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The Syrian civil war: take no prisoners

20 May 2014 [16:30] - TODAY.AZ
By Claude Salhani-Trend:

The regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria is the worst form of government that can rule the country, except for all the other groups that form the anti-government coalition. This is of course paraphrasing Winston Churchill, when the former British prime minister referred to democracy as the worst form of government, except for all the others that had been tried.

In Syria however, democracy remains abstract and absent by and large, and its concept are overall alien to the country, to its rulers, opposition and to the citizens.

Also absent from would be attempts at instigating peace talks between the protagonists who have now been fighting an ugly, dirty war for more that three years, is any coherent foreign policy on the part of the United States and its European allies.

Just as there are no current initiatives on the part of the international or inter-Arab community to try and put a stop to the conflict that has now claimed more than 162,000 lives and devastated entire cities, towns and villages. Lakhdar Ibrahimi, the seasoned Algerian diplomat who had been tasked by the United Nations and the Arab League to mediate in the Syrian civil war, just last week announced he was stepping down as mediator and that he was not expecting to be replaced anytime soon.

Indeed when at a time of great crisis such as this, the world needs strong and resolute leadership, the best the White House and the European centers of power are able to offer is to collectively emulate the ostrich and hide their heads in the sand. Or as Nikolaos van Dam, a former Dutch ambassador to Iraq, Egypt, Turkey, Germany and Indonesia recently declared in a speech delivered at the Heinrich Boll Berlin, on May 19, under the heading "Understanding Syria," the Dutch former diplomat says the best that the German and Europeans can offer Syria in terms of foreign policy is to "Look the other way and wait!
What a strategy.

The former diplomat pointed out that there were two main ways of ending the conflict in Syria: First is to negotiate between the regime and the predominantly secular opposition groups. Though van Dam is quick to add that negotiations with the Assad regime may not yield much in the end. Van Dam adds that he believes negotiations should be attempted more seriously than they have been so far in a proper effort to prevent further bloodshed. But that is wishful thinking.
Or, what appears to be a more realistic approach, to continue the present internal war until one side can claim victory. This option of course means the war is not about to end any time soon.
The opposition, in order to win the war must have better armament, supplies and training.

Because of the opposition's inability to show a unified front in the face of the enemy, the West remains reluctant to provide them with any serious armament that may tip the war in their favor.
For the secular rebels, just as for the Islamists and the loyalists fighting on the side of the government, loosing the war is not an option as there is not going to be an honorable surrender by one side. What is very likely to follow a defeat is the continuation of the blood bath and greater violence.

Syria is not South Africa by any stretch of the imagination and rather than peace and reconciliation committees setting up peace making sessions all over the country, in Syria it will very likely be death squads scouring the countryside looking for members of the "other side." And it will be ugly. Neither Bashar, nor any member of the opposition has any idea how to be a Syrian Mandela.

"The Western approach to the Syrian uprising has from the very beginning been dominated by an overdose of wishful thinking," said van Dam.

Precedence was given to supposedly democratic and moralistic ideals over realpolitik, said the former diplomat.

Many Western politicians based their positions on their day-to-day domestic political reflexes, rather than on the long-term vision and result-oriented pragmatism that is needed to work towards genuinely helping to solve the conflict, said van Dam, "Let us make no illusions. The idea that Assad would ever be able to leave Syria alive... is extremely unrealistic."

Claude Salhani is senior editor at Trend Agency in Baku and a political analyst specializing in the Middle East, Central Asia and terrorism. You can follow him on Twitter @claudesalhani

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