Martin Indyk: ‘We’re at a tipping point' in Syria

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Doha, Qatar__“We’re at a tipping point in Syria,” Martin Indyk, vice president of the Brookings Institution and one of the architects of Middle East policy under former President Bill Clinton, told Al-Monitor in an interview in Doha Tuesday.

“I don’t know what President Obama will decide,” Indyk, speaking at the conclusion of the US-Islamic World Forum in Doha, said, regarding reports the White House is meeting this week to consider possibly coming out in support of lethal aid to the Syria rebels.

“I think the objective now is to help the opposition stave off further defeats. The Iranians and Hezbollah have intervened in a dramatic way with troops and weapons and this has led to a total imbalance on the battlefield. This is external intervention to try to ensure Assad survives.

“There can’t be any political solution based on an agreement on a post-Assad transition if Assad thinks he is going to see victory,” Indyk, who served as the Clinton era envoy to Israel and Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, said. “So we’re at a tipping point. We’ve got to tip the balance back the other way. […] Whether the British and French with our support, or our lead, it doesn’t matter, [if] that staves off defeat. That’s urgent.”

But any decision to provide lethal aid and organizational support to the Syrian rebels “has to be part of an overall strategy which begins with an effort to achieve a political solution,” Indyk continued. “Geneva provides a framework for that. We can’t get to Geneva if Assad thinks he’s winning on the battlefield.”

“What happens on the battlefield determines what happens in the conference room,” Indyk said. “If [the conflict is] stalemated, [it’s more likely] you can get a political agreement.”

Indyk said he doesn’t believe Russia gave a green light to the recent Hezbollah actions in Syria.

“The Russians…understand that there can’t be political solution unless Assad goes,” Indyk said. “That’s different than saying the regime has to go. Elements of the regime, part of the Assad government, will be part of the transition. There’s no way Assad can stay. That’s not acceptable to us.”

“The Geneva language makes clear, all executive powers have to be placed in the hands of a transition government, and taken away from Assad,” Indyk continued. “Assad wants to stay until 2014. I don’t believe that’s acceptable to the opposition. We have to take the opposition’s minimum requirements.”

As to why the Syrian opposition has proved so stubbornly hard to unite, Indyk, who wrote his PhD dissertation on Syria’s Baath party, said it’s discouraging.

“The Syrian opposition appear so divided and feckless,… it’s a problem,” he said. “It’s hard to make a credible case that there's a coherent opposition that we can get behind. … [As a Syrian ex diplomat defector Hossam Hafez told the US-Islamic World Forum Tuesday], suppression by the Assad regime, the father and the son, over so many decades, removed any potential leader. It was very effective in making sure nobody else could rise to challenge them.”

Then there are all the problems with the exile opposition the United States is familiar with from its experience in Iraq, Indyk said: “The exile opposition which has no connection to people on the ground; and the people on the ground, paying the ultimate sacrifice.”

–Interviewed by Laura Rozen & Antoun Issa (@antissa) in Dohazp8497586rq