A photo of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad and Syrian flags being burned by members of the Free Syrian Army. Image Credit: REUTERS

Less than 48 hours separated three key related developments that telegraphed nascent Syrian realities: Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah declared on Sunday that “whoever thinks that the [Syrian] opposition is capable of winning militarily is very delusional”. This was followed by Syrian Vice-President Farouq Al Shar’a conceding that neither side could win. For its part, the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs published a new ‘six-point-plan’ to resolve the crisis, without mentioning the fate of President Bashar Al Assad.

It may all just be coincidences though the writing on the wall was now clearer than at any other time. In fact, the Damascus regime faced a conundrum, and pondered how it could possibly overcome current challenges without conceding that the opposition may, just may, win the civil war even if the price was excessively high.

Of course, Nasrallah’s latest media salvo was meant for local consumption, especially for his shaken community. Still, the mere fact that he cajoled his audience into believing that “the battle was far from over in Syria”, literally ensured further violence and bloodshed. He blamed countries that did not care about Syria, “even if people there kept fighting each other for 10 years”, ostensibly because several Gulf Cooperation Council member-states allegedly benefited from the warfare.

In a moment of utter fantasy, Nasrallah cautioned Al Qaida that Americans, Europeans and some Arab governments set a trap in Syria, and created an arena for Al Qaida fighters to kill each other in this diabolical plan. Less than 24 hours after this latest bombastic address, the wily Al Shar’a pandered the idea that neither side can win the war for Syria, ironically in an interview with the pro-Hezbollah Lebanese newspaper Al Akhbar.

Al Shar’a was explicit. Al Assad will not be able to win because, and after nearly 50,000 Syrians killed, several million displaced internally, and at least a million refugees in neighbouring countries, Damascus abdicated its political legitimacy. Moreover, the sophisticated diplomat — touted as a potential interim official who could usher out the Al Assad government and usher in a Muath Al Khatib administration — was realistic, conscious that Syria was expelled from the Arab League and is literally on its political knees.

Indeed, one of the first obligations of any post-Al Assad government was to reintegrate the country into its natural Arab environment, divorcing it from alien alliances that negatively affected its identity. Finally, Al Shar’a further understood that, except for Russia, China and Iran, along with a few tangential powers with little or no impact on the international scene, the vast majority of nation-states, led by the real political, military and economic powerhouses of western countries, opposed the Baath regime in Damascus.

Yet, the vice-president’s calls for a “historic settlement” involving regional powers and the UN Security Council that would result in the appointment of a national unity government with broad powers, was also unrealistic. By his own admission, every passing day further threatened Syria’s unity, as Al Shara’a honed on what was truly at stake. “We should be in a position to defend the existence of Syria,” he stressed, as this was “not a battle for an individual or a regime,” which was a blatant reference to the moribund Al Assad rule and how he, at least, was pre-disposed to forego both.

If the Syrian vice-president realised that change was inevitable, Iran’s volte-face was an even more epochal transformation, bordering on an outright dumping of a stale leadership. It was fascinating to note the recommendation issued by the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in a so-called ‘six-point-plan’ that eerily resembled one placed on the table by former UN secretary-seneral Kofi Annan, when the latter was the joint UN-Arab League Envoy for Syria.

Iran’s intentions

At the time, Tehran derided the plan, going so far as to malign its intentions that, truth be told, envisaged a post-Al Assad and a post-Baath system. Tehran then supported Moscow and Beijing as all three stood by Al Assad.

As of Monday morning, it seemed that Iran enlightened the world that what happened to the Syrian president, was now negotiable.

Under the circumstances, anyone who believed in a political deal, accepted apparitions as true phenomena. Far more powerful dictators bit the dust, as all dictators eventually do, especially after citizens stop fearing strongmen’s putative might. It’s neither rocket science nor differential equation but simple politics: You kill, You go. This happens in a relatively orderly fashion in democratising societies, which have cleansing mechanisms in place to get rid of aspirant tyrants who promise to defend liberty via draconian security measures, and it happens in dictatorships as people engage in civil wars.

Benjamin Franklin (1706-90), one of the Founding Fathers of the US, once warned that those willing to trade their freedoms for temporary security deserved neither and were bound to lose both. It may be valuable to remind dictators who impose stiff security measures that they delude themselves when they posit that they alone preserve national interests from foreign machinations. To be sure, draconian military power can temporarily stifle dissent, but no one can deny liberty to those who crave it.


Dr Joseph A. Kechichian is the author of Legal and Political Reforms in Saudi Arabia.