The Highfalutin ‘Friends of Syria’ Conference

John Glaser, February 24, 2012

As I wrote about in today’s news section, the so-called “Friends of Syria” conference of almost 70 nations in Tunisia is calling for (1) a cease fire and (2) a subsequent UN “peacekeeping” force to have unrestricted access to Syria. While I have no illusions about how much peace  - they said it would be a “non-military operation” – such a force would actually be keeping, I tend to think today’s plan is more talk and posturing than anything else.

First of all, the statements explicitly said any UN force would come after a ceasefire and would require the Assad government’s permission before entering. Neither of those things seem likely to happen. As Nir Rosen told Al Jazeera today, “The regime knows that Russia, Iran and Iraq will back it to the end.” This whole conference seems much more about the perception that Assad is isolated, must step down, and so forth, rather than an actual prelude to international invasion.

But Clinton and other Western officials did make a lot of insinuations about covertly aiding the Syrian opposition and even supplying them with weapons. And that is exactly where we were at prior to this conference.

More from Nir Rosen, who has been inside Syria talking with the opposition as well as Assad officials:

Contrary to conspiracy theories, until now the Obama administration has not made the policy decision to aid the opposition on the ground, as far as I know, let alone provide it with weapons. US and European officials who would like to intervene in Syria complain that there is no “silver bullet” or easy option for them. They don’t even know who to support inside Syria. The exiled opposition, such as the Syrian National Council, are too busy fighting among themselves and too disconnected from events on the ground, so the outside powers do not even have a convenient local collaborator or proxy to deal with. They also complain that the SNC has completely failed to reach out to minorities, especially Alawites. They agree that opponents of the regime will have to pry Alawite community from the administration. The Alawite pillar must be removed, they say. The United States, like the United Kingdom, reportedly has envoys among the Syrian opposition. It is only a question of time, in my opinion, before the SNC is officially recognised by them as the main interlocutor, but they are pressuring the SNC to get its act together first.

There is pressure from fervent interventionist to already hitch the wagon to the star of the SNC. But, as Daniel Larison writes:

In what sense can the SNC be the country’s “rightful” leaders? If they fully represented the opposition inside Syria, they might provide necessary provisional leadership, but they are at best a temporary umbrella organization whose claim to legitimacy is based solely in its hostility to the current government. Some of the opposition inside Syria doesn’t see the SNC as representing them, and the council itself is badly divided.

Aside from the unfit SNC, actually choosing who to send arms to would be an exercise in futility. Sending in arms so carelessly would almost certainly end up in disaster. Such a move wouldn’t be enough to actually tip the balance in favor of the opposition and it would probably escalate the bloodshed by causing the regime to double down and the opposition to become more reckless. And as we saw with Libya, militarizing the situation simply ends in more American support for extreme and unaccountable militias.

Also complicating the issue, and mentioned in the Rosen piece, is Assad’s possession of chemical weapons. The more destabilized things get, the greater threat those weapons become, either in the hands of the Assad regime or the opposition. Josh Rogin reports that “the State Department sent a diplomatic demarche to Syria’s neighbors Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia, warning them about the possibility of Syria’s WMDs crossing their borders and offering U.S. government help in dealing with the problem.” This indicates as much concern about Assad as about the opposition, who the U.S. so benevolently roots for.

Malou Innocent has a worthwhile piece arguing against intervention.




10 Responses to “The Highfalutin ‘Friends of Syria’ Conference”

  1. Please let us not make the case that Syria has WMD. It sounds all too familiar and all too suspicious.

  2. Agree with John Walsh and am really disgusted to see Nir Rosen's name pop up here in the first place. I would've thought there were higher standards at Antiwar.com. I'll be much less likely to visit this site, which I now see as anti-woman, in the future. Rape's not a joke, Mr. Glaser. Nir Rosen crossed a line. Clearly Antiwar.com has no problem embracing what he did.

  3. No one seems to get what the point is of the Syria crisis. Let me explain it for the reality challenged:

    1) The US and Israel want an Iran war.
    2) BUT Israel wants a "cheap" Iran war, meaning it doesn't want to deal with a) Iranian missiles, b) Syrian missiles, and c) Hizballah missiles.
    3) So Syria and Hizballah have to go.
    4) Israel tried getting rid of Hizballah in 2006 – when Bush and Cheney were pushing an Iran war – and failed.
    5) Colonel Pat Lang noted that the only way Israel can effectively engage Hizballah is to attack the Bekaa Valley "defense in depth" from the flank.
    6) BUT that would entail Israel entering Syrian territory and thus having to engage the Syrian military.
    7) Israel could do that but it would end up with Hizballah guerrillas in front and Syrian guerrillas in the rear – bad place to be in if you want a "cheap" war.
    8) Enter the Libya solution: If the US and NATO are bombing Syria, Israel can sneak in and attack Hizballah under cover of a Syrian civil war/aerial bombing campaign.

