Syria: Three Conflict Levels, Solutions?

EDITORIAL, 16 Sep 2013

#290 | Johan Galtung, 16 Sep 2013 - TRANSCEND Media Service

There seem to be three levels to the Syrian conundrum.

On top is the conflict over who is to rule Syria, the Assad minority Shia, 13%, mainly Alawite–or Baath rather, more secular, socialist–dictatorship respecting other minorities–Christians, Armenians, Assyrians, Druze, Kurds, Turkoman, or a majority Sunni, 73% dictatorship with no such respect.  Both groups fight with brutality, the list of crimes on both sides is long, and the world is watching the unbearable suffering of the Syrian people, even from nerve gases.

Then, in the middle, is the usual geopolitical game of states and regions.  In the background are huge alliances, the 28 mainly small NATO countries against the 6+ SCO-Shanghai Cooperation Organization countries with two enormous members.  The five veto powers of the UN Security Council are openly involved–USA, UK, France, Russia and China, and Turkey, for their economic, military and political interests, paralyzing the UN Security Council (like the USA blocking a UNSC resolution after the February 2013 Damascus bombing).

And then, at the bottom, feeding into it all, two cultural, religious fundamentalisms.  There is Islamist fundamentalism in the Shia-Sunni divide, with Iran-Hizbollah.  But, possibly more important, is the anti-secularist-socialist/Baath position of Arab monarchies. And there is the Judeo-Christian idea of Chosenness afflicting Israel and the USA, with not only the right but a duty to impose their God-given will on others. They are two of the same kind, united in that faith, with the tail wagging the dog and Obama as the tail-dog link; protecting not only Israel-Jordan but also its own exceptionalism.

How do we approach this overwhelmingly complex conflict for solutions that could be acceptable and sustainable?  How do we think?

Conflict fundamentalists will say: handle the fundamentalist center of the conundrum, the bottom, first, and the rest follows.  Make Islam more tolerant; make Israel-USA less exceptionalist.

Others will say we do not have the time; in the meantime the power struggle inside and over Syria, and the suffering, continues.

Enters Putin and with a stroke of genius spreads some light over the whole complex: focus less on who did it, more on the gas itself. Get rid of it, by destruction and-or storage in a safe place, manages the incredible: geopolitical cooperation across the board, a focus on weapons and violence more than on the actors–usually one as evil–paving the way for a ceasefire in Syria.  But, the fundamentalisms?

He explicitly addresses US exceptionalism–and dishonest US empire-builders, badly wounded, try to hit back referring to him as KGB. But Putin is telling the intractable bottom level by handling the top and middle level: Look, your violent approach does not work!

The UN Secretary General, had he not been a US puppet, should have said this long time ago.  A Hammnarskiöld might, a U Thant.

But, there are problems.  That the Assad regime has chemical arms deposits to be declared, inspected, handled as parts of a multilateral, verifiable process is obvious.  But there could be other deposits in other hands, also in neighboring countries, easily smuggled in. Are we to believe that the Assad regime ordered a gas attack, well knowing the red line, the White House producing no compelling evidence? Or that somebody else launched that attack to unleash massive anti-Assad retribution?  The latter seems more likely, so any rational approach to eliminate the gas would have to cover both in talks behind closed doors.

The Russian focus on the gas got the USA off the hook.  There is no support for a US attack except from Israel that wants Syria cut into four parts and the Shia part occupied.  Not from NATO, not from US public opinion, not US top military, not the US Congress unable to unite on almost anything tormenting the USA right now, not “special relation” UK with the Parliament against, 285-272.  The McNamara thesis: the USA does not want to act alone, like White House alone.

Where in the amazingly complex history of the region with present day Syria carved out by Western imperialism do we find the inspiration for a solution?  Every power left their marks, faiths, their nations behind, in what became a rich crossroad, for Christians on the road to Damascus (Saulus = Apostle Paul), for Muslims on the road to Mecca (the hajj). An incredible history.  The Umayyad khalifate was short-lasting, 661-750, but became the largest empire of its time and one of the largest ever, expanding east and west along North Africa into Spain till 1492, spreading Islam everywhere. But in 750 they were overthrown by what became the Abassid khalifate centered in Baghdad, itself overthrown when Baghdad was sacked by the Mongol Hulegu on February 10 1258.  Thus, a majority Sunni Syria next to majority Shia Iraq also revives historical rivalries the Baath party tried to mend.

That light comes from four centuries of Ottoman rule, 1516-1916, till the Western betrayal.  They were Sunni Muslims respecting Arabic and the religious minorities: at the time Shia Muslim, Greek Orthodox, Maronite, Armenian and Jewish–each constituting a millet with much autonomy.  Human rights long before the human rights.  Erdögan would have done better had he taken less of a position in the geopolitical game, basing himself more on Ottoman sophistication.  And even more so now that the Nabucco pipeline from the Caspian to Southern Europe, bringing fossil fuels certified as non-Russian and non-Shia through Georgia and Turkey, with huge transition fees, seems to be crumbling.

