For this month's Readers' Review: "All The Light We Cannot See" by Anthony Doerr. The 2014 novel weaves together the stories of a blind French girl and a German orphan during World War II.
Fighting continues for the third day in the northern Syrian city, Aleppo, as rebel leaders seek to wrest it from government control. In Damascus, government troops went door to door to clear out remaining rebels after their efforts to take control of that city faltered. In recent days rebels have stepped up guerrilla style attacks in urban areas. The Syrian army has responded with gunships and tanks. An estimated 3000 people have been killed since the beginning of this month. The U.S. has launched a behind the scenes effort to hasten the fall of the Assad government. Please join us for a conversation about chaos in Syria and regional security implications.
- Aram Nerguizian visiting fellow, Burke Chair in Strategy, Center for Strategic and International Studies.
- Martin Indyk vice president for foreign policy at the Brookings Institution and co-author with Michael O'Hanlon and Kenneth Lieberthal of "Bending History: Barack Obama's Foreign Policy."
- Karim Sadjadpour associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Conflict in Syria seems to be entering a new and even more dangerous phase. The group known as the Free Syrian Army is battling government forces in the northern city of Aleppo and several other urban areas. As chaos spreads, concerns mount over who will come to control the Syrian government's chemical weapons.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining me to talk about the unfolding crisis in Syria: Martin Indyk of The Brookings Institution, Aram Nerguizian of the Center for Strategic and International Studies and Karim Sadjadpour of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Do join us, 800-433-8850. Send us your comments by email to email@example.com. Join us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning, gentlemen.
MR. MARTIN INDYKGood morning, Diane.
MR. ARAM NERGUIZIANGood morning.
MR. KARIM SADJADPOURGood morning.
REHMAram Nerguizian, if I could start with you, what are the latest reports that we hear from Syria, and how accurate can we assume they are?
NERGUIZIANWell, one of the challenges of the crisis in Syria is that you have unreliable metrics. You have an opposition and a regime that are both actively engaged in an information war, inflating and deflating some of the dynamics. But what we seem to have is a active operation in Aleppo. You have the winding down of opposition activities in Damascus as the regime retaliates in force.
NERGUIZIANYou're going to have this back and forth where the regime tries to hold on to key centers of power while the opposition engages in these rapid operations and trying to hold certain key strategic positions at the same time. So it's still a uncertain dynamic, and it continues to play out over time.
REHMMartin Indyk, we continue to hear those within Damascus throughout Syria saying, where is the United States? What is the United States doing? What more can it do?
INDYKWell, I think that those who are calling for U.S. military intervention are likely to continue to be disappointed. The heart of the matter is that the president wants to run on a campaign platform of ending wars in the Middle East, not starting new ones, and that is broadly popular in the United States, which is why you don't see many Republicans and not the candidate Gov. Romney himself coming out and calling for military intervention. Simply put, the American people are war-weary after 10 years of war in the greater Middle East.
INDYKAnd so that kind of military intervention is unlikely. So the focus is much more on helping to support the opposition, perhaps now training them, supporting Saudi Arabia and Qataris. They arm them -- and working diplomatically so far with little success to try to split Russia away from the Assad regime, so that the efforts of Kofi Annan and the international community to try to put forward a post-Assad political solution will bear more fruit.
REHMKarim Sadjadpour, it would seem that the U.S. claims some 10,000 people have been killed. Humanitarian activists argue 17,000. How much can the U.S. do behind the scenes?
SADJADPOURWell, I think what the U.S. can do is to help the opposition help themselves, meaning helping them with ammunitions, with weapons, with information, with intelligence. But as Martin said, there's very little appetite to have U.S. boots on the ground. Certainly, I think, we know for a fact that they are similar to what we saw in Libya. There are CIA folks in Syria helping the opposition with logistics, with intelligence.
SADJADPOURBut I think that in the aftermath of these recent assassinations in Damascus, there's also a sense that this regime's time is really running out, whereas a month ago, two months ago, it looked like this crisis could continue for another year. Now, there seems to be a consensus that, you know, Assad's time can be measured perhaps even in weeks.
REHMOf course, the question becomes, how were those assassinations carried out? Was it the Israelis? Was it the Americans? How was it done?
