PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Washington.
In Istanbul on April 1, the Friends of Syria had their second meeting. This is a group of countries that more or less are on the same page about overthrowing Assad in Syria and more or less are on the same page of supporting the Syrian opposition. Many of the countries pledged millions of dollars to the Syrian opposition, and they also in one of the more controversial decisions decided to recognize the Syrian National Council as the legitimate voice of the Syrian oppositionâ€”legitimate representative, I guess, was the exact wordingâ€”of the Syrian opposition. This drew some criticism from Arab press.
Here’s an example of a couple of the responses. An editorial in the United Arab Emirates’ The National said the meeting "recognised the Syrian National Council as the ‘legitimate representative’ of the opposition. The label only partially masks the fact that opposition divisions are deepening, rival factions are splintering and no single ‘opposition’ speaks for the Syrian people. . . . [B]y propping up one group without pressuring it to include other forces, the international community may, unwittingly, be deepening Syria’s crisis."
Another editorial, in the United Arab Emirates paper Al Khaleej, said it seems the internal opposition has the political courage to initiate a program for a political settlement and national reconciliation and block the road to civil war, while the external leadership (and I’m adding this note: that means Syrian National Council) continues with calls for foreign intervention and armed intifada.
Now joining us to talk about this meeting of Friends of Syria and the situation in the Syrian opposition and geopolitics surrounding it is Vijay Prashad. Vijay is a professor of international studies at Trinity College in Connecticut. Among his many books, he’s authored The Darker Nations: A People’s History of the Third World and Arab Spring, Libyan Winter. And he joins us now from Hartford. Thanks for joining us, Vijay.
VIJAY PRASHAD: Thank you so much.
JAY: So what did you make of these meetings? And then we can talk a little bit about that reaction of the recognition of the Syrian National Council.
PRASHAD: Well, I mean, the timing of the meeting should be questioned. Of course, it was on April Fools’ Day, but that’s not the germane problem. The real problem is that just a few days before the Friends of Syria met in Istanbul on April 1, on March 27 the UN and Arab League’s envoy, Kofi Annan, former general secretary of the United Nations, released his six-point plan, where he had apparently been given assent by the Assad regime to draw down troops from cities, to create a so-called humanitarian pause, to allow goods and services to enter beleaguered areas, etc. So Annan had just secured an important set of concessions from the Assad regime. In the six-point plan, Anand had said that he was then going to talkâ€”subsequently he was going to talk to the Syrian opposition to get their assent on some kind of drawdown, to open a kind of political process. You know, the clarity of what this was going to look like was not quite there, but this was a significant breakthrough.
Well, three, four days after this breakthrough, the Friends of Syria met in Istanbul, and they talked about multimillion dollars towards the Syrian opposition, including arms. This is a very significant, rather irresponsible action taken by, mainly, the West and the Gulf Arab states. It was so irresponsible that Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who is the chief of NATO, hastily put out a statement saying that NATO is not interested in any kind of armed action in Syria, and NATO would like to see something like the Anand plan be utilized. And this is the context in which we have to see it.
Furthermore, it’s important to recognize that the Arab League had just met in Baghdad for the first time since 1990, and the Arab League had a very different approach to the Syrian crisis. After the Friends of Syria released their, you know, jubilant statement about providing multimillion dollars of arms toward the Syrian opposition, the Iraqi government, which had just hosted the Arab League meeting, the Iraqi government said that this is irresponsible and this is not the way forward. So, I mean, if there was to be a takeaway from the meeting in Istanbul, one has to see it as an attempt by the West and the Gulf Arab states to prolong the armed conflict in Syria rather than bring it to a close and toward a political dialog between the various parties that are involved in the context.
JAY: Well, this [incompr.] goes back to, then, these quotes that I read in my introduction, where you have the Syrian National Council externally notâ€”first of all, being recognized by the Friends of Syria and beingâ€”seemsâ€”on board and pushing themselves for intervention, certainly for arming the opposition, whereas the domestic opposition forces, many of them are actually against this. They wanted a humanitarian corridor opened up for help, but they want some kind of process with the Assad regime and avoid civil war. So the outside players are all pushing war.
PRASHAD: Yes. I mean, this is very important. And this is a story that I think people have not taken, you know, seriously, which is that when there is a talk of a Syrian opposition, there is a divided opposition. There is a divided opposition inside Syria, and there is a serious divide between the opposition outside Syria and that within.
The opposition in Syria is facing the full front of battle and of violence, and they are not keen to prolong the armed contest. They realize, it seems to me, that there is a stalemate and that if time is going to continue like this, it is the friend of the Assad regime and not their friend, that in turn they will be obliterated. You know, what they had wanted was to see significant defections in the Syrian army, and they have not seen that. And I think that was a clue to the internal opposition in Syria that political concessions and a political road is the only way forward.
I think the opposition outside is looking at Syria through a Libyan model. They are hoping for some kind of massive intervention from the West, aided and perhaps funded by the Gulf Arabs, which will give them cover to fly into Damascus on the wings of an F-16 plane. And, you know, that is simply not going to happen. It seems like the West and the Gulf Arabs want the Syrian opposition within the country to be the ones to bleed in order for them to have their own geopolitical agenda fulfilled and not the needs of the Syrian people.
JAY: Because if the people on the ground in Syria bleed, I guess the plan is some day the Syrian National Council from outside gets to walk in and, as they had originally planned for Iraq, become the new government.
PRASHAD: Absolutely. I mean, this is the strategy, a tried strategy, a strategy that, you know, didn’t really work in Iraq, a strategy which certainly has not worked in Libya, where, you know, just this last week there were six days of bloody fighting in various cities in Libya and over 140 people were killed. Of course, this is not being reported outside Libya, outside the Arab world, that there is this continuing fighting in Libya, there is an unsettled political state, and that NATO’s intervention didn’t actually create the kind of humanitarian stability that the West so cavalierly promised.
So you have two examples of a failure of this model, and yet, as if history doesn’t teach them anything, they are looking to bewilder the planet into going for this model for a third time. Failed in Iraq, failed in Libya, and they will see it fail again in Syria. And that is the tragedy for the Iraqis, the Libyans, and, of course, now for the Syrian people.
JAY: Thanks for joining us, Vijay.
PRASHAD: Thank you so much.
JAY: Thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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