This column has for years been arguing for a two-chamber parliament in Syria having an upper house with eight or so nations—like the Ottoman millets–and a coalition government. Very far from US “progressive solutions,” ours are based on criminalizing rather than killing the regime, with Assad for the International Criminal Court (Americans ruled out), etc.

Do that, and what remains is the whole Syrian conflict. Build on the two lights, and the roads to solutions are no longer hidden in the dark.

__________________________

Johan Galtung, a professor of peace studies, dr hc mult, is rector of the TRANSCEND Peace University-TPU. He is author of over 150 books on peace and related issues, including ‘50 Years-100 Peace and Conflict Perspectives,’ published by the TRANSCEND University Press-TUP.

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7 Responses to “Syria: Three Conflict Levels, Solutions?”

  1. But, dear Johan, the problem is “interpretation”. What the US call “progressive solutions”, does not mean, as most people think, solutions “for Syria”. USA solutions are all, without exception, geared towards resultings in economic benefits for the American military trade and American Banks.

    Of course the Arms Trade and Banks in other countries, like UK, France, Switzerland, Belgium, Sweden, Israel, India, Russia, China, etc, also benefit. It is a “party” for many, all celebrating this windfall.

    But sadly – and tragically, for thousands have to die or flee their homes – many Syrians, both in Syria and abroad, also benefit from the said “solutions”.

    ABOLITION OF MILITARISM is the only solution, for for Syria as for the whole world. Whilst we go on producing and selling weapons, bombs, air-fighters, warships, etc, the ONLY solution is the promotion of wars, by USA or by any other country wishing to take the lead.

  2. […] Originally published by Transcend Media Service here. […]

  3. Dasisuke Nojima says:

    Very meaningful idea for the solution! About a coalition government, Mauritius model could be a sample; eight nations (including factions by religion) are living together on the small capital city, at a democratic styled government. Mauritius has a long sad history of colonization and battle for independence, complex relations with Western powers; like other states in Africa. However, people overcame those situation and now build a very peaceful society; without military! Economy is one of the highest among African states, now.

  4. Werner T. Meyer says:

    Apropos

    And there is the Judeo-Christian idea of Chosenness afflicting Israel and the USA, with not only the right but a duty to impose their God-given will on others. They are two of the same kind, united in that faith, with the tail wagging the dog and Obama as the tail-dog link; protecting not only Israel-Jordan but also its own exceptionalism.

    I disagree here. Those 2 DONT JUST PUSH DISCOURSES.
    Its always I+E+M+P but this is primarily not about Ideological power but MILITARY power, geopolitics. The actors are NOT the USA nor Israel nor dogs nor tals. The actor is a transnational network linking various Israeli parties and movements (settlers, Haredims now beyond retreatism) in the tradition of Jabotinski-revisionism on the one side and Neocons + the Israel Lobby on the other side. Their Bible seems to be the document
    A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm
    (look up his phrase under wikipedia ENGLISH)
    written 1996 by neocons (Richard Perle..) in the US for then & now prime minister Netanyahu.
    In 1 sentence: we will attack Irak, Iran and Syria and divide them up into geopolitically powerless – and ideally warring – peaces.
    It makes much more sense to see this network as the most cohesive actor – they are not primarily Jews, Isralis or Yankees but a mafia. The head was a junta around Bush junior after 9/11 and now is a junta parallel the incredible mess of the Israeli government.

    Werner T. Meyer

  5. “…..the Judeo-Christian idea of Chosenness afflicting Israel and the USA, with not only the right but a duty to impose their God-given will on others.”

    This is exactly what Islam says: that “the only true Religion of God is Islam”. In fact, most Holy Wars have been fought by Muslims.

    All Religions are the same: barbaric Mafia Corporations who for the sake of power will kill with no mercy. The absurdity of this all is that they all kill in the name of one and the same God.

    And it is wrong to separate Religion from Militarism. ALL WARS started between Religious Organizations. Originally Armies worked exclusively for the Church. When Napoleon was fed up with working for the Vatican and declared himself Emperor, with the dream of taking the Glory (and the money) the Vatican declared him insane and got rid of him.

    Most of the European Kings and Queens, as other crucial people who were assassinated, ended up so by instructions from the Church they left.

    All very well to praise Mauritius, but I know that had they been great providers of oil or drugs to the world, there wouldn’t be much peace in this idyllic place.

  6. In today’s Morning Brief of the Foreign Policy Magazine, (Wed. Sept. 18, 2013) one can read this:

    “Deputy Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov claimed Syria has provided Russia “material evidence” that the Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack was carried out by Syrian rebels.”

    The following hypothesis by Dr. Galtung is gaining credibility. Ordinary people like you and me have been gassed to death. We are not even sure who has done it, but we were almost ready to bomb more ordinary people like you and me… in retaliation…? Dr. Galtung wrote:

    “Are we to believe that the Assad regime ordered a gas attack, well knowing the red line, the White House producing no compelling evidence? Or that somebody else launched that attack to unleash massive anti-Assad retribution? The latter seems more likely, so any rational approach to eliminate the gas would have to cover both in talks behind closed doors.”