My CSM oped on need for negotiated transition in Syria

People with an interest in escalating tensions and sowing conflict within Middle Eastern countries always say “There is no time!” for diplomacy or negotiation…. and that “If lives are to be saved then we have to take military action…”
In mid-March, I was stunned to see how rapidly those arguments took hold among “western” political elites, within the space of just a few days, with regard to Libya. So I looked around to see where they might be deployed by those same people again and, in the interest of trying to head off yet another horrendous western military adventure (conducted, as in Libya, under the guise of an “urgent humanitarian intervention”) I started thinking about what all of us in the global antiwar movement could do to draw up constructive and timely proposals for determinedly non-violent policies that could help to de-escalate the tensions in troubled countries and then move speedily to defusing the and resolving the very real political problems that have been the cause of these conflicts.
On March 28, I published this modest blog post, titled “What can be done in Syria (and could have been done in Libya)”.
Then I thought about it all a bit more. I have of course been following the news from Syria: Gradually escalating protest gatherings, many of them nonviolent but with some acts by armed insurgents at the fringes of some of them (as in Banias on April 10); A regime response on the streets that has been considerably more measured than that of the Bahraini-Saudi security forces in Bahrain (or, that of Qadhdhafi, in Libya) but that has still, by now, killed just over 200 people: The president, Bashar al-Asad, trying to announce some small steps of reform– but probably far too little, too late; and his and the Baath Party’s organizing of sizeable counter-demonstrations.
I’ve also taken notes of interventions like this one (Ar.) from veteran Syrian democracy activist Michel Kilo, which is titled “Yes, there is no alternative to a political solution”.
So on Tuesday I wrote an op-ed on the subject for the Christian Science Monitor— my first piece there for a long time. It was published on their website today under the title Syria protests: Is there a peaceful path to democracy?
I really want people, here in the U.S., there in Syria, and everywhere else, to be thinking a lot harder about how all the many wonderful tools of diplomacy can be deployed in the interest of helping people from all sides and factions in Syria start to figure out new, much more democratic (that is, egalitarian and accountable) ways to organize their political life together.
I based this particular proposal on some writing I did in Al-Hayat back in the 1990s, when I was arguing that the political situations inside both Iraq and Syria were similar to Apartheid-era South Africa in that in both those countries, members of a minority group were controlling all the levers of power (and in effect using the pan-Arabist ideology of Baathism to mask that fact), and using their national-security apparatuses and the ever-present risk of war to quell any internal dissent in the name of protecting that part of the Arab homeland…
In Syria’s case, I know the country has real enemies. Israel is still, quite illegally, occupying Syria’s fertile Golan region which it has also (even more illegally) annexed to itself! The U.S. has had a determined policy of supporting a covert form of regime change in Syria, for many years. But just because a country has real enemies doesn’t mean that the government doesn’t also exploit fears of “national security” threats in order to quell internal dissent.
So because I care a lot about Syria and have friends at every point on the country’s political spectrum, I really do want them to be able to escape the complex and harmful political tangle they have found themselves in after 48 years of single-party, Baathist rule… And I really hope they can do this without suffering the train of even worse worse consequences that followed the overthrow of the (as it happens, deeply competing) Baathist regime in Iraq at the extremely violent hands of the U.S. military.
Which brought me– back in the 1990s, and again today– back to South Africa, and the way that the 40-plus years of single-party “National Party” minority rule there was ended through the four-year-long, on-again-off-again negotiation that ran from 1990 through 1994. That transition to democracy was very far indeed from wholly peaceful, and it has been very far from successful in resolving all the country’s problems in the 17 years since 1994. But still, South Africa’s transition was successful at the political level in creating a new, much more democratic and inclusive political system and a new, much more inclusive political culture and sense of national belonging among all the country’s people.
And crucially, the “slaughter of whites” that many “white” South Africans feared would happen once the people of other races were given political power… never happened. Despite all the centuries of violence and repression that the country’s people had experienced since the arrival of the first “white” colonists, the negotiations of 1990-94 finally allowed them to escape from the previous, long-sustained cycles of killing, retribution, despair, more killing, and mayhem without end.
So that kind of a negotiated “grand bargain” is what I would hope, for Syria’s people. I could write a lot more about this… And I am sure there must be some other, better ideas out there, too. So let’s talk about them! Let’s focus on discussing nonviolent, political and diplomatic actions that can be taken… so that no-one again can stand up again and make the claim that “There is no time for diplomacy at this point! There is no alternative to taking military action!”
There is always an alternative. Here, in the case of Syria, is one modest sketch of a suggestion.

