Sunday, November 9, 2014

Syria Expert Joshua Landis: Partition Syria Between Assad and a Sunni State.

Fareed Zakaria goes 1-on-1 with Syria Expert Joshua Landis to discuss and innovative solution to the ongoing Syria crisis. Video. Syria Comment, November 8, 2014. Also at CNN Video and Farred Zakaria GPS.

GPS Transcript:

ZAKARIA: To most American officials, pundits, scholars, Syria is a problem with no good answers. I for one have never heard a sensible solution until now. My next guest is in my opinion the top Syria scholar in the United States and he is a man with a plan. Joshua Landis is the director of the University of Oklahoma Center for Middle East Studies. Josh, let’s go through this because everybody has heard so much about Syria. Let’s start with the map of what Syria looks like right now, and explain to us what those colors mean.

JOSHUA LANDIS: The colors are that the government led by Bashar al Assad in Damascus in the South rules over this purplish color in the South. The ISIS, this new big state that has formed, dominates the east and the north –

ZAKARIA: But a lot of that is just desert, right?

LANDIS: Yes, much of that is desert, it’s not the big populated areas. And then you have the blue which has also rebel activity. Now, you’ve got to remember, that there are over 1,000 militias in Syria according to the CIA.

ZAKARIA: So, let’s understand why you think that the solution that so many people keep pushing, which is that the United States supports those rebels in the blue areas and that they will, therefore, win, they will establish control, create perhaps a Democratic Syria, why is that not going to work?

LANDIS: Well, it’s not going to work because most of the blue area are dominated by the big rebel groups which are al Qaeda and the Islamic Front, which are Jihadist, very anti-American groups. The pro-American militias just got wiped out in the northern blue spot Jablazawi (ph). They just got pushed aside by al Qaeda, and so they’re very small. They may own perhaps one or two percent of Syria today, the rebels that are being backed by the United States. So to turn those two percent into winners that would not only wipe out ISIS, but take on Assad would be a gargantuan undertaking.

ZAKARIA: So, they have to beat al Nusra and al Qaeda and Khorasan, then they’ve got to beat ISIS, then they’ve got to beat ...

LANDIS: It’s not going to happen. And we’ve – we’ve only – President Obama has given them half a billion dollars. Now, that, you know, at the University of Oklahoma we have an endowment of much more than $1 billion and we can’t even pay the students to go for free. So, they’re not going to build an army for that kind of money. This is just chump change that's there to satisfy, I presume, people who are criticizing the president.

ZAKARIA: So, let’s go to what you think the – the reality is emerging toward and what could be a stable outcome.

LANDIS: What could be an outcome is leaving Assad in southern Syria. Assad, although he owns less than 50 percent of the territory, he owns over 60 – about 65 percent of the population because Damascus, in the big cities and all the cities on the coast are still under his control largely. So if you just left him there, these lines, battle lines have been more or less static for the last two years. The north is the problem. That’s where we’re bombing. That’s what’s dominated by ISIS and al Qaeda. What one would have to do if they want to solve this problem and not just make a narrow counterterrorism approach to it, would be to try to draw the Turks into Syria with Saudi, American backing, and NATO backing to try to disarm the militias and set up a government that was a good government that everybody could get behind and pour money into for development and try to fix this problem so it wouldn't be a festering, radical ...

ZAKARIA: But recognize that the forces who support Syria are simply not going to live under that Sunni north and the Sunni north is not going to live under Assad.


ZAKARIA: And so create a clean break.

LANDIS: Because what people are talking about now and are emerging is autonomous regions with a political solution where the Alawites and us ought to sit down with rebels who are very Islamist and come up with some agreement. That’s just never going to happen. These different groups have radically different visions of where Syria should be.

ZAKARIA: And then we look at the map that shows us what would happen to the Kurds over there. So you keep them in autonomous region which is much like the one they have in Iraq and then finally where the Alawites are already clustered, right? So, this is what Syria would look like. It would be stable. The Kurds would be – would have their area. The Alawites would have their area

LANDIS: No, the Alawites would be under Assad. Alawites – Bashar al- Assad, the president is an Alawite. And he dominates today. You wouldn’t – you couldn’t build an Alawite enclave. People thought of that in the beginning, but it’s indefensible. If Bashar Assad loses the rest of Syria, they are going to storm – and conquer the cost. That’s why he’s kept these cities.

ZAKARIA: So, finally, the map of 1919 that the British and French drew was wrong. This is a map that reflects the realities of sectarianism and is possibly more stable.

LANDIS: Yes, it is. And what we see today if you were to pan back and look at a map of what the Islamic State has built from Baghdad, which stretches from the edges of Baghdad all the way to Aleppo today, is a Sunni state, and it’s already emerged, and what America is doing by bombing it is trying to destroy this state that is there, and it’s going to be a very hard thing to do from the air.

ZAKARIA: So you say, you know, accept reality, don’t try to ...

LANDIS: Accept reality, accept that state, but try to get better rulers for it, not ISIS.

ZAKARIA: Joshua Landis, as I say, the single best solution to the Syria problem I have heard.

What Would a Post-Assad Syria Look Like? Video with Joshua Landis. DU Center for Middle East Studies, February 4, 2013, YouTube.

Joshua Landis Speaks at the World Affairs Council of Houston. Video. World Affairs Council Houston, October 22, 2014, YouTube.