Tag Archives: bashar assad

The Long-Term Prospects of the Syria Deal


You can almost hear the collective sigh of relief in Washington over Syria’s apparent acceptance of a Russian plan to dismantle its chemical weapons. This offers the Obama administration an obvious out from what looked to be a losing vote to authorize military action against Bashar Assad. But is it a real out or a mirage?

It’s impossible to say for sure, without knowing the details of the “workable, precise, and concrete” plan that Russia has vowed to produce. But there is certainly room for considerable skepticism given what we know about the duplicity of the Syrian regime, Russia’s determination to keep that regime in power at all costs, and the ineffectuality of UN forces in the past.

Start with the obvious question: how will the destruction of the Syrian chemical arsenal work anyway?

The language coming from the Syrians and Russians suggests that Syria’s arsenal will not be moved out of the country. Rather, UN inspectors are somehow supposed to take control of tons of chemical agents in the middle of a war zone. It is unclear what then follows–will the inspectors somehow have to incinerate tons of these agents safely or will they simply camp out around the chemical-weapons sites indefinitely?

How this works, in practice, is almost impossible to imagine. Western intelligence agencies do not even know where all of Assad’s chemical-weapons stockpiles are located. Remember how much trouble UN inspectors had in verifying Saddam Hussein’s compliance with UN resolutions in the 1990s? The difficulties will increase ten-fold in Syria where the chemical-weapons arsenal is scattered across a large, dangerous battlefield. Saddam, it turns out, didn’t really have WMD; Assad does, and they won’t be easy to find.

The only way that Syria might fulfill its obligation to disarm is if it faces a credible threat of military action. Will Russia agree to a Chapter VII resolution at the United Nations that would authorize military action to compel Syrian compliance? Doubtful, but possible. Even if the UN does authorize action, what are the odds that Obama will act given the bipartisan resistance in Congress to any strikes? The House and possibly the Senate as well were already set to reject the authorization for the use of force. This “deal” is being peddled as a way to avoid a vote altogether. But if the U.S. is not seen as willing to strike Syria, what incentive does Assad have to comply with the terms of any disarmament deal? The most likely scenario is that Assad will agree to something in principle and then fudge on the implementation, knowing that Washington will have lost interest by that point.

The best thing that can be said in favor of the Russian deal is that it does offer an alternative to the immediate humiliation of Congress repudiating the president and refusing to authorize Syrian action. But the Russia resolution–unless it turns out to be unexpectedly binding–offers instead the prospect of a longer, more drawn-out strategic defeat in which Assad remains in power, keeps slaughtering his own people, and probably keeps at least part of his chemical-weapons arsenal.



#Islam: The Threat Isn’t Going Away

President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney wrapped up their trilogy of presidential debates on Monday this week and spent most of the evening arguing foreign policy. Each demonstrated a reasonable grasp of how the world works and only sharply disagreed with his opponent on the margins and in the details. But they both seem to think, 11 years after 9/11, that calibrating just the right policy recipe will reduce Islamist extremism and anti-Americanism in the Middle East. They’re wrong.

Mr. Romney said it first, early in the debate: “We’re going to have to put in place a very comprehensive and robust strategy to help the world of Islam . . . reject this violent extremism.” Later Mr. Obama spoke as though this objective is already on its way to being accomplished: “When Tunisians began to protest,” he said, “this nation, me, my administration, stood with them earlier than just about any other country. In Egypt, we stood on the side of democracy. In Libya, we stood on the side of the people. And as a consequence, there is no doubt that attitudes about Americans have changed.”

The Middle East desperately needs economic development, better education, the rule of law and gender equality, as Mr. Romney says. And Mr. Obama was right to take the side of citizens against dictators—especially in Libya, where Moammar Gadhafi ran one of the most thoroughly repressive police states in the world, and in Syria, where Bashar Assad has turned the country he inherited into a prison spattered with blood. But both presidential candidates are kidding themselves if they think anti-Americanism and the appeal of radical Islam will vanish any time soon.

First, it’s simply not true that attitudes toward Americans have changed in the region. I’ve spent a lot of time in Tunisia and Egypt, both before and after the revolutions, and have yet to meet or interview a single person whose opinion of Americans has changed an iota.

Second, pace Mr. Romney, promoting better education, the rule of law and gender equality won’t reduce the appeal of radical Islam. Egyptians voted for Islamist parties by a two-to-one margin. Two-thirds of those votes went to the Muslim Brotherhood, and the other third went to the totalitarian Salafists, the ideological brethren of Osama bin Laden. These people are not even remotely interested in the rule of law, better education or gender equality. They want Islamic law, Islamic education and gender apartheid. They will resist Mr. Romney’s pressure for a more liberal alternative and denounce him as a meddling imperialist just for bringing it up.