16 thoughts on “My CSM oped on need for negotiated transition in Syria”

  1. Now Yugoslavia is offered as a model for Libya, as if Afghanistan and Iraq never happened.
    With S.Africa for Syria it works even worse, too many wars happened since then.

  2. This is really terrible. After everything that Helena has tried to do for them, the people still want their so-called “freedom.” What ingrates they are! Why can’t they see that all of these anti-Assad demonstrations are nothing more and nothing less than Zionist plots?
    Death toll in Friday protests in Syria reaches at least 49. Witnesses report 40,000 demonstrators take to the streets in Damascus and suburbs, chanting “The people want the downfall of the regime.” — Haaretz

  3. Dear Helena,
    For somebody who is not from the Middle East, I somehow happen to be interested in what is presently going on in this region. I have been observing the developments in this region for sometime now. I am a journalist based in Dubai.
    I read your article ‘need for negotiated transition in Syria’ and would like to comment on it.
    I too want all the ongoing wars and the wars that might unfortunately take place to end. But, the fact is war is taking place right now infront of us and we just discuss the repercussions. The powers that are responsible for this war in Libya and might spread to countries like Syria and Yemen are very determined to do all that it takes to fulfil their objectives.
    Knowing the cause will not stop the war from taking place. As somebody who supports the antiwar movement, I want the western countries to stop their meddling in the internal affairs of Middle Eastern countries. Easier said than done. For whatever reason, be it oil or national interests.
    We are made to believe that whatever is presently going on in the middle east is because of a sudden realization in those countries that they are just slaves and are governed by brutal regimes. The mainstream news media is playing a pivotal role here. We should bring those powers responsible for this mess to book by uncovering their plots. Real revolution will come only if people know that they are capable enough to take their own decisions and not be influenced by the media.
    There is a big conspiracy in the making right now…and people like you should uncover those hiding behind the powers that be, to put an end to all this suffering. It is so annoying to hear stories of the victims who are dying for no reason. Fighting for whatever cause or idea is a real waste of human potential. But then, we are living in a world where war is just an excuse for some to exploit and expand their empires. This will only end if we get the basics right. Nations are a myth, every human being is conditioned by his/her own culture and concepts and accepting the fact that man is violent by nature and so he cannot talk about peace as if it were an objective.
    America and the European countries will have to stop their hunt for oil which is fast becoming a rare natural resource even in the abundant Middle East. There are other ways to survive and wars can never bring about peace, howsoever tempting they might be.

  4. [When Israel builds a wall to protect its citizens from attacks, HC denounces it in vicious terms to the heavens. But when Dr. Assad, the prominent human rights advocate and opthamologist, unleashes his killers on innocent people whose “crime” is asking for their freedom, she says not a word about it. Why is this?]
    I don’t think supporters of “humanitarian” intervention have anything but empty sophistry to answer this question.
    They should just stop pretending they have any serious problems with Israeli policies!
    But with those who are against colonialism and take national sovereignty seriously, it is a completely different story.

  5. Helena,
    When Iraq was invaded it was strong massage by US to all regimes in ME for weak up and shapeup their ruling of their people.
    What it was happened after 2003 of the demolishing a state which many factors played in that goal from US, Israel prospective and others. In the region the Arab regimes saw if Iraq stands on its foot healthier a democratic will be disaster for their ruling fist on their people. Instead they lift their heavy handed regimes and give some freedom, relief to their citizens; those regimes fed Iraq with their bad guys interfering in Iraq not to stand on its feet. There stupidly keeping Iraq as blood shed give them the wining environment to practice more heavy handed ruling, in facts after 2005 most if not all Arab regimes laughing about freedom and democracy US promised the Arabs citizen to be built in the region. These regimes went in wrong direction instead understanding their citizen’s needs and hope of the future with new world order, they moved in opposite direction more corruptions more un- transparent more brutally against the civilians, despite the wealth from oil and other commodities that their land had, the people start striving watching the world moving forward just themselves they moving backward.
    The truth revealed now people in Medill East realised these rulers wasting their money purchasing billions of dollars of weaponry, full of corruptions they only capable of killing their own people but they are like rats what they facing their enemy.
    There is very informed article about the recent revulsion in Arab world which I agree to a degree with it as this looks a worry point of what going on ME right now, the article by Carne Ross about The Necessity of Leaderless Revolutions