SADJADPOURPerhaps Aram knows more than I do. What I've read about the assassinations are is it's conflicting because the Syrian regime claims that there were suicide bombings conducted by terrorists. But journalists who went to the scene didn't see any signs of major explosions. And what the opposition has said, that it was an inside job, that one of the bodyguards of one of the senior officials that was killed planted a detonation device inside the room which then exploded. But I'm not sure if there's clarity in terms of how it exactly happened.
NERGUIZIANWell, I don't argue with Karim. You don't have a reliable set of narratives. What you have is it's quite reminiscent of the Palestinians during the Second Intifada. You have competing groups all vying for legitimacy, all taking claim but with very little realistic forensic evidence that's been made available to the public, no real sense of how the operation was conducted. We're talking about individuals that do carry a great deal of symbolism in terms of their links to Assad.
NERGUIZIANIt also plays into the communal direction. You have a Christian minister of defense. You also have a key Alawite and a Sunni-leading military figure. So it plays both ways. I think a lot of folks in Damascus were very interested initially in hearing how the regime would react, whether it would recoil and show signs of weakness, blood in the water, so to speak. They have seen to be kind of squeamish about an initial response in the first 24 hours and released only skittish information about the operation.
NERGUIZIANSo it's still an ongoing story. I don't think we have a clear picture. There's talk of involvement of Jordanian intelligence, potentially Turkish intelligence, but it's all heresy at this point.
INDYKI think that if we look at the longer term trends in this battle, we can draw some more interesting conclusions which is that, first of all, they were able to penetrate to the very inner sanctum of the regime and assassinate the president's brother-in-law who is the brains behind the whole operation to suppress the opposition.
INDYKAnd it's part of a broader trend in which an uprising which started at -- on the perimeter of the country has spread now to the two most important centers, Damascus and now in Aleppo. Today there's fighting there. And that is why I think Karim is right, that what we are witnessing is the last months -- I'm not sure about last days -- of this regime.
NERGUIZIANBut I still have some concerns about how this all maps out. A lot of the information we are getting about the gains of the regime versus the gains of the opposition are still very much in the realm of speculation. We're relying on sources that are contestable on both sides. I think the Assad regime has conflated a lot of this. I also think the opposition has done a good job of trying to shape perception.
NERGUIZIANI don't think, given the scale of the insurgency and the fact that this has become very polarized, that we can draw immediate conclusions about the timeline. I think the underlying pressures in Syria will mark out over years. We can talk about that later on during the show.
REHMHow do we identify just how strong a free Syria army is, Aram?
NERGUIZIANWell, that's something that many defense analysts have been struggling with for months, and that's an exercise in trying to parse out hope from reality. You have a flat organizational structure. Calling it an army, I think, is a bit of a misnomer. It's more of a cellular entity that's reminiscent of militia and economics, militia operations. There are a lot of lessons from Libya, a lot of lessons from Lebanon and Iraq about how these things map out. They are fluid. We don't know who the players are at any one point in time.
NERGUIZIANYou have secular elements. You have a very large Sunni recruitment pattern over time. You have very little minority representation, and you do have now the immergence of fringe elements in places like the Iraqi frontier that are tied to Islamist groups. But even that is difficult to pin down. So we're still even, you know, 16 months into this, 17 months into this, we're still struggling to map these players out effectively and parsing out what they are saying about themselves from what they actually are.
REHMAnd what is the U.S.'s role, Karim?
SADJADPOURWell, the U.S.'s role, I think that there was a very telling moment about a year and a half ago which Hillary Clinton -- Secretary Clinton was asked whether she would like to see the collapse of the Assad regime. And she said, at that time, it depends on what comes next. And now, of course, that was when there was a few thousand casualties, now when there's upwards of 10-, 15-, 17,000 casualties. It's unquestionable that the U.S. now publicly wants to see the Assad regime go.
SADJADPOURBut, as Aram has been alluding to, there is tremendous concern about what comes next. First of all, there's deep concern about having in Syria what we saw in Iraq, which was essentially a state collapse, a sudden vacuum of power, and in particular military collapse where the Syrian military totally disintegrates, and you just have other mayhem and carnage for a period of years. That's a tremendous concern. I think a second concern is about who comes to power post-Assad.
