Sunday, December 23, 2012

Sticking to their story: UNAC's new 'Statement on Syria'

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If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse, and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality. --- Bishop Desmond Tutu
The United National Antiwar Coalition [UNAC] is a coalition of well known US anti-war groups. On 24 December 2012 they issued a new position statement about the conflict in Syria, titled:
UNITED NATIONAL ANTIWAR COALITION (UNAC) STATEMENT ON SYRIA Hands off Syria and Iran! End the Drone Wars! We Need Jobs, Education and Healthcare, Not Endless War!
Six months before the Arab Spring even began, UNAC had an action program to oppose a US war against Syria. From their point of view, not much has changed since July 2010. They still see the threat of imminent US invasion as the main problem facing the Syrian people. That's their story and they're sticking to it. As we shall see, they don't need to consult concrete conditions in Syria to inform their position so it can remain the same throughout time. I am including their entire statement in my appreciation of it so that the reader may see what I mean when I say that this statement says more by what it is silent on than it does by what it says. I am breaking it up, as I see appropriate, so I can interject comments, but other than that, it is complete and in the order in which they published it. The copyright police can know that there is no violation as UNAC has asked that it be distributed widely. And so the body begins:
The ominous signs of impending war with Syria escalate.
There is already a war going on in Syria which this "Statement on Syria" leaves unmentioned. That is the war to overthrow the Assad regime and it has cost more than 40,000 Syrian lives so far, but what is really telling in this first sentence is their identification of the Assad regime with Syria. There have been calls for NATO intervention in support of those forces attempting to overthrow the Assad regime, and there have even been signs that NATO may be preparing to go to war against the Assad regime, but to equate that with a war against Syria is to equate the Assad regime with Syria and to discount the Syrian armed opposition as a legitimate Syrian force. 130 countries no longer recognize the Assad regime as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people, but UNAC still does. The day after UNAC issued its "Statement on Syria," the head of Assad's military police defected to the Free Syrian Army. Maj. Gen. Abdul Aziz Jassem al-Shallal, then became the highest raking officer to defect from Assad. He said he had done so because of the military's deviation from “its fundamental mission to protect the nation and transformation into gangs of killing and destruction.” He also confirmed the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime in Homs last week. That's what finally sparked his defection. This is the reality of Syria that the UNAC "Statement on Syria" doesn't admit to. They are in an alternate universe.
NATO is massing troops and military equipment on Syria's borders, and preparing to install missiles aimed at Syria. U.S. warships are stationed off Syria’s coast. ‘Special operation’ units are readied.
I wish the most pressing problems the Syrian people faced right now were worries about future possible NATO attacks.
The U.S. government has been supplying arms and logistical support to a few selected Syrian paramilitary groups favored by the U.S. as “replacements” for Assad.
This is about as close as this UNAC "Statement on Syria" gets to recognizing the massive Syrian opposition to the Assad regime. Is it possible that they think the main struggle playing out in Syria in the last 23 months has been between Syria, as represented by the Assad regime and US imperialism?
The media bombards us with arguments that support foreign intervention, supposedly for “humanitarian reasons”.
That is about as close as this UNAC "Statement on Syria" comes to acknowledging the humanitarian crisis that without question really is going on in Syria. Is it possible that they believe the incredible human suffering and devastation we see every day on YouTube in hundreds of videos is all a fabrication or distraction to be ignored?
Assad's warplanes attacking civilians in Douma same day UNAC issues statement
Like WMD’s in Iraq, alarms are sounded, with no credible evidence, that Assad may unleash chemical weapons, thus establishing a pretext for invasion.
