Suppose this was a Hollywood script conference and you have to pitch your story idea in 10 words or less. It's a movie about Syria. As much as the currently in-research Kathryn Hurt Locker Bigelow film about the Osama bin Laden raid was pitched as "good guys take out Osama in Pakistan", the Syrian epic could be branded "Sunnis and Shi'ites battle for Arab republic".
Yes, once again this is all about that fiction, the "Shi'ite crescent", about isolating Iran and about Sunni prejudice against Shi'ites.
The hardcore Sunni Wahhabi House of Saud - in yet another towering show of hypocrisy, and faithful to its hatred of secular
True, Assad's ferocious security apparatus does not help - having killed over 2,400 people since unrest erupted in March. That is much more, incidentally, than Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's forces had killed in Libya when United Nations Resolution 1973 was rushed in to allow foreign interventions. The Diogenes the Cynic response to this "where's the UN" discrepancy would be that Syria, unlike Libya, is not sitting on immense oil and gas wealth.
The Assad regime issues from the Alawite Shi'ite sub-sect. Thus, for the House of Saud, this means Sunnis are being killed. And, to add insult to injury, by a regime aligned with Shi'ite Iran.
Thus, the Saudi condemnation, followed by minions of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), also known as the Gulf Counter-Revolutionary Club, plus the toothless, Saudi-manipulated Arab League. To top it off, House of Saud and Gulf wealth is actively financing the more unsavory strand of Syrian protests - the radicalized Muslim Brotherhood/fundamentalist/Salafi nebula.
By contrast, the only thing pro-democracy protesters in Bahrain received from the House of Saud and the GCC was an invasion, and outright repression.
Now for the Turkey shoot
Turkey's position is far more nuanced. The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is overwhelmingly Sunni. They are playing for the regional Sunni gallery. But the AKP should be aware that at least 20% of Turks are Shi'ites from the Alevi branch, and they have a lot of empathy with Syrian Allawis.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu - the academic father of the celebrated "zero problems with our neighbors" policy - this week spent no less than six hours talking to Assad face-to-face in Damascus. He was deeply enigmatic at his press conference, implying that the Assad regime ending the crackdown and meeting the protesters' demands was a "process". Assad could reply he had already started the "process" - but these things, such as free and fair elections, take time.
Davutoglu explicitly said; "As we always underlined, our main criteria is that the shape of the process must reflect only the will of the Syrian people." At the moment, the regime would reply, the majority of the Syrian people seem to be behind the government.
Davutoglu's words also seem to imply there's no reason for Turkey to interfere in Syria as long as Damascus is reasonable and stops killing people (Assad admitted "mistakes" were made) and introduces reforms. So the impression is left that Davutoglu was contradicting Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has vocally advocated for Turkey to "solve" the Syrian quagmire.
That would be Erdogan's way to prove to Saudi Arabia and Qatar that the Turkish model is the way to go for the Arab world - assuming the Saudis and the Qataris foot the bill for Erdogan to pose as the Great Liberator of Sunnis in Syria, financing a Turkish army advance over Assad's forces. That certainly sounds much more far-fetched now than it did a few days ago.
The Assad regime has done the math and realized it won't fall as long as the protests don't reach the capital Damascus and the major city of Aleppo - that is, convulse the urban middle class. The security/military apparatus is fully behind Assad. All Syrian religious minorities make up at least 25% of the population; they are extremely fearful of Sunni fundamentalists. Secular Sunnis for their part fear a regime change that would lead to either an Islamist takeover or chaos. So it's fair to argue the majority of Syrians are indeed behind their government - as inept and heavy-handed as it may be.
Moreover, the Assad regime knows the conditions are not ripe for a Libyan-style North Atlantic Treaty Organization bombing campaign in Syria. There won't even be a vote for a UN resolution - Russia and China have already made it clear.
Europe is melting - and it will hardly sign up for added ill-planned adventurism. Especially after the appalling spectacle of those dodgy types of the Libyan transitional council killing their military leader and fighting their tribal wars in the open - with the added ludicrous touch of Britain recognizing the "rebels" the same day they were killing and burning the body of their "commander".
There's no reason for a Western "humanitarian intervention" under R2P ("responsibility to protect") because there's no humanitarian crisis; Somalia, in fact, is the top humanitarian crisis at the moment, leading to fears that Washington may in fact try to "invade" or at least try to control strategically-crucial Somalia.
So the idea of the Barack Obama administration in the United States telling Assad to pack up and go is dead on arrival as a game-changer. What if Assad stays? Will Washington drone him to death - under the pretext of R2P? Well, the Pentagon can always try to snuff him with an unmanned Falcon Hypersonic Technology Vehicle-2 - the new toy "to respond to threats around the globe", in Pentagon speak. But oops, there's a snag; the prototype hypersonic glider has gone missing over the Pacific.....
The account of the telephone conversation between Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov and his counterpart in Damascus Walid Muallem throw light on Moscow’s thinking on the “situation in and around Syria.”. There is noticeable absence of direct criticism of the Syrian regime. Russia urges the regime to accelerate reforms but the MFA account makes it a point also to take note of the processes initiated in this direction by president Bashar al-Assad. Again, there is urgent need of holding “broad and constructive national dialogue”, but then, this should be an exclusively Syrian affair “without any outside interference”. The reference to “outside interference” is significant.
Equally, Moscow suggests that the role of the international community should be to “put pressure” on the opposition to “respond to the authorities’ invitation for dialogue”, implying the clout of external parties over the Syrian opposition and the opposition’s recalcitrant attitude. The most interesting aspect, however, is the MFA harking back to radical opposition’s calibrated attempt to repeat the “Libya scenario” in Syria. On balance, Russia empathises with the Syrian regime while acknowledging the imperative need of political reforms in that country. The contrast couldn’t be sharper with the recent remarks by president Dmitry Medvedev who all but writes off Assad. Moscow seems moving on two tracks.
Of course, the Indian position more or less identifies with the US-led cabal, as was apparent during EAM Krishna’s conversation with the visiting Syrian DFM Faisal Mekdad. Krishna was harsh on the Syrian regime and completely ignored the complexities of the situation. His one-dimensional perspective would have surely sounded music to Saudi (and Israeli) ears. The Saudis enjoy special relations with Congress Party and its ally the Muslim League, and with the UP elections approaching, the nexus gains importance. Incidentally, India keeps mum on the NATO atrocities in Libya or the Saudi-led repression in Bahrain.
The stage is being set for India to join the western bandwagon on Syria after making the pretense of an independent stance such as the visit by a Special Envoy to Damascus as reported by Associated Press. (MEA hasn’t yet divulged the details of the SE’s visit.) Later today, the UN secretary general Ban Ki-Moon is submitting to the security council his report on Syria. Ban can never overlook an American wish and there is no need to second-guess what his report would contain. How India, which presides over the security council through August,handles Ban’s report and is willing to be a junior partner, will be under close American scrutiny.