Meeting in Turkey to establish an alternative Syrian government, rebel groups decided to pick a Prime Minister and Cabinet, despite the fact 47-year-old Syrian ruler Bashar al-Assad has no intent of surrendering. All indications point toward opposition groups making little progress in their over two-year battle to topple the ophthamologist son of Haffez al-Assad, Syria’s modern-day ruler. With Syrian factions abducting U.N. personnel, the Syrian National Coalition stepped up to get all disparate rebel groups on the same page. By hosting the alternative Syrian government conference, Turkey solidifies itself as a bitter enemy of al-Assad’s regime. “Obviously [the opposition] has been very frightened trying, because it does not have a real social base on the ground, and it is worried that if it fails, it will get egg on its face,” said Univ. of Oklahoma Syrian expert Joshua Landis.
Setting up an alternative government has zero legitimacy, and no recognition where it counts: In the United Nations. Fighting al-Assad since March 11, 2011, the International Red Cross estimates that over 70,000 Syrians have lost their lives, while al-Assad attempts to repel a various rebel factions of unknown origin. Russia, Syria’s main ally in the region, has warned against a terrorist takeover, much like they saw in Chechnya, where Russian forces battled Islamic radicals until they finally threw in the towel. Expecting the vote to come as early as next Tuesday, opposition group spokesman Khalid Saleh said the opposition would pick a new government, in effect declaring war against Damascus. Syria’s allies know that if the same thing happened to them, they’d certainly want support for their sovereignty. Revolutionary movements can’t be allowed to legitimate governments.
Whatever happened with the Arab Spring two years ago in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, it has little to do with situation in Syria. To begin with, al-Qaeda has been fighting along side Syrian rebel groups, including Palestinians, hoping to set up a Taliban-like state in Syria once al-Assad calls it quits. White House officials have been reluctant to send cash or military support to opposition groups, not knowing exactly their backing or political objectives. Baath Party legislator Issam Khalil believes rebels groups are trying to “implode Syria from the inside,” accusing the groups meeting in Isranbul of undermining the Syrian government. Setting up an alternative government won’t quell the bloody conflict that costs thousands of lives a month. Sixty-year-old Russian President Vladimir Putin has no intent of giving up its strategic Tartus Mediterranean Naval Base.
Newly minted U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry signaled support an alternative government as long as its was approved by the al-Assad government and opposition groups. Syrian opposition coalition chief Mouaz al-Khalib expressed his reservations about electing an alternative government causing even more divisions in the war-torn state. “By electing an interim Cabinet, the Syrian opposition will put an end to any possibility for a negotiated settlement with the Syrian regime,” said London School of Economics Mideast analyst Fawaz A. Gerges. “War option would win over diplomacy,” said Gerges, stating precisely what exists today: Al-Assad defends his sovereignty to the death. When the U.N. voted Mahmoud Abbas’ Palestinian Authority a non-member state Nov. 29, 2012 and Abbas declared an independent state Dec. 2, 2012, it meant absolutely nothing in Tel Aviv.
Given the highly unstable situation in Iran and the Korean Peninusla, the White House can ill-afford to alienate Putin, or, for that matter, Beijing, that has consistently backed al-Assad’s sovereignty over various nefarious groups, especially the ones that seized March 6 20 Filipino U.N. peacekeepers. When al-Assad had a falling out with Damascus-based Palestinian leader-in-exile Khalid Meshaal before the March 11, 2011 insurgency began, it spelled “revolution.” With Meshaal’s prospects for recapturing territory inside Israel slim-and-none, he smelled blood in Damscus. Miscalculating al-Assad’s toughness, Meshaal thought he had a ready-made situation for a Palestinian state. Betraying al-Assad, who gave Meshaal sanctuary for years, shows the real loyalty in the Mideast. Russia has shown al-Assad the loyalty of a grateful ally, something the White House needs to appreciate.
Looking at the big picture, the U.S. needs Russia and China far more than they need to back questionable Syrian rebel groups. Whatever the body count in Syria, it’s up to Syrians to decide whether the benefits of revolution outweigh the human toll, including the some 70,000 war dead. If revolutions happened in the U.S. or Russia, the death tolls would be far greater preserving U.S. and Russian sovereignty. With so many Syrian rebel groups jockeying for supremacy, the White House should seize the opportunity to find common ground with Russia and China, both adamantly supporting al-Assad’s sovereignty. Establishing an alternative government “is a recipe for conflict, no doubt about it,” said Landis, rejecting assurances from Syrian National Coalition’s Khlid Saleh that he’d build a national consensus. Too many radical rebel groups are vying to topple the al-Assad regime.
About the Author
John M. Curtis writes politically neutral commentary analyzing spin in national and global news. He’s editor of OnlineColumnist.com and author of Dodging The Bullet and Operation Charisma.