Simplism in Dealing with Syria Crisis

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Pir-Mohammad Mollazehi
Expert on Indian Subcontinent

It seems that the real depth of the ongoing crisis in Syria has not been totally understood by any of domestic, regional and international parties to that conflict and all of them are given to simplism in dealing with the current crisis. There is the possibility that the simplism may extend beyond the present time and practically bar involved parties from finding a rational solution to the crisis in Syria. The simplism started when analysts tried to expound what was going on in Syria as a sequel to a chain of political developments which had already engulfed other Arab states in the Middle East and North Africa and were collectively known as the Arab Spring or the Islamic Awakening. As a result, it was first assumed that the developments in Syria were simply the result of a challenge of power between the Syria’s Baath party government and its opposition. The opposition groups were also simplistic in that they assumed the ruling regime of Syria had a weak social base and continuation of social unrest in addition to opposition to the centralized power structure, which was controlled by the Baath party, would lead to rapid overthrow of the government. Therefore, they hoped that by attracting support from foreign parties they would be able to achieve the above goal at the lowest possible cost. In practice, however, this did not happen and the consequence was a destructive civil war with an ambiguous future outlook which has so far caused massive loss of life and property. It was due to the same simplism that the opponents of [the Syrian President] Bashar Assad underestimated the superior power of Syria’s organized army which had powerful ideological motivations as well. As a result, the opposition took up arms at a time that opposition groups were scattered along a wide political spectrum and that situation enabled the Syrian army to use its power to the best effect against the opposition.

The simplism applied to the Syria crisis did not remain limited to the opposition forces, but gradually included all political players at domestic, regional and international levels. This means that even the ruling regime did not have a realistic assessment of the profound destruction to the country that may result from the crisis. The Syrian government, as such, believed that the crisis would be much more limited to, firstly, continue for such a long time, and secondly, turn the entire country into ruins. This is an issue, which at a national level will have no other benefit for either of the two involved parties but complete loss. Such a simplistic approach to the crisis in Syria can be also traced at international level as well as among regional players. The regional countries that got involved in the Syria conflict did not have a prior realistic assessment of the crisis. On the contrary, they quite simplistically believed that the opposition groups fighting against the Syrian government were in a position to implement necessary changes pursued by them in Syria in the shortest possible time and by suffering the least possible costs. One can at least assert with an acceptable confidence factor that neither at international level, nor at regional level, the situation which currently exists in Syria was predictable. As a result of this simplism, the crisis in Syria has created dangerous rifts at three levels:

1. At international level, it has created a wide divide among major regional interests of the United States, Europe, Russia and China;

2. At regional level, rifts have been created between the Islamic Republic of Iran, Iraq, and the Lebanese Hezbollah, on the one hand, and some Arab countries that are allies to Saudi Arabia, on the other hand; and

3. Major religious gaps have widened between Shia and Sunni Muslims.

It is not clear how such rifts can be remedied yet. Under such circumstances, there is the risk that the ongoing conflict in Syria may evolve into new dimensions with big powers getting engaged in it. The allegations about the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government have already provided those powers with necessary pretext to resort to a military approach in order to bring down the Baathist government of Syria. Such a military approach is not possible to offer a final solution to the crisis in the Arab country, but can help to further expand its limits. Possible threats emanating from simplistic treatment of the crisis in Syria may be much worse than originally perceived. If this crisis is considered from the viewpoint of political players in the region and on international level, it would be possible to come up with some sort of preliminary assessment of this complex situation. Such a preliminary assessment, assuming that foreign intervention will take place in Syria will be something like the following scenario:

1. On international level: In case of overt military intervention in Syria, the aggression will be started by the United States, Europe, as well as the global and regional allies of the United States with Russia and China forming the opposition front. However, the opposition of Russia and China will certainly not develop into deterrent military confrontation with the United States. The best these countries can do is to prevent the issue from being raises at the United Nations Security Council and prevent the Council from authorizing such an attack. In practice, however, their opposition can be of no avail to the Syrian government. Therefore, nobody can reckon seriously on the positions taken by Russia and especially China. These two countries are pragmatist and will take positions in accordance with their strategic interests.

2. On regional level: The regional counties, on the other hand, are not only partners to simplistic treatment of the ongoing developments in Syria, but there are also wide distances among them in terms of positions they have taken on the crisis in this country. Under the current conditions, there are at least two major fronts in the region with relation to Syria. The first front includes Iran, the Lebanese Hezbollah resistance movement, and to a lesser extent, the government of Iraq. Members of this axis believe that Syrian government is an essential member of anti-Israel resistance front which forms the front line of struggles against the Zionism and Israel. Such perception, naturally, puts them in the same boat as the ruling government of Syria and this is why they have announced Syria as their red line. The second regional front consists of Turkey and some Arab states, which have joined hands with the opposition groups fighting against the Syrian government. The current profound gap between these two fronts may continue to exist for a very long time into the future and make realization of regional convergence much of a difficulty. The best reaction that the regional pro-Assad axis should show under the present conditions when Bashar Assad is facing the threat of foreign military intervention will be determined on the basis of the extent of the foreign intervention and its final goals. However, under no circumstances they should engage in war with foreign powers and should keep their support for the Syrian government limited to the political level and in line with their own national interests. They should only engage in military action if there is strong mentality that the foreign intervention will not remain limited to Syria and will finally engulf the entire region.

At any rate, the simplistically handled crisis of Syria can be still managed and made more controllable on international and regional levels through use of wisdom. The real risk is the possibility that the deep gap that has been created in the region through simplistic handling of Syria crisis will continue to be present among various religious groups, especially between Sunnis and Shias. Such a gap can have a destructive effect on many future generations of Muslims and losses resulting from it will be really enormous. The crisis in Syria has developed into unbelievable sectarian dimensions. Since there are real potentials in the form of combined ethnic and ideological interests in the Middle East, which are potential grounds for the intensification of sectarianism, and given the fact that power structures in almost all regional countries have tribal roots, the deepening gap between Shias and Sunnis will be like the genie getting out of the bottle. If wise people and scholars of the Middle East do not find a way to prevent further deepening of this rift, it would be very difficult to get the genie back into the bottle as a result of which all regional countries will suffer. The big foreign powers will not be submerged in the Syria crisis and will finally reach a political deal to get out of the crisis. However, the regional countries and radical sectarian groups, which are currently involved in the Syria crisis, are not likely to be able or be allowed to extricate themselves from the clutches of such a sectarian conflict for many years to come.

Key Words: Simplism, Syria Crisis, International Level, Regional Level, Sectarianism, Mollazehi

More By Pir-Mohammad Mollazehi:

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*The Changing Geography of Jihad:

*Photo Credit: Nation.Com, Outside the Beltway

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