SADJADPOURI'm always reminded of something which the son of a very powerful Iranian cleric once told me and that was during times of crisis and state collapse, one Islamist is worth 20 liberals because it's oftentimes the Islamists and the hardcore Islamists, the Salafists, who are willing to go out into the streets and kill and die for the cause.
REHMKarim Sadjadpour of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. We'll take a short break here. We do welcome your questions and comments.
REHMAnd the lines are open if you'd like to join us as we talk about the ongoing violence in Syria, where anywhere between 10 -- 17,000 people have been killed in the chaos.
REHMHere with me is Martin Indyk of the Brookings Institution. He's co-author with Michael O'Hanlon and Kenneth Lieberthal of a new book titled "Bending History: Barack Obama's Foreign Policy." Aram Nerguizian is visiting fellow at the Center for Strategic International Studies. Karim Sadjadpour is with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Karim, talk about last week's U.N. Security Council vote.
SADJADPOURWell, one of the goals of the United States has been to try to get the Russians to curtail or abandon their support for the Syrian regime. One would argue -- many people argue that the key external supporters of the Assad regime who are maintaining that regime in power are the Russians and the Iranians, but it was an unsuccessful attempt at the U.N. Security Council because the Russians and the Chinese ultimately blocked attempts to further censure the Syrians.
SADJADPOURAnd I think that this will sound like an oversimplification, but I think, in many ways, especially for Vladimir Putin, it's often -- he oftentimes use the world in very zero-sum terms. And Syria is arguably Russia's last client state in the Middle East. They have a lot to lose. And people have argued, well, if the casualties really mounts -- they get into the thousands now, you know, as we said close to 17,000 -- the Russians will finally abandon Assad.
SADJADPOURBut what I answer to that is that look at Chechnya. The Russians flattened tens of thousands of churches in Grozny, and I think they -- their metrics for humanitarian crisis are much different than ours.
INDYKWell, I think that eventually the Russians will see the writing on the wall. That moment is coming where they can no longer support us because they will go down with him. I think one of the...
REHMBut isn't the writing on the wall been there for quite some time?
INDYKWell, I think you have to take Karim's assessment seriously here that their view of casualties is different to ours. Their assessment that force can work is a product of their own experience. And they -- what they don't want is for Syria to be taken out of the Russian column and put in the Western column. Ironically, they're doing everything possible to ensure that that will happen. Hard to imagine that the post-Assad regime is going to be favorable towards Moscow given its support for Assad.
INDYKThey know that they're going to have to evacuate, perhaps, tens of thousands of Russians. They've already pre-positioned their ships and even marines, I think, for that purpose. So I think they can see it coming, and they have to basically balance between the commitment that Karim spoke of, of being seen to be supporting their friends unlike the way that we abandoned Mubarak, but on the other hand, not to go down with them.
INDYKSo I think the effort that Secretary of State Clinton has been making to work with the Russians but pressure them in the Security Council to keep on holding them up as the veto will eventually lead to them deciding to work with us rather than against us in terms of trying to develop a post-Assad future for Syria.
REHMAram, how successful has Kofi Annan been in his work to try to bring a ceasefire to bear?
NERGUIZIANOne of the biggest challenges of Syria is that every good idea has come six months too late, and everybody wants to negotiate as long as they get exactly what they want. You have local actors both the regime and against it that have not committed in measurable ways to negotiate an outcome. They've been too much -- they've been pushed too much on this -- on the fringes in terms of trying to achieve maximalist outcomes. And then all of this sits on a broader regional Sunni-Shiite fault line.
NERGUIZIANI mean, you have the Gulf states led by Saudi and Qatar that find themselves in an unprecedented geopolitical environment. The three traditional pillars of the Arab state system, you know, Iraq, Egypt and Syria are all sidelined, and they are in a unique position to try and shape regional politics. But from a foreign policy standpoint, they're midgets. They're only now learning how to put long-term strategic interests ahead of short-term operational or tactical outcomes, and only late will they realize the added value of some kind of a peace structure.
NERGUIZIANAnd this all comes, as my colleagues have been talking about, this environment where, at the international level, the U.S. and Russia, very squarely sit on opposing sides -- the Russians are tied to a lot of really post-Cold War angst tied to competing with the U.S. The perception that their near abroad has been eroding to the advantage of NATO and the U.S. for years. They have their own internal pressures from Islamist forces as well to say nothing to the North Caucasus.