Acknowledging more than 40,000 murdered Syrians or that Assad's war planes are dropping explosive barrels and clusters bombs on civilians might get in the way of the "no credible evidence" line of reasoning. Those acknowledgements would also show that there already exists many a "pretext for invasion" so those corpses are conveniently swept under the carpet. No one will ever get a clue how many thousands of children have been slaughtered by this regime from the UNAC "Statement on Syria."
These are the facts that impel us to oppose any military, economic, diplomatic, or covert intervention aimed at controlling the internal affairs of Syria or any other country:
It would appear that the "facts that impel" the UNAC are very bias and very selective indeed and don't admit to the real suffering of the Syrian people let alone its chief cause.
· The Syrian people in their majority, regardless of their political positions re: the current government, have rejected calling for foreign intervention, such as occurred in Libya.
But there have been mass protests in Syria calling for intervention ala Libya. How did "Friday of International Protection", "Friday of No-Fly Zone", "Friday of the Syrian Buffer Zone" and "Friday for international military intervention" slip past the UNAC fact checkers? The names of these nationwide Friday protests is even more telling because they are chosen through a fierce on-line competition among activists and then endorsed by Syrians who come out in their hundreds of thousands to demonstrate under those banners. Also when they say this, whether they know it or not, they are just reinforcing the imperialist line for doing nothing:
MS. NULAND: I think our position on this hasn't changed. As we have said, the vast majority of the Syrian opposition continues to speak in favor of peaceful, nonviolent protest and against foreign intervention of any kind, and particularly foreign military intervention into the situation in Syria, and we respect that.
· Sanctions harm the people of Syria by causing food shortages, power outages, and blocking the distribution of goods.
This is true, but right now the Syrian people are suffering a lot more from artillery bombardments and air attacks than they are from sanctions but those attacks aren't mentioned in the UNAC "Statement on Syria." Probably the UNAC is also opposed to any arms embargo against the Syrian government. The next four paragraphs in their "Statement on Syria" are about the US, not Syria. All their "facts" are disputable, but I don't want to be distracted by that minutia and instead direct the reader to my other writings about the Syria revolution.
· The U.S. is directly involved in arming and training a few selected Syrian militias favorable to the U.S., contributing to the escalation of violence, direct foreign military intervention, and total destabilization. The people who always suffer the most are the people not engaged in the armed struggle.
Which is why it is better to fight back and why every day more and more Syrians are fighting the Assad regime.
· We see the results of ‘humanitarian’ U.S. wars and occupations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya today, where the people, especially women and children, are worse off than before, with millions dead, injured, and/or displaced, an infrastructure and economy in shambles, and where there is no peace. A country that has a river of Iraqi, Afghan, and Libyan blood on its hands has no right to tell other countries what to do.
In other words, since Obama kills kids with drones, he has no right to demand, along with the majority of countries in the world and the majority of people in Syria, that the mass murderer Assad step down. What does US moral authority, or the lack of it, have to do with anything? Of course this "Statement on Syria" is not about Syria, but even if it were about countries in the region and not the US, they shouldn't try to get away with lumping Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya all together.
· The U.S. government’s goals in Syria are to gain dominance in a part of the world that holds the vast majority of the known oil reserves and to gain strategic advantage as it seeks to isolate and contain competitors like Russia and China.
And exactly why are the US government's goals the main focus of the UNAC "Statement on Syria?" Because the goal of the majority of Syrians to see an end to the Assad regime is not spoken of. They have demonstrated their determination with "rivers of blood" and a two year struggle that is on the verge of succeeding without international intervention on their side but the UNAC says nothing of this. There has been international military intervention on the side of the Syria government by Iran, Hezbullah and Russia but the UNAC doesn't object to that. Governments like the Assad regime have a "right" to ask for international assistance; the Syrians, upon which the Russian cluster bombs rain, do not. That's their story and they're sticking to it.
