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June 27, 2012, Wednesday

Syria: winner take all?

In international relations, interests rule and virtue or ethics are rarely consulted. This is unfortunate, but I have not heard of a state declaring that even though a policy is against its own interests, the state will act in accordance with what ethics, morality and virtue command. I have also not heard of any statesman who actively tried to change this unfortunate self-interest vs. morality predicament that afflicts poor humanity. So, let us get real and start treating the Syrian crisis with robust, credible and realistic evaluations rather than abstract rhetoric.

One does not have to be an expert in game theory or rational choice theory to acknowledge that it is not rational to try to win everything. If you try to win everything and do not give your opponent a chance for survival, he or she will respond with an existential desperado’s deadly attack. Cats that have cornered mice and dogs that have cornered cats even once know this very well. One may well get a surprise, deadly counterattack from the desperate hunted. It is always better to leave a safe exit open. For the Assad regime, the safe exit option was briefly discussed but then forgotten. I remember writing here about a sort of South African solution for Syria where the old regime and its supporters would be given constitutional guarantees and protection by the newcomers. Without elaborating on the fate of a large minority in Syria and finding credible and convincing solutions, we will not be able to convince the Assad regime to succumb.

A similar approach is needed for Russia as well. In the post-Yeltsin era, the Russians have been trying to revive their derelict empire, and thanks to their natural energy resources that Europe -- including Turkey -- need very badly, they are claiming or reclaiming certain geostrategic positions. Personally, I would always prefer liberal democratic regimes over others, and in a US vs. Russia scenario, I would side with the US. Yet, that does not mean that I find squeezing Russia into a corner has been a wise strategy. It justifiably feels threatened and reacts. It has only one military-naval base in the Mediterranean, and it is in Syria. I do not think that Russia is worried about a Muslim Brotherhood election victory in Syria as much as the West, which ostensibly is a champion of democracy! Russia can work with such a government.

If you take into account John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt’s book “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy,” no one can say that the Russians would be a less just actor in the region. Moreover, it is also obvious that the forthcoming American elections and the EU’s financial crisis are not the only two reasons that explain their lack of enthusiasm for “bringing democracy” to Syria. They are very concerned about Israel, since a peaceful, democratic Syria is a more credible “threat” to the Israeli state of terror than the brutal Assad regime because it will show Israel’s cruel injustices more clearly to Western audiences.

All in all, I do not see any harm in Russia’s involvement in the game, and I argue that if it is given guarantees of keeping its base in Syria and the promise of cooperation by the Syrian opposition, bloodshed may be prevented. I do not object to a full amnesty for the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) terrorists if they give up their weapons for good. Why not cut a similar deal with Russia, which has unfortunately been supportive of the inhuman brutalities of the Assad regime? At the end of the day, the Russians are not the only ones who tolerate and do not harshly criticize their repressive, oppressive, torturer authoritarian friends. There are many such countries of whom American, German, British, French, Turkish, etc. politicians have been extremely tolerant and silent. Of course, no one can tolerate the Assad regime’s bloody repression any longer.

But bear in mind that all these politicians were asking Assad to go even in the beginning before he started butchering people. Assad has to go. What I am saying is that politicians should try to be more honest and remember they are not great champions of morality, virtue, ethics and human rights. Ergo, they can make a bargain with Russians to stop the massacres in Syria.

What about also striking a bargain with Iran, which has been supportive of the Assad regime? According to Iranian politicians and Iran’s adamant, staunch supporters in Turkey, Iran does not follow Shiite politics but is only concerned about the bloodshed of fellow Muslims in Syria. With my proposed Russian deal, the bloodshed will end. What else would Iran need?

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