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Is Syria Going Straight to Hell?

Back in February I wrote for Asia Times about the Chinese diplomatic initiative on Syria, which is now largely represented by the Annan peace plan.  At the time, I wrote China’s plan had a chance, albeit slim, because, for all the brave talk emanating from the Gulf, Turkey, the EU, and the West nobody seemed particularly eager to step up and destroy the Assad regime.

Simply imploding the Assad regime to spite Iran would appear to be easy, but has not happened. 

Turkey is already providing safe havens for the Free Syrian Army, but apparently has not unleashed it. Western Iraq is aboil with doctrinaire Sunni militants happy to stick it to the Alawite regime, and Qatar has allegedly already laid the groundwork for underemployed Libyan militants to find profitable occupation fighting alongside the opposition in Syria, but utter bloody chaos has yet to erupt.

The fact that Aleppo and Damascus have only been ravaged by two car bombs is perhaps a sign of Wahabbist restraint, and may have been taken by the PRC as a sign that the Gulf Cooperation Council’s commitment to overthrowing Assad is not absolute.

Of course, recently Damascus was ravaged by two 1000 kg car bombs and a similar attack in Aleppo was averted by Syrian government security.

And today there was this in the Washington Post:

Syrian rebels battling the regime of President Bashar al-Assad have begun receiving significantly more and better weapons in recent weeks, an effort paid for by Persian Gulf nations and coordinated in part by the United States, according to opposition activists and U.S. and foreign officials.

Material is being stockpiled in Damascus, in Idlib near the Turkish border and in Zabadani on the Lebanese border. Opposition activists who two months ago said the rebels were running out of ammunition said this week that the flow of weapons — most still bought on the black market in neighboring countries or from elements of the Syrian military — has significantly increased after a decision by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other gulf states to provide millions of dollars in funding each month.

Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood also said it has opened its own supply channel to the rebels, using resources from wealthy private individuals and money from gulf states, including Saudi Arabia and Qatar, said Mulham al-Drobi, a member of the Brotherhood’s executive committee.

The new supplies reversed months of setbacks for the rebels that forced them to withdraw from their stronghold in the Baba Amr neighborhood of Homs and many other areas in Idlib and elsewhere.

“Large shipments have got through,” another opposition figure said. “Some areas are loaded with weapons.”

The effect of the new arms appeared evident in Monday’s clash between opposition and government forces over control of the rebel-held city of Rastan, near Homs. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said rebel forces who overran a government base had killed 23 Syrian soldiers.

Helluva way to run a cease-fire.

The simplest explanation is that the United States and the Gulf nations have decided to drive a stake into the heart of the shaky ceasefire and let ‘er rip in Syria, consequences be damned.

This would fit in with the near-universal desire to get rid of Assad, while having the collateral benefit of administering a ostentatious public rebuke to China’s efforts to drive the Middle Eastern political process in ways that don’t suit the United States and Saudi Arabia.

That’s the most likely explanation.

However, the Obama administration’s queasiness concerning uncontrolled regime collapse in Syria driven by hardened Islamist fighters and the Muslim Brotherhood instead of cuddly, pro-Western liberal intellectuals seems to have become more overt since the car bombings in Damascus.

So I wonder if this article is something in the nature of a push by Saudi Arabia to reinforce the narrative of inevitable Syrian Armageddon fueled by aid from the Gulf, and thereby encourage the Obama administration to give up on the peace process, indeed any ideas of a managed process, and let the insurrection take its course…and of course, take on the responsibility for dealing with Syria, or what’s left of it, once Assad is gone.

To me, the takeaway paragraphs were:

Officials in the region said that Turkey’s main concern is where the United States stands, and whether it and others will support armed protection for a safe zone along the border or back other options that have been discussed.

The Sunni-led gulf states, which would see the fall of Assad as a blow against Shiite Iran, would welcome such assistance, but they would like a more formal approach. One gulf official described the Obama administration’s gradual evolution from an initial refusal to consider any action outside the political realm to a current position falling “between ‘here’s what we need to do’ and ‘we’re doing it.’”

“Various people are hoping that the U.S. will step up its efforts to undermine or confront the Syrian regime,” the gulf official said. “We want them to get rid” of Assad.

Not exactly a profile in courage by the counter-revolutionary kings, sheiks, and emirs of the Arabian peninsula.

I’m pretty sure that the Gulf states could bring down Assad by themselves, albeit through proxies, at the cost of a few million dollars.

So the issue here is mainly of GCC gutlessness and an attempt to get America on the hook for dealing with the Syria mess once Assad is in exile in Russia, hanging from a lamp post or whatever.

The bottom line is, the future of Syria—at least how its political process and insurrection play out over the next few months—is in the hands of President Obama.

PETER LEE has spent thirty years observing, analyzing, and writing on international  affairs. Lee can be reached at peterrlee-2000@yahoo.com 

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Peter Lee edits China Matters and writes about Asia for CounterPunch.  

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