Sharmine Narwani writes: In recent weeks, there has been a notable shuffle in the positions of key external players in the Syrian crisis. Momentum has quite suddenly shifted from an all-out onslaught against the Assad government to a quiet investigation of exit strategies.
The clashes between government forces and opposition militias in Baba Amr were a clear tipping point for these players – much hinged on the outcome of that battle. Today, the retreat of armed groups from the Homs neighborhood means one thing: the strategy of militarizing the conflict from within is no longer a plausible option on which to hang this geopolitical battle. Especially not in an American or French election year, when anything less than regime change in Syria will look like abject failure.
And so the external players are shifting gears – the more outspoken ones, quietly seeking alternative options. There are two de facto groups that have formed. Group A is looking for a face-saving exit from the promised escalation in Syria. It consists of the United States, European Union and Turkey. Group B, on the other hand, is heavily invested in regime-change at any cost, and includes Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and some elements of the French, US, British, and Libyan establishments.
Before Baba Amr, these two groups were unified in maximizing their every resource to force regime change in Syria. When the UN Security Council option was blocked by Russia and China, they coalesced around the General Assembly and ad-hoc “Friends of Syria” to build coalitions, tried unsuccessfully to bring a disparate opposition fighting force (Free Syrian Army) under central leadership, pushed to recognize the disunited Syrian National Council (SNC), and eked out weekly “events” like embassy closures and political condemnations to maintain a “perception momentum.”
But those efforts have largely come to a standstill after Baba Amr. A reliable source close to the Syrian regime said to me recently: “The regime eliminated the biggest and most difficult obstacle – Baba Amr. Elsewhere, it [eliminating armed militias] is easier and less costly at all levels. Now both political and military steps can continue.” [Continue reading…]