The legacy of minority-based regimes

The question of what to do about former elites haunts countries that have undergone a radical political transformation. Retain them in office, and dissidents will complain their revolution has been "betrayed." Purge them, and the inevitable fall-off in state services, even if it is temporary, will feed instability and spread nostalgia for the fallen regime. This dilemma has recently surfaced in Libya, where militias made up of mostly working-class ex-rebels have backed a law to purge from office anyone -- including their wartime middle class allies -- who held even a minor government position under Qaddhafi. Similar laws have been drafted in Tunisia and contemplated in Egypt, and will almost certainly figure in an aftermath to the Syrian conflict.

The United States faced this dilemma in Iraq. May 16 is the ten-year anniversary of the decision it took: Coalition Provisional Authority Order 1, the decree that removed top-ranking members of the Baath party from their positions in Iraqi state institutions, swiftly followed by CPA number 2, which dissolved the military to be rebuilt anew. As Sunnis tended to rise more easily to top posts than Shiites, both decrees affected Sunnis disproportionately. Collectively they are often termed "de-Baathification."

Today, CPA Order 1 is one of the most universally condemned American foreign policy decisions of this generation Even proponents of the war tend to describe it as a terrible mistake. With Iraq's legacy under review, both because of the 10 year anniversary and because of contemplated intervention in Syria, CPA Order 1 has been invoked by both sides in the debate: one side frequently depicting it as an indication of the headstrong mindset by which the Americans helped plunge Iraq into the chaos, the other side seeing it as a mistake that, because it can be avoided in the future, does not necessarily condemn intervention as a doctrine.

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Savage Online Videos Fuel Syria’s Descent Into Madness

Aryn Baker reports for Time in Syria, where things are going Apocalypse Now:

The video starts out like so many of the dozens coming out of the war in Syria every day, with the camera hovering over the body of a dead Syrian soldier. But the next frame makes it clear why this video, smuggled out of the city of Homs and into Lebanon with a rebel fighter, and obtained by TIME in April, is particularly shocking. In the video a man who is believed to be a rebel commander named Khalid al-Hamad, who goes by the nom de guerre Abu Sakkar, bends over the government soldier, knife in hand. He has sliced through the soldier’s fatigues and is working the knife though the pale skin of the soldier’s torso. He has already cut out the man’s heart. The man then cuts another organ free and stands to face the camera, holding an organ in each hand. “I swear we will eat from your hearts and livers, you dogs of Bashar,” he says, referring to supporters of Syrian President Bashar Assad. Off camera, a small crowd can be heard calling out “Allahu Akbar” — God is great. Then the man raises one of the bloodied organs to his lips and starts to tear off a chunk with his teeth.

Assad forces gaining ground in Syria

Liz Sly in WaPo:

BEIRUT — Forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad are beginning to turn the tide of the country’s war, bolstered by a new strategy, the support of Iran and Russia and the assistance of fighters with Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement.

A series of modest, scattered gains by government forces in recent weeks has produced no decisive breakthrough. But the advances have been made in strategically important locations and point to a new level of direction and energy previously unseen in the army’s performance, military analysts, rebels and Syrians close to the government say.

Meanwhile, death toll reaches 80,000

America's hidden agenda in Syria's war

From Phil Sands' report in The National, on meetings between US intelligence officials and Syrian rebel commanders to urge them to go after Jabha al-Nusra:

The commander - a moderate Sunni and an influential rebel leader from Damascus who said he has met intelligence operatives from Western and Arab states - said the US officials were especially keen to obtain information about the identities of Al Nusra insurgents and the locations of their bases.

Then, by the rebel commander's account, the discussion took an unexpected turn.

The Americans began discussing the possibility of drone strikes on Al Nusra camps inside Syria and tried to enlist the rebels to fight their fellow insurgents.

"The US intelligence officer said, 'We can train 30 of your fighters a month, and we want you to fight Al Nusra'," the rebel commander recalled.

Opposition forces should be uniting against Mr Al Assad's more powerful and better-equipped army, not waging war among themselves, the rebel commander replied. The response from a senior US intelligence officer was blunt.

"I'm not going to lie to you. We'd prefer you fight Al Nusra now, and then fight Assad's army. You should kill these Nusra people. We'll do it if you don't," the rebel leader quoted the officer as saying.

Hizbullah & Iran coordinate on Syria

Nick Noe from Mideastwire says he believes this report from al-Rai on what was discussed between Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah and top Iranian leaders recently:

“- The Syrian opposition was deemed a tool in the hand of the higher interests and the neighboring countries and an echo of the American politics. According to the Iranian sources, the participants agreed on dealing with the opposition by using force…by enabling the regime to achieve victories on the ground.

“- The parties that took part in the meetings in Tehran agreed on moving from a state of defense to a state of offense in Syria in response to the British, French, American,Turkish and Gulf support for the opposition

“These sources quoted prominent Iranian generals who said that “…Iran can send hundreds of thousands of troops to Syria in order to defend the Al-Assad regime and to protect its part in the Reluctance (sic - that's the Western side, surely?) Axis in the event that the West was to proceed with supporting the armed men…” The highly informed Iranian sources revealed that “the participants praised Iraq’s role in preventing the Takfiris from using the Iraqi lands…” 

"If we don't go to war on Syria, we'll have to on Iran"

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham:

“If we keep this hands-off approach to Syria, this indecisive action toward Syria, kind of not knowing what we’re going to do next, we’re going to start a war with Iran because Iran’s going to take our inaction in Syria as meaning we’re not serious about their nuclear weapons program,” Mr. Graham said on the CBS News program “Face the Nation.”

Mr. Graham added, “There’s nothing you can do in Syria without risk, but the greatest risk is a failed state with chemical weapons falling in the hands of radical Islamists, and they’re pouring into Syria.”

Amazing how quickly the Syrian conflict is being redefined — with the risk now being presented as that the guys the US and its allies have armed and empowered might get Assad's weapons.