By William Young, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: William Young is a senior policy analyst at the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation. He was formerly a senior officer with the Central Intelligence Agency with extensive experience in the Middle East. The views expressed are his own.
All roads lead to Damascus…and back out again. Financial and military aid flowing into Syria from Iran, Russia, Libya, Saudi Arabia, and other Arabian Gulf states aims to influence the outcome of the conflict between a loose confederation of rebel factions and the Bashar al-Assad regime. But this outside support could merely perpetuate the existing civil war and ignite larger regional hostilities between Sunni and Shia areas, reshaping the political geography of the Middle East.
In many ways, this is a continuation of the historical struggle between Sunni against Shia for dominance in the Islamic world, with Israel as another nearby target. Historical hatred between extremists on both sides of the conflict has already begun to spread fear and influence political sentiment north and east into Turkey and Iraq, west into Lebanon, Israel, and Palestine, and south into Jordan and the Arab Gulf. To understand these trends, it is important to ask: Who benefits from the conflict in Syria, and who loses?
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Fareed Zakaria speaks with King Abdullah II of Jordan about the future of Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria and radical Islamists in the region.
What would you like to see happen in Syria? You are facing an extraordinary crisis. And I think people need to remember you have now 300,000 refugees from Syria. You have just gone through a decade in which you took in hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees. The Iraqis have just started going back, and you now have this new influx. Do you think that the fall of al-Assad will, in some way, end this crisis? Or will that launch the beginning of a larger Syrian civil war?
Well, the challenge that we have with the longer this conflict goes on, the more the country will implode. And so for the first time, again, there’s talk of is there going to be a fragmentation of Syria? The breakup into different smaller states, which I think would be catastrophic and something that we would be reeling from for decades to come? But the longer it goes on, the nastier it gets, the more complicated it gets. But at the same time, anybody who’s saying that Bashar’s regime has got weeks to live, really doesn’t know the reality on the ground. They still have capability. So I give them a strong showing, at least for the first half of 2013.
Why is it that the army has not gone to al-Assad and said, you have to leave? In other words, there’s been relatively little defection at that highest level. Help us understand what the dynamic is that keeps the regime together.
Well, the regime was based on Alawite leadership that gives this a lot of its strength. And, again, part of the problem is with some of the minorities, especially if you look at the Christians and the Druze. Part of the issue that we’ve been tackling over the past several plus years and a half is seeing this influx of radical fighters coming into the country. So if you’re a Druze or you’re a Christian, who is sitting on the side of the fence…and even certain Alawites are not happy with the way Bashar is dictating the future of his country. But the other alternative, radical Islamist groups coming…is more frightening. So I think that’s what’s kept them on the sidelines.
By Jennifer Trahan, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Jennifer Trahan is associate clinical professor at the Center for Global Affairs at the NYU School of Continuing and Professional Studies and chair of the American Branch of the International Law Association International Criminal Court Committee. The views expressed are her own.
With a death toll that has passed 40,000 and still climbing, there can be no doubt that the situation in Syria should end up before the International Criminal Court, which was established to try the worst cases of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity where national courts are unwilling or unable to act. The international community has been waiting for the U.N. Security Council to refer the situation to the Court, as the Council is permitted to do under the 1998 Rome Statute that established the Court. Unfortunately, the Council votes are not there.
But another path to the ICC is now emerging. When the al-Assad regime eventually falls, as looks increasingly likely, a new Syrian government will be able to ratify the Rome Statute. That will create jurisdiction over crimes committed in Syria.
CNN speaks with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair about the fiscal cliff, Britain’s economy and what to do about the crisis in Syria.
Here in the United States, we talk about the fiscal cliff – unemployment 9.1 percent, millions of people would lose their jobs, the country would go back into a recession. What are the global implications, if, in fact, we do go over the fiscal cliff?
Very bad if it happens. So everyone hopes it doesn’t. I mean, I think right now you would expect people to be flatly rejecting the other side’s proposal…It’s going to be a really tough negotiation. The expectation by the way in the world is that you will sort it out. And if you do, I think the American economy – I would be probably more optimistic about the American economy right now than certainly any part of the rest of the Western world. So if you can get this sorted out, you can really move forward.
