Dear American friends who are reporting on, analyzing, or advising decision makers on Syria,
No one is expecting you to “Support Assad”, just like you really shouldn’t have wasted the past four years committed to supporting Assad’s adversaries and opponents.
- You started (summer 2011) by working with your allies (especially the French) to pass a security council resolution that would authorize you to use force in Syria against the Syrian army. You only stopped after repeated vetoes by Russia and China.
- You recognized the Syrian National Council as “legitimate representative of the Syrian people”, then you recognized the Syrian National Coalition. Both groups included opposition characters that were selected and managed by you, the French and your Gulf Arab state allies. “The Syrian people” had zero input in the selection process. Both groups included secular faces but the real power behind them was the Muslim Brotherhood, an organization with a criminal past and present … An organization that refused to support war on ISIS. An organization that bullied then alienated many of the liberals, women and minorities in Syrian opposition.
- You boycotted (or rarely interacted with) millions of Syrians who supported their government against your favorite side in the Syrian conflict (“the opposition”). Syrian visa applicants who did not support “the revolution” in US consulates had to answer and almost apologize to your immigration officers who asked them why are they not on America’s side in the Syrian conflict.
- Your media and analysts simply followed your state department’s directives. CNN and the Washington post mobilized in favor of anyone who would carry arms against the Syrian army. CFR and other think tanks discussed openly the need to work with Al-Qaeda (Annusra) in order to defeat the regime. Large numbers of American activists (a mix of those naturally inspired, and many others who are paid to write against Assad) worked relentlessly on social media platforms to attack, humiliate and discredit any Syrian or non Syrian who advocated dialogue as a way to end the conflict. Your passionate warmongers included the leftists (“we are here to help the Syrian people”) and the neocons (“We should teach Assad a lesson”).
- You know that there is no proof and there is no logic behind accusations that “Assad” used chemical weapons, yet you continued to use it as a pressure tool against Assad, despite the resulting escalation in hate and violence among the Syrian people that your regime-demonization propaganda was contributing to.
The United States does not need to do a 180 degree turn (and it will not). Here is how a 90 degree adjustment can lead to a more constructive role in the exceptionally complex and dangerous Syrian crisis.
- Do not recognize ANYONE of being the legitimate representative of the Syrian people. There are millions of Syrians who support Assad/government/the army. There are millions of Syrians who support the opposition. There are millions of Syrians who do not care about politics. They just want to go back to normal life.
- Everyone contributed to violence. No, Assad is not the main culprit. Before 2011, he ruled Syria for 11 years without killing anyone. He reduced the number of political prisoners from an estimated 1300 in 2001, to an estimated 200 in 2010. Everyone, starting with the United States, is responsible for what happened after 2011. If you are not planning to demonize yourself, please try to realize that it is only fair to not demonize anyone. If you want a quantization of the size of your responsibility, try to imagine the recently revealed (by the Washington Post) details about your covert CIA Syria annual budget of $1 billion… Did you buy anything good with that yearly investment?
- If you insist on calling Assad “The ruthless Syrian dictator”, please make sure you call Syrian opposition figures “ruthless corrupt, weak, naive, sectarian, vengeful, and utterly useless Syrian opposition figure”. Or better, avoid the negativity on both sides.
- Forget the past. If your allegations (unproven) of a Syrian role in the attack on US marines in Beirut in 1983 (32 years ago) is still bothering you, why not take it out on the Saudis for their more certain role in 9/11, or why not first punish yourself for the millions of Iraqis who died because of “mistakes” by previous US administrations… you lost hundreds. others lost millions … they are not seeking revenge.
- The end does NOT justify the means. If you are dying to spread democracy, remember that there are millions of other ideologues who are equally eager to spread communism, or their fanatic interpretations of Islam … Everyone believes in salvation through his ideology.
- Democracy is not working too well in most countries. Lebanon and Iraq (your democratic allies in the Arab world) are even more corrupt than authoritarian Syria. Instead of promoting democracy, try to promote the foundations on which democracy can be later successfully established. Promote the separation of religion and state in Syria. Promote tolerance and respect of opinions that differ. Promote women’s rights. Promote freedom of speech (which Lebanon and Iraq have, and so should Syria).
- Reopen your embassy in Damascus. This time direct your diplomats (and security officers) to work for peace and reconciliation. U.S. interests will be better served that way. Regime supporters, rational opposition, and the larger segment of Syrians who are neutral, will all thank you.
- Close the Facebook page of the US embassy in Damascus, or replace its current immature editor(s).
- Call on all sides to join you in admitting their mistakes. Everyday that you all wait before you radically change, hundreds of innocent Syrians will die.
- When you work with regional and international actors, please try to respect the desires of the majority of Syrians who do not wish to become an American, Russian, Iranian, Saudi, Turkish or Qatari satellite. There will be a long term, costly, resistance to any proposal that gives outside powers an exceptional influence in Syria. Please do not waste time and innocent lives. Syrians do not wish to be a Jordan or a Lebanon. You do not want Syria to be a bigger Lebanon that borders (and constantly exports its problems to) your allies to the north, east, south and east or Syria.
- You want what’s good for the Syrian people? While it is hard to find a clear majority of Syrian agreeing on the question of regime change, there is little doubt that the vast majority of Syrians want the Golan Heights back (illegally occupied by Israel since 1967). They want economic prosperity… ending torture … freedom of press with responsibilities (no sectarianization, no promotion of hate or violence… ), they want to fight corruption … they want a more accountable government. You surely can help by pressuring Israel to return the Golan, by economic assistance to Syria, and by pressuring the Syrian government AND Syrian opposition to respect those truly popular demands (and not only the issues the US and its Syrian opposition allies always used to demonize the regime and only the regime).
- oh … can you start by ending economic sanctions that you placed in 1979 (to punish Syria for its resistance to the Camp David accord)? … you are not hurting “the regime” with those sanctions … you are killing innocent Syrians instead. Remember that your sanctions killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children during the nineties.
Here is the the preamble to the 1789 American constitution: “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
Eighty one years later (on February 3, 1870) the 15th amendment that granted African Americans the right to vote was ratified.
One hundred and thirty one years later (on August 18, 1920), the 19th amendment that guarantees all American women the right to vote was ratified.
Please be careful with Syria. Change takes time and planning. It takes a favorable regional environment… and it takes realism. 120-min Hollywood or Disney fairy tale movies (“the Arab Spring”) are not going to lead to a happy ending in a country as complex as Syria.