Washington balking at democratic transition in Syria

By Stephen Gowans

Last June world powers called for a transitional government to succeed the current government in Syria.

The United Nations and Arab League appointed Lakhdar Brahimi to negotiate a settlement with the Syrian government and opposition forces.

So far, Brahimi has made little headway. That’s to be expected. The deck is stacked against him.

With Washington, London, Paris and various Sunni Arab monarchies providing political and military support, the opposition has little motivation to negotiate. They must see their eventual victory as all but guaranteed.

At the same time, Washington must see recent rebel military gains as a sign that an opposition military victory is a very real possibility. It, too, then, has little motivation to see a settlement arrived at which stops short of its regime change objective.

Brahimi met this week with Syrian president Bashar Assad and various opposition groups and will meet with Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, on Saturday. Russia has also held talks with Syria.

One proposal under discussion, which has the backing of Assad’s allies in Moscow, would see the Syrian president’s authority gradually transferred to a transitional government, while Assad stays on as a figurehead president until his term expires in 2014. At that point, elections would be held.

If accepted, the proposal would end a civil war that has displaced hundreds of thousands and killed tens of thousands. It would also allow Syrians to decide their future peacefully in free elections, rather than at the point of a gun.

Given that (1) Assad’s ally, Russia, floated the proposal; (2) that Assad’s position is weakening; and (3) that the proposal allows him to stay in the game, it’s likely that Assad is onboard.

Not so the other side.

Predictably, Radwan Ziadeh of the Syrian National Council dismissed the proposal, while Washington, equally predictably, insists that Assad step down as a precondition for talks.

But that’s not all. Washington is also demanding Assad’s disqualification from running in future elections.

Neither condition helps end the conflict, nor serves the interests of Syrians as a whole.

Allowing Assad to stay on as a figurehead president is a concession of little significance, since power would eventually reside with a transitional government.

And why shouldn’t Assad be permitted to stand for re-election? If Syrians truly despise him, and wish to see him gone—as Washington and its allies would have us believe—he won’t survive an election.

Moreover, if the opposition is truly a popular movement for democracy, it can hardly object to Assad standing for election.

On the other hand, if Assad isn’t as unpopular as Washington and the rebels insist, he might emerge from a free election as victor, dashing the regime change agenda of the Sunni jihadists and US imperialists who object to Assad’s secular Arab nationalism.

4 thoughts on “Washington balking at democratic transition in Syria

  1. Incessant media over-hyping of the Syria conflict helps to deflect public attention from the fact that the Americans are in more trouble than Adam since they swaggered into their AfPak SNAFU. Having invested so much cowardice and savagery in alienating most of the population, their exit promises to be even less dignified than their panic-stricken stampede from Vietnam.
    It’s no accident that discussion about AfPak has been pushed ‘off the table’ and swept under the (Syrian) carpet.

  2. This article is a very telling description of the anti-democratic character of the opponents of the Syrian government.
    It is disturbing that this very obvious reality – it is obvious at least as Stephen Gowans describes it – never seems to be articulated in the principal Western media outlets. Those of us who are aware of the really contemptuous attitude towards civil rights and democracy harboured by Assad’s armed opponents are likely a ridiculously small group.
    It is also distressing that internal opponents – at least those quoted in the Western media – seem so consumed by their hostility towards Assad that they cannot realize that in the present circumstances opposition to Assad’s rule provides encouragement to a dangerous and odious opposition. Their enemy’s enemy has far less regard for them than their enemy has.
    Would that Gowans’s reflections were more widely distributed.

  3. Interesting. But are you really sure the opposition is making that much of a progress? Certainly, the government army seems to be quite a match for it.

  4. This Syrian mayhem is not about democracy. It is about creating a subservient client state loyal to US/western interests, regardless of what the Syrian people think or want. This is why most Syrians do not support this so-called rebellion. If they did, Assad would have been gone months ago. This simple fact is totally lost on the rebel-supporting idiots out there.

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