08 August 2011

Syria and the King's Speech

In the last few days, with corporate media preoccupied with the inexplicable unhappiness of the markets with spending cuts for which they clamored for so long, the Syrian adventure continued in relative obscurity. We have ADD, we cannot focus on more than one thing at a time.

As we averted our gaze, Assad's entourage of thugs moved their focus and artillery to Deir al-Zour and have been pounding this small eastern city since Sunday morning.

But there are indications that things are moving towards a denouement of sorts.

At the beginning of the month Secretary Clinton met with Syrian opposition leaders, a first for the Obama administration. The following day, there was a meek Security Council statement pushed through by Russia and China. Then, Secretary Clinton, during a visit to Canada, stated that approximately 2,000 people were killed by the Syrian regime in recent months and urged everyone to apply pressure on Assad.

So far, nothing earth shattering. Then, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia went on al Arabiyya TV station and declared that Syrian clampdown is unjustified and unacceptable. Hours later, Saudi ambassador to Syria was recalled. And immediately afterwards, Bahrain and Kuwait recalled their ambassadors as well.

To the outsiders, King Abdullah commentary did not sound like a big deal probably, but to the people of the region, his statements carry a lot of weight. Saudi Arabia rarely intervenes in such situations and almost never with such a clear condemnation. When they do it, it means something. In this case, it is more that "something." Given Hama's piety and its past, the religious significance of the month of Ramadan and the underlying Alewite-Sunni tension in the Syrian crisis, his words will make a huge difference.

Moreover, his harsh words and condemnation could provide an important justification for an eventual intervention.

The only regional actor that is capable and likely to carry out such an intervention is Turkey. Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs is going to Damascus tomorrow, presumably to impress upon Assad that his entourage of thugs are mistaken in their belief that no outside actor will want to undermine the stability brought about by his regime. In fact, it is quite the opposite (as I have been arguing from the beginning), there is a large coalition that wants his regime gone. In that sense, one could say that King Abdullah's declaration was just a confirmation of his country's acquiescence.

Turkish papers report that there was a flurry of diplomatic activity in Ankara and the American ambassador Ricciardone met with PM Erdogan's Foreign Policy adviser Ibrahim Kalin. Interestingly, all the English language links I could find described the meeting as taking place between Ricciardone and Kalin. But the Turkish media reported that the other people in that meeting were PM Tayyip Erdogan, the Minister of National Defense, Ismet Yilmaz, the newly appointed Chief of Joint Chiefs Necdet Ozel.

I thought -provided that the Turkish reports are correct- the omission was more significant than the actual meeting.

If this is indeed the quorum, clearly, an agenda was being set before this crucial mission. My guess is that Secretary Clinton wanted a very clear message sent to Assad about the repercussions of his actions. Tellingly, the person who will deliver this message was the formerly friendly face representing a country that is capable of removing him from power without getting into a quagmire.

The King's speech is relevant in that it indicates that there would be no regional recriminations if such an intervention were to take place. Erdogan's Muslim Democratic* government has been given one more green light to solve this crisis.

If they do it without an actual intervention they will have consolidated their regional super power status. But I am not very hopeful given the entourage of thugs.

We'll see.

*I figured that if you can have Christian Democratic parties in Western Europe why not apply the same moniker to AKP. Islamist does not seem appropriate anymore and while some people might question the Democratic moniker, they are not any less democratic that their Italian or German counterparts.

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