And therefore, I think now that your elections are out of the way, I’m just speaking as an outsider, now your election is out of the way, there’s going to be all this bargaining and positioning. But my expectations, and the desire of the world is sort it out, and we can move on, and then sort our own problems out.
By Michael Rubin, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Michael Rubin is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and senior lecturer at the Naval Postgraduate School. The views expressed are his own.
Twenty months after the Syrian uprising began, only one thing is certain: However the conflict ends, the face of Syria is forever changed. The terror inflicted on the population by government forces and the shabiha militia has not been random. Rather, President Bashar al-Assad has moved to carve out a safe-haven for the Alawi minority of which he is a member and which dominates the government. Though kidnappings, murders, and mortar attacks appear indiscriminate, their targets are often the Sunni majority in towns and countryside the Alawis want for their own enclave’s integrity.
And, as the fighting in Homs demonstrates, government forces have other goals as well. At first glance, Homs may not look like much. It may be Syria’s third largest city, but it is a pale shadow of Aleppo, the country’s largest city, and Damascus, its capital. Homs, however, it is the crossroads of Syria: Since all roads lead to Homs, whoever controls Homs can control the country.
By Hugh Pope, Special to CNN
Editor's note: Hugh Pope is International Crisis Group’s Turkey/Cyprus project director and the co-author of Turkey Unveiled: a history of modern Turkey.
Amid the many challenges thrown up for Turkey by the worsening civil war in Syria is the way it adds fuel to the flames of Ankara’s domestic conflict with insurgents of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Clashes have worsened dramatically in Turkey’s southeast over the past year. A PKK-affiliated group is now dominant in Kurdish areas along northern Syria’s Turkish borders. And Turkey is accusing Syria of resuming its previous support for the banned group, listed as a terrorist organization.
But it is important for Turkey to face the fact that the Syrian connection is merely a symptom of its most important internal problem. A U.S. Patriot missile shield along the Turkey-Syria border, as suggested by the Turkish government this week, is not going to be much help against the PKK. The real test for Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is to find a way to use the current turmoil to perform a U-turn to escape from the failed PKK/Kurdish policies of his government in the past 18 months.
By Soner Cagaptay, Special to CNN
Editor's note: Soner Cagaptay is a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and a GPS contributor. You can find his other posts here. The views expressed are solely those of the author.
Ankara is struggling to accommodate the tide of Syrian refugees looking to enter Turkey. As of this month, there were more than 100,000 Syrian refugees in the country, a number that Turkey has already declared as the “psychological limit” in terms of the number it can host. Ankara can also be expected to try to accommodate many refugees on the Syrian side of the border. Indeed, without apparent interference from the Syrian government, temporary zones are already forming like inkblots across the national boundary from Turkey into Syria. But can Turkey cope?
The refugee influx poses potential security concerns for Turkey, not least because of the potential for armed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) members in Syria to use this as an opportunity to cross into Turkey. As a result, Ankara has already temporarily closed some of its border crossings and increased security controls for refugees fleeing across the border. This has translated to increased waiting times for entry, which has in turn only added to the back-log of refugees on the Syrian side of the border.
By Daniel DePetris, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Daniel R. DePetris is an independent researcher. The views expressed are his own.
For the first time since the Syrian rebellion began, the leadership of the opposition Free Syrian Army is making a concerted effort to unify the dozens of armed factions fighting under its name. The announcement by Colonel Riad al-Asaad, leader of the Free Syrian Army, that the FSA will be relocating its staff headquarters inside of Syrian territory is widely seen as a step in the right direction. Whether the move will make any practical difference in the fight, however, remains to be seen.
Al-Asaad was once a mid-level commander in the Syrian military, but his defection last year, and his attempt to form a band of former soldiers willing to fight against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, steadily changed the nature of the conflict. He is often considered by Syrian activists and deserters to be the first really high-ranking commander to flee the Syrian army in protest over the crackdown, and his actions appear to have inspired thousands of conscripts to follow in his footsteps: the FSA now includes more than two dozen former Syrian generals.
In a major speech two weeks before he debates President Barack Obama on international issues, Mitt Romney argued that Obama is failing to provide the global leadership needed and expected by the rest of the world.
