Two articles that were on Real Clear World yesterday suggest that Syria's war will be long. The first in Time by Rania Abouzeid is the story of a group of rebels. In it one speaks of an upcoming civil war among the rebel factions once the Assad regime is disposed of. This suggests a future like that of Afghanistan following the jihad against the Soviet occupation, or Somalia after the fall of the Siad Barre regime in the late 1980s. Both countries essentially became failed states leading to the situation where the Taliban took over in Afghanistan, inviting in Al Qaeda leading to the present war between the United States and its allies and the Taliban.
The second is an article by former Time Middle East correspondent Tony Karon in the UAE The National. In it Karon makes the argument that Washington should intervene in the unfolding civil war, but not necessarily militarily as so many are urging in Washington and the Arab world. Instead Karon argues that Washington should help mediate a solution to the present civil war as he sees neither side having the power to prevail. This creates a situation of inertia, which in turn leads to an ever higher death toll, more physical destruction, and the destruction of the country politically as different sectarian groups are pitted against one another either in support of or in opposition to the ruling regime.
But there are several difficulties in the way of a diplomatic solution reached through American mediation. First, Iran is not interested in a solution that will leave its only Arab ally in power (not counting Hamas which controls Gaza but not the virtual state of Palestine) no longer in power. Iran has the power to create mischief in Syria even after Assad leaves his palace permanently. So any solution to Syria will probably have to be part of a grand bargain between Tehran and the West. And American Iran-watcher Patrick Clawson claims that Iran is simply too internally divided to be able to strike any kind of a bargain with Washington, grand or otherwise.
Second, the Middle East peace process industry in Washington is aimed at reaching an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. So its pressure will be on Obama to use his influence to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and not to mediate in Syria. Obama has much more of a domestic agenda, and it may be only after being defeated in implementing it that he will turn his attention to foreign affairs. So for the first two years of his second term expect him to focus mainly on domestic affairs and on an agreement with Iran on the nuclear issue. It might well take two years before the various combatants in Syria are ready for foreign mediation and a compromise peace. And it may be a year or more before Tehran is ready for any grand bargain with the West.
Third, Israel will probably have to sign off on any deal involving Syria. Thus Netanyahu's domestic situation in Jerusalem becomes another variable in the equation possibly preventing a solution. Netanyahu will only want a new Syrian regime that does not seem bent on reacquiring the Golan by force. He will also have to be satisfied with the nuclear portion of any grand bargain. If Netanyahu doesn't like the likely new ruler in Damascus, then Jerusalem will be unlikely to sign off in Washington on the grand bargain. Netanyahu will attempt to use his influence in the Congress to block any grand bargain with Iran.
Fourth is Turkey. The Erdogan government in Turkey will be only too happy to see Assad forced out of power. It will also be happy to see any agreement that weakens the influence of Iran at the expense of Turkey. But Ankara will probably have to sign off on any grand bargain or Washington can count on Ankara stirring up trouble in its eastern neighbor.
Can Obama manage juggling all of these balls in the air while simultaneously attempting to design an American economic recovery with hostile Republicans controlling the House? The bottom line is expect the civil war in Syria to continue for several years.