The Mideastwire Blog

Excerpts from the Arab and Iranian Media & Analysis of US Policy in the Region

ECFR report on Syria calls for negotiaion and de-escalation, but why don’t sensible ideas have much of a chance in the West?

Julien Barnes-Dacey and Daniel Levy have put out an excellent report here for ECFR which argues for a de-escalation of the Syria conflict.

I of course agree in full with their conclusions – although one opening criticism is that this report should have been put out far earlier because many of the trends, tradeoffs and pitfalls were evident very early on. The hilarious/depressing idea of accelerating violence against a formidible state clearly armed with chemical weapons – Syria – was always stupid, as but one marker of early clarity. It was a bad idea in March 2011 and now, most people realize – thankfully – that the idea is clearly bad.

Also clearly bad was the idea of pushing the resistance axis against a wall through direct force and pressure, rather than obliquely undermining its ability and desire to exercise violence through indirect means, political and economic alliances and pressures, incentives and the removal of grievances.

It should not have taken this long to get into the mainstream discourse – I think that although daniel and juien have always been on the sensible side of matters, others – especially conflict mitigation groups like USIP which started promoting the ridiculous idea of a “controlled collapse” in 2011 – and they are “pro-peace”! – have not been, and that all of us should have been much louder early on as matters were fairly clear.

A few other criticisms, but first the main, important points:
1) “Europe must, now get fully behind the peace initiative and reject the false choice between the supposed, “military, -, lite” or “diplomacy, -, lite” options, –, that the military balance can be tipped, without a weighty intervention, or that diplomacy can advance without having to deal, with Assad or Iran.”

— Indeed – and this lays the framework for the even more punchy conclusion below…

2) “Wisely the, international community has so far resisted military intervention, – learning from recent, experiences in the Muslim world and aware of the risks of an especially explosive mix of, forces at play in Syria. This has been matched, though, by an unwillingness to make the, uncomfortable compromises necessary for diplomacy.”

— This is the money shot – in the end, powers like the US, via obama, may be a lot smarter than Bush and the knee jerk neo-con/arm chair warriors, but they simply do not have the political courage to make that smartness and deliberation turn into a smart strategy because they lack the political courage to push the other way towards diplomacy and peace building – and smart strategies of dealing with difficult actors like the Resistance Axis.

3) thus, they write:

“If the West, wants to use real diplomacy to stop or slow the killing, on the other hand, it will need, to, make unpalatable compromises, –, in particular, accepting that Assad’s fate must be a, question for the transition process, not a pre, -, condition or assumed outcome, and that Iran, must play a role in the diplomatic process., This paper argues that a policy, of de, -, escalation backed by a diplomatic push towards, elements of a regional grand bargain, aimed at pushing reluctant domestic actors towards, the, negotiating, table, is the better option.”

— Ok, yes. This is great. What I feel like is sadly missing, yet again, is that this kind of a report has little in the way of teeth/power because it does not diagnosis the political failure in detail that is refusing to follow good recommendations. This missing half means we dont understand HOW these good ideas might come to fruition in political reality, what is blocking movement in Europe and the US and why it is in the interest of the Western actors. I also want to know more about HOW SUCH IDEAS can and should be sold to various constituents/power blocs/interests. There is great detail about the interests of non-western actors, but without a sharp analysis of what is blocking the western powers, we are left with a very sensible report which can and will be set aside, because 1) a grand bargain ain’t in the cards 2) the dynamics of greater conflict are only growing and getting into a row and 3) when political courage is missing at the top, only a bottom or medium level up approach is going to force some change an courage.

A final criticism – Daniel and Julien need to be more alarmist. There is very good reason to be alarmist – i.e. the underlying trends and capabilities are ALARMING. After so many dead, the region perched on a climactic struggle, it is high time to get shrill, amplify the WMD and War effects/threats and force political courage to de-escalate.

In my mind everyone on the side of sensible peace building solutions, descalation ideas etc are far far too soft in explaining the terrible road we are all on.

I was alarmist in the summer of 2011. True, a massive war has not come to pass in almost two years. But it has grown extremely close and open to small pushes now from small actors as never before.

It should not have come to this – I wonder: If there had been a kind of reverse Iraq War alarmism – but this time in the service of negotiation and peace building – well I think maybe, maybe it would have been worth the measured exaggeration and manipulation. it is something to consider when we must consider the political side/strategies of sensible policy recs.

We will see in this next period if the dead people and ruined lives stack up even more dramatically with a war – suffering that will no longer be restricted to the arab side, that seems certain.


Written by nickbiddlenoe

May 25, 2013 at 11:12 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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