The U.S. has no interest in democracy or the humanitarian well-being of a country’s peoples anywhere in the world, especially in areas where the U.S. has economic or strategic interests.
Their emotional dislike of the US, which is really the focus of the UNAC "Statement on Syria" causes them to make such categorical statements and not see that the US does have an interest in establishing bourgeois democracy as a more stable method of bourgeois rule in many cases and that they are actually interested in "humanitarian well-being," as they are interested in the health of their workers, if only to the extent they need to be to protect profits.
· The U.S. has a long history of thwarting the emerging economies and progressive initiatives of the third world while supporting repressive regimes.
One could only wish that insight would help the UNAC understand why US imperialism really is in no particular hurry to see the Assad regime go, and has actually been throttling, rather than helping, Assad's opposition.
While activists may hold different views of Syria’s internal political system,
This is code for the fact that some members of the UNAC actually support the fascist Assad regime but in the interest of "Left" unity, they have decided to be neutral as to the Syrian people's struggle to overthrow that regime, as noted above. You will notice that while there are many "facts" and assertions in this "Statement on Syria" that the SNC and FSA would object to; there is nothing in it that would trouble the Assad regime much; nothing that is in conflict with their narrative on the situation.
we must all agree that the U.S. government has no right to impose its will on other countries, especially those formerly colonized and exploited by the West.
This is like an axiom that is easy to agree with except its placement in this "Statement on Syria" together with the four paragraphs above makes it sound like the main thing troubling Syria now is the U.S. government trying to impose its will. This may well be the ego-centric view of the U.S. Left, but I'm here to tell you that is not main thing going on in Syria. Here again, the UNAC has rendered the courageous two year revolutionary mass struggle of the Syrian people invisible.
In all cases, we must support the right of nations to self-determination – that is to be able to decide on and resolve internal conflicts free from any foreign intervention.
By which they mean foreign intervention on the side of the people, because while there is a mountain of proof of foreign intervention in support of the Syrian government, they raise no objection to that. We know this because in an earlier statement they complained "State Department spokespeople are targeting Iran and Hezbollah for alleged military support to the Assad government." They even put this on their list of "alarming new threats" back in October 2012 and in June 2012, when Amnesty International called upon Russia to "end its shameful silence," UNAC called it "a campaign to support military intervention at the very time that the U.S. is openly feeding the violence in Syria by providing weapons, foot soldiers and logistical support." The principal they wish to create is that when a people attempt the overthrow their government, which is already in possession of massive military hardware and advanced weapons, or when a people are being slaughtered by their government for any reason, there should be no international assistance given to those people. The "principal" of self determination is here perversely interpreted as the duty to allow an unarmed minority to be slaughtered by their government unless they can stop it themselves. In accordance with this "principal" the UNAC would have objected to the Abraham Lincoln Brigade that fought in the Spanish Civil War and many other examples of militant internationalist support. And that's it. That's how they end the "Statement on Syria." The worst thing that can be said about this "Statement on Syria" is that it is ignorant of the realities facing the Syrian people now, the hardships they have endured or their striving for freedom from the fascist Assad dictatorship, The "Statement on Syria" was drafted with the requirements of the drafters in mind, not those of the Syrian people.
Anti-Assad demonstration today in Jobar neighborhood of Damascus | 26 Dec 2012
Click here for a list of my other diaries on Syria

