"The Jewish people as a whole will be its own Messiah. It will attain world domination by the dissolution of other races...and by the establishment of a world republic in which everywhere the Jews will exercise the privilege of citizenship. In this New World Order the Children of Israel...will furnish all the leaders without encountering opposition..." (Karl Marx in a letter to Baruch Levy, quoted in Review de Paris, June 1, 1928, p. 574)

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Inside the quiet effort to plan for a post-Assad Syria


By Josh Rogin

For the last six months, 40 senior representatives of various Syrian opposition groups have been meeting quietly in Germany under the tutelage of the U.S. Institute for Peace (USIP) to plan for how to set up a post-Assad Syrian government.

The project, which has not directly involved U.S. government officials but was partially funded by the State Department, is gaining increased relevance this month as the violence in Syria spirals out of control and hopes for a peaceful transition of power fade away. The leader of the project, USIP's Steven Heydemann, an academic expert on Syria, has briefed administration officials on the plan, as well as foreign officials, including on the sidelines of the Friends of Syria meeting in Istanbul last month.

The project is called "The day after: Supporting a democratic transition in Syria." Heydemann spoke about the project in depth for the first time in an interview with The Cable. He described USIP's efforts as "working in a support role with a large group of opposition groups to define a transition process for a post-Assad Syria."

The opposition leaders involved in the USIP project have been meeting since January and providing updates on their work to the Arab League, the Friends of Syria group, the team of U.N. Special Envoy Kofi Annan, and the opposition Syrian National Council.

The focus of the group's effort is to develop concrete plans for the immediate aftermath of a regime collapse, to mitigate the risks of bureaucratic, security, and economic chaos. The project has also identified a few things can be done in advance to prepare for a post-Assad Syria.

"We organized this project along systematic lines, including security-sector reform," Heydemann said. "We have provided technical support for Syrian opposition participants in our project, and the Syrians have identified priorities for things that need to be implemented now."

He emphasized that USIP's involvement is primarily in a facilitation and coordination role. "The Syrians are very much in the lead on this," he said.

USIP intends to release a report on the project in the coming weeks that will serve as a transition strategy document to be used by the next government. The next phase is to stand up a transition support network "to begin to implement these recommendations about stuff that needs to happen now," Heydemann said.

In addition to security-sector reform, the group has come up with plans to reform the justice sector and a framework for the role of the armed opposition in a post-Assad Syria. The idea is to preserve those parts of the Syrian state that can be carried over while preparing to reform the parts that can't. For example, large parts of the Syrian legal system could be preserved.

The group has come up with a few innovative proposals to make the post-Assad transition less chaotic. One example Heydemann cited was the idea of mobile judicial review squads, which could be deployed to do rapid review and release of detainees held by the regime after it falls.

The project has also tried to identify regime personnel who might be able to play an effective role in the immediate phase after Assad falls.

"There's a very clear understanding of the Syrians in this project that a transition is not sweeping away of the entire political and judicial framework of Syria," Heydemann said. "We have learned an enormous amount about the participants so that we can actually begin a very crude vetting process."

The USIP-led project has been careful to avoid working to push the Assad regime from power.

"We have very purposely stayed away from contributing to the direct overthrow of the Assad regime," Heydemann said. "Our project is called ‘the day after.' There are other groups working on the day before."

The project has been funded by the State Department, but also has received funding from the Swiss Ministry of Foreign Affairs as well as Dutch and Norwegian NGOs. USIP partnered with the German Institute of International Affairs, which is why all of the meetings have been held in Berlin.

The absence of Obama administration officials at these meetings, even as observers, was deliberate.

"This is a situation where too visible a U.S. role would have been deeply counterproductive. It would have given the Assad regime and elements of the opposition an excuse to delegitimize the process," Heydemann said.

He also said that none of the groups that fall beyond the mainstream of the opposition have any connection to the project, although the participants assume that Islamist politics will be a significant part of any future Syrian political order.

The idea is not to predict if, how, or when the Assad regime might fall, but rather to do as much as possible, as quietly as possible, to get ready for any contingency.

"Regime collapse offers one set of challenges; a negotiated transition offers another. Even if we are not certain a transition will occur, it would be profoundly irresponsible not to prepare for a transition," Heydemann said. "We are providing the opposition with an opportunity for the opposition itself to demonstrate its ability to undertake this work, which is actually quite significant."


From Syria to Caucasus: Will Separate Sparks Become One Big Fire?


After a stop in the Bosphorus a NATO naval group weighed anchor and sailed on to the Eastern Mediterranean nearing the Syrian shore in early July. Formally the mission (no US Navy ships in the composition of the unit) is countering the «terrorist threat». German General T. Kughler literally said NATO would not allow terrorism in the Mediterranean.

The words smack of outright hypocrisy. If not for arms and mercenaries coming from the West into the country stricken by unrest and rogues going on a rampage, the Bashar Assad’s government would have dealt with the very terrorist threat that herr Kughler called to fight against. The real goal of the NATO’s new naval «anti-terror mission» is intimidation of Syria and demonstration of solidarity with Turkey.

