[Marxism] Fwd: Russia and Iran move towards a political solution for Syria-FT - Google Groups

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Jun 22 20:21:26 MDT 2016

Russia and Iran move towards a political solution for Syria
David Gardner FT  June 22, 2016

President Assad vaingloriously promises to recover every inch of Syria — 
but him and whose army?

As the treacherous swirls of the multi-sided fighting in Syria keep 
sinking hopes of relief for its brutalised people, signs are emerging 
that Iran — whose support for President Bashar al-Assad in the past five 
years has kept his regime afloat — is looking seriously at a political 
solution to the conflict.

Mohammad Javad Zarif, the foreign minister who negotiated last year’s 
nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, met John Kerry, US secretary 
of state, on the sidelines of an annual peace negotiators’ forum in Oslo 
last week, apparently indicating that Tehran is willing to be more 
flexible on formulas to end the war.

This coincides with a shake-up in Tehran, where Mr Zarif has replaced 
his deputy with someone amenable to dialogue. Ali Shamkhani, head of the 
Supreme National Security Council, has been made Iran’s point man on Syria.

While it is always risky to overinterpret reshuffles inside an opaque 
system ultimately governed by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme 
leader, these developments nevertheless suggest less influence for the 
Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which has made the running so far on 

Mr Shamkhani, for instance, a former navy chief and IRGC leader, is an 
ethnic Arab associated with Iran’s political centre. He was defence 
minister through both terms of the reformist president Mohammad Khatami 
from 1997 to 2005, and was appointed security chief by Hassan Rouhani, 
the centrist president behind the nuclear deal.

Given the skill and strategic patience with which Iran negotiated that 
accord, the present flurry of signalling may have aims beyond Syria. The 
Islamic Republic accepted curbs on its nuclear programme in return for 
sanctions relief for its economy, only to find that “secondary 
sanctions” — aimed mainly at the IRGC and its expeditionary forces 
across the region — are still inhibiting investment in and credit for 
Iran. It is unlikely it would move on Syria while its economy remains 
cut off from the US banking system as well as from international banks 
that fear being shut out if they engage with Iran.

Even so, as the fighting in Syria rages, both of the Assad regime’s 
external patrons, Russia and Iran, appear to be thinking about the 
country’s future. That discussion has been blocked by western insistence 
that Mr Assad and his blood-soaked clan must go, while Moscow and Tehran 
insist he still has legitimacy — and both sides fear his departure could 
leave a vacuum for the jihadis of Isis and al-Qaeda.

The Assad regime’s depleted army increasingly exists only on paper, 
while its allies are sustaining heavy and rising casualties

Russian officials have intimated they are looking at a new constitution 
for Syria, while Iran is indicating that replacing the iron centralism 
of a minority regime with a looser federal model may be the way forward.

“The answer is to focus on institutional dispersion of power and the 
future form of governance, through which you may be able to reduce or 
even eliminate the centrality of the role of any individual or 
ethnicity,” Mr Zarif told Al-Monitor, a website covering the Middle East.

That sounds vague while the Assad regime continues to rain down barrel 
bombs on rebel enclaves. What gives it possible substance is the growing 
amount that Iran and Russia are paying for their support.

First, the Syrian enterprise is costly for both countries, which are 
already hurting from low oil prices and economic sanctions. Putting a 
figure on this is tricky but Arab security sources say Syria cost Iran 
$600m-$800m a month in 2013-14.

Second, this level of backing to the Assads against Syria’s Sunni 
majority risks incurring the enmity of the Sunni for generations. Russia 
has about 25m Sunni inside its borders and Isis is establishing a 
foothold in the southern Caucasus. Iran’s influence, based on the Shia 
axis it has built from Baghdad to Beirut, cannot be sustained at its 
current level, except at the cost of continuing war. This would further 
aggrandise the IRGC internally and prevent Iran from winning legitimacy 
in the region and re-entry to world markets and institutions.

The only surprise is that opposition to policy has not surfaced earlier, 
writes Richard Haass

These factors may not weigh enough against President Vladimir Putin’s 
ambition to re-establish Russia as a superpower able to challenge the US 
and Europe, or against the desire of some factions in Tehran to lead the 
world of Shia Islam and challenge the far more numerous Sunni. But a 
third consideration is hard to dismiss: numbers.

The Assad regime’s depleted army increasingly exists only on paper, 
while the IRGC, its Hizbollah paramilitary allies from Lebanon, Iraqi 
Shia militia and Afghan auxiliaries pressganged from the Hazara Shia are 
sustaining heavy and rising casualties.

Mr Assad vaingloriously promises to recover every inch of Syria — but 
him and whose army? The regime has so far been unable to take full 
advantage of the ferocity of Russia’s air force with equivalent advances 
on the ground.

The working hypothesis that the prohibitive costs for Russia and Iran of 
open-ended support for the Assad regime would eventually persuade them 
to dump him has, well, not worked . . . at least so far. Yet as the 
stark numbers and demography become clearer, alongside who is actually 
doing the fighting and dying for the Assads, political solutions may 
start to look more compelling for their patrons.

More information about the Marxism mailing list