The idea of a diplomatic solution to the Syrian crisis is ideal for the Obama
administration, but not necessarily for America.
So far Syria, Russia and
the United States have endorsed a deal whereby the Russians would take control
of Syrian chemical weapons. The Iranians agree. Obama, of course, claims
victory. The mass media joyfully celebrate how he avoided war. Of course
a stronger case can be made that it is the Syrians, Russians and Iranians that
won. (In fact, I’m starting to consider the possibility that Russia actually won
the Cold War, both ideologically and strategically, but never mind for now.)
aside from this, there are serious implementation and strategic issues that have
to be worked out. Let’s start with the former.
Assuming the deal
actually reaches the implementation stage, there are actual enforcement issues
that have to be hammered out. For example, will chemical weapons inspectors be
allowed sufficient access to ensure Syria’s compliance? Will implementation
depend on Putin’s say-so?
Next, there are the strategic issues. In the
incredibly wordy debate over the Syrian crisis – which has revealed so little of
substance – few have asked what Iran wants. Does Iran want a total victory in
which Syria would become a virtual Iranian satellite? The survival of the
current Syrian regime in all of the country? Or would it settle for the regime’s
survival in part of the country?
If Iran’s goal is total victory then the US
cannot make a deal with Syria – it is a strategic threat. If Iran and Russia
want to win the civil war, no compromise is possible. The deal will just help
the Syrian regime while bailing Obama out of a tough situation. The deadlocked
war would go on, still at 40 percent regime, 40% rebels, 20% Kurds with no real
change likely in the near future.
Another neglected question is what the
Obama administration wants in Syria: regime change, continuity, or a deal?
other words, for the war to go on as long as possible, for a Muslim Brotherhood
government to assume power, or for a de facto partition deal?
administration policies that were aiming at regime change have been forgotten
here: arms to the Syrian rebels, as well as training.
Clearly the Obama
goal of expanded arms supplies to the rebels had to be abandoned because of bad
publicity – like radicalism and cannibalism.
Yet there are hints that
this administration wants regime change and is using the attention on the Syrian
crisis to further it. The constant cry of Kerry and others is “no boots on the
ground” – in Syria.
But what about boots on the ground in Turkey and
Libya – for weaponry – and in Jordan for training? In addition, nobody has asked
which groups are being trained. Of course it is not al-Qaida, but it may be
Muslim Brotherhood. Qatar, Saudi Arabia and non-Arab Turkey also support this
long-term US goal because of opposition to Iran and the Turkish government’s
Islamist ambitions. Regime change, not two days of bombing in Syria, is the only
But to return to a second possible deal. Only if Iran
and America favor de facto partition – because they secretly think the war is
unwinnable – might they agree to the 40-40-20 division. Perhaps Bashar Assad
knows that is the best he can get.
That might be interesting to explore.
I don’t know, though, if anyone is interested.
Finally, there is the
third potential deal. A de facto partition of Syria could establish the serious
foundation required for a compromise on the Iranian nuclear weapons issue. I
want to make it clear that I do not think this is really going to
But President Obama might.
Obama and his administration
think that Iran now has a relatively moderate government. This means that Iran
can stall a long time to fool the West on negotiations, perhaps even to the end
of Obama’s second term. Watch for this thinly concealed game. The West wants to
be fooled.The author is director of the Global Research in International
Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of
The Middle East Review of International
Affairs (MERIA) journal. His forthcoming book is
Nazis, Islamists, and the
Making of the Modern Middle East (Yale University Press)
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