Armed Conflicts, Featured, Global Governance, Headlines, Humanitarian Emergencies, Middle East & North Africa, Peace, TerraViva United Nations

Q&A: U.S. Should Encourage NATO-Led Assistance to Syrian Opposition

WASHINGTON, Aug 22 2012 (IPS) - Intervention in Syria was “only a matter of time”, wrote Emile Nakhleh in February in the Financial Times. Seven months later, the fighting and divisions within Syria continue to worsen. Now, a diplomatic solution is no longer possible, Nakhleh, a retired CIA analyst, believes.

At the CIA, Nakhleh was a senior analyst and director of the Political Islam Strategic Analysis Program and of regional analysis in the Middle East. During that time, he and his analysts briefed policymakers on how Bashar al-Assad used repression to maintain stability. Since retiring from the U.S. government in 2006, Nakhleh has served as a consultant to the government on national security issues, particularly Islamic radicalisation, terrorism, and Arab states.

Emile Nakhleh, former CIA analyst. Credit: Security & Defense Agenda/ CC by 2.0

Emile Nakhleh, former CIA analyst. Credit: Security & Defense Agenda/ CC by 2.0

An estimated 8,000 to 20,000 people have been killed and tens of thousands of Syrians have fled their homes into neighboring countries. The Obama administration has shown reluctance to become directly involved in the conflict.

IPS correspondent Jasmin Ramsey spoke with Nakhleh about the conflict in Syria and his belief that the longer the West waits to assist the rebels, with NATO and Turkey leading, the bloodier the conflict will become.

Experts from the interview follow, and the complete interview can be found here.

Q: What is your current assessment of the situation in Syria?

A: I wrote an article about Syria in the Financial Times in February and some of the things I wrote about then are happening now. Namely, there’s more talk about a security zone. The regime is basically fraying and is going to fall. The question is how it’s going to fall and what kind of chaos and instability will follow.

I’m not that concerned about these fears of instability and Islamic extremist groups. These fears are being pushed by the regime to scare people. The regime is saying, “We are providing security and stability and the alternative is insecurity and instability.” There are some Jihadist and Al Qaeda elements, but the fact is that those were also in Libya and some of them were in Tunisia.

Q: Why, then, is the United States saying that one of the reasons it’s not directly supporting the rebels is because it’s unsure who they are?

A: That is a legitimate excuse. In fact, that argument was one of the reasons that delayed our recognition of even the Libyan rebels in Benghazi and our action there. It was the same argument in Egypt. We kept hearing the word “leaderless”. Well, they are leaderless, we don’t know what leaders to deal with, and therefore we delay action.

But I suggest that assistance now from the U.S. and its NATO allies, especially Turkey, are crucial. I’m not saying necessarily direct military participation, but I consider the Syrian regime, as one Syrian expert recently said, a mafia. There’s no negotiating with them. They’re going to go down fighting and in the process destroying Syria and killing so many more.

Q: So what should support to the rebels look like?

A: The regime is strong in the air and tanks, so the rebels – through Turkey perhaps – need rocket-propelled grenades against tanks and stinger missiles against planes. They need to even the playing field in those two areas. The rebels also need ammunition.

We could recognise a geographic area, something like a safe haven contiguous to Turkey. Once we recognise that, then through Turkey we can send humanitarian assistance, medical aid, and other logistical assistance. I say Turkey because then we can go around the Security Council by saying that this is a NATO thing. We are members of NATO and so is Turkey, which could argue it feels threatened by the growing insecurity on its border.

Turkey can act, but we should also be wary a bit of Saudi and Qatari support.

Q: So Turkey is waiting for the “okay” from the U.S.?

A: Yes, but I’m not going to speak for anyone. But that’s why Turkey initially went to NATO as well and I think NATO’s role can be increased. I don’t mean flying there or doing a no-fly zone and protecting the people through NATO planes as they did in Libya.

What they can do is arm the opposition with anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons and the opposition can do the job. That’s an important distinction – it also will keep the Western and NATO powers more free to act.

Q: Is a diplomatic resolution no longer possible?

A: That time has passed because the regime is not interested in negotiating with the opposition.

If you listen to their propaganda, the opposition is labeled as foreign terrorists, and yet, what about these thousands of people that have been killed? Most of them are Syrians, they’re not foreigners. Those who are still talking about diplomacy are using it as a delay tactic while providing their own form of assistance. But now it’s time to fully assist the rebels without necessarily putting boots on the ground.

Q: But just to be clear, what should the U.S.’s role be in all this?

A: Encouragement and logistical and communications support. According to media reports, the U.S. already has contacts with the opposition and is perhaps already providing covert support in the areas of control, command, intelligence, and communications.

But I don’t expect the U.S., as we are heading toward the presidential election, to play a major open military role in Syria. Necessary weapons could be provided by Turkey, with NATO’s approval, to help the opposition save their own towns and save lives.

I was never really in favour of direct and massive military action in Syria. I have argued elsewhere that military action should develop gradually. The opposition already controls a safe zone and other geographic areas in rural and urban Syria.

When I wrote the FT column, there were no geographic areas that were under the control of the opposition. Now there are areas that the regime does not control – take the statement made by the prime minister who recently defected, speaking in Jordan, who said the regime now controls 30 percent.

That’s difficult to verify, but most observers agree that there are areas that the regime doesn’t control, next to Turkey, and elsewhere. If that’s true, the opposition obviously controls these areas. So then we can recognise that territory, deal with the opposition that’s there on the ground—civilian and military leadership.

