By Jay Holmes
Since I published my last update on Syria in late November, the conflict remains in overtime, waiting for a tie breaker. It’s easy enough to watch the events play out from this safe distance, but for the 22.5 million people living in Syria, things must seem a bit more urgent.
Looking at the human side of the conflict leaves one with a grim view. Since our update, Syrian security forces have killed more than a thousand additional protesters. That indicates the death rate for Syrian protesters, according to UN figures, has sadly risen from approximately 15 civilians killed per day to 25 civilians killed per day.
Bashar Assad, Syria’s dictator, would quickly point out that not all of those killed were unarmed protesters, but it’s clear that most were. According to UN figures, the death toll for Syrian protesters has now surpassed 5,000 lives.
Some Western observers and a few Arab observers are claiming that the UN figure is likely less than half of the actual number of protesters killed. In addition to the over 5,000, there are, depending on who you ask, somewhere between 7,000 and 40,000 prisoners confined in miserable conditions in Syrian prisons. Numbers aside, it is clear that, in spite of the presence of 65 Arab League observers (who are escorted by Assad’s security forces), the Assad regime has become more willing to kill his unarmed citizens.
To consider those deaths from another perspective, the deaths of protesters in Syria have now surpassed the total number of US combat deaths during the 2003-2011 Iraq War. The faces of the dead protesters are less visible to us, thanks to the tight media control in Syria. But if we think of how anguished we have been about our losses in Iraq, we can understand the growing anxiety of expatriate Syrians who have families in Syria.
I went to the trouble of sending a polite and innocent journalistic query to the Syrian security forces and the Assad government via a safe intermediary, but neither has responded. My best friends and Assad’s best friends don’t have a history of playing nicely together so their lack of response is no indication of anything other than the fact that they don’t like my friends.
Speaking to the rebels is a bit easier if we’re not too particular about which random rebel we speak to. While the rebels remain in agreement that Assad should depart Syria in his jet, his yacht, or a garbage bag, there is not yet a strong consensus about what a post-Assad Syria would look like.
The hordes of the interested outside parties remain unchanged in Syria. The Arab league does not want to see a change to a regime influenced by Russia, by Western states, or by business interests other than their own. To that end, they have promised to send more observers to Syria, and they have throttled Syria’s banking system by halting trade with banks from other Arab League nations.
Iran would like to see anyone “not Sunni” in charge in Syria as long as they are willing to continue recognition of Iranian suzerainty over Syria and Lebanon. Normally, Iran would be conducting more desperate efforts to influence events in Syria because Syria is important to it for the control of Hezbollah operations in Lebanon. The Hezbollah gang has what Iran considers to be an unfortunate tendency. It often starts imagining itself to be an independent political entity capable of being all grown up without Iran. Given that Syria is 74% Sunni, and that Shiites are hard to find in Syria, Iran’s long term prospects in Syria are not looking too good.
Russia, or at least the “Putinos” in Russia, would like to see anyone of any religion or no religion in charge in Syria, as long as they happily continue purchasing vast quantities of military toys from Russian factories allegedly financially controlled by Putin and his closest Putino pals. In Putin geopolitical theory, the “new” Syria would allow an expansion of Russia’s naval base in Syria to house the imaginary vast Russian Mediterranean Fleet that Putin fantasizes about while doing whatever it his he does at night before he goes to sleep. (His poor wife….)
My guess is that, after considering the ongoing nuclear disasters at Russian Northern Fleet naval bases, the average Syrian is not going to be thrilled by the prospect of becoming Russia’s latest Naval success story. Given that the average Syrian is aware that Assad and his tiny Alawite minority could never have taken and held power in Syria without Soviet intervention, it seems likely that Syrians would love to be nobody’s naval base, and they would likely spend their defense cash any place but Russia.
Western Energy moguls would love to see vastly expanded oil pipelines built to transport Arabian and Iraqi oil to a Syrian Mediterranean port like Tartus. That would be lovely for Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States. It would be lovely for energy moguls, and for western oil addicts like you and I. It would be a dark nightmare for Iran. Threatening to cut off the straits of Hormuz would be no fun for the fake mullahs running Iran if the only tankers sailing the Straits were all Iranian.
