Syria: This war is a stalemate

posted at 8:01 am on September 20, 2013 by Ed Morrissey

After more than two years of civil war and atrocities committed on both sides, can anyone win in Syria? The regime of Bashar al-Assad says no – at least publicly.  Deputy Prime Minister Qadri Jamil told the Guardian yesterday that the war had become a stalemate, and that all sides need to enter into negotiations:

Qadri Jamil said that neither side was strong enough to win the conflict, which has lasted two years and caused the death of more than 100,000 people. Jamil, who is in charge of country’s finances, also said that the Syrian economy had suffered catastrophic losses.

“Neither the armed opposition nor the regime is capable of defeating the other side,” he said. “This zero balance of forces will not change for a while.”

Meanwhile, he said, the Syrian economy had lost about $100bn (£62bn), equivalent to two years of normal production, during the war.

If accepted by the armed opposition, a ceasefire would have to be kept “under international observation”, which could be provided by monitors or UN peace-keepers – as long as they came from neutral or friendly countries, he said.

Leaders of Syria‘s armed opposition have repeatedly refused to go to what is called Geneva Two unless Assad first resigns. An earlier conference on Syria at Geneva lasted for just one day in June last year and no Syrians attended.

Unlike earlier efforts to pull a peace conference together, the regime laid a few cards on the table:

Jamil’s comments are the first indication of the proposals that Syria will bring to the table at the summit, which Russia and the US have been trying to convene for months.

Asked what proposals his government would make at Geneva, he said: “An end to external intervention, a ceasefire and the launching of a peaceful political process in a way that the Syrian people can enjoy self-determination without outside intervention and in a democratic way.”

Jamil wants to get the West “off our shoulders,” and says that “for all practical purposes, the regime in its previous form has ended.”  However, the timing is certainly interesting. While Jamil rejects the US demand that the talks should give the West-backed Syrian National Coalition the only opposition seat at the conference, it’s the emergence of Sunni extremist networks that has most changed the face of the conflict.

The al-Qaeda affiliates ISIS (formerly AQ-Iraq) and Jabhat al-Nusra have always played a major role in the conflict, but the radical Sunnis are grabbing more territory, and now at the expense of the other rebel factions.  Nusra seized Ash Shaddadi and now has enough oil and gas revenues to maintain self-sufficiency for the entire war effort.  ISIS just grabbed Azaz from the Free Syrian Army and can now choke off the humanitarian and military aid that has kept the FSA afloat for the last two years.

This step by Jamil and the Assad regime looks less like a declaration of futility and more like a well-timed gambit to split the rebels permanently.  FSA erupted in outrage and fury to the attack on Azaz, swearing vengeance on their one-time partners in the rebellion and declaring them outsiders in the conflict.  As Max Fisher writes at the Washington Post (via The Week), a full-fledged war between FSA and ISIS and perhaps Nusra is coming, and the Islamists have the upper hand — with better resources and external support, as well as better fighting units.

Perhaps the Assad regime believes that it can woo the FSA to reach a political settlement that will put the native rebels on the same side as the military against the radical Sunni Islamist terror networks.  At this point, FSA may not have its leverage for a settlement for long, either, which means that if they ever cut a deal to end the war — at least their part of it — now would be the time to do so.  That would allow Assad to change the nature of the war from a rebellion against his oppressive dictatorship into a straight-up war against al-Qaeda and its radical Sunni backers, another Sunni/Shi’ite conflict in which the West either has no interest or an interest in defeating Assad’s enemies.

That may be a long shot — but looking at this from Assad’s point of view, it’s a gambit worth trying, at least.

Update: The SNC sent up a warning this morning about the AQ takeover of the rebellion:

Syria’s main Western-backed opposition group on Friday slammed al-Qaida-linked gunmen and their expanding influence in the country, saying the jihadis’ push to establish an Islamic state undermines the rebels’ struggle for a free Syria.

The statement from Syrian National Coalition comes as a truce was reached late Thursday after two days of vicious infighting in which the extremists seized control of the northern town of Azaz, near the border with Turkey, from mainstream opposition fighters. The fighting prompted Turkey to close a major nearby crossing point.

The SNC said the actions of the al-Qaida-linked fighters “counter the principals that the Syrian revolution is trying to achieve” in its battle against President Bashar Assad’s regime.

Syrians are “moderate and respect religious and political pluralism while rejecting blind extremism,” the SNC said.

The statement also warned that the Islamic fighters are “strengthening their positions” in opposition-controlled areas after they stopped fighting regime forces on several front lines.

The timing of this gambit by Assad looks pretty good, if this is what he has in mind.


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“An end to external intervention, a ceasefire and the launching of a peaceful political process in a way that the Syrian people can enjoy self-determination without outside intervention and in a democratic way.”

Okay, getting rid of external intervention must be an important point since it is mentioned twice.

That leaves the other parts of the proposal. Ceasefire, peaceful political process, self-determination, the exercise of democracy.

It all sounds great but how the hell do you get there with our without external intervention?

Happy Nomad on September 20, 2013 at 8:14 AM

…it’s ok…JugEars is probably golfing!

KOOLAID2 on September 20, 2013 at 8:14 AM

…it’s ok…JugEars is probably golfing!

KOOLAID2 on September 20, 2013 at 8:14 AM

Well, he’s got to work on his style points tally for September. That partisan speech as Americans lay dead and dying four miles away at the Navy Yard really left a dent in his score.

