Tuesday, March 15, 2016

If You Break It, Who Owns It?

World powers are considering a soft division of Syria to halt the bloodshed. That won't stop the bloodshed. It will just concede that Assad's regime survives.

Syria would exist, but power would be given to regions under a new notion:

Major powers close to U.N.-brokered peace talks on Syria are discussing the possibility of a federal division of the war-torn country that would maintain its unity as a single state while granting broad autonomy to regional authorities, diplomats said.

Russia and Iran support this notion. Which should tell you all you need to know.

This is just a fig leaf to get Assad out of the presidency of "Syria" and put him in charge of an Alawite-dominated region in the northwest.

This gives Russia their naval and air bases on the eastern Mediterranean; and gives Iran their supply line to Hezbollah in Lebanon.

And the other regions would be controlled by Kurds--who, with their own territory now, will then opt out of the war on Assad and will limit their right against ISIL to defensive measures; or ISIL, which will continue to be attacked by the American-led alliance, effectively making us an ally of Assad.

Other regions might formally go to other rebels. But then these rebels will no doubt be expected to vacate their positions within the Assad-run region. And the only acceptable target for them will be ISIL under a "peace" deal. At best, they will wear themselves out by fighting ISIL. Or they will opt out of the war and declare victory by having a regional bastion.

So Assad will rebuild his base of support and rest and rebuilt his ground forces while America leads the campaign to destroy ISIL.

And in time, Assad will be able to go on the offensive to pick off the now divided rebellion one regon at a time--with Russian and Iranian support.

Look, I brought up the division of Syria with a similar proposal many years ago:

We'd need to give the Alawites and their Christian allies a province they demographically dominate on the coast and mountains of western Syria; the Kurds would get a province in the northeast; and the Sunni Arabs would get the rest.

Damascus would be a federal enclave.

Power would be devolved to the provinces, including foreign affairs excepting some symbolic aspects reserved to the mostly nominal federal government. Assad could become president of the Alawite province and carry on as he has.

The Kurds and Sunni Arabs would get their own provinces. Perhaps the Sunni Arabs get multiple provinces based on existing provinces or groupings of them. The various rebel factions could be bought off with control of these provinces.

At the federal level, the rebels would dominate, with a rebel in the position of prime minister representing legal "Syria" at the UN. Powers might be restricted to the federal zone and certain legislative areas not reserved to the provinces, such as allocating oil revenue and tariff revenue to the various provinces.

So we and the rebels get rid of Assad as the ruler of a relatively strong Syria (he will be demoted to just another despot who can't do too much harm to us with his resources); the rebels eject Assad from the presidency of Syria and take charge of the national government as the dominant groups, and control their own people's lives in the provinces; WMD assets outside of the Alawite area are secured (I assume Assad will want to quietly keep some), perhaps with an international force to do the job; Lebanon gets to edge away from resuming the civil war; Israel gets a weakened threat to their north (although the Golan border could get hotter with terror threats, the conventional threat will be much lower for a long time); Turkey and Jordan get to send the refugees back to Syria; Iran and Russia retain a pocket of influence in a rump Assad realm to retain access to Hezbollah or naval and intelligence bases, respectively; the Kurds get the hope of an independent state in fact if not legally; tens of thousands of further deaths might be prevented; and the UN gets to feel that it achieved something through diplomacy.

Unless the deaths are merely delayed as all sides--or even just one side--prepares for round two for control of all of Syria.

But the situation was much different then. Back then, we had not yet seen the rise of jihadi resistance (and it was well before ISIL). And back then, pushing Assad back into a northwest corner of Syria would have been a defeat for Assad.

Now, ISIL and other jihadis dominate the rebellion. So a division leaves these nutjobs in control of a lot of Syria.

And now that Assad has already been forced to retreat to the west after enduring heavy casualties, a division of Syria would function as a safety net for Assad.

I also had two main caveats.

One, to divide Syria we needed to have an objective that superseded getting rid of Assad--like fear of chemical weapons getting loose in Syria should Assad's forces collapse and abandon their depots.

And two--which I added later after figuring that Assad would prepare for round two--we would need to maintain the objective of getting rid of Assad in his rump state:

While defeating our long-time enemy that Assad regime has been should be an obvious objective, I'm open to the possibility that the cost (chemical weapons proliferation in the chaos, jihadi sanctuaries, and regional unrest) might be too high. If we settle for a limited victory over Assad, let's not make the mistake of thinking we achieved peace by failing to then begin phase two to totally defeat Assad in a safer environment.

The man (and his father) have made Syria our enemy for decades now, with ample American blood on the regime's hands that he should pay for.

Is that what we would be doing, given the support from Iran and Russia?

We can certainly ponder a post-Syria Assad rather than a post-Assad Syria in the short run. But let's keep in mind what our objective should be.

And keep in mind that we should not instead be helping Russia's and Iran achieve their objectives.

UPDATE: The Kurds are starting the process:

Kurdish-controlled areas of northern Syria are expected to declare a federal system imminently, Kurdish officials said on Wednesday, taking matters into their own hands after being excluded from talks in Geneva to resolve Syria's civil war.

The step aims to combine three Kurdish-led autonomous areas of northern Syrian into a federal arrangement and will be sure to alarm neighboring Turkey, which fears a growing Kurdish sway in Syria is fuelling separatism among its own minority Kurds.

Unless the Turks send in a couple corps of ground troops to march on Damascus (risking war with Russia) and install a non-Assad nominally national government to eventually exercise control over all of Syria, just what does Turkey expect their opposition accomplish?