NERGUIZIANSo you have this internal regional and international mess, a -- an individual who is trying to do something, but at the same time doesn't enjoy any of the support that would writ settlement. So it just protracts the crisis and weakens the effort.
REHMAnd you've got thus far about 30,000 Syrians who have left the country for either Turkey of Lebanon. How are they being received, Karim?
SADJADPOURIt depends. For example, there was an interesting case in Jordan recently of the Syrian refugee crisis whereby, you know, there's actually a large Palestinian refugee community within Syria as well. And the Palestinian -- the Syrians who -- those who have left Syria's refugees and have gone to Jordan, the Syrian nationals have ostensibly been treated well. But the Jordanians are concerned about the Palestinians who fled Syria because they already have a sizeable Palestinian community.
SADJADPOURAnd I think, you know, the case of the Syrian refugees is similar to the case of many displaced people, that those with means usually end up settling fairly well in places like Beirut. You know, the best off may be gone to Europe. But those without means are in very difficult circumstances. And I think, you know, as Aram has been alluding to, this isn't going to be a crisis which resolves itself when Bashar al-Assad falls.
SADJADPOURYou could more likely have an even greater refugee crisis after Assad falls and maybe the country deteriorates into prolonged fighting, so, unfortunately, I see this refugee crisis really getting worse.
INDYKYeah, I agree with that. I think the numbers are actually larger than you suggested, Diane. I think there are over 100,000 now in Jordan alone, at least 50,000 in Lebanon, and it's going to go up significantly because, as I pointed out before, the fighting is now in the two main cities of Aleppo and Damascus. And because of the use of heavy artillery, helicopter gunships and so on, there's already a large refugee flow going on out of those two major cities. So the numbers are, I think, going to grow dramatically as we see the population centers (unintelligible).
REHMLet's talk for a moment about the possibility of chemical gas weapons coming into the wrong hands. Do we know where they are, who has control and what could happen if Assad falls?
NERGUIZIANWell, you have to bear in mind that the Syrian structure isn't that different from other regional militaries that have dabbled in chemical weapons holdings. What that means is they've decentralized the stock piles, decentralized the production facilities to protect them from attack.
REHMSo they're all over the country?
NERGUIZIANThe best we have in terms of open source metrics right now is that you have two dozen or more facilities spread across the country, some of them in critical urban centers like Homs and Hama. And that's not uncommon for the Syrian structure because many of these systems that are integral to defense -- natural defense, strategic deterrents are in urban centers.
REHMWould that mean they're underground?
NERGUIZIANThey can be over ground in facilities, holding centers, some that, frankly, look like pedestrian infrastructure tied to manufacturing food stuffs, agricultural produce. But at the end of the day, that's just a front for a structure that houses chemical weapons and facilities.
REHMAnd what are these chemical weapons?
NERGUIZIANRight now we're looking at a Syrian structure that includes mustard gas that includes sarin. There is VX, but also in smaller holdings. And you're also talking about things like cyanide. So basically systems that can be distributed in water supplies, that can be delivered through airborne, fixed-wing bombs and other structures, artillery, or loaded on surface-to-surface missiles.
REHMAnd is there a single control center?
NERGUIZIANThe SSM or surface-to-surface missile command and the, essentially, CBW structure are more or less integrated, as far as we can tell. But a lot of the assessments we have, frankly, are pre-insurgency. So how a lot of this has evolved, where does the command and control lie, how much control do junior officers have, where are the wild cards, I don't think anyone realistically knows right now.
REHMAnd, of course, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has spoken out, said he would have to act if these weapons fell into the wrong hands. Problem being at this point we don't know what the wrong hands are.
INDYKIt's interesting to see that both the Israeli prime minister and Israeli defense minister have, over the last two weeks, sounded the alarm in this regard, something they've been quiet about up till now. So they watch what's going on -- particularly with the chemical weapons -- like a hawk because it affects their vital security.
