The features of the media and propaganda war on Syria are so clear now: each side asserts confidently that its calculations, assumptions, and predictions have been accurate all along. No side shows – or wants to show – the slightest signs of doubt or insecurity when both are now deeply dependent on regional and international backers for survival.
The reactions to Bashar al-Assad’s speech were too predictable: supporters of the Syrian regime swiftly declared victory against all “terrorists” while supporters of the Syrian armed groups saw a farewell speech by a dictator on his way out. Of course, the predictions of both sides have been failing to materialize throughout the crisis: the regime propaganda has been predicting since the beginning of the Syrian uprising an end to the armed conflict, while Western governments and their echo chambers in the Arab world have been confidently predicting an imminent fall of the regime, either this week or the one after.
In reality, neither side knows. The conflict in Syria slipped out of Syrian hands more than a year ago, when regional and international supporters of the armed protagonists took over from their clients. The conflict in Syria can now be only compared to proxy wars during the long years of the Cold War. There are many symptoms of the Cold War proxy wars in Syria: it is very much akin to the war in Afghanistan in the 1980s.
Each superpower felt that its very stature on the global stage depends on the outcome of the conflict. The US threw in all its resources and the resources of its regional clients in order to undermine the pro-Soviet regime there, while the Soviet regime exhausted its resources in order to stay afloat there.
There is nothing new in Bashar’s speech. The tone and phrasing is quintessential Bashar: one can easily tell because he often speaks at length extemporaneously. The speech contains the typical Syrian nationalist rhetoric that now fills the propaganda of the regime, and which is styled after the repugnant forms of Lebanese narrow nationalism. Bashar clearly wrote most of the speech himself although he read the section about the “solution” without emotion or passion as if this was dictated to him by his regional and international backers.
There is nothing significant in the proposal: it was meant more as a sign of the assessment of the situation in Syria by the ruling elite. It signaled that the war will go on, especially that the regional and international sponsors of the war show no sign of exhaustion or remorse. Bashar has been absent from the picture and not playing a role in mobilizing his constituency, just as the other side does not have one figure who can constitute a unifying leader. Bashar is aware of this deficiency of the opposition side and mentioned that a revolution requires a leader and an intellectual. By that, Bashar may be implying that he himself serves as the leader, and presumably intellectual, of his side of the conflict.
The proposals by Bashar clearly represent the consensus – not of the Syrian people but of his regional and international backers. They don’t constitute a shift or change in the posture of the regime. On the contrary, Assad clearly took himself out of the equation and out of his view of the conflict. For the Syrian opposition (armed and even civilian), he has become their target and his overthrow is the cause. The exile Syrian opposition has failed to submit a clear and specific plan of governance beyond the cunning rhetoric of the Muslim Brotherhood about the “civil state” (presumably the armed Syrian groups which are loyal to Qatar and Saudi Arabia are already constructing the nucleus of such a state in the “liberated areas”).
Western and GCC governments are not only not proposing a reform plan for Syria, but they prefer the preservation of the Syrian dictatorship. They have the Yemeni model in mind: where the US continued to rule Yemen and to even expand its influence there, while sacrificing the unpopular potentate. The bombs that targeted the chiefs of security of the regime in Damascus were intended as a shortcut to bring down Bashar while preserving the dictatorship. Israel, of course, subscribes to the same scenario and the US has Israeli interest in mind when trying to preserve the Assad regime but without Assad. After all, the Assad dynasty has been quite protective of the Israeli border.
The proposals of the Syrian regime do not mention the top post of government. Presumably, Bashar is still in the running as is Hafez Jr. after him. And the current government is tasked with the project of transition into…the same regime. The regime speaks about dialogue, but does not include those who are non-violently opposed to the regime. This is a Baathist regime that is accustomed to dismissing its enemies as “outside” agents, and Bashar (the leader of a formerly secular regime) invoked religious language in assuring his viewers that his enemies will land in hell.
The conflict will go on and the divisions that it brought about or sharpened will only be exacerbated over time. The regional and international players are heavily invested in the conflict and one side wants to keep the regime and its head, while the other side won’t settle until it unseats the head of the regime. The exile Syrian opposition, which was chosen by the White Man to speak on behalf of all Syrians, is more beholden than ever to its benefactors. The preponderant role of the Muslim Brotherhood behind all those exile opposition bodies, councils, and coalitions can no longer be camouflaged. The alliance between the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood on the one hand and between Israel and the US, on the other hand, at least as far as Gaza and Sinai are concerned enhanced the credentials of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood vis-à-vis the West.
If one compares the death toll in Syria with the death toll of Lebanon’s civil war one concludes that this is a war more brutal than the notoriously brutal Lebanese civil war. It is unlikely that out of this brutality a new peaceful order will emerge, no matter which side wins – if a side wins at all – which is unlikely.