Anti-Americanism has been a default political position in the Arab world for decades. Radical Islam is the principal vehicle through which it’s expressed at the moment, but anti-Americanism specifically, and anti-Western “imperialism” generally, likewise lie at the molten core of secular Arab nationalism of every variety. The Islamists hate the U.S. because it’s liberal and decadent. (The riots in September over a ludicrous Internet video ought to make that abundantly clear.) And both Islamists and secularists hate the U.S. because it’s a superpower.

Everything the United States does is viewed with suspicion across the political spectrum. Gamal Abdel Gawad Soltan, the director of Egypt’s Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, admitted as much to me in Cairo last summer when I asked him about NATO’s war against Gadhafi in Libya. “There is a general sympathy with the Libyan people,” he said, “but also concern about the NATO intervention. The fact that the rebels in Libya are supported by NATO is why many people here are somewhat restrained from voicing support for the rebels.” When I asked him what Egyptians would think if the U.S. sat the war out, he said, “They would criticize NATO for not helping. It’s a lose-lose situation for you.”

So we’re damned if we do and we’re damned if we don’t. And not just on Libya. An enormous swath of the Arab world supported the Iraqi insurgency after an American-led coalition overthrew Saddam Hussein. Thousands of non-Iraqi Arabs even showed up to fight. Yet today the U.S. is roundly criticized all over the region for not taking Assad out in Syria.

The U.S. has decent relations with Tunisia’s elected coalition government, yet nearly every liberal Tunisian I interviewed a few months ago looks at that and sees a big conspiracy between Americans and Islamists. The Islamists, of course, see U.S. plots against them. We can’t win.

We can’t even win when we stand against Israel. President Dwight D. Eisenhower tried that during the Suez Crisis in 1956. He backed Egypt, not Israel, and not Britain or France. How did Egypt and its ruler Gamal Abdel Nasser pay back the U.S.? By forging an alliance with Moscow and making Egypt a Soviet client state for two decades.

Libyans are the big exception. They’re more pro-American than their neighbors, and they’re less prone to extremism. American flags are a common sight there—absolutely unheard of everywhere else in the Arab world. The Islamists lost the post-Gadhafi elections. The only demonstrations there recently were against the terrorist cell that assassinated U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others at the American consulate in Benghazi. Just a few weeks later, another group of demonstrators forced an Islamist militia to flee town by overrunning their headquarters.

Here Mr. Obama deserves credit. After all, he helped get rid of Gadhafi. But Libyans were already something of an exception. They were force-fed anti-American propaganda daily for decades, but it came from a lunatic and malevolent tyrant they hated. Libyans and Americans were quietly on the same side longer than most people there have been alive. Libya has at least that much in common with Eastern Europe during the communist period. Unfortunately, that just isn’t true of anywhere else.

When he was elected president in 2008, Mr. Obama thought he could improve America’s relations with the Arab world by not being George W. Bush, by creating some distance between himself and Israel, and by delivering a friendly speech in Cairo. He was naïve. He should know better by now, especially after the unpleasantness last month in the countries where he thinks we’re popular.

It’s not his fault that the Middle East is immature and unhinged politically. Nobody can change that right now. This should be equally obvious to Mr. Romney even though he isn’t president. No American president since Eisenhower could change it, nor can Mr. Romney. We may be able to help out here and there, and I wholeheartedly agree with him that we should. But Arab countries will mostly have to work this out on their own.

It will take a long time.

Mr. Totten is a contributing editor at World Affairs and City Journal, and is the prize-winning author of Where the West Ends (Belmont Estate, 2012) and The Road to Fatima Gate (Encounter, 2011).

Sharia in Moscow

Russia's Putin Feeding Bashar Assad  Syrian's ...
Russia's Putin Feeding Bashar Assad Syrian's Blood (Photo credit: FreedomHouse)

“You think that we are coming here as foreigners, but we believe that we are at home here and maybe you are the foreigners. We will make those laws that suit us, whether you like it or not, and any attempts to change that will lead to spilled blood. There will be a second dead sea here and we will drown the city in blood.”

Those were not the words of some back alley preacher, but of noted Moscow lawyer, Dagir Khasavov, giving an interview to a television station about his proposal to implement Sharia courts in Russia. Interspersed with footage of death sentences being executed, Khasavov spoke about his new organization that would protect Muslim rights and claimed that his proposal was only the beginning of a worldwide expansion.

“We are going to expand this net, we will begin in Russia, first Asia, and then everything will be encompassed, as it was in the Caliphate,” Khasavov said. According to Khasavov, Russian security services already unofficially refer cases involving Muslims back to Sharia courts and his proposal to officially establish such courts would only legitimize the parallel justice system that already exists for the millions of Muslims who now live in Moscow and other cities.

