On Russia Today’s Crosstalk this week, see here, Flynt emphasized that “a negotiated political settlement remains the only way out of the mess” in Syria. Noting that Former Algerian Foreign Minister Lakhdar Brahimi, “in his role as the U.N. and Arab League envoy, is trying to get traction with a process, trying to use a ceasefire for [the upcoming Muslim holiday] Eid al-Adha to jumpstart that,” Flynt reviews the regional and international state of play:
“Iran, for its part, has supported the plan; the Syrian government has expressed its willingness to cooperate. And, in something of an important shift in previous policy, Turkey is now saying it would support this initiative. It really remains to be seen whether other players—not just players in the Syrian opposition but other regional players—whether Gulf Arab states would be prepared to support this and use their influence with opposition groups. Will the United States be prepared to support this? This would require a significant change in direction for the United States, for the Gulf Arab states to support this kind of initiative, but it really is the only way out.”
Flynt also relates the diplomatic state of play to the disposition of public opinion in Syria:
“I think that there is a genuine popular base for the opposition in Syria, there are indigenous factors that contribute to this conflict, certainly. But I also think that the Syrian government, the Assad government, retains the support of probably a narrow majority of the Syrian population…at least half of the Syrian population still supports the government. That’s why I say I don’t think there is a military solution to this. I am not that confident that the Assad government can really win militarily, particularly as long as the opposition is supported by outside players. But I also don’t think that there’s a way for the opposition to win. [So] I come back to my basic point—that the only way out of this is a negotiated political process.
The problem so far has been that there are players—the United States, the Gulf Arabs, the Turks—that have insisted up to this point that a political process have not just preconditions but what you might call “pre-results”: that Assad’s departure had to be stipulated at the get-go. And for the United States, there’s this further concern that they’ve never wanted to have Iran involved in a regional process or a contact group on Syria. That’s just not a serious diplomatic position, if you want a political settlement…If we are going to have a political settlement, it is going to require some significant shifts in Turkish and U.S. and Gulf Arab policies.”
There is additional discussion of the real drivers of U.S. policy toward Syria and about just who is introducing sectarianism into the conflict. (It isn’t the Assad government or the Islamic Republic of Iran.) Flynt also pushes back against suggestions from another panelist that the Arab Awakening has been a “disaster” for Iran and that one should not link the U.S. intervention in Libya with Washington’s posture toward the conflict in Syria:
“The Iranians definitely see this differently—and I think they actually are right on this point, analytically. They think that the Arab Awakening is working very, very strongly in their favor, in that any government in this region which becomes at all more representative of its people’s attitudes, beliefs, preferences, and so forth is automatically going to become less interested in strategic cooperation with the United States (much less with Israel) and is going to become more open to an Iranian message of resistance…
In terms of the comparison—the way the U.S. is dealing with Libya, the way the U.S. is dealing with Syria—obviously the United States has not intervened directly, militarily yet in Syria. But I think that the fact that, in contrast to Libya, Russia and China have been willing to veto three Security Council resolutions, which would have legitimated that sort of intervention by the United States, is a really important factor here. It’s certainly no guarantee that the United States won’t, at some point, act without a Security Council resolution. The United States, unfortunately, has done that before. But I think that has been an important constraint on the United States in this situation.”
Along with the U.S.-Iranian relationship, the conflict in Syria is one of the most important factors that will shape regional dynamics in the Middle East over the next decade. And Washington is yet again pursuing policies that not only increase the level of human suffering in the Middle East, but also work against America’s long-term interests in the region.
–Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett