Hillary went on Al Jazeera’s Inside Syria (click here or on the embedded video above) to argue, yet again, for diplomacy—which necessarily must include the Islamic Republic of Iran as well as the Assad government—to address the ongoing crisis in Syria. Regarding recent statements by the Syrian National Coalition’s Moaz al-Khatib indicating the possible openness of at least some elements in the Syrian opposition to dialogue with the Syrian government, Hillary commented,
“I’ve been saying now for nearly two years that the only way forward in Syria and for what’s happening in Syria is diplomacy, is a political way forward for reconciliation and power sharing. The key thing, though, that has changed—of course, we’ve seen now these changes among the Syrian oppositionists—but the key thing that has changed is here in Washington, is in the White House, in the U.S. government. Two major developments happened.
One is what I call the Benghazi effect, where the Obama administration became a little less enamored with arming, funding, and training oppositionists to overthrow a sitting government. And the second is that inside the Obama administration they became a little bit less attached to what I would call the delusion that trying to overthrow the Assad government would somehow lead to the overthrow of the Iranian government.
These two things have changed, I think, in some important ways in the U.S. government. It’s not unanimous, but they have changed. So you would no longer have this idea out there that the United States will come to the rescue to arm, fund, and train people to overthrow the Syrian government. That has set in train a series of important political possibilities, where now members of the opposition and others have to see a negotiated political settlement as maybe their only viable way forward.
My hope is that with Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN envoy, who’s very experienced in these matters, there would be a way forward similar to the Ta’if Accord that he negotiated to end the civil war in Lebanon. My concern is, though, that took fifteen years and tens of thousands of Lebanese killed. Here we’ve had two years and tens of thousands of Syrians. I hope that, at this point, we could look at a Ta’if-type accord, that was used in Lebanon, to end the bloodshed in Syria, and everyone can get serious. But the real changes, I think, are happening here in Washington—that we are no longer goading, fanning the flames, or potentially no longer goading and fanning the flames of war and bloodshed in Syria as a way of overthrowing the government in the Islamic Republic of Iran.”
Amplifying her critique of the Obama administration’s posture toward Syria, Hillary said,
“This idea of arming and supplying people to overthrow their government is not only a strategic mistake, it is a moral failure of catastrophic proportions. The United States and our so-called allies have pushed that in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in Libya, and now in Syria. We have done that to the cost of tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of lives, especially Arab and Muslim lives. We do that, particularly today, with no sense, no hope whatsoever that arming, funding, and training people like this will lead to the strategic outcomes that we want.
It would be bad enough if we armed, trained, and funded people to kill civilians—because that’s what we’re talking about, we’re talking about transforming a traditional battlefield into a civilian one. It would be bad enough if we could actually coerce our preferred outcome at the end of the day, but now the United States can no longer do that. So we’re literally just doing it with civilian tragedy on the ground, with no hope for an actual outcome that we want.”
Responding to suggestions that the forces fighting the Assad government in Syria constitute an indigenous and truly popular revolution that will inevitably result in the Assad government’s defeat, Hillary recalled,
“We were told the same story in Iraq, in Libya, in Afghanistan. It was wrong every time; all it leads to is more dead bodies…We’ve been told this same fantasy, that it’s just people on the ground trying to have a better life, trying to bring about an end to oppressive rule. We’re told the same story in Iraq, in Libya, in Afghanistan, and now in Syria. The fact of the matter is that the United States and our so-called allies use potentially the seeds of popular discontent, popular unrest and dissatisfaction, we use that to produce regime change, to get a regional political and security order that is pro-American, over the wishes of people on the ground. That has led to disastrous outcomes in each of these countries…
We’ve been told for two years that this is a peaceful uprising—a ‘peaceful uprising’ by people who are willing to sit outside of Syria and fight to the last Syrian. This is not a peaceful uprising. For two years we’ve been told that and for two years we’ve been told the answer is, that all we have to see is for Bashar al-Assad to go. This is not in fact a continuation of the Arab uprising or the Arab spring or the Arab Awakening. This was a concerted attempt by the United States and our allies to abort the Arab Awakening—to abort it, and change it from something that would lead to actual, real political participation by people throughout the Middle East. [It’s] an attempt to then turn the regional balance of power against the Islamic Republic of Iran. The focus here has been—from the beginning, for two years—to use the Syrian people, the civilian battlefield there, to overthrow the government in Syria in order to bring about the overthrow of the Islamic Republic of Iran. That’s what it’s been about from here for two years.”
Hillary concludes by pointing out that a negotiated political settlement based on power sharing
“is not going to be an ideal solution. Lebanon today is not an ideal solution, but it certainly is light-years better than it was during the civil war. That’s what we need going forward [in Syria]. But part of the fantastical narrative that we’re fed is that somehow this opposition, this disparate opposition, divided by ethnicity, by sect, by ideology, by agenda, by foreign backer, that this group of oppositionists is somehow going to come together—with just a little bit more weaponry to kill just a few more Syrians—then somehow it’s all going to work. That is not only fantastical, it is just wrong. It’s not going to work; it hasn’t worked for two years. What they need is not more weapons; what they need is diplomacy, is a political way forward through power sharing. And that can be done, even in incredibly difficult situations like in Lebanon.
The alternative is not more fantasy that the opposition is going to come together. The alternative is, even if they are able to, by some miracle, kill Bashar al-Assad, the alternative is not that the Assad government and the supporters of it, which is probably about fifty percent of the population, they’re not going to go away. What’s going to end up happening is a deeping of divides in Syrian society, maybe deeply divided territory, the carving up of Syria. And places like Aleppo are not going to be run by some sort of fantastical opposition government; parts of it will be run by competing militias and warlords.
That’s what we’re in for. That’s what we have in Benghazi, and that’s what we’re going to get in Syria if we continue militarizing people on the ground, instead of pursuing real power sharing, political reconciliation, and diplomacy.”
–Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett