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Is a political settlement in Syria possible?

02 December 2013 [15:17] - TODAY.AZ
The chances of a political solution to the crisis in Syria are somewhere between slim and nonexistent, at least in the short term. The reasons are numerous as they are complex and perhaps even a tad Machiavellian. It may well be because the war in Syria is in fact beneficial in one manner or another to some.

As is often the case, to learn what the future holds we must look at the past. In this particular case we need to go back to the period shortly after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, on the United States at the time when George W. Bush and Dick Cheney were in the White House and Donald Rumsfeld was at the Department Of Defense. Talk about a Machiavellian crowd if there ever was one.

The Bush Administration had issued a statement at the time saying that it was important to send American troops to the Middle East to fight terrorism there before it reached the shores of the United States. Hold that thought for a moment.

If we take that statement in its context and assume that the administration at the time, with all the resources at its disposal, from military might to the intelligence services, worked to ensure that no further terror attacks would occur on American soil, and if serious though and efforts were given to transform that statement into policy, we have more or less what is happening on the ground today in parts of the Middle East, and what what has been happening in the Middle East since the US opted to take the war to the terrorists, as Bush had stated.
A quick snapshot of the Syrian conflict reveals that there are indeed two or three different conflicts going on in Syria today that overlap somewhere along the complicated road to Damascus.
So who is fighting whom?

There are those Syrians who are fighting to remove a dictatorship and hopefully bring about some form of democracy to the country. There are those who jumped sides out of loyalty to their religious sect. Then there are those - the Jihadists from the Arab world and their coreligionists from Europe and especially from the Caucasus, the Chechens and company -- who have flocked to Syria to take part in the battle in defense of their fellow Sunnis. Then there are the Iranians, who are committed to helping the Assad regime. So what is the bottom line here?

The bottom line is this: Syria was the one country in the region that held up the overall Middle East peace process. Syria was seen by the United States as a maverick in the Arab world. It was accused of supporting terrorism. Hamas, the Islamist Palestinian resistance group had their main office in Damascus. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, an extremist radical group headed by Ahmad Jebril is still headquartered in the Syrian capital.

Syria was - and remains -- the only Arab country bordering Israel that remains in a state of war with Israel. Lebanon does too, but that is more as a result of pressure from Syria and Hezbollah than Lebanese foreign policy. The other two countries, Egypt and Jordan, have signed peace treaties and have exchanged ambassadors with the Jewish state. Syria had meddled in Lebanese affairs. Syria had meddled in Iraqi affairs, and Syria had meddled in Palestinian affairs. And were it not for the powerful intelligence services in Jordan, it would have meddled there too. Syria has drawn the ire of its powerful neighbor to the north, Turkey; it upset Saudi Arabia after Syrian intelligence agents were accused of assassinating Rafik Hariri, a former Lebanese prime minister.

In short, no one would be terribly unhappy if the Syrians became too preoccupied in their own internal affairs and far too busy worry about supporting terrorism. But that is not all, as an added bonus as large number of would-be terrorist from all over Europe, Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and other parts of the Muslim world have been drawn to Syria where they unavoidably got caught in clashes with other jihadi groups. More Islamists have been killed in Syria by other Muslims in the last two years than by Western forces over the past 50 years. And as long as they continue fighting each other they will be too busy to think about attacking America and the West.

Indeed, looking back at the statement from the George W. Administration and looking at what is transpiring in Syria, it all starts to make a little bit more sense, if war can ever make sense.
Claude Salhani is political analyst and senior editor of the English Service of Trend Agency in Baku, Azerbaijan. Follow him on Twitter @claudesalhani.


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