Secondarily, Western energy moguls would like to see further natural gas development in Syria with taxpayer financed foreign aid from Western nations. Why let those silly Syrians use that natural gas if you can export it to Europe at huge profits while generous Western Taxpayers finance the deal and pay huge prices for the oil? That would be crazy. So who was behind the recent oil line attack in Syria? I can’t be sure, but the attack suited Assad, Iran and nobody else.
When energy moguls are not watching, other Western moguls would like Assad to be gone by any method that does not involve them having to spend cash, expensive cruise missiles, and political capital. Western governments would like a safe transfer of Syria’s nerve gas stockpiles (some of which once belonged to his neighbor, Saddam Hussein) for destruction and disposal. A Syrian government run by the majority of Syrians and not by gangsters claiming to be religious authorities would make the West happy.
So what abut the people doing the bleeding in all of this? What do the Syrians want?
Since having an opinion has not yet been legalized in Syria, and since a departure by Assad won’t guarantee freedom and justice for them, it’s hard to know for sure. I am willing to make a few guesses. They would like their security forces to stop killing them. They would like unemployment rates lowered. The religious leaning rebels in Homs would like a Sunni theocracy, but they are in the minority and might not be able to pull it off. If Assad leaves, dies, or in the unlikely event that he becomes a nice person, Syrians might be able to form a working parliamentary government.
And Bashar Assad? What he wants today is to not star in a you tube video about how unskilled Syrian teenagers dispatch nasty dictators. His long term hopes are becoming more difficult to imagine.
With Assad’s banking system crumbling and desertions from his military increasing, it’s hard to imagine a happy future for him. Assad may be using his rose colored sunglasses to see a future where Western nations are so busy with the nasty little mullahs in Iran and their uranium issues that they never intervene in Syria, and he simply remains in power.
The sands of time will continue to run, with or without Western military intervention, and Assad should know and remember that sand is always corrosive. Assad could perhaps call up the jovial director of the Venezuelan Club Commie Resort and ask if Uncle Momo’s reservation is still available. The trick would be getting from his house to Hugo Chavez’s resort without being shot in the back by the frightened and badly outnumbered clan he would be leaving behind.
Normally “Good Luck Bashar” would be a handy phrase for ending this article, but I won’t pretend to wish him any such thing. Instead, I will offer my humble best wishes to the people of Syria. In my estimation, the majority of them are decent and reasonable people. If it is left up to them, the better country that they build for themselves need not be a threat to anyone else. A Syria that concentrates on it’s own well being would be an improvement for every reasonable person concerned.
Thanks for the update, Holmes… I have an old window unit air conditioner. Do you think Bashar would be interested? I think he might be needing one where he’ll be going soon. Should I tell him that the freon has already been removed?
Hi Dave. How considerate of you to drain the Freon for him. I wonder what the resistance and impedence would be for such a long extension cable.
Maybe it’s because it’s Sentimental Sunday day. Hey, it’s drizzling and I have a toasty fire in the fireplace.
My take-away from this, Holmes goes beyond the understanding you impart about global community interests and their self-centered hopes for the outcome in Syria. Whatever sucks for Iran works for me. Well, that and an end to violence.
I felt deep sadness for the Syrian people when I read your post. The “body count” together with the comment about independent thinking not yet being legal in Syria made be wonder what I did in a prior life to deserve to be sitting where I am at this moment.
I checked on your past life. The only mistake I see is that you forgot to bake me a chocolate cake in 1921. That one chocolate cake failure could not have caused the suffering that we see today. If the missing cake is going to play on your mind just bake one and give it to some hungry teenagers. If you lack hungry teens at home there will likely be some in your area. Don’t try to explain your motives to them. Just give them the cake.and tell them to bake it fiorward.
I baked it for you, Holmes. Then, I ate it. In one sitting. Sorry.
