The United States and the international community have spent the better part of the last year backing peace talks in Geneva to bring about a “political transition that meets the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people,” and ultimately end the war between the Alawite-dominated regime of President Bashar al-Assad and the Sunni and Kurdish-dominated opposition. But Assad has his own transition in mind: running for a third seven-year term as president. On April 28, the Syrian president nominated himself as a candidate in Syria’s June 3 presidential poll, “hoping the parliament would endorse it.”
This was hardly a surprise. Assad has hinted at his candidacy for months, and “spontaneous rallies” calling for him to run—many complete with images of Assad beside Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah—have sprung up across regime-controlled areas of the country, while shopkeepers have been encouraged to paint their storefronts with Syrian flags and slogans supporting the leader.
What’s Assad’s concession to his opponents after attempting to shoot his way out of the country’s largest uprising, with 150,000-plus killed, 680,000 injured, and up to half of the country’s 23 million people displaced? The Syrian president has made the next poll the first contested presidential election in the nation’s modern history.
Read more. [Image: Reuters/Khaled al-Hariri]
How drought, foreign meddling, and long-festering religious tensions created the tragically splintered Syria we know today.
Read more. [Image: Khalil Ashawi/Reuters]
In 2006, Kentucky Fried Chicken opened Syria’s first American restaurant in Damascus. The franchise weathered more than two and a half years of war, but this month, it became one of the last foreign businesses in the country to close its doors.
The picture of a quintessential American brand thriving in an “Axis of Evil” country currently targeted by U.S. sanctions may seem contradictory at first blush. Yet, in the Middle East, people have spent up to seven times their daily income on a bucket of fried chicken. Even in the Gaza Strip, where the average income hovers around $2 (U.S.) per day, KFC remains popular. The KFC branch in Al-Arish, Egypt has smuggled in deliveries through Hamas’s tunnels for $30 a meal. The United Arab Emirates, a country that has roughly the same population as New Jersey, opened its 100th KFC branch this May. Libya and Iraq crave KFC no less: Knockoffs of the restaurant— “Uncle Kentucky” in Tripoli and Fallujah—thrive in places where American ideas may not be winning hearts and minds, but they are winning stomachs.
Read more. [Image: Khaled al-Hariri/Reuters]
It may cost billions, but it’s worth it.
John Kerry’s off-the-cuff remarks about Assad handing over his chemical weapons have triggered a potential resolution to the Syrian crisis. Kerry’s gaffe-from-the-gods led to furious diplomatic maneuvering that averted an immediate U.S. air strike against Syria.
There’s no question that Obama escaped a seemingly impossible situation. If Congress had rejected the use of force, what was Obama going to do? Press ahead with air strikes amidst congressional howls? Or back down meekly and suffer a diminished presidency?
The deal offers a face-saving way to claim some success. Assad hands over his chemical weapons stockpiles. The taboo against using chemical weapons is upheld.
Americans also avoided a dangerous military adventure. U.S. missile strikes would be big enough to embroil the United States in the Syrian civil war but too small to really make a difference on the battlefield—unless, of course, the U.S. campaign escalated into something much grander.
But Syrians, on the other hand, remain very much in the line of fire.
Read more. [Image: Goran Tomasevic/Reuters]
Finding that his strategy of shirtless horseback diplomacy was proving ineffective, Russian President Vladimir Putin instead decided to appeal to the American people directly—with words—in our biggest newspaper today.
It’s a nice article—refreshingly not-strongman-ish, pleasantly nostalgic. (Remember that time we beat the Nazis together? Putin does.)
In it, Putin tries to make the case that the United Nations is really the way to go when it comes to resolving the Syria crisis. You know, the UN, where Russia has blocked all attempts by the U.S. and other countries to do something about Syria.
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Foreign-policy watchers may have experienced a collective case of whiplash today when, as the threat of punitive U.S. strikes neared, the Syrian government appeared to accept a plan to contain and destroy its chemical weapons and to sign a convention against using them.
This from a government that has blamed a years-long civil war on undefined “terrorists” and repeatedly denied having — let alone using — chemical weapons.
Read more. [Image: Reuters]
The current global—and Congressional—debate about whether to deploy force against Syria for its use of sarin gas on civilians will depend, in part, on the whether the reasons for a post-World War I agreement banning the offensive use of chemical and biological weapons continue to be honored.
The 1925 Geneva Protocol did not focus on World War I’s terrible new 20th-century technologies that made 19th-century military tactics obsolete and led to mass slaughter: advancements in barbed wire, machine guns, and artillery led to incomprehensible and horrible effects on combatants. It was the impact of gas use on both the Western and Eastern fronts that led to the prohibition on chemical and biological warfare, even though it had led to only about one percent of the deaths there. The protocol viewed gas warfare as different from the other methods of mass killing, and banned the use of “asphyxiating, poisonous or other gases” as well as “bacteriological methods.”
Read more. [Image: Mohamed Abdullah/Reuters]
Deliberate neutrality and ambiguity have thus far governed Israel’s reaction to the Syrian civil war, but America’s deliberations over whether to strike Assad have revealed its true stance.
“We take no part in Syria’s civil war; but if attacked, we’ll react, and react fiercely,” said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the wake of the gas attacks.
Israel has, however, intervened in Syria. The Jewish state deployed strikes in July against Syrian missile convoys destined for one its principal enemies on its northern border, the Lebanese-based Hezbollah.
Netanyahu and his administration have remained mum on their four unilateral missile attacks since Syria fractured into civil war. The oft-quoted line from the film The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly neatly encapsulates Israel’s approach: “When you have to shoot, shoot. Don’t talk.”
Read more. [Image: Nir Elias/Reuters]
"I belong to the Syrian people," Syrian president Bashar al-Assad told the French journalist George Malbrunot, of the newspaper Le Figaro, earlier this week. “I defend their interests and independence and will not succumb to external pressure.”
Yes. That’s what he said. There are many, many caveats to that little assertion, obviously, but one of the most noteworthy is this: The message wasn’t just sent from President Assad to George Malbrunot. It was also sent from President #Assad to George #Malbrunot. It was a message that originated in person, ostensibly, but that was delivered to the world (or at least to 36,664 members of that world) with the help of a Facebook-owned social network. It was political posturing in the form of an Instagram.
In that capacity, the “Syria, c’est moi” messaging accompanied a picture of Assad doing his thing, or claiming to — one of dozens of such pictures that syrianpresidency, “the official Instagram account for the Presidency of the Syrian Arab Republic,” has posted to its page since July.