Happy Nomad on September 20, 2013 at 8:18 AM

Well, now that Obama is “helping” the rebels….Assad will be winning any day now.

redguy on September 20, 2013 at 8:21 AM

Not to worry. I have no doubt that Barry, Samantha, Jaws and the rest of the cool kids can fix this with Smart Power ™.

bofh on September 20, 2013 at 8:22 AM

Who will McInsane demand we bomb if the FSA joins forces with Assad? And what new lies will mnjg tell us to try and convince us we should waste blood and treasure in that shiite hole of a country?

NotCoach on September 20, 2013 at 8:30 AM

Who will McInsane demand we bomb if the FSA joins forces with Assad?

NotCoach on September 20, 2013 at 8:30 AM

Whoever gets him and his mini-me on the Sunday talk show circuit. The man’s a media whore.

Happy Nomad on September 20, 2013 at 8:34 AM

Well, he’s got to work on his style points tally for September. That partisan speech as Americans lay dead and dying four miles away at the Navy Yard really left a dent in his score.

Happy Nomad on September 20, 2013 at 8:18 AM

Funny you should say that. By Michael Ramirez – September 19, 2013

mechkiller_k on September 20, 2013 at 8:37 AM

No matter what side wins, a blood bath would follow.

Blake on September 20, 2013 at 8:40 AM

Hey, is that pic from the Pirates of the Caribbean ride?

Chuckles3 on September 20, 2013 at 8:41 AM

Funny you should say that. By Michael Ramirez – September 19, 2013

mechkiller_k on September 20, 2013 at 8:37 AM

Yeah, Ramirez nailed it.

Happy Nomad on September 20, 2013 at 8:44 AM

Hey, is that pic from the Pirates of the Caribbean ride?

Chuckles3 on September 20, 2013 at 8:41 AM

They prefer to be called oppositionists these days.

Happy Nomad on September 20, 2013 at 8:45 AM

No matter what side wins, a blood bath would follow.

Blake on September 20, 2013 at 8:40 AM

And that is different than the ways things are now….. how?

Happy Nomad on September 20, 2013 at 8:46 AM

No matter what side wins, a blood bath would follow.

Blake on September 20, 2013 at 8:40 AM

I don’t know about a “blood bath”, but whichever side is left standing won’t exactly be an ally of the USA. For us, it’s going to be a lose-lose. I’m wondering also, what the Russians would do if the Assad regime falls. Assad can share an apartment with Snowden.

JetBoy on September 20, 2013 at 9:04 AM

If the FSA switches sides to join Assad, that means Obama will simultaneously be arming Assad and threatening to attack him at the same time. Unless Obama drops all pretense and keeps arming Al Qaeda. You know he’d never be able to resist arming somebody.

Fenris on September 20, 2013 at 9:09 AM

Our own ‘Civil War’ lasted for 4 years and the tides turned several times in the course of the war. So Syria has been going at it for 2 years and…? AQ taking over areas woukd be great for having them in a narrow geogrpbic space, well you know, if we were at war-war with terrorism because then we would just make any AQ controlled area anywhere on the planet look like Dresden the mornimg after. Instead, the SCOAMF is going to send them weapons.

deepdiver on September 20, 2013 at 9:14 AM

Unless someone knocks off Assad then Assad will win.
Obama lost.
Muslim Brotherhood (Obama’s best buddies) will be moving towards Jordan soon…

albill on September 20, 2013 at 9:25 AM

Our own ‘Civil War’ lasted for 4 years and the tides turned several times in the course of the war.

deepdiver on September 20, 2013 at 9:14 AM

Not really. The outcome of the American Civil War was never really in doubt. Had it not been for bad leadership decisions made by a moribund US Army in which seniority was valued over all else, the South would have been quickly crushed. For their part the South was simply hoping to make the war so costly that the Northern citizenry would demand the end of hostilities. And, of course, the victors write the history so the Battle of Fredricksburg is ignored while the futileness of Pickett’s charge is well documented.

When it comes to Syria, the United States needs to stay the hell out. No intervention. No boots on ground messing with CW. Just Home Depot diplomacy (build a wall, let them fight it out, make friends with the winner).

Happy Nomad on September 20, 2013 at 9:30 AM

Happy Nomad on September 20, 2013 at 9:30 AM

I don’t know that anything is ignored in the Civil War. The Civil War might be the most studied conflict in American history. The turning points in the war are certainly celebrated, such as Gettysburg, but nothing is ever ignored. While the winners certainly write history, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read about McClellan’s dithering incompetence.

NotCoach on September 20, 2013 at 9:45 AM

I don’t know that anything is ignored in the Civil War. The Civil War might be the most studied conflict in American history. The turning points in the war are certainly celebrated, such as Gettysburg, but nothing is ever ignored. While the winners certainly write history, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read about McClellan’s dithering incompetence.

NotCoach on September 20, 2013 at 9:45 AM

All you post is true. My point was simply that you have Fredricksburg and Gettysburg a few months apart in 1863. Both involved the defenders abandoning protecting the town for higher ground on the outskirts. Both involved the invader having to cover about a mile of obstacle-strewn terrain to engage the enemy.

Yet for all that, and it may be because Gettysburg is better known, Pickett’s charge is held up as an example of foolhardy and needless loss of life. Yet, months earlier the North tried almost exactly the same thing with the same results.

Happy Nomad on September 20, 2013 at 10:02 AM

Umm. Yes.

The REST of the world.

WryTrvllr on September 20, 2013 at 10:28 AM

How is it a stalemate when one side continues towards its goal and the other side is promised “Just trust us”?

Mimzey on September 20, 2013 at 10:52 AM