To clarify, I was counting my blessings. Here I (still) sit in front of a toasty fire. Safe. Secure.
LOVE paying it forward. Try to do that as often as I discover the need and have the resources or, in your case, the cake.
Syria is a piece in a puzzle that we’ve got to put together. One thing is sure, no military intervention. If we wait and see how the situation will shake out, we might wind up with a government that mirrors Iran. Going into a bidding war with Moscow over who will arm the winner is immoral. One thing I’m sweating is that the POTUS will listen to those who believe that we’re in danger no matter who comes out on top.
Hi Tomwisk. “Going into a bidding war with Moscow over who will arm the winner is immoral.” I happen to think that less total military aramament on the planet is a good idea but the stockholders of defense manufacturing plants around the world disagree with me. Arms sales and their influence over international relations would make for a long series of articles.
The President is likely receiving daily breifings from both the State department and the intel gangs about the possibilities in Syria. Much of his atttention will be focused on Iran now but the unfinished business in Libya, the turmoil in Iraq, the decline of democracy in Russia, the insanity in N K, and relationships with allies will all also be on his mind. When he relaxes for a moment and turns on his TV he will then get to watch footage of Hugo “El Pendejo” Chavez on the news.
Obama is looking old. They all look old after a couple of years in the White House.
Great update, Holmes. It will be interesting to see how this plays out as the facade of authority continues to break down. As many others through history have found, a leader can only oppress their populace so far before the desire to survive outweighs the desire for recognized leadership. I think Gaddafi found this one out most recently.
By the way, it is a GOOD thing that the security forces of Syria don’t like your friends. I would bet the feeling is mutual.
The feeling is not quite mutual but similar. As the years and the memories have accumulated, I have had to learn to view such creatures from a detached perspective. I try to view them the way that an M.D. might view a virus. One must understand the history and the path of the virus in order to seeks a cure or to at least stop the spread of the virus.
No doubt that things are bad for Syrians who oppose the current regime. Or any future regime.
But is this surprising? And considering recent developments in our own government, do you think it would be different here? Now that our law is “shoot first, remember right to trial by jury if/when it’s convenient” who gets to decide the line between loyal opposition and dangerous traitor?
I love that you have affection for the people of Syria, and I hope that goodness prevails all around.
Thanks for identifying the players and letting us know what’s up their sleeves.
Hi Texanne. Thanks for your kind words.
“But is this surprising?” Not at all.
Great summary of the on-going situation. I wonder, has the arrival of the Arab League observers made any difference? And what are they going to do it they observe something they don’t like?
Assad’s position seems to be deteriorating slowly, but I wonder if the forces wanting to take over aren’t pushing him out yet because they’re still getting their plans (ie how to funnel money into their own bank accounts) in place.
Hi Nigel. Thanks for your great article on the X-2 today. Your page has become one of my favorite ways of taking a refreshing break from some of the grim things that I often spend my day thinking about.
The Arab league would like to become relevant to themselves and others and this is an opportunity for them to do so. At the same time, they would like to avoid raising expectations for anything like representative government in their regeion. Against their need to keep the people in their region highly hysterical and easily manipulated, they would like the crisis in Syria to not be resolved by any “outsiders” and they include Turkey in their list of outsiders.
The Arab league can heavily influence the economic situation in Syria, and they could easily arm any Assad opponents, but they don’t want the Sunni radicals in Homs to prevail.
The Arab league won’t risk overt joint military intervention in Syria because Syria has nerve gas and the ability to deliver it to it’s neighbors. Anyone living within 700 kilometers of Syria is at risk of a very lethal nerve gas attack.
Pipes, personal question:
Have you spend any time across the pond? Dunno if I’ve seen that anywhere…
I’ve been to Europe a few times. Lovely place. You did notice this blog is by Holmes, though, right?
But I was curious about you (no offense Holmes – it’s obvious you’ve been everywhere, man).
We were in Tunisia one year before it exploded.
I think the people in Syria need peace and growth of the country rather than the violence.