Friday, December 21, 2012

SecState[?] John Kerry and his "dear friend" Bashar al-Assad

Follow clayclai on Twitter President Barack Obama has just nominated Senator John Kerry for the position of Secretary of State. I believe John Kerry first came to public notice as a member of Vietnam Veterans Against the War in the early 1970's. Probably his introduction to the Senate came in April 1971 when he became the first Vietnam veteran to testify before congress. More recently he has been a senator himself and chairman of the very same Senate Foreign Relations Committee that he first testified before more that forty years ago. More recently, he has been President Barrack Obama's point man on US relations with Syria and it's dictator President Bashar al-Assad.
Senator John Kerry with "dear friend" Syrian President Bashar al-Assad
John Kerry visited Damascus as part of the Cardin Congressional delegation in February 2009. While there, Mr. and Mrs. Kerry had dinner with Mr. and Mrs. Assad. He also had private meetings with Assad. He returned from this visit, full of hope for building good relationships between the Assad regime and the White House:
"I believe very deeply that this is an important moment of change, a moment of potential transformation, not just in the relationship between the United States and Syria but in the relationship of the region," ... "My hope [is that] in the next days things will begin to emerge that can begin to signal that kind of different possibility."
Seymour Hersh interviewed Kerry about this trip and wrote about it in the New Yorker, 6 April 2009, and he reported on Kerry's hopes:
These diplomatic possibilities were suggested by Senator John Kerry, of Massachusetts, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, who met with Assad in Damascus in February-his third visit since Assad took office, in 2000. "He wants to engage with the West," Kerry said in an interview in his Senate office. "Our latest conversation gave me a much greater sense that Assad is willing to do the things that he needs to do in order to change his relationship with the United States. He told me he's willing to engage positively with Iraq, and have direct discussions with Israel over the Golan Heights-with Americans at the table. I will encourage the Administration to take him up on it. "Of course, Syria will not suddenly move against Iran," Kerry said. "But the Syrians will act in their best interest, as they did in their indirect negotiations with Israel with Turkey's assistance-and over the objections of Iran."
As President Obama's conduit to Assad, as he developed his new policy of engagement with Syria, John Kerry made numerous trips Damascus during this period. It must have been after one of these trips that the incident reported in Commentary Magazine took place:
Staffers describe their collective cringe when, after a motorcycle ride with Bashar al-Assad, he returned to Washington referring to Bashar as “my dear friend.” Bashar may be a lot of things, but “my dear friend”—an address Kerry used only with a select few, such as the late Ted Kennedy—should not have been one.
And indeed, with Kerry's guidance, relations with the Assad regime were steadily developed. By August 2009, a US military team was in Damascus for talks. A Stratfor analyst summarized the developments to that point:
Syria offering intel cooperation on AQ, Iran, HZ Syria facilitating March 14 win in Lebanon Saudi pouring money into Syrian coffers US and Saudi rewarding Syria with diplomatic recognition (notice how quiet everyone is about Lebanon) Signs that Syria is moving forward -- big Syrian military/intel reshuffles; Iran threatening to destabilize the Syrian regime; HZ anxiety this is all covered in our analysis
Less than a year later, in March 2010, an internal Syrian email [soon to be released by Wikileaks] catalogs the developments in the past year from the Syrian pov:
1? Since January 2009, there have been multiple visits to Syria by US officials, including:
? Administration officials, namely Under Secretary of State William Burns, Special Envoy Senator George Mitchell, Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey Feltman, White House?NSC Senior Director Dan Shapiro, and Counterterrorism Coordinator Daniel Benjamin, among others. ? Members of Congress, such as Senators Judd Gregg, John Kerry, Ted Kaufman and Benjamin Cardin; and Representatives Adam Smith, Tim Walz , Alcee Hastings, Stephen Lynch, Howard Berman, at the head of several congressional delegations. ? High?Ranking military officers from US Central Command.
2? US Officials have repeatedly emphasized the importance of improved US relations with Syria, the positive role Syria can play in the region, and the need for Syria to join peace efforts. 3? On July 28, 2009, the US administration initiated steps to ease American sanctions against Syria, starting with allowing the export of material related to information technology, telecommunication equipment and civil aviation. 4? The US lifted an advisory that warned American travelers about security concerns in Syria. 5? The US is getting ready to send back its ambassador to Damascus. 6? Deputy Foreign Minister Faysal Al?Miqdad was invited to Washington in October 2009 for high?level talks with US officials. 7? Syrian Ambassador to Washington Imad Mustafa has been having regular meetings at the White House, the State Department and Congress with various US officials, after 5 years of boycott.
The next month, April 2010, Kerry was back in Damascus again, according to State Department cables released by Wikileaks. Maybe Kerry was taken in by the urban upper-class manors of Bashar al-Assad; maybe there was something that reminded him of his Yale Skull & Crossbones days, or maybe it was just the shared class-consciousness of people in power, but whatever caused John Kerry to connect with the dictator, other things were happening in Syria that ultimately should lead to the overthrow of his "dear friend" Bashar al-Assad. The status quo of the entire region was about to be overthrown from below, by the very forces that were never consulted in Kerry's negotiations with Assad. Already two dictators had been overthrown, in Tunisia and Egypt, Qaddafi was shooting at protesters in Libya and demonstrations were starting to breakout in Syria when Haaretz reported, 24 February 2011:
