both regional and international peace and security.

By linking the political change in Syria as a crucial step to intensify political pressure on Iran to change its regional policies and even its nuclear ones, this policy has enabled Iran’s rivals and adversaries such as Saudi Arabia and Israel to interfere in the crisis, thereby turning the issue of regime change in Syria into a zero sum game and precisely against Iran’s geopolitical interests.

With such policy, the rival actors have introduced Iran as the main obstacle for bringing change to Syria, thus somehow connecting the crisis with the usual rhetoric of the conservative Arab regimes and Israel, to wit, the necessity of blocking Iran’s increased influence and role in the region. Therefore, Iran ultimately had no choice other than to choose between supporting Assad’s regime or to face a pro-western and a conservative pro-Arab regime in Syria which can imperil Iran’s balance of power interests in the region.

Iran’s regional policy is focused on strengthening “alliances and coalitions” with friendly factions and states in the region. Turkey’s retreat from playing a mediatory role and the “zero problems” policy as well as taking a biased position in the Syrian crisis is all against Iran’s regional policy of preserving the current regional balance of power.

From Iran’s perspective, the future political architecture of the Syrian government, being of significant importance to Iran’s rivals, is noteworthy as to preserving and increasing Iran’s regional role, the future balance of power, and strengthening Iran’s friends and allies such as Hezbollah in the region. In this respect, Iran successfully managed to get Russia’s support. For the Russians, playing an active role in the Syrian crisis is an opportunity to strengthen Russia’s regional role, as well as challenging the West in regards to the employment of the Anti Missile Shield in Turkey.

The line of geopolitical discrepancy between Iran and Turkey is the issue of possible “military intervention” in Syria–either by Turkey or the West and NATO. Despite its rhetorical and symbolic policies, Turkey lacks the ability to convince its public of any military intervention in Syria. Without Turkey’s military intervention, the possibility of NATO’s attack against Syria faces serious doubts. Therefore, waging a new war without the required legitimacy and support of the public in the Middle East would be disastrous for the West.

Unlike some western analyses that regard Turkey as the winner and Iran as the loser of the Arab Spring, the role and importance of these two players are not yet fully determined, depending more on their future policies in the region and particularly in Syria, along with the way the Arab public will perceive the role of these two players.

Experience shows that the Arab world will resist accepting the “big brother” models, such as a moderate Islamist or secular Turkey. Meanwhile, different political factions, especially secularists in Turkey, strongly oppose Turkey’s deep involvement in the Arab Spring, considering it beyond Turkey’s actual political-strategic and economic potentials. Although some layers of Arab societies favor the Turkish model, this model simultaneously faces serious challenges by the ideological trends in the region.

In contrast, Iran along with the concept of the “Arab Spring” focusing on anti-autocratic aspects of the Arab peoples’ movements, focuses on the concept of the “Islamic awakening” stressing these movements’ ideological and Islamic values, leading to an increase in its political-ideological clout upon large segments of the Arab public. In this respect, several conferences, aimed at strengthening the latter theme were recently held in Tehran.

Yet the real difference between Iran and Turkey, is not to institutionalize their political-ideological model, rather it is to preserve their geopolitical interests and regional roles. In such circumstances, the West’s policy regarding the immediate regime change in Syria creates a geopolitical discrepancy between Iran and Turkey which not only endangers regional peace and security, but affects other regional peace and security efforts i.e., in Afghanistan and Iraq. A vivid example is Iran’s lukewarm appreciation of the Istanbul Conference regarding Afghanistan’s peace and security, held recently in Turkey.

The West should focus on the gradual change in dealing with the Syrian crisis and increased cooperation between Iran and Turkey in order to find middle-ground for solving the crisis. Such a policy brings more reliable prospects for regional peace and security especially by avoiding the possibility of spreading sectarian strife.

Here, Turkey, by assuring that it would not take part in any military intervention in Syria can take a positive step, whereas Iran can use its influence to convince the Assad regime to take genuine measures for bringing meaningful changes, alongside moving towards holding free elections in the near future. Through such a policy, the necessary ground will be prepared to reach a sustainable agreement regarding the future political architecture in Syria and the real demands of the people.

Source: IMESS

Kayhan Barzegar is Director of the Institute for Middle East Strategic Studies (IMESS) and Chair of the Department of Political Science and International Relations at the Science and Research Branch of the Islamic Azad University in Tehran.

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Syria Today | What Does “Activism” Mean in Today’s Syria?
What Does “Activism” Mean in Today’s Syria?
November 2011 – Focus
November 2011
Syrian citizens must transcend political differences to fulfil social needsBy Massa Mufti-Hamwi
Photo Fadi al-Hamwi”How would you like to celebrate Syria’s Independence Day?” I asked a group of dynamic 12- to 14-year-olds during a workshop introducing the idea of “active citizenship”. Their responses were mostly about performing and dedicating “nationalistic songs” to their homeland that invoke combat, and heroism fuelled by patriotism, anger and pride.This encounter, and many others throughout my four years with the Massar project of the Syria Trust for Development, whose mission is to equip young people with citizenship values and skills, taught me how primitive the notion of “citizenship” still is in our society. I saw how difficult it is for people who were brought up, if not indoctrinated, to believe that nationalism is the essential form of loyalty and service to one’s country to start thinking that this form of service is no longer enough.Today, our nation is paying the price for not having instituted “active citizenship” as its motto and doctrine for the past decades. Citizenship is essentially comprised of two parts: citizen’s rights and responsibilities. As a result, what we are witnessing today is a new awakening of activism calling for citizens’ rights, along with the state’s responsibility to enforce security.Yet “activism” in today’s context has also been categorically reduced to “political activism”, which entails taking one of two positions: “pro-regime” or “opposition”. In other words, it has fallen into the “You’re either with us or against us” type of discourse, which vividly recalls George Bush Junior’s wisest statement. But do we remember as vividly where this “black and white” thinking has led the world to?

