The big news today is that Saudi Arabia and Turkey are clubbing together to overthrow the Assad regime.
Actually, this is old news. What happened today is that the news embargo was lifted and the AP’s Desmond Butler got to print the scoop.
It was apparent for a couple weeks that something along these lines was going to drop.
As I put it on Twitter on April 28, “Something is cooking in the kitchen.”
Let me explain, because it’s an interesting illustration of how the “open source” parsing thingamajig works, in kind of a backward way.
All of a sudden, starting around April 20, there were flurries of declarations from pundits and journos that Assad was going down.
Problem was, many of these pundits and journos were not the sort of people one would expect to have knowledge of the inner workings of the Assad regime (notoriously opaque) or the actual conditions on the battlefield (fragmented, confusing, very dangerous to investigate, and best understood by the Assad forces, not the countries blindly arming and funding proxies and grifters inside Syria).
These experts, on the other hand, seemed to be experts at access reporting and consulting with foreign policy decisionmakers in the US and the Gulf Countries. In other words, they’re in the “champagne hopes and caviar dreams” business of reporting elite intentions and aspirations as facts.
Today, when the AP report appeared, I tweeted “and the dish is coming out of the kitchen. Will be interesting to see what pundits/media outlets in US endorse KSA/TK strategy.”
The Tweetgods were smiling on me, or at least sniggering nastily, since a couple minutes later this came over the wire, retweet of a humblebrag from Charles Lister of Brookings Doha:
MORE: Turkey confirms alliance with Saudi Arabia to help rebels fighting Syria’s Assad: http://t.co/cObcgLPKj5
— The Associated Press (@AP) May 7, 2015
I had a good time snarking on this—and Lister’s apparent desire to advertise that Brookings Doha is an eager and able mouthpiece for the GCC (“Did you see my piece? FP!”)-because, quite frankly, Assad isn’t losing yet.
But Saudi Arabia and Turkey dearly want to assert that meme (if not the more accurate “once our brilliant scheme is deployed there is absolutely NO WAY Assad can survive BWAHAHAHA!!!”) into the Middle East narrative, especially I would guess in the hope that Iran, for the sake of its precious nuclear deal, reduces its aid to Assad.
So it’s hard to see all of these articles as much more than hopeful stenography (I should say that Josh Landis, a genuine Syria expert, does see genuine problems for Assad mainly, I guess, because he saw the KSA/Turkey alliance coming).
Of course, as anyone should be able to tell you, the overt Turkish assistance to the rebels has been going on for a while, culminating in the capture of Idlib with the assistance of Turkish artillery and advisers and Ankara’s midwifing of an Islamist-heavy rebel alliance. By a funny coincidence, this ostensibly indigenous triumph of rebel arms gives the anti-Assad forces a rest, recuperation, resupply, and remanning haven right on the Turkish border.
The only real question remaining is whether the US has greenlit this escapade, or whether impatient local powers Saudi Arabia and Turkey have “slipped the leash.”
I tend to think the US is on board, but is loath to openly back the effort since it is now almost entirely an Islamist play with very few of our adored secular/democratic/civil society forces in evidence. Apparently, the optics, if not the reality, of the US working with Al Qaeda (or whatever Islamist force has repackaged itself as Al Qaeda) makes Uncle Sam gag.
But Sam Power appeared on Charlie Rose to declare, We gotta take care of Assad first, then IS. I think that’s the tell that the US is good with the current strategy even though democracy is clearly out the window and the anti-Assad struggle is now repackaged not only as a sectarian struggle but, at least according to a commentator on Al Jazeera, one in which wholesale slaughter of Alawite civilians is OK.
Sam might need an extra glass of Chablis to wash that one down.
The other interesting element is the Israeli factor. Israel has begun giving overt assistance to Islamists in Syria’s south, again with the idea of creating a useful haven.
And a couple days ago, a Saudi jetliner landed in Tel Aviv, ostensibly because of mechanical issues. But it’s rumored the Saudi crown prince was on board, and my guess is it was easier to fly a bunch of Saudis to Israel to discuss Syria business than it was to get Israel’s general staff into Saudi Arabia to discuss the nuts and bolts of the upcoming campaign.
Then it’s Everybody on board? Let’s unleash AP!
Even if a formal no-fly zone isn’t declared, maybe Israel will pitch in and degrade Syria’s air defenses and maybe take out the helicopters Assad uses extensively to shuttle troops to and fro and drop barrel bombs.
So, yeah, if all goes as planned, Assad’s in trouble. He loses mobility, he can’t juggle his exhausted troops to block coordinated, simultaneous rebel advances from north and south, the Saudi bribe-o-matic machine is finally able to bag some genuine high level defectors, and Assad gets on-or almost gets on-a plane for Russia.
Just like Libya! Success!
But remember, this is the same crew that is screwing up Yemen and I am not sure that Russia, Iran, and the PRC will respond to the determined public and private signalling from the anti-Assad coalition and decide to pull the plug on him.
Also bear in mind, after a month of bombing that has become pointless to the point that every sortie is a war crime against Yemen’s immiserated civilians, Saudi Arabia has yet to show the stones to send in ground troops and restore some semblance of order. So even if the Syria scheme works and the jihadists can drive Assad out of Syria by themselves, the will and ability of Saudi Arabia and Turkey to go into Syria and slug it out with the victorious Islamist factions to put some kind of effective government in place in Damascus seems pretty dubious.
All in all, I am not confident that the combined wisdom of the world’s most reactionary theocracy and a reckless neo-Ottoman freebooter will deliver anything other than a failed state in Syria.
Like I said, Think Libya!
Maybe President Obama has decided, Let the Middle East go to hell and Hillary. I’m off to Asia!
And meanwhile, world, enjoy this sh*t sandwich, courtesy of Saudi Arabia and Recip Erdogan!