September 18, 2013

Helena Cobban: Syria Needs A "South Africa-Style Negotiated Transition To Democracy"

Description of "The Superpowers and the Syrian-Israeli Conflict" (Source: Google Books)
This study investigates the evolution of the military balance between Israel and Syria between 1978 and 1989 and the effects of the close strategic ties that developed in this period between these states and their respective superpower partners. The fighting in Lebanon in 1982 is closely examined, both because it proved to be a key strategic turning point for Israel and Syria, and because it provided important lessons concerning the interaction of the two superpowers in this area. The study also explores the immunity of this area in the late 1980s to diplomatic efforts that resolved numerous regional conflicts elsewhere in the world, as well as the surprising overall stability in the area in the abscence of effective diplomacy. Cobban identifies lessons that may be relevant in addressing the Arab-Israeli conflict in the 1990s. This book will be essential reading for political scientists, students of military engagements, and others interested in the strained relationship between Israel and Syria.
Description of "The Superpowers and the Syrian-Israeli Conflict" (Source: Amazon)
Middle East analyst Cobban's 'historical case study of how things were in the Israel-Syria theater during the years 1978-1989' was largely completed before Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, but [recent] events . . . make this book more, rather than less, relevant. . . . Cobban's focus, then, on these two heavily armed nations and their superpower relationships could hardly be more timely.
Helena Cobban (born 1952) is a British writer and researcher on international relations, with special interests in the Middle East, the international system, and transitional justice. In March 2010, she founded a new book-publishing company, Just World Publishing, LLC. By September 2012 its principal imprint, Just World Books, had published twelve titles on current foreign-policy issues.
Her 1991 book tracked the entanglement of the Syrian-Israeli relationship in broader Cold War concerns. Zbigniew Brzezinski described it as a "perceptive and cool dissection of a truly complex issue." In a 1997 monograph[8] she started to look at the surprisingly fruitful peace diplomacy that had taken place on this track since the 1991 Madrid Conference. She expanded on that work in her 2000 book,[9] described by Raymond Hinnebusch as "A must-read for anyone with interest in the Middle East or the dynamics of peace negotiations in general."
Video Title: The Tragic Legacies of Lebanon's Phalangists: a conversation with Jonathan Randal. Source: Global Policy Forum. Date Published: June 21, 2012. Description:
GPF co-sponsored this book launch with the Presbyterian Ministry at the UN. Author Jonathan Randall, a longtime Washington Post correspondent, spoke about the re-issue of his classic 1983 study of politics and civil war in Lebanon, the Israeli invasion, and the massacres of Sabra and Shatilla. Just World Books publisher Helena Cobban, herself a Middle East expert and journalist, also spoke.
Helena Cobban On The Crisis In Syria: Syria Needs A "South Africa-Style Negotiated Transition To Democracy"
"Obviously, it is very complex, what's happening in Syria. I don't have as much chance to write now as I used to, but I think the last piece I wrote in the Christian Science Monitor was maybe about a year ago about Syria. When I said, although everybody was predicting that Bashar al-Assad will get swept away extremely rapidly, I said no, there's much more resilience there to his regime than it's being portrayed in the Western media. 

And what I was arguing for really strongly, and I still argue for, is a South Africa-style negotiated transition to democracy, which I think is the only way forward because we have seen where so-called "transition" from a minority regime or from a very oppressive regime to a full democracy has been achieved by force of arms in Iraq and Libya, and you see the outcome of that. And the huge, unbelievable human suffering that has been imposed because the whole culture of violence and resolving issues through force of arms has its own momentum.

So the big example that I look at is South Africa, where back in the 1980s - the first thing that drew me to a concern with international affairs when I was growing up in England in the 1960s was the South African situation, where in England it was much bigger there in the 60s, it became bigger here latter. But everybody was fearing the same thing, that, you know, if there is majority rule there will be a bloodbath for the white minority which was also about the same, proportionate somewhere between 11 and 15 percent of South African citizens were white. And people were saying there's no way, after the way that the blacks and other non-white South Africans had been treated for four hundred years in that country, that there won't be a bloodbath against the whites. And there wasn't. To me that was unbelievable grace in action. I mean, how you had these two leaderships on both sides. I give full credit to the white leadership which finally came around and I think that Frederick de Klerk's peace prize was fully earned. But so obviously was Nelson Mandela's.

That is what I would urge our diplomats and our civil society to be working for here, is a negotiated transition to democracy, and that involves not calling explicitly for regime change, and not acting explicitly for regime change. Because if back in the 80s Western diplomats and the boycott and sanctions movement and everything back then had been saying as a precondition the white minority regime has to go and de Klerk has to resign they wouldn't have engaged him in a negotiation. The white South Africans would have had their backs up against the wall and would have fought with all the power at their command which was huge. 

So as a matter both of principle, since I am a Quaker, and of pure pragmatism, I think that we have to be urging engagement of this regime, however foul its actions, in the diplomatic process. At a time when Hillary Clinton is engaging the junta in Burma, which has committed far worse actions, and everybody is saying she's really doing well, she's opened up space for Aung San Suu, she's managed to actually dab down the violence of the regime, people are applauding that but they're calling for escalation of violence in Syria. What is the difference?

And the last thing on this, people say 'it's too late.' It is never too late to start a serious program of diplomatic engagement and negotiation because, as we know, ten years after the invasion of Iraq, the alternative is far, far worse." - Helena Cobban [44:11 - 48:55 in the video below].