Syrian Conflict a Proxy War, Driven by Internal Struggle
Rami Khouri: The rebellion against the dictatorship is the primary driving force, but all the global and regional powers trying to control the outcome
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore.
In a recent interview on RT, a Syrian activist said this:
DR. ABDUL-AZIZ AL-KHAIR, SYRIAN ACTIVIST: Day after day, the struggle and the fight in Syria is becoming some kind of a proxy war. Now, day after day, the regime, number one, and the armed groups in the opposition are becoming more and more hostages in the hands of their allies. They are losing their independent decision. And they cannot apply what they think or believe in, because they need support in arms and ammunition, financial, etc., etc.
JAY: Now joining us from Beirut to discuss the situation in Syria is Rami Khouri. Rami is the director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut. He’s an editor at large of The Daily Star based in Beirut. And he joins us from Beirut. Thanks very much, Rami.
RAMI KHOURI, DIRECTOR, ISSAM FARES INST. FOR PUBLIC POLICY AND INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS: Thanks for having me.
JAY: So what do you make of those comments?
KHOURI: Well, I think it’s true to a very large extent but a little bit exaggerated. I don’t think that foreign players have taken over the battle in Syria. This started and continues to be a epic struggle between a very violent and brutal regime that is using, you know, fighter planes and tanks to fire on bakeries and urban settings and hospitals, and criminal activities by the government of Syria, which thinks it’s fighting for its life, and on the other side there is a mass rebellion across the entire landscape of Syria, which started and has continued to be, for the most part, a nonviolent civil protest movement, but it has become militarized, not because foreigners wanted to militarize it, but because the Syrian people who were rebelling for their freedom and their dignity and their rights of citizenship and their basic human rights were confronted with this very violent regime, and they felt they had no other option but to take up arms. And then, of course, it did get internationalized and regionalized. So there’s truth on both sides. But the driving force for this situation continues to be the mass civilian rebellion among the people of Syria and the brutal response of the regime.
JAY: You don’t think that theseâ€”this outside players are sort of making any other path possible, other than a very, very bloody civil war, that these external players are pushing that.
KHOURI: Well, it’s certain that the external players on both sides have a major influence in the diplomacy, in the logistics and the economics and the military side. They certainly have a major role to play. But in the final analysis, the shots are called by the players inside Syria, the government and the opposition, and this will be resolved by one of them beating up the other. There is no negotiated resolution, I don’t think, that’s possible now with the amount of violence and bloodshed that has taken place and the total lack of trust by the opposition in anything the Syrian government says after a year and a half of which the government has said it wants to do reforms, it wants to have a dialog, etc., etc., and there’s just no trust in the government by the opposition, because they don’t think the government was ever serious about that and never kept its word. So I don’t see how you can possibly get any kind of political resolution, because of the large gap between the government and the opposition.
The external players aggravate this, they expand it, they play a role in it, they facilitate it, but it’s not mainly due to the external players. It’s mainly due to the internal nature of this conflict that has become so existential for both sides.
JAY: There has been and continues to be a division within the Syrian opposition on the question of foreign/outside/Western intervention. Where is that at now?
KHOURI: There is intervention by everybody. You have Western countries intervening. Now there’sâ€”you know, we just heard that the Italians are going to call a meeting or some kind of international conference to start looking at post-Assad Syria, which is, you know, fascinating because we’re not yet at a post-Assad Syria. But presumably this is a form of pressure on him and for him to quit. So you’ve got all kinds of Western intervention, people giving money, people givingâ€”.
JAY: Yeah, I mean more direct military intervention.
KHOURI: Right. Well, there’s military, and then you’ve got the communications stuff and medical care, humanitarian aid, and then you get into the military stuff and the intelligence assistance. Everybody’s doing that. The Iranians are doing it, the Russians are doing it, the Americans are doing it, the Saudis are doing it. I don’t think anybody should be surprised. This is the biggest proxy battle since, possibly, Vietnam and Afghanistan. This is the biggest regional and global proxy battle we’ve seen in our generation.
And the Russians and the Americans now have officially declared that the post-Cold War period is over. We’re back to something that resembles a mini Cold Warâ€”not like the old Cold War between the Soviets and the Americans, but the Russian-American rivalry and the Chinese-American rivalry in Syria is taking us back to a period not exactly like the old Cold War, but certainly something in that direction.
So we should not be surprised by these foreign interventions. There’s definitely clandestine military and intelligence aid being given by many Western powers to the anti-Assad rebels, while others on the other side are helping the Syrian government.
JAY: And that’s very dangerous, going back to those kinds of proxy wars.
KHOURI: It’s very dangerous, especially for the Syrians. Their country’s being destroyed, and it creates regional rivalries and tensions that willâ€”and sort of anger and calls for revenge and retribution which will reverberate for perhaps many years to come.
And it’s a kind of chicken and egg. I mean, the reason that all these people are being drawn into Syria is because they see Syria, in the first place, as a kind of symbol of the regional ideological conflict that exists between groups that are close to Hezbollah and Syria and Iran on the one hand, and other groups that are close to Saudi Arabia and Turkey and others. Some people call it a Sunni-Shiite confrontation, whichâ€”I don’t think that’s really the case. It’s an ideological confrontation between different groups. You’ve got Arabs, you’ve got Iranians, you’ve got Shiites, you’ve got Sunnis, you’ve got all kinds of different people working together or working against each other. So it doesn’t neatly break down as a Sunni-Shiite conflict.
But the reality is that there is this regional ideological Cold War, and Syria is the proxy battleground for it. But there’s other battlegroundsâ€”Lebanon [was], Somalia was, Yemen was, and Iraq was. So you get this regional confrontation rearing its head all over the place.
JAY: Alright. Thanks very much for joining us, Rami.
KHOURI: Okay. My pleasure. Thanks for having me.
JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.