Since revolutionary change in any country involves the entire population, what then is the position of the third, “silent” group of Syrians? What about those who have not disclosed their positions and yet have been incurring huge financial losses? Aren’t they also simplistically labelled as non-active “cautious opportunists”? Isn’t the very strength of this group manifested in its “intentional neutrality”, and its influence jeopardized if it chooses to fall into the zero-sum game?

In fact, the predicament of this business group is much more complex than it may appear. Yet the fundamental question remains: Is this group ready for “activism” outside a political framework?

For the real danger in reducing “activism” to “political activism” lies in the absence of a plan to stop the escalating brutality.

How will the country ever heal if the language of vengeance has already replaced the language of peace? How will the anticipated change bring a better future if people, whichever side they represent, are “too wounded” to be part of any common settlement for one unified country?

How, then, to locate a proactive, influential position that adopts professional dedication and commitment to protect and safeguard what can be saved, despite the growing uncertainties? Isn’t this kind of socially-based activism also imperative, though much less promoted, when so much wisdom and persistence are needed at this difficult time?

As Mother Theresa said: “Love cannot remain by itself… [Alone] it has no meaning. Love has to be put into action…and that action is service.” In other words, one doesn’t need to be a soldier or martyr to serve one’s country. By being human, or acting to remain human, one is also serving it.

And this is what “social activism” is. Guided by moral vision and genuine concern for our fellow humans’ needs, it is measured by our ability to surpass despair and find solutions. This can never be realized through political activism only. For this, we need the power of actions that nurture active citizenship and bridge differences, fulfil social needs, and replace the use of force with empowerment, advocacy and peace.

Massa Mufti-Hamwi is an education management consultant.
Publisher’s note

On hold

In the last few weeks, violence has spanned the country from the heart of the capital in Umawiyeen Square to beyond the Turkish border. As the cost in Syrian lives continues to grow, amounting to hundreds daily, clashes and unrest are also severely impacting those still living through or near them.


Copyright© 2011 – SYRIA TODAY Magazine – All rights reserved

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Iran backs Syria presidential election, halt to arms shipments as parts of peace bid
TEHRAN, Iran — Iran is backing presidential elections in Syria as part of a six-point plan outlined Sunday to halt the 21-month civil war in Tehran’s main Middle East ally.

Associated Press,  AP   1:51 PM ET
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Egypt: 4,000 nationals and family members evacuated from Syria in recent months
CAIRO — Egypt’s Foreign Ministry says that Cairo has more evacuated more than 4,000 of its nationals and their family members from Syria over the past several months.

Associated Press,  AP   1:07 PM ET
Middle East

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At Yarmouk refu-gee camp in Syria, fighting intensifies
Activists said Syrian jets dropped bombs on a decades-old Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus.

Carol Morello,  The Washington Post   2:03 PM ET
Iran warns Turkey over NATO’s anti-missile system near Syria
TEHRAN, Iran — A top Iranian military commander warned Turkey on Saturday against stationing NATO anti-missile systems on its territory, saying such a move risks conflict with Syria.

Associated Press,  AP   DEC 15
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Syria’s foreign minister blames US, European sanctions for the nation’s suffering
BEIRUT — Syria’s foreign minister blamed the suffering of his country’s people on U.S. and European sanctions imposed on his country, telling a top U.N. official Saturday that the international body should condemn these measures and work toward lifting them.

Associated Press,  AP   DEC 15
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Lacking money, experience, rebels try to run Syrian town plagued by water, power shortages
MAARET MISREEN, Syria — The anti-regime locals who have thrown together a ramshackle administration to run this northern Syrian town have one main struggle: Finding money to keep their community alive. Like other nearby rebel-held towns, Maaret Misreen is broke.

Associated Press,  AP   1:26 PM ET
Iran, main ally of Syrian regime, urges immediate halt to violence
TEHRAN, Iran — Iran is calling for a halt to violence in Syria, hit by a 21-month civil war.

Associated Press,  AP   11:00 AM ET
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Russian Foreign Ministry retracts its Syria point man’s talk of Assad’s eventual defeat
MOSCOW — Russia’s attempt to backpedal after a top diplomat said Syrian President Bashar Assad is losing control of his country reflects the dilemma Moscow faces as opposition fighters gain ground.

Associated Press,  AP   DEC 14
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Pentagon to send Patriot missiles, 400 troops to Turkey to help NATO defense against Syria
INCIRLIK AIR BASE, Turkey — The U.S. will send two batteries of Patriot missiles and 400 troops to Turkey as part of a NATO force meant to protect Turkish territory from potential Syrian missile attack, the Pentagon said Friday.

Associated Press,  AP   DEC 14
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U.S. troops will man Patriot batteries along Turkey’s border with Syria
Missiles could be used to enforce a no-fly zone, though deployment is seen as largely symbolic.

Ernesto Londoño,  The Washington Post   DEC 14

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