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January 29, 2014


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Scenario 1 is rejected out of hand. Virtually no true internationalization of conflict occurs without a state actor invading with regular troops á la Syria in Lebanon 1976. Unless Israel or Turkey out and out invades Syria, this is just not possible, and I strongly doubt either of the most belligerent neighbors are going to invade with actual ground troops, rather than fritter around the borders with attack craft. If we don't think Rwanda conflict between airplane crash and Kagame winning is an internationalized conflict, even with UN troops present and massive external support for both Hutus and Tutsi, then Syria is just very far from that.

--the section analyzing Iran's role is...trite, to say the least.

--I utterly disagree that Xi would ever send weapons to Syria as a means to enhance his rep with the hawks. There isn't really the kind of Iran-contra dynamic present in internal Chinese politics, nor does the Chinese military give one damn about Syria. They'd care far more about Kashmir and Jammu, and there are a wide variety of options available to Xi, not least intervention in Myanmar or Nepal, Pashtunistan or Balochistan, North Korea, Russia, the works that would matter far more to hawks.

The Turkish analysis is trite. Negotiations with the PKK is simply not tied to the conflict in Syria in a strong way. The primary conflict about negotiating with the PKK is between the more and less xenophobic factions of Turkish policy-making apparatus, and isn't determined by whether Kurds controlls northern Syria, per se. They get along just fine with the twin families that rule northern Iraq.

Reading on to Scenario #2...It seems that the primary cause of a willingness to restrain parties has to do with a major attack on Tartus, forcing the Russians to deal with the US and Iran? That is...given the current state of play...unlikely absent the collapse of the regime. The rest of the scenario is just wild, like the idea that the Kurds could be ignored at all in any peace negotiations. Sure they're being ignored now, but that's because Geneva #2 is simply a farce. On the ground, though, they don't just control their original homeland, but they also are in control of parts of Aleppo and other major urban areas. There isn't any real mechanism for them to be excluded and many reasons would exist to woo them. Also, Turkey ain't gonna lob missiles either. They just hire thugs and send them over the border. If not that, then army units with helicopters and stuff, like they did in Iraq so many years back.

Scenario #3 presumes that the regime can't win and actually recognizes that fact. That's pretty dubious. The way that it delicately avoids mentioning the GCC states as having any responsibility for bringing parties to the table is hilarious. There is also the issue that Homs is some sort of focal point for stalemate, when Homs is merely contested by rebels, and made insecure. Any place for actual stalemate is Idlib or Aleppo, and last I heard, the regime was making steady progress, and currently rather being indiscriminate in attempting to destroy rebel positions in Aleppo. Any terms not of victory for Assad must have some sort of facts on the ground to support the rebels, and I just don't see that here.

Nah, I think regime victory is the most likely scenario. You can stuff rebels with all the weapons in the world, but you can't forced them to be an organized, disciplined army such that it can face SAA on its own terms. No unity, no real government, then no victory for rebels.

I think regime victory is plausible, but it comes up against one big problem: the sharp demographic limitations of active regime support. About 12% of the population actively supports the regime, and maybe another ~15%-20% supports it passively. Everyone else either dislikes the regime or actively hates it.

The regime can't expand its demographic base. So it has to come up with a successful pacification strategy for large areas with hostile populations. If it figures that out, it can win. If it doesn't, we have a recipe for very protracted stalemate, where neither side can prevail against the other.

Doug M.

Covert regime support for ISIS appears to be part of a strategy to convert active opponents to passive supporters.


I do not think it will work, but they're trying.

P.S. To add to Doug's point, the Syrian Army faces severe manpower constraints. We discussed that back in 2012. Assad needs a political strategy; he simply doesn't have the Red Army at his back.

The Qing in the 1850s-'61 had far more of a manpower crisis after the Taiping really kicked asses, immediately after their taking of Nanking. That didn't change the fact that the Qing eventually won. And the Qing won for pretty much the same reasons that Assad will win today. He can call upon Hezbollah as the Qing did Mongols and other outsiders. The foreign powers that warred against Qing power eventually realized that the Taiping ideology did not suit their commercial and geopolitical interests within China, and so began assisting the Qing. How comfortable are the likes of London, Paris, DC, etc with the sort of leaders of the opposition on the ground in Syria? How long a leash do you think those guys really got? Next, the regime still commanded respect from local authorities that regard the rebels as Levelers, like the Qing local bigwigs saw the Taipingers. I do think Assad does retain more considerable urban Sunni support throughout this crisis than the West was ever willing to acknowledge. Finally, the difference between the Taiping rebels and all the other rebels that bedeviled Qing authority was that it was highly centralized and authoritarian, with actual governing philosophies, no matter if it was whack. As soon as the leaders of the rebellions fell out among each other and started their own mini-civil war, the movement faltered, and was never able to organize any sort of real offensive again.

Again, no central leadership, no governing capacity, then no chance for victory. There is a reason that Toussaint Louverture led the only successful slave rebellion, among vast number of rebellions large and small.

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