Syria Analyst Andrew Tabler gives two contradictory takes on Russian “withdrawal” to NY Times in space of a few hours
One of the most important aspects of the Syria war to consider five years on – and so many ruined lives later – is the intensely negative impact of some leading Syria analysts, especially in Washington D.C., who have repeatedly fed wrong analyses to the media, the public and policymakers – and who have rarely been called out on it, much less dispensed with as “go to” voices. This issue has been unfortunately accompanied by the other negative trend of Syria analysts (and human rights advocates, conflict mitigation experts etc.) – some of whom never spent anytime in Syria – recommending a cocktail of military solutions when they have little or no training/expertise in military affairs.
One remembers “analyses” that Hezbollah and Iran were already massively deployed in Syria as early as the summer of 2011 (i.e. just after the Deraa protests of mid-March 2011); that the revolt had near zero extremist/terrorist group components well after their involvement was clear and expanding at an alarming rate; that US allies in the region (especially the Gulf monarchies and Turkey) were playing only a benign role in promoting the democratic aspirations of Syrians when their funding and facilitations of violent Anti-Western, Anti-Civilian forces was clear; that Assad would fall in a matter of weeks or months; that Russia and Iran and Hezbollah were essentially paper tigers and would not regard the Syria issue as an existential red line anyway; that the regime did not have chemical weapons that could exact terrible destruction in the region or, conversely, that the regime was using chemical weapons widely and almost immediately in the conflict; that Hezbollah was on the verge of collapse and being turned out by its own supporters. The list goes on and is rounded out by some NGO/advocates who explore the intracacies of whether shoulder fired anti-aircraft missiles or merely shoulder fired anti-tank missiles would bring down Bashar in an almost gentle, “controlled collapse.”
I provided some critique of these stances and offered a preview of what could happen if the militarization of the Syria conflict continued to gather steam in the NY Times and elsewhere in 2011, 2012 and 2015 here, here and here.
The Washington Institute for Near East Policy’s Andrew Tabler provides a sad punctuation mark on these issues today, ironically on the exact same day as we are confronted by the deeply distressing five-year anniversary of the Syria revolt.
In the wee hours of this morning, Tabler provided his take on Russian President Vladamir Putin’s “Syria withdrawal” announcement to the New York Times. At that moment he told the Times:
“Over the past few weeks, the Assad regime has made a number of statements indicating their negotiating position with the opposition remains quite rigid,” said Andrew J. Tabler, a scholar of Arab politics at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “Putin’s announcement, coming on the same day U.N. peace talks started in Geneva and in the absence of a decisive victory by Assad’s forces, indicates that Moscow might not be with Assad till the bitter end,” Mr. Tabler said.
A few hours later, Tabler reversed his position (the above quotes were exorcised), telling the NY Times:
“I seriously doubt Moscow is breaking with Assad,” said Andrew J. Tabler, a scholar on Syria at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Rather, he said, the Russian announcement appeared to be “putting the military burden back on Assad so as to soften up his negotiating position.”
The original, archived NY Times story thankfully is available here (and available via PDF as well):
In my view, Tabler saw the polemical advantage of signaling weakness and division in the Russian-Syrian alliance since amplifying this message could help the (mostly dismissed) WINEP/Tabler position that has long sought a major escalation of the Syria war (ideally led by the US and/or its allies), since such a major, apparent weakness means that the introduction of counter-force in the field might now tip the balance against an “Assad-on-his-back-feet.”
He pounced: Russia isn’t really committed to Syrian President Bashar Assad as deep as it seems – an admission which, in any case, reverses the previous WINEP/Tabler analyses that told us for so long that Assad and Syria were not really existential issues for Russia, Syria and/or Iran, who were mostly paper tigers anyway.
Perhaps realizing that his initial, published analysis went way out ahead of events, Tabler apparently walked back his comments to the NY Times quite quickly, cautioning against thinking that there has been some kind of tipping point reached and that Russia could be signalling it is willing to part with Assad.
Of course, either of Tabler’s analysis might prove to be correct ultimately – I tend to think Tabler 2.0 will likely be borne out and not Tabler 1.0. (I wrote about the Russian military escalation for Foreign Affairs here in October 2015)
But that’s not the point or the danger that we can clearly see here. Tabler saw fit to exact a 180 degree change in his analysis to the same media source, within a few hours. The key question that all readers, journalists and policymakers need to ask themselves is simply: How can we continue to feature such an analyst?
I myself have made mistakes over the last 12 years in my own analyses which people need to weigh when considering my position and its relevance (As two examples in my head: I thought it “likely” that M14 would lose the 2009 elections in Lebanon – they won, though rapidly disintegrated and lost power as some of us suspected would happen; and I also thought it “unlikely” that the Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah had said a specific anti-semitic comment in 2002 for which I had not been able to find a full recording – Tony Badran found it and I have since added it to the list of anti-semitic utterances by Hezbollah which I had first raised in my 2007 Verso book, Voice of Hezbollah).
All of that said, I certainly hope I haven’t also pushed evidently contradictory analyses over time – much less in the same day.