There is an emerging picture of an embarrassing dilemma for Turkey on Syria.
Eager for regional leader cred and anxious to establish itself as an equal partner with the Western powers in the ongoing Middle East make over, Turkey got out in front in supporting the Syrian rebellion.
Maybe too far in front.
Western military intervention appears genuinely off the table, perhaps because of Russia’s unambiguous opposition.
And Bashar Assad doesn’t seem to be going anywhere for now.
If Turkey wants to finish him off, it will have to take the lead in sending in troops—and in cleaning up the gigantic and destabilizing sectarian mess foreign intervention would probably provoke.
That is beyond Turkey’s ability.
So the rebellion staggers on, and Turkey must brace for the possibility that civil war and all hell break loose anyway, and Ankara will find itself confronting a mess very much similar to the one an invasion might bring.
No guarantee that the West is anxious to step in and end the bloody stalemate, anyway.
I would speculate that Bashar Assad is unable to funnel significant aid to Hezbullah now, and has become a cost center instead of a profit center for Iran, which is struggling to prop up the regime and finds itself inhibited in its full enjoyment of its alliance with the Maliki government in Iraq.
If the regime falls to largely Sunni internal forces, good. If Bashar Assad staggers on, and Syria remains an open, running sore for Iran, well that’s good too. At least for the West and the Gulf States. Maybe not for the Syrian people.
Meanwhile, all that’s necessary to keep the pot bubbling and further pre-empt (increasingly unlikely) national reconciliation is continued sanctions, covert military support to the opposition, and ostentatious outrage at continued government atrocities and the futility of the Arab League mission.
Speaking of the Arab League, much media hay has been made of the resignation of Algerian author Anwar Malek from the Arab League observer mission in Syria.
Malek’s statements buttress the suspicions of many sympathizers of the Syrian uprising, who consider Syrian regime’s acceptance of the mission as nothing more than a temporizing ruse.
Malek told Al Jazeera:
“They didn’t withdraw their tanks from the streets, they just hid them and redeployed them after we left,” Anwar Malek told Al Jazeera English television at its headquarters in Qatar, still wearing one of the orange vests used by the monitors.
“The snipers are everywhere shooting at civilians. People are being kidnapped. Prisoners are being tortured and no one has been released,” the Algerian former observer said. “Those who are supposedly freed and shown on TV are actually people who had been randomly grabbed off the streets.”
Malek’s statements will undoubtedly provide fodder for those advocating escalating confrontation with the Assad regime, but in truth he is something of a grandstander and dingbat.
The vest is a telling detail since, by Malek’s own admission, he quit the mission and ensconced himself in his hotel room for the last four days of the mission, presumably removing the need to wear that fancy orange attire except when dining out at Homs' finer eating establishments.
Al Jazeera’s Anwar Malek liveblog reported on the contretemp:
The head of the Arab League's monitors mission to Syria, Lieutenant-General Mohammed Al Dabi, issued a statement deriding the remarks made by Algerian monitor, Anwar Malek.
Al Dabi said Malek's statement "had nothing to do with reality."
"Since he was assigned to the Homs team, Malek didn't leave his hotel for six days and wasn't been part of the field visits with the team, citing illness," Al Dabi said.
Al Dabi added that Malek had requested leaving to Paris for treatment and had in fact traveled ahead of schedule on his personal expense and without turning in work property first.
Al Dabi said Malek broke the oath that he took and that his remarks are strictly personal.
Al Dabi concluded by urging the media to be accurate and objective.
Malek responded to the remarks in this statement in an interview with Al Jazeera, saying:
"This is all lies and a kind of tactic because in fact I appeared quite a lot in videos that appeared on the internet and were broadcast by satellite channels even Syrian TV aired about 20 packages that had me in them when I was visiting hospitals, prisons, schools and out on the streets talking to people. I am clearly shown meeting and talking to people in these videos.
So these allegations are all baseless. However what they say about me not leaving my rooms for 4 days is true. I only left to eat but it was at the end of my mission when I decided to quit but this was after I’d spent about 15 days on the field but then I decided to stop work so I stayed in my room for 4 days then I left Homs for Damascus.
I did not send any letter to the head of the mission saying I was unwell and was going to stay in my room. If this is true let them produce the letter. In fact I went to see him to talk to him about my reasons to stop work but he refused to listen to me and gave me only 2 minutes to leave without even listening to me."
Malek’s accomplishments in Arabic literature are beyond me. Listening to him, on the other hand, is demonstrably a chore, as a bizarre and contentious 2009 appearance on Al Jazeera demonstrates.
Youtube has it.
Highlights of his remarks were translated by MEMRI, the Israel-affiliated open source intelligence outfit, and lovingly cited on a multitude of right wing Jewish and Christian fundamentalist websites.
It’s easy to see why.
The theme of his discourse is, in his own words, “The Arabs are backward and not fit for civilization at all.”
Some of his high-speed rant is, in light of current events, rather ironic:
[Arab rulers] emerged from among the people and share the same beliefs. If you placed any Arab citizen in power, I challenge any Arab citizen who may become a ruler to do anything beyond what the current Arab leaders are doing. There is no difference between the Arab rulers and the Arab people.
When the moderator makes the case for contemporary Arab worth as demonstrated by heroic resistance against overwhelming odds, Malek retorts:
What resistance are you talking about? If you are talking about the resistance of Hizbullah, Hizbullah has destroyed Lebanon, in the framework of a Persian conspiracy. I say this point blank.
The picture emerges of a Rush Limbaugh-style cultural provocateur and Arab chauvinist nostalgic for the glory days of the Arab empires—and a reflexive Iranophobe.
And, perhaps, a self-selected plant eager to discredit the observer mission from within.
Interesting choice for an observer group trying to mediate between an Iran-backed Shi’ite-esque regime and a Sunni/Muslim Brotherhood rebellion.
Of course, the issue of how that observer group—headed by Sudan’s strongman for Darfur—got put together in the first place would make an interesting story. Too bad Al Jazeera isn’t interested in telling it.