INDYKSo the fact that they are now warning not just that they might fall into the wrong hands, but that Israel will take military action to prevent that from happening indicates that they are becoming quite alarmed about the situation. Their main red line is chemical weapons getting into the hands of Hezbollah because that could tip the kind of strategic balance between Hezbollah and Israel in Lebanon. So that's their main concern.
INDYKBut they're also concerned about them falling into the hands of jihadi-type Sunni extremists and the way in which that could become a problem as well. The fact that Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta was in Israel this week apparently to talk about those things is an, I think, an indication that we, too, have a red line when it comes to the use of non-conventional weapons, particularly against Syrian people, which is perhaps the most likely scenario in which they might be used or even just deployed.
INDYKOne can imagine that the regime, with its backs to the -- back to the wall, moves those chemical weapons into the Alawite-concentrated areas in the north of Syria simply to create, without using them, create a kind of refugee flow of Sunnis out of that area.
REHMBut how could Israel act when, as Aram says, these sites are all over the country?
SADJADPOURThere was a statement this morning, Diane -- I believe it's from the new Syrian defense minister -- somewhat cryptic statement in which he said that Syria wouldn't use chemical weapons against its own population, but it reserves the right to use them if there is "foreign aggressor," an outside power that tries to intervene in Syria.
NERGUIZIANWell, the challenge that the Syrians have is, on the one hand, to fight an insurgency, but at the same time to not take the kinds of measures and steps that could trigger a blowback effect in terms of support from Russia, China and Iran -- so things like using fixed-wing aircraft, dropping bombs indiscriminately and well beyond the red line, using chemical weapons against civilian or even insurgent targets.
NERGUIZIANSo I think there is a signaling game going on. The Assad regime understands that if they make the wrong choices, say the wrong things, it's going to be catastrophic for them. With that being said, you don't know what the wild cards are in the long term.
REHMAram Nerguizian, he's visiting fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We're going to open the phones and hear from our listeners. First, let's go to Ann Arbor, Mich. Good morning, John. You're on the air.
JOHNDiane, thank you very much for taking my call.
JOHNI have a statement that I'd like to read. It's very short. Given the need to teach the neo-Soviet regime in Moscow a lesson and the opportunity to cut down Iranian Middle Eastern influence, the United States ought to stop leading from behind on the Syrian situation. Absent a strong Chapter VII resolution, we should have pulled the plug on Kofi Annan, and we ought to publicly call on and support the Turks in establishing a no-fly zone.
JOHNIf the Turks are unwilling to do so, we should publicly support the Israelis in destroying the Syrian air force. Better yet, we could encourage the Turks and the Israelis to work together on this.
REHMAll right. Karim.
SADJADPOURWell, I think the caller's -- is well intended, you know, wanting to prevent a humanitarian crisis, which we are, frankly. This is a humanitarian crisis when, you know, hundreds of thousands have been displaced, and upwards of 15,000 have been killed. But, again, I think the debate, in the aftermath of these recent assassinations, has somewhat changed. And I think that very few people would still argue that we need some type of a NATO intervention to bring about the collapse of the Assad regime.
SADJADPOURThere's now a sense that this inertia is going to continue and Assad is going to collapse on his own. The best we can do is to help the opposition help themselves logistically with munitions, but it isn't going to require some type of a full-fledged NATO intervention like we saw in Libya.
NERGUIZIANWe, frankly, already have no-fly zones in Syria. You've had a grounded air force. They've had concerns about loyalty of their air crews. Most of these pilots are Sunni, and they're grounded. That's an important thing to bear in mind. Beyond that, I mean, it's sort of a misnomer to want to destroy the air force. There is no active air campaign right now in Syria short of helicopter operations over urban centers.
NERGUIZIANAnd on the question of Turkish-Israeli coordination on this, you have to remember that the underlying pressures in Syria are such that if you provide the Assad regime with some kind of a rallying call, some way to mobilize very divided already Arab support at home and in the region, it could inflame the crisis, make it far more complex, and also at a time when Israel and Turkey are having a very difficult time coordinating a response on anything, let alone on Syria.
REHMAnd, of course, let us not forget, we are in the midst of a U.S. election process. Nothing major likely is going to come during this period. So how soon, how long it takes for Assad to fall, all of it's up in the air. We're going to take a short break here. Thanks for your call, John. When we come back, we have callers in Sherman, Texas, Orlando, Fla. and Washington, D.C.