    It is now a commonplace to observe that recent uprisings in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and elsewhere in the Arab world are leaderless. In all these cases, no leadership figures have emerged, either charismatic individuals or vanguard organisations. These revolutions embody a degree of organisation, including on social media, but not very much; these movements are are not top-down, driven by the choices of a small group or individual, or inspired by an ideological rhetoric except the common cry: enough of the old order! They have no manifesto to declare, except the passionate desire for representation, for an end to corruption and cronyism, and for true democracy.

    So is this will help the people in ME to find their way for freedom, I hope things will be one step forward.

  6. “It has been a commonplace of Western reporting on recent uprisings in MENA countries to suggest that certain countries are less vulnerable to the spreading protests, and certain regimes more stable. Generally it has been predicted that wealthy Gulf countries, extremely repressive regimes, and monarchies are less vulnerable than are poor, less repressive (all relative of course) countries that are republics. There are 8 monarchies (or emirates) among the MENA countries, the 6 GCC countries (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates), Levantine Jordan, and North African Morocco. ”

  7. Dear Hasbaraboychiks,
    “Who would have thought [“cough!”] that we would find ourselves agreeing with the Saudi approach to events in the Middle East, [“cough! cough!”]while thinking our own government needs a “reset”?
    National Security Council Advisor Tom Donilon visited Saudi Arabia and Saudi King Abdullah brought three of his advisors to the meeting: Director of General Intelligence Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz; Secretary-General of the National Security Council Prince Bandar bin Sultan; and Saudi Ambassador to the United States Adel Jubeir. David V. Dafinoiu of the Global Intelligence Center describes Muqrin as focused on Iran, Yemen, Libya and al Qaeda; Bandar on foreign military relations other than the United States; and Jubeir having the U.S. portfolio. All, according to the Dafinoiu, are “Hawks and live wires.”
    That looks about right – Iran, Yemen, Libya and al Qaeda are where the action is; Saudi Arabia is buying military equipment from China as well as the United States; and well, it was an American envoy, so Jubeir was there. Notice what did not appear to be on the agenda – Israel, Israeli occupation, Palestinians or Palestinian independence.”

  8. Christian Science Monitor reports that Assad’s death squads will selectively kill army officers to get the soldiers to shoot on civilians, and then the death squads will bomb churches and mosques to instill sectarian war and communal hatred. But of course Helena after years of telling us how the Assads are reformists wants to open dialogue with the death squads and explore the as of yet untried nuances of diplomacy, which the imperialists refuse to do. This is a must read and puts the lie to the shenanigans.
    Does Helena plan to write a CSM article rebutting this one, and defend her pacifist (“bargain with any postcolonial murderer”) approach?

  9. Assad’s security manual:
    “• An indirect media campaign in the television and private channels and the streets around
    sectarian strife. Frighten Christians and Druze of the Muslim Brotherhood and extremism, which
    they will face if they do not participate in ending the protests. And in the coastal region, alarm
    the Alawites to the defense of their regime and their lives, which will be threatened by the Sunni
    I say we need more diplomats.

  10. More from “reformist” Assad’s security manual:
    The use of snipers by both [black and plainclothed] battalions should be concealed in order to prevent any notice of the source of shots fired. In addition, it is acceptable to shoot some of the security agents or army officers in order to further deceive the enemy, which will further help the situation by provoking the animosity of the army against the protestors.”
    Now that poses a problem which our own Helena has seen through: If we send enough diplomats to surround Assad and distract him, hopefully the security forces will lose contact with Bashar and that will demoralize them and put stop to their activites. I have no choice but to accept Helena’s ingenious and peaceful solution to this conflict. Bravo.

  11. Quoting israelite sources as trusted sources is far from been a trusted sources of news and analysis, as always most of us knew what is israeli propaganda, why they doing this, most likely serve them, more than their loved neighbor “Arabs”

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