    So here is how it's going to go:

    1) The US and NATO are fast tracking Syria a la the Libya model. They will begin a bombing campaign within a few months, come hell or high water, UNSC Resolution or not. They don't care, this is the mission and they're going to do it.
    2) At some point once Syria's missiles are down and its armor pinned down, Israel will launch a three-pronged attack:

    a) One Israeli armored division will push into Southern Lebanon.
    b) A second armored division will move into Syria and engage any functioning Syrian forces to cover…
    c) A third armored division which will move up along the Bekaa Valley and attack Hizballah on the flank in a "pincer movement" with a) above.

    Once both Syria and Hizballah are weakened sufficiently this year to remove them as effective actors in an Iran war, the US and NATO and Israel will begin the push for the Iran war, probably next year or the year after.,

    Go to http://www.raceforiran.com if you want to see my arguments on this point.

  4. It's ironic that the end-times drum beaters know full well that their Bible tells of a nation of the north coming into that very area in a battle of all battles. They've time and again harped it would be Russia and/or China. Only someone truly insane would "work" to bring that about but they don't seem to see it. I've been calling for the Russians to move into Syria to put an end to the encroaching madness. Only a sufficiently powerful adversary would put the kabosh on further insanity. It has to be done or else the inevitable attack on Iran will occur.

  5. > which I now see as anti-woman,

    WTF? Just, WTF??

  6. I thought it widely acknowledged that Syria has stockpiled some chemical weapons? But – what is anyone gonna do about it? Nuthin'

    Wired says:

    "But using crack troops to quietly and swiftly snatch chemical weapons before they’re looted, or pursue those who loot them — the U.S. has an entire elite military organization that does that."

    Teh. Someone has been watching a bit too much James Bond.

  7. Russia has no borders with Syria, and its use of the Bosporus is very limited. Even if it had the forces to intervene, the will would be lacking. The Soviet Union was allied with Czechoslovakia in the interwar years, but did not intervene when Germany invaded (and Hungary and Poland). The reason is that the USSR lacked a border with this country (until 1939) and Poland would never allow the Red Army to cross.

    The real purpose of the port of Tartus is gunboat diplomacy aimed at Turkey. The United States wants to cut Russia's maritime access, which is why Turks were allowed to Turkefy Istanbul (to prevent it from falling into the hands of friendly Greeks, Armenians, and Bulgarians), and why it changed position on the Kuril Islands after the war.

    As for the king of the north, Russia is always a feminine country and Rodina means motherland. Maybe the Bible was talking about the North (the wealthy part of the globe). Then the US would be king. Turkey was always the region this passage referred too, and it is most likely about to go into Syria (where it will be split in pieces). Okay enough insanity. :)

  8. I have to scour the dusty attic of my memories to recall how the end-timers kept speaking about Gog and Magog, etc. But you wouldn't have to send in hundreds of thousands like the Americans did in Iraq, just enough to make it unpalatable. With reports of foreign troops massing on the Jordanian Syrian border and your hair stands on end! Where did all those guys go who where supposed to be doing joint manouvers with the Israelis is what I'd like to know.

  9. [...] has the potential to indirectly aid al-Qaeda or Hamas. I’ve written about these issues here, here, and here. Here are some excerpts: QUESTION: The Administration made a point this week of [...]

  10. [...] I’m not one to take state officials at their word, but balancing them with available evidence is still important. There is some minor intervention from some of our allies in the Gulf states like Saudi Arabia and Qatar. And Turkey is sheltering defectors and has possibly let weapons come through the border, along with Lebanon. Some arms have also come into Syria through Iraq. But none of this has amounted to much at all and none of it is sufficient evidence of U.S. support for the Syrian opposition. There have been reports claiming NATO and Western secret agencies were covertly harboring and indirectly giving arms to Syrian rebels, reports that I never found to have been corroborated and which have been denied by reporters like Nir Rosen, who has been on the ground with the Syrian opposition. I’ve recognized and written extensively about the push by numerous influential voices in the U.S. to intervene on the rebels’ behalf, and I don’t deny the possibility that something is going on behind the scenes that the public isn’t privy to, but the evidence simply isn’t there. [...]