U.S. Senator John Kerry and Syrian President Bashar Assad reportedly began drafting an unofficial position paper that would define the principles of negotiations with Israel. U.S. Senator John Kerry, the chairman of the Senate's Foreign Relations Committee and a close associate of U.S. President Barack Obama, has been working together with Syrian President Bashar Assad over the last few months on a plan to restart negotiations between Syria and Israel. ... Kerry has met with Assad in Damascus five times over the last two years. The issue of restarting Israeli-Syrian talks was raised at all of these meetings, and a few months ago, the two began exploring practical ideas for doing so.
In his public report back, 16 March 2011, at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, he said:
"President Assad has been very generous with me in terms of the discussions we have had," Mr. Kerry said. "I think it's incumbent on us to try to move that relationship forward in the same way. ... "So my judgment is that Syria will move; Syria will change, as it embraces a legitimate relationship with the United States and the West and economic opportunity that comes with it and the participation that comes with it."
As compared with his view on future relations with Syria under Assad, the views he expressed at that Carnegie talk about Libya under Qaddafi were quite hawkish, and sound ironic today, given his non-interventionist stand on Syria:
With Libya on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe, Kerry stressed that “the international community cannot watch from the sidelines as a quest for democracy is met with raw violence.” Kerry endorsed recommendations by the Arab League and the United Nations to impose a no-fly zone over Libyan airspace and said that U.S. and international leaders should consider “whatever is necessary” to prevent further escalation of violence.
Whether Kerry knew it of not, the day before his Carnegie talk, 15 March was the "Day of Rage," the official start of the Syrian Revolution. Wikipedia describes the day this way:
Simultaneous demonstrations took place in major cities across Syria. Thousands of protesters gathered in al-Hasakah, Daraa, Deir ez-Zor, and Hama. There were some clashes with security, according to reports from dissident groups. In Damascus, a smaller group of 200 men grew spontaneously to about 1,500 men. Damascus has not seen such uprising since the 1980s. The official Facebook page called "Syrian Revolution 2011" showed pictures of supportive demonstrations in Cairo, Nicosia, Helsinki, Istanbul and Berlin. There were also unconfirmed news that Syrian revolution supporters of Libyan descent, stormed into the Syrian Embassy in Paris ... After the first day of the uprising there were reports about approximately 3000 arrests and a few "martyrs", but there are no official figures on the number of deaths
Since that first day, the death toll has climbed towards 50,000, with hundreds of thousands arrested or disappeared and half a million seeking refuge outside of Syria.
New Syria policy needed
John Kerry has come a long ways since his first days as an anti-war activist, as head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and as Obama's man in Damascus, he put a lot of time and energy into a plan that depended on the continued success of one man, or at a minimum, the regime that he represents. John Kerry had no illusion about what kind of government Assad ran; when he co-sponsored the Syria Accountability Act in 2003 he said,:
The Syrian government has historically ruled by methods such as torture, arbitrary arrest and detention, prolonged detention without trial, and limits on freedom of speech and the press.
Yet he bet on that government and he clung to the hope that Assad would survive, and with him, all those plans the two of them had made together, long after the revolution against his rule had begun. In June 2012, Klein Halevy, a Jerusalem-based contributor to the New Republic, recounted a meeting she had with Kerry in 2011:
Last year, I was part of a group of Israelis who met in Jerusalem with Massachusetts Senator John Kerry. Mr. Kerry had just come from Damascus with excellent news: Bashar al-Assad was ready for peace with Israel. When one of the participants mentioned that demonstrations had begun to challenge Mr. Assad’s legitimacy, Mr. Kerry’s response was: All the more reason to negotiate while he’s still in power.
That was then and this is now. Clearly Assad's "still in power" days are numbered. I'm sure John Kerry and everyone else in the Obama administration realize that now. They refused any military aid to Assad's opposition and even did their best to deny them heavy weapons, but that has only delayed, at great human costs, the inevitable defeat of the Assad regime. If and when John Kerry takes on the tasks of Secretary of State, I hope he can grab something of the past from his own history as a protester and as a soldier in a rebel army [VVAW] that can help him relate to those who will most hopefully will be running Syria in the near future. It looks very likely that Syria will be his first big foreign policy challenge. He must realize that all the fancy plans he made over the years with Assad and now as dead as Qaddafi. He will now have to lead the United States in building a new relationship to Syria with the knowledge that our recent actions and lack of humanitarian concern, has done almost nothing to endear us to the Syrian people, and he will rightfully be seen as one of the chief engineers of that policy.
John Kerry as he appears in my film Vietnam: American Holocaust What a long strange trip its been!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Interview: Yassin Al Haj Saleh