We can engage Syrian politicians in Turkey or somewhere else and the Syrian National Council, and then start providing needed support—humanitarian, medical, food, fuel, munitions, et cetera, in order for the Syrian opposition to be able to defend its own people.

 
Republish | | Print | |En español
  • jjvanka

    With due respect, but I totally reject your view. The Syrian opposition was encouraged by the West’s stance in the Yugoslavian and Libyan conflicts and banked on Nato to fight their war. That never should have happened and thanks to China and Russia it won’t happen in Syria. The foreign (covert) support the rebels/terrorists already receive is the main reason that the uprising hasn’t been dealt with yet and the number of victims keeps rising.

  • jjvanka

    With due respect, but I totally reject your view. The Syrian opposition was encouraged by the West’s stance in the Yugoslavian and Libyan conflicts and banked on Nato to fight their war. That never should have happened and thanks to China and Russia it won’t happen in Syria. The foreign (covert) support the rebels/terrorists already receive is the main reason that the uprising hasn’t been dealt with yet and the number of victims keeps rising.

  • jjvanka

    With due respect, but I totally reject your view. The Syrian opposition was encouraged by the West’s stance in the Yugoslavian and Libyan conflicts and banked on Nato to fight their war. That never should have happened and thanks to China and Russia it won’t happen in Syria. The foreign (covert) support the rebels/terrorists already receive is the main reason that the uprising hasn’t been dealt with yet and the number of victims keeps rising.

  • jjvanka

    With due respect, but I totally reject your view. The Syrian opposition was encouraged by the West’s stance in the Yugoslavian and Libyan conflicts and banked on Nato to fight their war. That never should have happened and thanks to China and Russia it won’t happen in Syria. The foreign (covert) support the rebels/terrorists already receive is the main reason that the uprising hasn’t been dealt with yet and the number of victims keeps rising.

  • jjvanka

    With due respect, but I totally reject your view. The Syrian opposition was encouraged by the West’s stance in the Yugoslavian and Libyan conflicts and banked on Nato to fight their war. That never should have happened and thanks to China and Russia it won’t happen in Syria. The foreign (covert) support the rebels/terrorists already receive is the main reason that the uprising hasn’t been dealt with yet and the number of victims keeps rising.

  • jjvanka

    With due respect, but I totally reject your view. The Syrian opposition was encouraged by the West’s stance in the Yugoslavian and Libyan conflicts and banked on Nato to fight their war. That never should have happened and thanks to China and Russia it won’t happen in Syria. The foreign (covert) support the rebels/terrorists already receive is the main reason that the uprising hasn’t been dealt with yet and the number of victims keeps rising.

  • jjvanka

    With due respect, but I totally reject your view. The Syrian opposition was encouraged by the West’s stance in the Yugoslavian and Libyan conflicts and banked on Nato to fight their war. That never should have happened and thanks to China and Russia it won’t happen in Syria. The foreign (covert) support the rebels/terrorists already receive is the main reason that the uprising hasn’t been dealt with yet and the number of victims keeps rising.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_TBRVNEUZA5ATC4RIX6GYN2E624 Obama-Lies

    This article FAILS to point out the Truth. The Syrian opposition consists of non-Syrian invaders. It would be like Mexican’s invading the United States, and saying Obama is slaughtering his own people. Everything that the media is telling us is a lie. They make this sound like it’s Syrian “freedom” fighters, when in reality they are killers, terrorists and jihadists that come from various countries outside of Syria and they are killing and terrorizing Syrians! Then, we, the United States are supporting them, and making the Syrian’s out to be the bad people!

  • Nastranis

    CIA has wrought havoc all around the world. It’s not surprising that Emile Nakhleh wants to continue doing so. Just to take some recent examples: Have military interventions brought democracy and human rights to Iraq and Libya? Is the so-called Free Syrian Army, armed by autocratic Gulf states, the U.S. and other former colonial powers the harbinger of democracy and respect for human rights? Egyptians and Tunisians did it by themselves, though it is taking time to translate expectations into day-to-day life. It’s worthwhile recalling that old adage: violence begets violence. ‘Washington’s War Drums Drown out Opportunities for Peace in Syria’ by Samer Araabi makes a lot of sense:
    http://ipsnews.net/2012/08/washingtons-war-drums-drown-out-opportunities-for-peace-in-syria

  • guest

    Please Sir watch the execution of a Syrian Orthodox – what about the area near Homs that is called the Caliphate of Saqaba with strict Islamic Sharia Law. Involve Turkey more? this is an Islamic led government and the revolt is largely revenge for the Islamists killings under Bashar’s father. Jjvanka is right. what about the real story of the attack and killing of the Ambassador in Ben Gazi – look at the photos of the ambassador(with shirt up to his chest and pants way displaying his almost naked body) down being carried over the shoulder by one guy (if a person is being carried usually not over the shoulder like a killed prey. Maybe Nekhleh’s optimistic views on Arab Spring and working with Islamists and Muslim Brothers has influenced some terrible decision in Libya and in Egypt and in Syria. Of course, there are several refugee camps in Syria full of Palestinians who were closely monitored under the Assad’s and even treated badly. Does that influence his view point on Syria?

X
Development Deadline 2015
  • The latest in development, gender equality and poverty alleviation from our local journalists

Weekly Newsletter