.@NoahBonsey hopes “Resistance Axis”/Russia will negotiate away Bashar, also say bye to even a rump “Resistance Axis” state; but such “final” terms together likely to accelerate conflict
ICG’s Noah Bonsey writes for Reuters here that the analyses of rebel wins and a possible Bashar collapse are overblown and that “For any progress toward resolution in Syria, state backers need to get real.”
But there are two critical problems in his formulation, first that the negotiated solution/option he lays out is actually fairly unreal in the sense that it is essentially a complete collapse in Iran/Hizbullah’s (not to mention Russia’s) position. At the same time, the fact that this kind of a formula is so utterly unattractive to the “Resistance Axis” actors – and therefore is unlikely to even bring the sides to a real discussion table much less to compromise – means that it is also hard to see how an ever harder military push by the anti-regime forces does not become increasingly attractive to them and also increasingly likely to lead to a collapse – contrary to the thrust of his piece which suggests “no one” can “win” – as it gains more regional backing, funding and external support and as the old foes smell blood (we should remember as well that many of these actors care little for the medium and long term consequences of their actions since so much over the Syria conflict is seemingly driven by irrationality and, as always, amorality or immorality).
Noah’s great hope seems to be that just a bit more of US-supported and regionally-led military pressure could lead to a (relatively) nice negotiated solution which sees Bashar exit and Iran/Hizbullah/Russia agree to what would essentially be a major defeat and strategic loss borne well into the future. But it is entirely unclear whether any of the actors have the ability to actually finely calibrate such a difficult movement, much less that the Resistance Axis actors and Bashar would accept such a painful series of losses in position.
In the end, one can either hope that 1) Iran/Hizbullah and Russia have finally cultivated a trusted and efficient Syrian leadership structure that they could position to negotiate a solution – i.e.the Assad immediate circle exits and far more substantial benefits and territory accrue to Iran and Russia than in Noah’s minimalist formulation. In the end, this would mean that there still is a rump “Resistance Axis” state, a minimum it seems for any negotiated solution just as Bashar’s exit is as well; or 2) that a military push collapses the regime in a manner that is under-written by a strong US role to prevent genocide, reduce extremist influence, reduce the possibility of Resistance Axis opponents trying to further capitalize on the “win” (thereby inflaming matters more elsewhere) and which also refocuses the fight on ISIS and Nusra.
Sadly it seems that just as Noah’s hoped for negotiated solution is highly unlikely, so to are both of these options unlikely given that Iran and Hizbullah primarily see NO other way forward except with Bashar at the helm (and that there may not a more efficient Syrian network available anymore) and that the Obama administration is unlikely to play the kind of strong role that would be called for in the event of the collapse of Bashar.
Noah’s formulation is captured here:
As he sees it, “Washington should clearly signal willingness to negotiate a sustainable resolution ending Bashar Assad’s rule but including: preservation and reform of state institutions; hard security guarantees for all communities; decentralized security arrangements that would empower locals to play a lead role in their own protection; and delineation of responsibilities through constitutional provisions defining a newly pluralistic Syrian state. Given the extent of Iran’s influence on the ground, it would be included in such negotiations. For its part, Tehran will have to accept something less than what it has had — unrivalled influence over a Syrian state within its “resistance axis” — and negotiate to secure what its foreign policy agenda requires: a link to Hezbollah in Lebanon and a Syria not allied exclusively with Iran’s regional competitors.”
It is extremely difficult to imagine how the pro-Bashar sides preserve even the minimal benefits that Noah describes here (the use of the word “exclusively” signals Noah’s desire that Iran and Hizbullah must accept that any Syria or partitioned Syrias would be strongly linked to Iran’s competitors/enemies… a difficult proposition).
In my view the bottom line is that the only hope for a negotiated solution anymore (the ideal track as opposed to a rapid collapse of the regime which would likely engender even more problems and suffering in the absence of US action) lies in Iran/Hizbullah and Russia replacing Bashar’s circle with a new, trusted network of Syrians AND at the same time, the Anti-Assad external actors accepting that the other side of a partitioned Syria – at the very least – does stay within the Russian and Resistance Axis orbit.
This last part represents a key difference with Noah’s formulation which suggests that Russia and the Resistance Axis will eventually accept a lot less than that. I think both would probably fight to the bitter end if this is the offering and that their enemies would do the same.