Putin’s intervention

Spearhead Analysis – 20.09.2013

By Zoon Ahmad Khan
Research Analysts, Spearhead Research – Pakistan

syriaOn 9/11’s twelfth anniversary the New York Times, a leading news source for America and the World, shockingly published Vladimir Putin’s plea for Caution. The Russian President, a vehement supporter of Syrian sovereignty and Assad’s ally, emphasized the need for patience and more importantly drew attention to the wars that have destabilized the World already. Afghanistan, Iraq, the Arab Spring have combined to add volatility. The aftermath of another war is likely to be anything but peaceful. Then, what is it that intervention can achieve or has achieved in the past? As a day when Americans come together in spirit in wake of a tragedy that shook them as a nation, September 11 was the day for humility and a step forward, and Putin perhaps knew it.

Syria’s civil war has been making headlines for more than two years now. Bashar al Assad, who succeeded his father in 2000 after his death, has faced uncomfortable relations with the West and economic coercion as it formed. In 2002 Senior US official included Syria in a list of states that make-up an “axis of evil”: Iraq, Iran, and North Korea, first listed by President Bush in January that year. Allegation of WMDs and obviously open support with the Eastern bloc remained at the epicenter of the economic sanctions that Syria was to face for the next decade. But Bashar, convinced the West against any such WMD plans, and proved diplomatic, charming and persuasive to the outside world.

It is no doubt that Bashar during the first ten years of power was able to secure relations with neighboring countries that for decades had been antagonistic towards his father’s regime. Especially with Turkey, Assad’s visit in 2004 marked the end of frosty relations for decades, till of course the popular uprising in 2011 started, and chose to side with the opposition and the people of Syria. The same year the US decided to impose sanctions on Syria on grounds of supporting terrorism and allowing militants to enter Iraq. Syria, with Alawite establishment, comprises the Shia bloc of the Muslim World, along with Iran. Together they have mutual interests in the region, which are conflicting with other Wahabi and predominantly Sunni states neighboring them.

To add to the regional hostility, 2007, Isreal carried an air strike in Northern Syria, justified under the pretext that it was a nuclear facility under construction. To make matters worse, rather than condemning such erratic display of vigilantism by the Israeli government, the IAEA went mum over the strike, but reported Syria’s covert nuclear program to the UNSC in 2011. It is telling that while international institutions continued to press allegations and maintained a harsh stance towards the regime, both Bashar and his wife managed to also initiate diplomatic relations with Lebanon (severed since the 1940s) and pushed liberalization of the state controlled economy by launching trade on Syria’s stock exchange. These gestures by the Syrian government under their new dictator can be considered lip service, and Assad did not manage to vacate the hot seat, as the IAEA soon backed Israeli reservations and the pre-emptive strike.

2011 March: Protests in Damascus and the southern city of Deraa demand the release of political prisoners. Security forces shoot a number of people dead in Deraa, triggering days of violent unrest that steadily spread nationwide over the following months. How many lives have been lost? We do not have reliable figures. But tankers, bloodshed, cities turned to dust, all combine to send a message that the Syrian people need help. Questions regarding who is supplying the civilians with weapons are raised but shoved off, because people continue to die. A strong urge to save them, but the question remains: how?

It is not just civilians who rise against governments. Little is known of the porous borders and transfer of weapons and militants to gauge their exact strength, but enough to know that most of those fighting are not the civilians we are out to save. Assad’s regime might have been less coercive than his father’s, but it still did not conform to the standards of tolerance and freedom that modern nations aspire towards. So yes, we do need regime change. Should we however back the opposition for this change? Perhaps we should know better who are we calling our allies: the civilians, or the same opportunist militants who we consider our enemies in Afghanistan? Putin is right when he says military intervention is not the solution. What is America’s plan after Assad’s government is toppled? The answer is Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, and perhaps even Egypt to some degree.