Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Syrian Knot

With the massacre in Houla, and the discovery of 13 people who had been apparently bound and executed near Deir az-Zour, the grim reality of the deteriorating situation in Syria has taken center stage across the globe. The diplomatic isolation induced by the expulsion of Syrian diplomats in numerous countries also seems to suggest a turning point in the conflict. Even the Russians couldn't stay silent. Meanwhile, many commentators now openly speak of the failure of Special Envoy Annan's Six-Point Plan. With the brutality coming to life - and diplomatic channels being closed - the question looms with a long and stark shadow, what is the way forward in Syria?

The problem with Syria is that its not just a problem with Syria. I wouldn't try and suggest that Libya or Tunisia present "simple versions" of post-Arab Spring situations. That would begin to trivialize the struggle, the sacrifice, made by the citizens of those nations in their resistance to and success over tyranny. Furthermore, I am confident that a detailed study of either case would prove that the implications of whatever comes next in Tunisia and Libya impacts other nations, particularly in the Maghreb, and perhaps ultimately in Southern Europe. The problem with Syria, however, rests in the fact that any outcome will change the strategic calculus for the entire region.

Its no wonder that Turkey's Erdogan was quick to make a pronouncement and condemn Assad, urging him to move quickly to reform his country and address the will of the people. It is similarly no wonder that Hezbollah chief Nasralllah's unusually tone-deaf and miscalculated appeal for patience from the Syrian people was met with such criticism; the Shia leader doesn't usually get these things wrong, and his public support for Assad fell completely flat. Turkey will have to deal with a refugee problem at best, and an emboldened Kurdish Movement at worst, but more on that below. In the case of Lebanon, recent reports indicate that the turmoil in Syria has already reached across the border. The countries fates are inextricably linked, and it is more than likely that Nasrallah will lose his patron in Damascus. Its hard to tell how that may affect the balance of power in Beirut, but clearly Hezbollah showed its hand when Nasrallah asked the Syrian people to give the dictator Assad more time..

And its not just the Hezbollah that has benefited from the graciousness of Assad. Already, there are reports of Hamas leaders fleeing Syria for Egypt and backing away from Assad, while perhaps strategically positioning themselves with a future Ikhwan government and president in Cairo.

The Arab Spring had previously pressed Jordan into reform, though some feel it has come too slowly and without significant result. Refugees will be a problem for Amman, as well as a renewed push for democratization. The refugee issue will likely spread to Western Iraq as well. However, for Iraq and Turkey, the question of the Kurds presents perhaps the greatest challenge. A good friend who works with representatives in the Kurdish Government in Iraq makes the point that despite expressions of pan-Kurdish unity and national aspiration, the reality is often more splintered and complex. Syrian Kurds often consider themselves simply Syrian Kurds, with little to do with Kurds in Turkey or in Irbil. However, that doesn't mean that a transnational Kurdish moment could not arise, especially given that what we may ultimately be seeing in the region now is the slow dismantling of the colonial legacy, including its stilted dictatorships and national boundaries.