REHMWelcome back. One of the developments coming up next week in the current chaos in Syria is that the Republican nominee -- presumed nominee Mitt Romney is going to Israel next week to meet with Benjamin Netanyahu. Martin Indyk, what's likely to come of that meeting?
INDYKWell, I think that the visit that he's paying to Jerusalem and then to Warsaw in Poland is designed with domestic audiences in mind, the American-Jewish and Polish-American communities. But he's going to be walking right into the makings of a real regional crisis with Syria right next door and the Israelis now threatening to take military action. So it's going to be complicated for him.
INDYKHe has to walk the fine line between expressing the usual undying support for Israel's security and survival but, on the other hand, not presenting himself as the drummer beating the drums of war, which I don't think is going to be popular back home in his own base.
REHMMm hmm. Aram, should Assad fall, who are the winners, who are the losers?
NERGUIZIANWell, one of the assumptions that's being made is that this will be a direct blow to Iran, Iranian influence in the Levant, their ability to support Hezbollah and, frankly, the loss of a key state ally. And Iran has very few of those certainly in the Middle East. But the reality is that that's a short-term tactical view of how the Syrian crisis will map out.
NERGUIZIANIt ignores the fact that countries like Iraq and Iran will try to recalibrate at a time when regional competition, for better or for worse, is defined by Sunni-Shiite tension at a time when the Gulf states are looking to make key gains. And, frankly, the assessments in the U.S. about what's a good outcome versus regional allies' views -- Saudi and Qatar -- is different. The U.S. view is strategic in nature. There's a desire to know how this will map out at a time of deep instability in Libya, in Egypt and other key states.
NERGUIZIANThe view in the Gulf is, frankly, far more tactical, focused far more on this idea that, as long as something pushes Assad out, it is likely to be Sunni and we can buy it accordingly. And that's an area where I think there's a great deal of disagreement between the U.S. and key allies.
SADJADPOURAram is right that Syria has been Iran's most important ally since the 1979 Revolution, their only reliable ally. And Syria has provided Iran its main thoroughfare to Hezbollah, and Hezbollah is really the crown jewel of the Iranian Revolution. And there is this assumption that once Assad falls by virtue of the fact that Syria -- the demographics of Syria are approximately three-quarter Sunni Arab -- that post-Assad Syria will be hostile to Iran and won't be willing to accommodate the Iranian-Syrian relationship -- the Iranian-Hezbollah relationship.
SADJADPOURIf I had to make, kind of, a broad generalization about competing paradigms in the Middle East, I would say there are three main competing paradigms. One is the so-called rejectionist paradigm, rejecting U.S. influence, rejecting Israel, and I would say that's led by Iran and it's been, you know, Hezbollah, Syria, non-state actors like Hamas, Islamic Jihad. And then you have what I would call the sectarian paradigm, which is led by Saudi Arabia, which sees the region through sectarian lenses, Sunni-Shiite.
SADJADPOURAnd the third paradigm, which has emerged over the last decade or so, I would call, for a lack of a better term, the prosperity paradigm led by Turkey, which says that, you know, you can all get richer, you can be Muslim, but you can also be modern, you can be democratic and you can improve your standard of living. And I think that right now, as I mention Syria, Bashar al-Assad Syria is part of the rejectionist paradigm. What's unclear is what becomes the day after.
SADJADPOURThere will be forces from Saudi Arabia which would like to recruit Syria to be part of the sectarian paradigm, to view the region through sectarian lenses. But if you look at some of these more hard-line Salafist groups within Syria, they have no affection whatsoever for Israel. They're not very pro-American. So I don't think it is a foregone conclusion that post-Assad Syria will be anti-Tehran.
SADJADPOURThat said, all that said -- and this is something that Martin alluded earlier about Russia -- given the fact that Iran has provided unrelenting support to the Assad regime as it massacres Syrians, I find it tough to believe that a post-Assad order in Syria will have warm feelings towards Iran.
REHMWhere are the weapons coming from that the Syrian army against Assad is getting?
