The Syrian people still hold the key to Syria

Randa Slim writes:

During the recent discussions in Baghdad between the global powers and Iran, the United States rejected an Iranian proposal to add Syria and Bahrain to the discussion agenda. It might be worth pursuing this proposal at the next round of talks in Moscow. Time and again, Iranian senior officials have stressed the need for a political resolution to the Syrian crisis. They have been reaching out to different groups in the Syrian opposition. As the Western community keeps searching for a political solution in Syria, Iran might have some ideas about how to bring it about.

Iran will no doubt have ideas about Syria, but they won’t be ideas that Bashar al Assad’s opposition (or I) will like. The Iranians will want to get in Syria compensation for whatever they give the P5+1 (that’s the five permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany) on nuclear issues.

Bahrain is a red herring. The Iranians don’t really expect the Americans to yield anything there, because it hosts the American Fifth Fleet. But the refusal of the Americans to yield to the Shia majority in Bahrain is a good analogy from Iran’s perspective to Tehran’s refusal to yield to the Sunni majority in Syria.  Tehran will want to know:  if majority rule is good for Syria, why isn’t it good for Bahrain?

From the perspective of Americans sympathetic with the rebellion, it would be best to keep the Syria issue separate.

If the impending American election is what restrains President Obama from taking action more vigorous action on Syria, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney loosened the constraint a bit last weekend by criticizing the President for not doing enough and calling for arming the opposition.    The trouble with that proposition is that it is already happening and won’t likely alter the balance much.  Qatar and Saudi Arabia are providing arms to what the Americans think are reliable recipients. It is unrealistic to expect that the violent side of the Syrian uprising will win the day, but it can likely sustain an insurgency indefinitely.

The more important constraint on President Obama is the need to keep the Russians on board for the p5+1 nuclear talks with Iran.  Any overt American military move would likely cause Moscow to scuttle those talks and leave the Americans with the unhappy choice of military action or nothing in dealing with the Iranian nuclear program. Stopping Iran short of a nuclear weapon is one of America’s top foreign policy and national security priorities.  It is unrealistic to expect the president to put it at risk with a military strike on Syria.

The fact is that no one has come up with anything demonstrably better than pursuing the Annan plan for Syria, though Andrew Tabler’s suggestion of an arms quarantine against the regime certainly merits consideration as a supplement.  The key to making the Annan plan work is moving Bashar al Assad out of power so that work can begin on a political process.  The Iranians and Russians will do this once they see him teetering on the brink.  He is not far from that point.  I still think the best way to put him there is through nonviolent means, like the general strikes that have recently plagued Damascus and other cities.  It is very hard to crack down on large numbers of merchants for not opening their shops in the souk.

The Syrian people still hold the key to Syria.



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