Perhaps an aware and intellectual individual would find it boring to repeat the fact that interests run politics, and that principles and ideologies are only used for this particular purpose. Yet, repeating such a fact is useful for many people who remain unaware of the fundamental truth, like many key figures in public affairs seem to be, let alone the general public. When such people are filled with religious, social or humane emotions because of a catastrophic occurrence, this fundamental fact tends to slip from their minds, as political considerations become more complicated.
The Russian-Chinese persistence in defending the oppressive al-Assad regime in Syria is derived from this fundamental fact, for the two superpowers have nothing to lose by supporting al-Assad, yet in the language of interests, they would lose heavily if they were to abandon him. Regardless of the moral credibility of such a view, the two superpowers use it as a platform to launch from.
Here a question must be raised: Don’t major catastrophic incidents such as massacres have any role in influencing politics? The answer is definitely yes, as politicians consciously transform such massacres into events that serve their own visions and interests, as testified by modern and contemporary history. In fact, this is what must be done with al-Assad’s continual massacres in Houla, Deir ez-Zor, Homs and elsewhere. There must be some way to transform such massacres into a political account from which the Syrian National Council (SNC), and likewise the Free Syrian Army (FSA), can derive benefit.
Some people do not like to evoke lessons from history at times like this, but I believe that it is beneficial to recall them in order for the decision-makers, along with the international and Arab observers, to be fully aware of any decision they may make.
It is widely known that Iran - which al-Assad considers one of his available lifelines – does not and will not spare any effort to back al-Assad with all the power it has. While Iran is capable of exporting its expertise in repression, by expanding its military and security apparatuses and by undertaking bloody operations to intimidate the Syrian people, it will not be able to transform Syria into another Iran. The differences are numerous and the distance is too large.
Aside from Iran’s history and the depth of its civilization, competence, standing, and the nature of its demographic structure, the Iranians have also adopted major projects such as the war on Iraq, nuclear development and the campaign for regional influence. Iran can always use these as a shelter whenever an internal problem emerges. As for the al-Assad regime, it has none of this, and even if we take into consideration al-Assad’s external project to ensure protection for Israel, the regime cannot rely on this to escape its grave internal crisis.
When al-Assad considers the lifelines available to him, he would find the Russian-Chinese veto internationally, Iran and its allies in Iraq regionally, and the Syrian armed forces domestically. Originally, the Syrian army was molded from a purely sectarian viewpoint, empowering the Alawite minority at the hands of Hafez al-Assad. In fact, Hafez al-Assad was invoking the idea of “building a Near East special force”, along the lines of those which the French formed in 1921 using mainly Alawite minorities. In many ways, French military service led to the emergence of the Alawite military tradition, which then became centralized and furthered the rise of the Alawi sect later on.
Politics, even if relies on interests, also deals with firmly established facts and permanent variables that require a deep understanding. Over time only the absolute facts will remain, and then we will see that lifelines can also transform into hangman’s ropes.
(Abdullah Al-Otaibi is a prominent writer for Dar al-Hayat, where this article was first published June 5, 2012)