INDYKYou have a trickle from Lebanon. I don't want to say more than that because, frankly, on both sides of the Lebanese-Syrian border, there's been an effort to clamp down. As many listeners know, Lebanon has its own sectarian issues, Sunni-Shiite, and that's a very precarious environment. And so they're trying to stay away from this Syria crisis. Whether they succeed is a different issue. There is certainly a flow from Turkey. We have a very large, increasingly porous frontier.
INDYKYou have opposition forces that are largely mast along that frontier, and it is a source of both flows of logistics and also weapon systems. There's very little from Jordan, in part, because paradoxically, even though the king was among the first to ask Assad to go, he's also been among the first to say, this is all going horribly wrong, and it could be very dangerous for Jordan.
REHMAnd what about the U.S.? To what extent is the U.S. supplying arms?
INDYKRight now, there is more of a focus on providing, you know, "information," which is essentially electronic or other intelligence sharing. There's an effort to try and map out, frankly, the opposition. That's taking a lot of time. You know, again, 16, 17 months into this, I don't think the U.S. government has a reliable map in terms of who the players are, where the ideology fits in and, frankly, whether or not in a post-Assad environment, whether or not they will be at each other's throats.
INDYKMy anticipation is that in a post-Assad Syria, if it does come to pass in the short or the long term, you will have the next cycle of instability, which is to say underlying grievances, competition for power. And that could take years.
REHMAll right. To Sherman, Texas. Good morning, Lander.
LANDERGood morning. I understand that, you know, oftentimes the church is able to serve as a moderating force. But having visited Syria a few years ago, my observation was that the Syrian Orthodox Church receives some protection from the Assad regime. And so I wondered two things. One is, what do you think the role of the church might be as a moderating force? And what do you think the plight of the Syrian Orthodox Church might be?
INDYKWell, the Christian community in Syria has long been supportive of the Assad regime because, as the caller suggested, the Assad regime has provided them with protection. They're a minority -- an important minority. I think it's about 10 percent of the population. But they are regime supporters, and they have been using their representatives here in Washington to speak to the highest decision makers here.
REHMHave they been protected from the violence?
INDYKWell, now that it's in the major cities, that's unlikely.
INDYKOf course, the defense minister who was just assassinated was also Christian. And that is a manifestation of the way in which the regime has built its support on minorities. But there has to be a concern, not just about the future of the Christian community but also the Alawite community, which is the mainstay of the Assad regime. If there is to be some hope of a stable post-Assad Syrian future then guarantees are going to have to be provided to these two communities, the Alawite community and the Christian community.
INDYKThat's very difficult to do. But, unless they feel that they -- their future will be secured, they're going to go -- basically go down fighting with Assad and that will just worsen the situation.
NERGUIZIANWell, first on the question of the Christian community in Syria broadly speaking, the lessons of what happens to countries that go turbulently wrong are right next door. So Iraq, you have a depletion rate of any community that is not orthodox Sunni or orthodox Shiite by about 80 percent. You have the example in Lebanon of what happens when minority Christians lose power. They get relegated to the bottom of the political totem pole. The precarious environment in Syria is getting is worse.
NERGUIZIANWhat you have now -- and this is different from Lebanon Civil War -- is that unlike some small communities that were able to stay neutral during the 15-year cycle in Lebanon, you already have on both sides, from Assad and from his opponents, very clear signals that you cannot remain neutral, you have a take a side, and you have to fight on side of the other. And I have to agree with Martin.
NERGUIZIANI think that the opposition and frankly a lot of the external support for opposition and politics in general disregard the fact that whether it's Alawites, minority Christians and other groups, if you cannot chart a course for them that guarantees political autonomy, prerogatives and security, there is absolutely no incentive to not put down weapons, to not engage in some kind of effort to secure their interest. And they're going to fight till the end for that.
SADJADPOURThere's also the more recent example of Egypt where you had dictator Hosni Mubarak who was intolerant towards dissent but very tolerant of the Coptic community, which constitutes approximately 15 percent of the Egyptian population.
SADJADPOURAnd now the Coptic community in Egypt feels like they're in a period of crisis, and you've had -- it's hastened immigration away from Egypt. There had been reprisals of Islamist groups against Copts. And what I've heard in terms of the number of Christians in Syria is even lower than what Martin said 10 percent. I've heard now it's 5 percent, and...
REHMIs that because they are fleeing?
SADJADPOURWell, over time this has been...
