The latest speech of Bashar al-Assad was rife with arrogance and denial. But Assad also exposed himself by revealing that the previous so-called “reforms” were not serious ones, since he has now made new promises to make the same reforms.
In addition, and more importantly, Assad’s address carried two implications: First, he signaled a military and security escalation in conjunction with preempting any political initiative, even one that is merely empty rhetoric. And second, he focused on the Takfiris and Salafis [militant Islamist hardliners], an insinuation addressed primarily to the West and the United States, because Assad knows that only foreign intervention will settle the conflict that has been raging for two years now in Syria.
According to some reports, the partial progress made by the regime forces in the past few weeks may be due to the diminishing ammunition and supplies of the opposition, compared to the new Russian and Iranian weapons and supplies acquired by the regime. If these reports are accurate, then the conclusions that Assad reached and what he built upon them are logical.
To be sure, Assad, like an exemplary student of the school of thought of “political cards”, which holds peoples and their initiatives in contempt, goes straight to the stream and very much sees the forest for the trees. True, the U.S. and Western European reactions were decisive in that the Syrian president did not succeed in getting his message through to those he wanted to deliver it to. Nevertheless, this is not enough at all unless coupled with more proactive behavior and a sense of initiative by these countries, which are alone able to settle the open-ended and costly
Here, faced with the major and critical juncture that the escalatory speech portends, and in order to shorten the path of violence and death, it is better for the opposition, in turn, to see the forest for the trees.
This begins by reassuring the democratic world that the new Syria will be a part of it. Syria, at least since the mid-fifties, was never so. Indeed, this country was the first in the Arab world to turn to Soviet and Eastern armaments, before Gamal Abdel Nasser decided to “break the monopoly of arms.” Syria challenged the nation-state paradigm in the region with its union, in 1958, with Egypt. Then with the Baath Party, specifically with Hafez al-Assad, those contrarian policies turned from being a hobby to being a profession, and from being random stances to being a coherent strategy.
The reason is that Assad’s policies of neither peace nor war prevented the Levant, for years ever since 1974, from living in political stability on the basis of civil peace and the nation-state structure. This had major repercussions that, in addition to repressing the Syrian people, included but were not limited to: fuelling the protracted civil-regional war in Lebanon; threatening Jordanian security through deadly bombings; blackmailing the Turks by supporting the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK); and actively participating in terrorizing Iraq by facilitating the flow of terrorists, both Islamist hardliners and otherwise, into the country.
Because Syria is a country of paramount importance, the issue there is not just about toppling the regime, while retaining the same inherited and historical structure, including the ideology, of the regime itself. Indeed, we are dealing here with a smaller version of countries like Germany and Japan after the Second World War, in that they were countries whose internal circumstances led them to destabilise their regions and subsequently the world.
This is a major responsibility dictated by history, as well as politics, bearing in mind that those in charge of dealing with it are by definition unlucky, and cannot be envied for the options they have been left with. But what can one do if these are the only options left for us by a history as such, and if these are the only thing that can help Syria and the Syrians, and the Levant as a whole, to escape the vicious cycle of blood?
In order for the opposition to win this round, which is probably the most dangerous among all its predecessors, it must make more radical demands which are not limited to fleeting and well-intentioned statements. Ultimately, the world’s forest is very different from al-Nusra Front’s tree.