Romney called for the U.S. to join allies in ensuring that rebels fighting government forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad get military hardware they seek. He also criticized Obama's overall approach to the Arab Spring uprisings in the Middle East and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And he argued that last month's attack on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, that killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans "was likely the work of the same forces affiliated with those that attacked our homeland on September 11th, 2001."
What's the difference between the candidates' stances and what does this mean for U.S. policy? Fareed Zakaria weighs in on this and more in this edited conversation:
Q: One of the points you've brought up before is that these two candidates really see eye-to-eye on a lot of foreign policy issues. The only one that we really heard that was different was Romney's stance on arming the Syrian rebels. How does the United States go about doing that?
ZAKARIA: If you were to have listened to that speech, you would assume, atmospherically, that Romney had very strong disagreements with the Obama administration, but his problem is that Obama has run a foreign policy almost like a moderate Republican. It's been internationalist. It's not been too liberal in the sense of human rights oriented. It's been tough. So the Syrian issue is the one place Romney can find to make a distinction. FULL POST
By Fareed Zakaria
As Syria continues its descent into civil war, the terrible humanitarian tragedy occurring is unfolding in plain view: 20,000 dead, 250,000 refugees outside the country by some accounts, over a million people internally displaced.
There seems no easy solution to end the crisis. But now, Syria’s neighbors are getting worried. Syria’s problems will not stay confined to Syria. Syria is a multi-sectarian society with shared identities with groups in other countries. As a result, the sectarian tensions that are being unleashed there are also spilling over from Syria’s borders.
There was an excellent New York Times article last week that noted how the Kurds in Syria are now starting to try to leave the country and are massing on the Turkish border. They are also trying to carve out a Kurdish zone in Syria that would allow them some autonomy. This is precisely what the Kurds in Iraq did, it is what some Kurds in Turkey aspire to do, and it is what the Kurds in Syria may try to do.
By Bilal Y. Saab, Special to CNN
Editor's note: Bilal Y. Saab is a visiting fellow at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies. This article is based on a recent analysis by the author that appeared in Jane’s Islamic Affairs Analyst. The views expressed are the author’s own.
With evidence of jihadist activity in Syria surfacing over the past several months, the issue now is not so much the likelihood of al-Qaeda’s presence in the Syrian conflict, but the nature of its involvement and the threat it poses to Syria’s future, regional security, and Western interests in the Middle East.
In a recent analysis in Jane’s Islamic Affairs Analyst on al-Qaeda in Syria, I revealed evidence of the multiplying jihadist cells operating in the country. Indeed, based on secondary Arabic sources and recent interviews in Europe and the Middle East with Western and Arab intelligence officers and analysts working on Syria, the Syrian battlefield now appears awash with al-Qaeda-linked jihadist cells. And even if some of these cells do not have a clear connection to al-Qaeda’s franchises in the region, or to the central leadership in Afghanistan and Pakistan, they have the same goals and operate in the same religious universe. The reality is that there is money, there are men, there is dedication, and there is some awareness on the part of al-Qaeda that the crisis in Syria presents an opportunity to expand in the Levant.
By Ole Solvang, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Ole Solvang is researcher with the Emergencies Division at Human Rights Watch. The views expressed are his own. You can follow him on Twitter: @olesolvang
After a month investigating human rights violations in the northern Syrian province of Aleppo, we were hoping that the last day of our mission would be relatively quiet. It didn’t turn out that way.
We started the day at an emergency hospital in the opposition-controlled area of Aleppo city. As a nurse listed the names and ages of civilians who had been killed in artillery and aerial attacks in Aleppo city the last couple of days, we heard a strike. An artillery shell hit a house just 200 meters from the hospital, and within minutes, the wounded started pouring in. Someone brought in a little boy. There was nothing the doctors could do – half of his head was blown away.
We visited several sites of attacks around the city, speaking to witnesses and victims, examining the sites, looking at the remnants of ammunition, and taking photos. As we returned to the hospital in the afternoon, we suddenly saw people looking warily at the sky, and minutes later heard a fighter jet. We ran for cover just in time – a rocket slammed into a building two houses over from the hospital, collapsing the top floors. Five little kids, all covered in blood and dust, were brought into the hospital, while the neighbors were struggling to reach others under the ruins. Later, we learned that the attack killed two people and wounded 17, 10 of them children.