SADJADPOURIf you want to look over the last half century, the Middle East has become an increasingly homogenous place, places like Egypt, like Lebanon. Aram mentioned earlier Iraq were much more diverse both in ethnic and sectarian terms, as now they're becoming increasingly Sunni-Arab. And this is the irony of some of these dictators as that they were totally intolerant towards any type of political dissent, but they were fairly tolerant when it came to religious diversity.
SADJADPOURAnd you may not have a situation post-Assad Syria where you have a regime, which comes to power. And again, this isn't the foregoing conclusion, but if the trend lines continue as they have another parts of the region, it may have a much stronger religious identity, which is less tolerant of other religious minorities.
REHMIt would seem -- and if you had a less tolerant Syria, you'd see an awful lot more refugees going into a place like Turkey, Aram.
NERGUIZIANWell, that depends which community we're talking about. You have...
REHMIf it's the orthodox community, the Christian Orthodox.
NERGUIZIANWell, again, I think if you look at the Orthodox Christian community, Turkey is not synonymous with the guarantor in terms of their future stability. There are lingering memories of the Ottoman Empire and how that went horribly wrong towards the end. Other communities in the region, they're heterodox. Like, the Maronites have similar experiences. So there are a lot of concerns there.
NERGUIZIANWe have migration to Lebanon, which has one positive effective and largely because the country has always been this kind of an image of a place where you had tolerance for Christians. But there are two, to go back to my old point, that you have these underlying pressures. Sunni-Shiite is very problematic.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go to Orlando, Fla. Good morning, Mark. Thanks for waiting.
MARKGood morning, Diane. I had a comment that your panel has pretty much already hit very thoroughly on. But I'm an Army veteran who deployed to Iraq twice and seen the wars over there. And so to speaking towards people that want foreign military intervention in Syria, I think it's -- people have very short memories.
MARKIf you want to see how those type of engagements would go, there are two conflicts right now that are very adequately shown that you can't just bring in a military force and solve a country's sort of identity crisis, if you will, about where they want to go. And I think it's foolish to think that the Syrian military or the Syrian government hasn't in some way prepared for such an eventuality and wouldn't be ready to sort of -- instead of trying to fight us directly, almost go in immediately into an insurgency or more a guerilla-type warfare-type situation.
INDYKYes. I think that's right, and Aram did speak to the still considerable military capabilities that the Syrian army, particularly air defenses, can deploy. And so it would be quite a complicated operation beyond what the caller's already suggested in terms of potential for having to fight in insurgency as well.
REHMAnd you have said there is an urgent need to make contact with Assad's generals.
INDYKYes. I think that in many ways this is the key to averting some of the disastrous scenarios that we have discussing here this morning, which is to somehow find a way to split the army from the Assad family and convince them that there's a future for them -- these are the Alawite generals we're talking about -- in a post-Assad Syria and...
REHMHow likely is that to be, though?
NERGUIZIANWell, I'm fairly skeptical for a number of reasons. The first is we've been at this a long time now. There have been a number of opportunities to apply pressure, and they haven't panned out. It doesn't mean it can't happen sometime this year or beyond, but still we're talking about a military that even beyond the Alawites has been very ideological for decades. You have 30 years of indoctrination mapped in to some of the senior personnel.
NERGUIZIANThey do remember the last cycle in terms of the uprising in Hama and combating the Muslim Brotherhood. And you do have these conspiracy theories that are rampant within the security structure, so that plays into that. And, frankly, even if -- this goes to Mark's question and comment -- even if you find a way through this where you can, you know, pull away the military, put in even the best possible government to manage their pressures, even then you're talking about a decade of instability as the underlying socioeconomic and political pressures map out.
REHMLast word, Karim.
SADJADPOURWell, I think one of the challenges of the Syrian opposition is to make clear to the Alawite community that their beef is not with the Alawite community, writ large. It's with the Assad regime because they don't want the Alawite community to feel that it's either kill or be killed.
REHMKarim Sadjadpour of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Aram Nerguizian of the Center for Strategic and International Studies and Martin Indyk at the Brookings Institution, thank you all so much.
INDYKThank you, Diane.
NERGUIZIANThank you, Diane.
SADJADPOURThank you, Diane.
REHMAnd thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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