There is no official count of the number of Muslims who have migrated to find work in Moscow, but it might be as high as a third of the population. Muslim prayers spill out into the streets and take over portions of the city. After the demolition of the decrepit Cathedral Mosque, eighty thousand Muslims took over the streets to celebrate Eid al-Adha while the police scrambled to control the streets.

Halal cafes are easier to set up than mosques and have proliferated much faster. Unofficial Sharia courts already operate out of Moscow mosques with Imams acting as the arbitrators, but Khasavov would like to go much further. Last year he proposed the creation of a Council of Imams, the first step toward establishing a united Muslim legal system. Nor is Khasavov a man who can be easily dismissed as a bearded lunatic playing Al-Awlaki sermons.

Khasavov has an extended background with the MVD, Russia’s Ministry of Internal Affairs, a section of its security services, and graduated from two of its institutions, including one named after Felix Dzerzhinsky, the godfather of Russia’s police state. Until recently he served as an aide to a member of the Federation Council dealing with social policy. And media coverage of his Sharia courts proposal was generally positive until a hostile interviewer on REN TV baited him into a rant that led to a catastrophic backlash causing him to temporarily leave the country.  It is entirely possible that his proposal was a trial balloon from higher up the food chain.

One of the stranger acts of Muslim terror in Moscow was the assassination of a Russian Orthodox Priest who had spent a great deal of time campaigning against Islam. Fr. Danill Sysoyev was killed in his own church by a masked man armed with a Makarov pistol tipped with a silencer. Security services supposedly turned up the pistol in the hands of a dead man they had killed, but no one appears to believe this version of the story, including the Moscow Patriarchate.

The method of the killing would have been out of character for Muslim terrorists, but entirely in character for the Russian security services, which have assassinated enemies of the state in the exact same manner. Opposition figures have been killed by masked gunmen armed with silenced pistols in public places, with their murders added to the list of unsolved crimes or attributed to some convenient career criminal. It would not have been the first time that the Russian security services had murdered a priest who fell out of line with government policy and treated it as an unsolved murder. The case of Alexander Men comes to mind.

Putin, like many European leaders, has used the Muslim presence to create chaos and instability for his own purposes. The UK’s Labour Party imported Muslim immigrants in their own divide and conquer scheme for Britain and Putin is following the same policies, the only difference is that critics of Russian government policy don’t get dragged into court on racism charges, they get shot in the head and the crime becomes another unsolved murder.

Like Europe, Russia is on the path to demographic suicide and has adapted to it by trying to divide Muslims into two groups, those they think they can control and the extremists who have to be suppressed. The native population is treated the same way. The lawless violence of the Russian government makes it easier to suppress the “extremists” in ways that the Eurocrats could not even dream of, but that doesn’t mean that its policies are fundamentally different.

Nearly a sixth of the Russian population is already Muslim and the birth rate numbers have put it on track to a Muslim majority. It’s an open question as to whether the authorities will allow things to go that far, but tellingly the Russian military is projected to become a majority Muslim force in a much shorter time. Once that happens it will become very difficult to change the direction of a country where control of the armed forces and major cities counts for more than the ballot box.

It’s not just Obama who has said that Islam has always been a part of his country, Medvedev said before him at an Arab League meeting in Cairo. “Russia does not need to seek friendship with the Muslim world,” he said, “Our country is an organic part of this world.”

Khasavov’s proposal follows Medvedev’s logic. If Russia, like America, is part of the Muslim world, it needs Sharia law and courts. And it will have them; initially under the auspices of trusted Muslim leaders, who like Khasavov, have links to the security services.

Putin is less concerned with whether he rules a Christian or Muslim country, so long as his power is unchallenged. And his propaganda increasingly aims at presenting his rule in a Muslim religious context. After the Iraq War, Russia’s Supreme Mufti called for a “joint ‘Orthodox-Islamic’ Jihad” against the United States and an election song by a Muslim singer set to traditional rhythms mixed with pop music praised Putin as “God’s Messenger”.

Ramzan Kadyrov, the President of Chechnya, was even more direct, saying, “Putin gave the Chechen nation its second life! Allah appointed him to his position.”  Kakiev Said-Magomed Shamaev, leader of a GRU Spetsnaz battalion, appeared in a Pravda piece titled, “Special Services fight in the name of Allah and Putin.”

This brand of Eurasianism is to Russia what multiculturalism is to the West, both reject the European context and in doing so hope to build an empire through union with the Muslim world. And both strategies are equally doomed. Instead of protecting Russia, Putin has protected his own power and once again the Russian people are paying the price for the imperial dreams of their leaders.

Today the bloody mess on the streets of Moscow is only that of sheep being slaughtered for Muslim festivals, but If Russia continues on its present course the day will come when Khasavov’s prediction of a city drowned in the blood of Muslim violence will come true.Posted By Daniel Greenfield

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