Friday, September 2, 2016

Note From "A Syrian Contra"

I don't have a photo from the 2011 panel to which Helena Cobban referred, but this photo is from a 2012 panel that united me with Steve Heydemann again 

I seem to have gained a new epithet. According to Helena Cobban, I am a Syrian Contra because I advocated facilitating the exit of the Assads. What Helena doesn't understand here is that the Assads never represented the interests of their supporters - they simply manipulated their fears - and that I was arguing for engaging their supporters through alternate channels in order to get their real concerns represented and for us to move beyond having corrupt and murderous thugs hijack the voices of anyone in the country. By focusing on the Assads as an entity that is in effect separate from its support base I was also hoping to avoid allowing them to stoke the fires of sectarianism.

Pure theory might have suggested that engaging the Assads is a more practical and reasonable approach, but my experiences and observations with them taught me that they are a lost cause. We simply had to deal with the reality that they could never be brought out of the cold and that their inherent mentality drives them more towards adopting the tactics we ended up witnessing. I had written about that extensively for years before the revolution, and I was speaking out of my personal and professional experiences in Syria and my various interactions with the system and the regime there. The Assad have never been engageable; the willingness to perpetrate all sorts of war crimes at the scale we are currently witnessing attest to that.

Still, a robust American policy against the use of mass violence might have created room for dialogue; this is why we pushed for it.

There's a context that Cobban and others are bent on ignoring: the Assads called all their opponents terrorists including the nonviolent activists, even as they were the only ones unleashing terror and targeting these activists. For this, and for their behavior before the Revolution as well, we called the Assads unengageable.

Still, had the U.S. applied serious pressures on the regime to stop its mass slaughter a possibility for dialogue might have been created.

Obama didn't say "Assad must go" in response to our demands, we were nothing to him then, and we still are. Had he been listening to us he would have realize that we were demanding actions to prevent mass slaughter not simple words. Whatever calculus prompted Obama to say what he said then do nothing to see it through is not something over which we had any influence. Don't blame us for Assad's war crimes, Obama shitty policies and the hell they unleashed.

But for people like Helena Cobban who spent a lifetime studying the region, its peoples and its leaders it's must be difficult to admit how wrong and inadequate their understanding of it remains. They have to blame others for failing to foresee what's been happening over the last few years. In this, those native "subjects" who don't seem to fit within their narrative of who and what natives are and want must look particularly appealing.