[Marxism] US favors keeping Assad in power

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Jul 1 03:51:44 MDT 2011


http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/jun/30/syria-plan-reform-bashar-al-assad

Syria: US presses for opposition dialogue with Assad

Details emerge of a controversial 'roadmap' for reforms that would leave 
him in power despite demands for his overthrow

• Read the document: A roadmap for Syria (in English)
• Read the document: A roadmap for Syria (in Arabic)

     Ian Black, Middle East editor
     guardian.co.uk, Thursday 30 June 2011 19.17 BST

Syria's president Bashar al-Assad has mentioned proposed changes in 
public, but some fear he is trying to buy time and brush up his image. 
Photograph: AP

The US is pushing the Syrian opposition to maintain dialogue with Bashar 
al-Assad's regime as details emerge of a controversial "roadmap" for 
reforms that would leave him in power for now despite demands for his 
overthrow during the country's bloody three-month uprising.

Syrian opposition sources say US state department officials have been 
discreetly encouraging discussion of the unpublished draft document, 
which circulated at an unprecedented opposition conference held on 
Monday in Damascus. But Washington denies backing it.

Assad would oversee what the roadmap calls "a secure and peaceful 
transition to civil democracy". It calls for tighter control over the 
security forces, the disbanding of "shabiha" gangs accused of 
atrocities, the legal right to peaceful demonstrations, extensive media 
freedoms, and the appointment of a transitional assembly.

The carefully phrased 3,000-word document demands a "clear and frank 
apology" and accountability for organisations and individuals who 
"failed to accommodate legitimate protests", and compensation for the 
families of victims. The opposition says 1,400 people have been killed 
since mid-March. The government says 500 members of the security forces 
have died.

It calls for the ruling Ba'ath party to be subject to a new law on 
political parties – though the party would still provide 30 of 100 
members for a proposed transitional national assembly. Seventy others 
would be appointed by the president in consultation with opposition 
nominees.

Several of the proposed measures have already been mentioned in public 
by Assad, fuelling speculation that he is at least partially following 
through on some of the document's recommendations.

The roadmap is signed by Louay Hussein and Maan Abdelsalam, leading 
secular intellectuals in a group called the National Action Committee. 
Both men met the vice-president, Farouk al-Sharaa, before Assad's most 
recent speech, diplomats said. On Monday they chaired the Damascus 
conference, which had official permission, was attended by 150 people – 
and was publicly welcomed by the US.

Wael Sawah, another member of the group, is an adviser to the US embassy 
in Damascus but did not sign the text, apparently so as not to discredit 
it in the eyes of Syrians suspicious of foreign meddling.

Quiet US interest in the roadmap dovetails with public demands from 
Washington that Assad reform or step down. Robert Ford, the US 
ambassador, has been urging opposition figures to talk to the regime, 
said Radwan Ziadeh, a leading exile, who insisted the strategy would not 
work. "They are asking Bashar to lead the transition and this is not 
acceptable to the protesters," he said. "It is too late."

The state department has been forced to defend Ford from Republican 
critics who have demanded his withdrawal. It has said he meets a "broad 
cross-section of the opposition" and "occasionally…with members of the 
government as appropriate." Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, 
has said Assad is losing legitimacy and is not indispensable. But the US 
has not called openly for his overthrow – in striking contrast to policy 
towards Muammar Gaddafi in Libya.

"It would be a big mistake if the Americans tried to influence this 
initiative and for the opposition to let them," warned a prominent 
Syrian intellectual with close links to the regime. "I would advise them 
to distance themselves from the US."

A state department spokesman said: "We are encouraging genuine dialogue 
between the opposition and the regime but we are not promoting anything. 
We want to see a democratic Syria but this is in the hands of the Syrian 
people."

Opposition figures are deeply divided over the way ahead, though even 
those arguing for engagement are far from certain it will work: "The 
situation may be at such an impasse that it precludes opportunities for 
co-operation and political dialogue and the feasibility of any proposal 
for reconciliation," the text warns.

Worries are growing that the regime may be recovering its poise in the 
absence of significant defections from the military, government or 
business elite.

Joshua Landis, a Syria expert at the University of Oklahoma, said: "The 
US approach makes sense. Sanctions are a slippery slope and they're not 
going to intervene militarily in Syria. They have to explore what this 
regime is capable of."

Others fear that Assad may be trying to buy time. "This is a blueprint 
for reform in Syria that would leave the regime in place," warned one 
opposition figure. "It's the minimum to keep the west happy. The regime 
wants to create an official opposition and sideline others. How can I 
give legitimacy to Bashar al-Assad when there are a million people on 
the streets demanding he be removed?"




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