After a Turkish spy plane was hit on June 22 while seeking «holes» in Syrian shore line air defense, Turkey’s militaristic rhetoric got its «second wind». The most up-to-date radars and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are reported to be moved to the border between Turkey and Syria. The redislocation of Air Force and Army units to the Syrian border is to demonstrate the Turkey’s resolve to play its role in the play with the Article 5 of NATO’s Charter pertaining to «collective defense» being enforced at the final stage. Today any provocation may formally become a pretext for launching air strikes against Syria while going around the UN Security Council. According to the CNN-Turk Turkey is ready to establish a buffer zone on the Syrian border. Ankara already approached Brussels on the issue at the recent NATO summit.

No matter many a time the «Syrian issue» was part of Russia - Turkey high level consultations agenda, the diplomatic split still goes on being widened. The so called Strategic Cooperation Council and other agencies established with fanfare back then keep mum, their formal coordinators – the foreign chiefs of the two countries – stick to outright opposite stances. No surprise. As many experts note, no matter solid trade turnover and cooperation in some spheres, no way the situational pattern is accompanied by «strategic scope». Quite differently the Ankara-Washington ties are exactly of strategic nature. That’s the principal difference.

From the point of view of Russia’s security Syria is a «far situated forward edge of battle area», while Turkey’s foreign policy is focused on Washington even if it evokes serious criticism in the society and may seriously exacerbate the internal problems in perspective. The Syrian civil war may bring to memory the many centuries old historic grievances and contradictions that undermine the Turkish society. But the strive for influence expansion, laying an eye on Syrian land and resources and, of course, the affect of US policy make the Turkish leadership inclined to take a more irreconcilable stance against its southern neighbor.

Now let’s turn to the Caucasus where the Turkish foreign policy is exercised along by and large the same lines. As is known instead of the «Syrian enemy» Turkey has a clearly identified «friend» whose support is the goal of «democratic community». Naturally the country in question is Georgia. As more frequent visits of different level functionaries show the interest to this state has considerably grown. Only in June Hillary Clinton was followed by Deputy Secretary General of NATO Alexander Vershbow, NATO's Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Transformation General Mieczyslaw Bieniek, a few US senators and former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. An impending visit of Anders Fogh Rasmussen has been announced.

The reinvigoration of Turkish diplomacy in the «Georgian» direction is strictly synchronized with measures actively taken by Ankara to ignite the Syrian hotbed. In the recent months a number of events took place in Turkey (concerning the Circassian issue, for instance) that evoked harsh reproof from the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The facts comparison allows to admit: «limited inclusion of the «Greater Caucasus» conflict potential into the geopolitical equation of «Greater Middle East» appears to become a working organic element of strategic planning for Western decision makers.

The Trabzon Declaration was signed by Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey foreign chiefs. Reportedly military and political issues made part of the agenda along with economic issues. The signing was timed with the US State Secretary Hillary Clinton’s South Caucasian tour. Besides arms sales Georgia was promised assistance in boosting its air defense and air force capability. According to Georgian foreign policy documents the military cooperation with Turkey, a neighbor and a NATO member, has an important role to play, something that shouldn’t be underestimated.

Ankara strives for bigger presence in the Caucasus by cooperating with Tbilisi. The growing Turkish presence in Adjara raises questions even in the opposition ranks. There is an apprehension the Turks would make Adjara the «second Cyprus» or even the «second Kosovo» as time goes by. There are other issues on the radar screen of Georgians. Muslim religious expansion, for instance, is a special issue for Orthodox Georgia. Still until now the current political calculations prevail over historic reminiscences and religious feelings. So the construction of Tbilisi – Ahalkaki - Kars railway (to great extent at the expense of funds coming from Azerbaijan) continues.

All this poses a difficult challenge for Armenia, excluded from the Georgia-Turkey project, as well as for Russia, whose Caucasus policy faces tough tests. The Kars - Gyumri raiway is still not open, but US ambassador to Erevan John Heffern told in an interview to a Turkish newspaper that the US would promote the idea of developing economic ties between Armenia and Turkey. According to him the railway link should be restarted even without making open the whole border to give a great impetus to trade and tourism. Looks like Washington is to waive an objection of Baku that insists that any warming in Armenia-Turkey relations should be tied to the management of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict exclusively on the conditions of Azerbaijan.

Not sure about trade and tourism one can definitely say the offer made by John Heffern will certainly facilitate the arms transit – especially in case Bashar Assad is overthrown (many are convinced Iran is the next). Later in Erevan John Heffern will elaborate on «railways issue» he likes so much. The ambassador also mentioned the talks between Armenian and Turkish companies concerning laying the fiber optics cable connecting the two countries.

The creation of Turkish military strike force along the Syrian border, the Ankara’s vigorous diplomatic activity in the Caucasus are accompanied by no less significant initiatives in Central Asia, where, following Washington, Turkey goes on being more adamant while promoting its interests. And the question if the growing number of unstable hotspots along the geopolitical axis the Middle East – the Caucasus – Central Asia may move to a new level of explosive intensification, this time encompassing the territory of Russian Federation, hangs in the air…


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