Republished from Syria Deeply December 4th, 2012 by Yassin Al Haj Saleh:

Yassin Al Haj Saleh is a prominent moderate dissident in Damascus. He is an independent writer and journalist from a family of leftist activists, who spent almost two decades in prison for his views against President Bashar al Assad. He agreed to an interview with Syria Deeply via email. It was translated by our team from Arabic.

SD: You were jailed for sixteen years and harassed for your political positions. What is life like for you today in Damascus?

Al Haj Saleh: I live in comfortable conditions most of the times. I had only very few changes in my lifestyle since the start of the revolution up to now. I started moving around less, especially after Damascus was cut into pieces by checkpoints over the past few months. Generally, I have no special reasons to complain, and no general reasons to be satisfied.

SD: What are the core reasons for the lack of unity in the Syrian opposition today? What will it take to bring the opposition together as a coordinated force?

Al Haj Saleh: Syria is like Iraq in the days of Saddam and Libya in the days of Gaddafi. It is much more so than Tunisia and Egypt. This country was politically drained for decades. The regime used to cut the heads of all political figures, respected notables, and independent authorities of the social scene, as well as the cultural, economic and religious leaders, even in sports. The only political figures this country has produced over half a century of Baathist rule are subjects, flunkeys and dwarfs.

Besides, Syria is a complex society, even more complex than other Arab countries. The Assad regime depended on "divide and rule" strategy: it nurtured divisions by turning the different ethnic, religious and sectarian groups against each other. It did that also by creating yes-man political parties and other half-loyal opposition parties. It also did so by attracting dissidents with carrots and sticks, and sometimes by terrorizing them. Under these circumstances it is not easy for Syrians to emerge with effective [leadership] alternatives.

Before the revolution the political opposition formation was very small and scattered. After the revolution it widened and it became larger in size but less organized. Whenever the fall of the regime approaches I think that the size of this opposition formation will grow as well as its organization level. Therefore, what is good for the fall of the regime is also good for the emergence of a coherent alternative.

SD: Do you think the opposition abroad can lead a political transition in Syria?

Al Haj Saleh: Everything is moving in Syria and even the existing formations will need rebuilding after a while. The National Coalition also might need a restructuring after a time. And at the bottom of the Syrian National Council's problem is the large and rapid expansion of its membership, with inadequate experience and capacity to correspond with this challenge.

In balancing the politics [of transition], I think the new Coalition must combine a staunch stance against the regime with openness and flexibility in accepting other groups political and social groups inside Syria. On top of that, mobilizing international support for the Syrian cause as much as possible.

SD: Do you see any hope for a ceasefire in Syria, after the failed truce over Eid al Adha? Do you think the UN has any hope of negotiating a solution?

Al Haj Saleh: Never. This is a regime of continuous war that never followed its promises or pacts, only with those who are stronger than itself. The regime of Hafez al-Assad and his heir didn't show any respect to its Syrian subjects (or Lebanese, Palestinians, the weaker ones), and the father killed tens of thousands of Syrians (and thousands of Lebanese and Palestinians) decades ago.

And the son today is moving to break his father's record, even surpass it. If you hear one day that the Assad regime agreed to a ceasefire and it committed to it seriously, it means that it became weaker than the revolution and it is about to fall.

This regime might also commit to a ceasefire if it was faced with a real international threat that if it didn't do, it would face an end by a sweeping force. The United Nations must know this. Syrians call this regime a "gang" or "occupation force." It would be well advised for the United Nations to comprehend what these words mean.

