The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Arguing with Noe on Syria

Nicholas Noe of Mideastwire has penned a HuffPo piece calling for an alternative to what he calls the "NeoLiberalCon" interventionism he thinks is getting traction in Washington and elsewhere, where the basic idea is to hasten the collapse of the Assad regime. I agree with him that this sounds like a terrible idea. But I'm not sure I like his alternative either:

In short, rather than only posing the formula of transitioning out of power or facing extreme isolation, growing unrest and a possible explosion, the Obama administration, Europe, other Arab states and Turkey could have -- and still can -- join together to offer a real roadmap for immediate stabilization and a medium-term transition towards democratic benchmarks.

This transition would have to take place, however, within the context of an aggressive US role to finally return the entire occupied Golan Heights to the Syrian people (a "'67 borders" proposal originally promised by Israeli Prime Minister Yitzah Rabin which, unlike the one proposed recently by Obama, is arguably digestible for the Israeli body politic, especially given the stated support of key security officials and military hawks).

Specifically, this would mean:

1) Immediately convening an international conference to support Syria's economy;

2) The development of a Marshall Plan, alongside a relaxation of economic sanctions, to rescue Syria's currency and smooth the way for economic reforms that, on their own, would likely hurt far too many Syrians in the short and medium terms;

3) Publicly committing the Syrian regime to a timetable for those political reform proposals already tendered by Syrians actually living in Syria (broad prisoner releases and a pullback by the army first, the setting of near-term dates for free and fair parliamentary elections, legal reforms to make the media sector more open and security sector reforms);

4) And a public commitment by the US president and allies to aggressively expedite the "Syria Track" of negotiations according to the Rabin terms. Although it is now de rigeur to overlook the history of recent negotiations (the DNA of the regime makes peace impossible, the Neo-LiberalCons reliably argue), Bashar al-Assad's father almost signed such a deal in 2000, but Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak got "cold feet" at the last minute about giving back several hundred meters of shoreline around Lake Tiberius in the Golan. Not to be outdone, in 2008, the son also came close to a deal before Israel launched its War in Gaza, greatly angering their Turkish intermediaries.

Part of this sounds plausible if, as Noe believes, it is possible to lure part of the Syrian elite against the Assads to engineer a smooth(er) transition. Clearly the best way to resolve the Syria crisis would be to fracture the regime and get parts of it to get rid of the Assads rather than a collapse into civil war. But is it something that the West really has the ability to do in Syria, where it has no working relationship with any of the potential actors (military, security, etc.) that might rebel against the Assads? 

Secondly, why promise a Marshall Plan to rescue Syria? What makes the international community responsible for Syria, and is it in a position to do so when Republicans balk at giving Egypt money and Europeans are more worried about Greece and Spain?

Thirdly, getting the regime to commit to a timetable of reforms sounds wildly optimistic, since that's not being done in Egypt or Tunisia either.

And finally, while returning the Golan Heights to Syria would be great, Israel is about as likely to do that as agree to a fair two-state solution or the right of return for the Palestinian refugees. This point is beyond optimistic.

As a PaleoLiberalCon, I would countenance that the best alternative is to stay out of it while trying to do as little evil as possible (no business with the Assads, for instance) and helping the Syrian people with relief when possible. It's their fight, let them finish it. Enough imperial mindset and micromanagement of the region by the West.