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Exclusive - Dear Putin: The ‘Security State’ Violates Any Constitution

Exclusive - Dear Putin: The ‘Security State’ Violates Any Constitution

Saturday, 23 December, 2017 - 09:15
Robert Ford
Robert Ford is a former US ambassador to Syria and Algeria and a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute for Near East Policy in Washington

At the end of 2017 the Americans can see the full results of their mistakes in Syria. Iran’s influence has expanded in Syria and the Americans have no leverage to reduce it. Russia is dominating the diplomatic work around Syria. When the UN investigative team stated in October that Bashar Assad used chemical weapons again, in violation of many UN Security Council resolutions and US-Russia private agreements, the Russians in November used another veto to block any more investigations.

The American military aid to the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Unity Party (PYD) and its YPG militia was the main reason for the recapture of eastern Syrian territory from ISIS. This is a big American military achievement. It has no political weight, however. Surrounded by hostile Syrian, Turkish and Iranian militia forces, the Syrian Kurds need American protection. Washington answered that it would keep its forces in Syria to ensure no return of ISIS. Russia’s Foreign Ministry in November called the American military presence illegal and demanded the US to immediately withdraw its forces. Iran has made the same demand and there are reports that Iranian General Qassem Soleimani has threatened US forces in Syria. Most likely Iran and Syria, backed by Russia, will use non-conventional tactics to put pressure on the Americans; they did this in Iraq ten years ago. When I speak to American groups around the United States, American citizens are surprised to learn that we have a new, long-term military presence in Syria. I have never found a group that supports a long-term military role in Syria.

The worst is yet to come. Washington said it would keep its forces in eastern Syria until there is a peace agreement to end the Syrian civil war but it has no influence to facilitate a peace deal. Instead, Russia is trying to impose its plan. The Russians declare that the “de-escalation zones” are a success despite bombing atrocities in places such as the eastern Ghouta and the Aleppo countryside; the “de-escalation zones” are supposed to allow the UN to deliver food aid, but little aid ever arrives. Instead we see new pictures of malnourished people. And Assad’s forces and his allies keep bombing, attacking and advancing, street by street in the Ghouta and Hama and Homs provinces without any Russian punishment.

My message to President Putin is simple: please don’t call something an agreement or a ceasefire when it is constantly violated. It is an insult to everyone’s intelligence.

I have an unhappy expectation about the future of American policy on the Syria conflict. Like Iran in 2014 and 2015, Putin now urges a new constitution and new elections under the United Nations supervision. The American government abandoned the call for a transition government before the new constitution and new elections. Western diplomats have told the Syrian opposition they should participate in elections under an Assad government because maybe the opposition could defeat Assad at the ballot box. The Americans and other western diplomats promise that the UN will supervise the elections. Do the Americans think this will be Iraq in 2005 and 2006 again?

I was in Iraq between 2003 and 2006. The American army had 150,000 soldiers inside Iraq who had firm orders from President George Bush to follow the United Nations instructions about the Iraqi elections. The American army was not always pleased by this order from Bush but the White House was determined that the UN should organize fair, credible elections as the first step to getting the US army out of the Iraq swamp. Does anyone think that the Syrian Army and secret police will take orders from the UN about elections so that a new Syrian government can reduce their power and hold them accountable for their crimes? The UN cannot even deliver aid into the eastern Ghouta despite Russian promises. How will the UN enforce accurate voter lists, open party and candidate registrations, open and fair campaigning and access to Syrian media without interference and arrests by the secret police under Assad?

Any American official who thinks Syria will resemble Iraq after 2005 fails to understand that the dynamics are different in Syria. Saddam Hussein’s Army and secret police were defeated and destroyed in 2003 before the Iraqi elections. In Syria Assad’s army and secret police despite casualties are vigorously pursuing their enemies without regret or repentance. Ask Ali Mamlouk and Jamil Hassan.

So the Syrian President and his circle will remain. Maybe there would be some superficial changes – a new Prime Minister or a new Planning Minister or some such. It doesn’t change the core of the system which will remain. And a new constitution doesn’t help. Syria’s problem is a security state that accepts no accountability and kills or jails those who demand real change regardless of the constitution. That security state will violate the beautiful new constitution. Syria’s problem is not a constitution problem. It is a rule of law problem. Russia, which is also a security state, understands this very well. It likes the security solution disguised as a political solution.

So, the Russian plan of a broad dialogue, new constitution and new elections is ridiculous and cynical. Cynical because the Assad regime will make no concessions. Its side won the war militarily. The ridiculous idea that a new constitution and UN-organized elections will provide a fair political settlement presumes that we have no brains or eyes. That is a new insult caused by the Americans and others made before.

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