Hof: Is it too late for Syria

Syria: Is It Too Late? | Atlantic Council

Former US envoy to Syria Fred Hof, who seems borderline suicidal: 

Syria is dying. Bashar al-Assad has made it clear that the price of his removal is the death of the nation. A growing extremist minority in the armed opposition has made it clear that a Syria of citizenship and civil society is, in its view, an abomination to be killed. And those in the middle long begging for Western security assistance are increasingly bemoaning that it is already too late. Between the cold, cynical sectarianism of Assad and the white-hot sectarian hatred of those extremists among his opponents Syria already is all but gone, a body politic as numbingly cold and colorless as the harsh wintry hell bringing misery and hopelessness to untold numbers of displaced Syrians.

It might in fact be too late to save Syria from the diabolical ministrations of Assad and his enabling Salafist enemies. Indeed, the single-minded, self-centered destructiveness of foes who once cooperated in the killing of Iraqis and who now collaborate in the murder of Syria may be sufficiently powerful to block any effort at national salvation regardless of its source. By facilitating Assad's poison pill sectarian strategy Iran, Hezbollah, and Russia have facilitated the implantation of al-Qaeda (in the form of the Nusra Front) in Syria. By funneling arms and money to those calling for death to Alawites and the establishment of a Syrian emirate, donors in certain Gulf countries, Turkey, and elsewhere have advanced Assad's survival strategy with a toxic blend of tactical skill and strategic stupidity. As in “Murder on the Orient Express,” many hands have plunged the knife into a victim perhaps too far gone to be saved.

The article is not so much an argument that it's too late as that more involvement, with force, is what is needed from the US. Hof concludes;

Yet Syria's fate will likely be decided by men with guns. If a firm, irrevocable decision is in place that the United States will not play in this arena, then it may indeed be too late for Syria as the Assad/al-Qaeda tag team crowds out all other opponents from the ring, making Syria ungovernable, 22.5 million Syrians vulnerable, and neighboring states fully exposed to a catastrophe that could persist for decades.

So at this point, is this an argument for going after, with full force, both the Assad regime and sectarian militias? Hof does not answer that satisfactorily, nor does he address the issue that if it's a choice between two bad things, which is the lesser evil (and it might very well be the Assad regime, the only one that has officially been written off).

(And to be fair, my own solution-which-will-not-happen: Turkish invasion and control of the country for at least five years, ruthless disarmament campaign.)


Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.