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Syria: negotiate a transitional government

No to the US attack and continued military pressure

15. September 2013
by Wilhelm Langthaler

We are relieved that the imminent threat of an US aggression on Syria is preliminarily put on hold and a diplomatic channel has been opened up. But the US military power projection remains in place and the bloody civil war continues. We therefore need to continue and step up the campaign against foreign intervention and especially the western one. But at the same time we ought to help to pave the way for a transitional government fulfilling the demands of the original democratic popular movement.

From the very beginning of the conflict we have been strongly opposing any foreign meddling let alone military intervention. As anti-systemic opposition in the west we regard it as our main task to fight imperialism and neo-colonialism disguised as humanitarianism, export of democracy, responsibility to protect or similar camouflages. This is an issue of principle which proved valid in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq and many other places.

In Syria foreign interference has been crucial in transforming the civil democratic and social movement of the popular masses into a sectarian civil war destroying the hope for victory for the people as subaltern classed opposed to the elite.

At the origin of this tragic metamorphosis is certainly the refusal of the Assad leadership to grant substantial democratic rights. The popular movement was simply crushed by brute force – the notorious “security solution”. Until now not only the ensuing armed insurgency is hit hard by the government troops, but also the popular constituencies of the rebellion suffer a ruthless asymmetric war – which is led along the blueprint of US anti-insurgency strategies removing the water from the fish. The Assad leadership just copy&pasted the US war-on-terror ideology totally denying the subjacent societal reasons for the uprising. Until this day they refuse any concession, any compromise even any significant symbolic gesture towards the popular demands thus providing imperialism the pretext to intervene.

On its turn the nearly instant foreign interference first of all by Turkey and the Gulf massively drove and accelerated the spiral of militarization and confessionalisation. While the regime hides its de-facto communalism behind a formal secularism, the Jihadis and other Islamists retaliate in an openly sectarian way. They are spreading horror among the minorities and help in their way to destroy the popular democratic movement.

A US military assault, however, would in no way end this civil war but on the contrary only start off the great sectarian carnage.

The only way to come out of this disaster und end the civil war is a political solution based on a geo-political compromise between the US and Russia – despite the undeniable fact that both do not care at all about the democratic rights of the people but are looking for their share of the booty. This global re-balancing of interests would only set the frame as a necessary but not sufficient condition. The internal conflict maintains an autochthon momentum and requires its own re-balancing.

Without a massive US intervention (which we refuse and fight) there is, however, no way for either side to militarily win the war. Military escalation and sectarianism walk hand in hand and both sides are rallying their constituencies. Then there is foreign support for both sides disposing of huge resources. All this leads to a scenario of years of protacted civil war.

An American air assault tilting the current strategic stalemate in favour of the insurgency would mean significant advances for Jihadism which is the strongest armed force on the ground. Washington will not want to go too far down that road.

From the popular democratic point of view a ceasefire is needed as soon as possible. (In the last instance also the US and Russia will find no other way out.) But internally it will become possible only in a dialectical process leading also towards a transitional government. It should have the aim of setting the frame for a constitutional process and eventually also elections. That means that the ruling Assad group must drop its exclusive claim on power. On its turn the other side must recognise that the Assad leadership is representing certain sections of the people (first of all the Allawites but partially also other minorities even if maybe nolens volens).

The constitution of sectarian communal groups by the civil war and foreign interference is an undeniable fact. Thus also on this level a compromise must be reached guaranteeing the security of the minorities. Maintaining the formal French republicanism (which in reality is a disguised communalism) means pouring oil into the fire of sectarianism. So accepting a sectarian re-balancing is a necessary element to end the sectarian civil war and therefore also a pre-condition to tackle sectarianism altogether.

At this stage it is neither clear nor settled who will be able to represent the other side to the regime and with which legitimacy. Actually a huge struggle has been raging among the aspirants with massive foreign interference. This process of political representation will only crystallize as soon as the regime shows serious readiness to take a step back and accept to share power. (As long as the Assad group insists on capitulation as this is not the case the reciprocal position on the other side, which is Jihadism, will continue to grow.)

The intervening regional powers like Turkey and the Gulf will look to put those Islamists in place who obey them most. The US on its turn does not have a consistent direct proxy and will try to support those ready to substantially move against Jihadism. (It will be a very difficult and conflictual operation for the western bloc and its regional ramifications to get rid of Jihadism.) But there are also democratic and non-sectarian forces who might wield a certain influence despite the fact that they neither hold arms nor territory. Given their weakness neither them will be immune from opportunism towards foreign powers. Especially the west will try to use them for their purposes.

In this struggle we need to support those democratic and social forces willing and able to preserve their independence from imperialism. They are the only ones who can keep the popular democratic demands alive along the process of negotiations and who are potentially capable to cushion the advanced sectarian tensions and to work against the de-facto partition along sectarian lines.

There is no guarantee that such a project can be successful between overwhelming geo-political millstones. But it needs to be attempted as there is no other way out of this armed conflict in which the popular democratic movement is doomed to subside.