Whoever wants a serious negotiation with the regime must be stronger than the regime. And it will not recognize a political process, only if it is forced to. And [the world] cannot force it unless they break the regime’s monopoly of war and weapons. This is a painful reality for our country, which makes it a playground for a very violent and large scale battle. But this is our situation, and we need to acknowledge it with a very clear mind. Illusions about the Assad regime may be more costly and more painful than anything that’s happened until today.

SD: Does Russia have enough influence in Damascus to steer the key political players, in the regime and the opposition, toward a truce?

Al Haj Saleh: I don't think that Russia can push the regime in a certain direction. If it abandons the regime it will weaken it even more, but its support to the regime doesn't guarantee an important influence on it – especially since the regime is fighting for survival, it lacks any flexibility. This is a regime that either stays as it is or collapses, falls down completely. Therefore, even if it wanted to, Russia cannot find itself capable of influencing the regime, even to save it from itself.

Russia also has no influence on the opposition – who considers it an enemy, in fact. It might have an influence on a group of dissidents who are closer to the regime, but those have no influence on anything that is happening on the ground today.

Again, it is impossible to imagine a ceasefire with this regime. Only its collapse would offer Syrians the inner peace that they need it after 50 years of Ba'ath war regime.

SD: Is the growing influence of some Islamist militant groups, like Jabhat al Nusra, strengthening support for the regime?

Al Haj Saleh: I don't see any manifestations for that, but it offered a very much needed excuse for the regime, about which it was talking in the beginning of this year even before the "Jabhat al-Nusra" appeared. And there is no doubt that it raises the threshold between some segments of the society and the revolution, especially among the minorities. We can tell that the appearance of Islamist groups in the revolution made the hesitant confirm his hesitation, including some political "dissidents". It also pushed a wide public of educated middle class which was comfortable with the revolution when it was peaceful to pessimism and isolation. For those who were thinking about leaving the country, this nudged them to leave.

In the educated and politically active environments no one is comfortable with this development, but the motive to get rid of this regime might weigh higher on anything else for the majority of crowd who supports the revolution.

And I don't know anyone who was with the revolution and changed ranks to side with the regime because of the appearance of these Islamist groups.

SD: How much support do you think the regime has left? What is keeping it going?

Al Haj Saleh: It appears to me that it still enjoys a big support among the Alawites, who pay the highest bill of blood to defend the regime. It has lower support among religious and sectarian minorities, who might prefer the regime, but not ready to sacrifice for its sake. It also enjoys the support of some segments of the religious Sunni population, those who have roles connected with the regime, such as Sheikh al-Bouti, and the main figures among the Qubaysiyyat and the Official Fatwas apparatus. Also, there’s support from the high class bourgeoisie of various backgrounds, who are united by the fact that they rose under this regime.

The secret of the regime's survival is it supremacy with the tools of war, and the generous support it gets from very well known international powers, specially Iran and Russia. Also, it feels a certain immunity after killing more than 35,000 people until now, by to modest estimates, without facing anything more than just condemnation.

A valid question in this regard is how the revolution could continue all this time facing a regime which wages a war against it since the beginning, without having any considerable financial or military support from anyone. The answer to this question causes deep rooted anger for the majority of Syrians that they well be slaves with no considerations if this regime stays.

SD: What do you think the US and its allies need to do to help resolve the crisis in Syria?

Al Haj Saleh: The first point that they should get is that if the Syrian crisis takes long time, it will only feed extremism in Syrian society. That will not only harm Syrians, but also the surrounding region, and perhaps beyond. Therefore, the cornerstone of what can be a constructive western policy is to help Syrians to get rid of the regime of Bashar al-Assad as soon as possible. And, in my opinion, it requires a combination of giving the armed opposition effective arms and disarming the regime.

Some might say why westerners would support toppling the Assad regime? They have a long term interest in the improvement of the political life in Syria as well as the Arab World. They also have interest in dealing with national elites that have legitimacy inside their societies before anything else.

After all, what is good for Syrians generally is bad for the jihadists; therefore it is less-bad for the West. We want Syria to be an independent country, whose policy is bound only to its people's preferences and alignments.