Why Prince Hassan Can Be The Hector Garcia Godoy of Syria

President Vladimir Putin’s decision to undertake Russian military intervention in Syria by way of providing air support (both plane and helicopter gunship) and the firing of missiles from naval ships against the moderate and western backed opponents (primarily the Free Syrian Army, FSA) of Bashar Assad is perplexing and ultimately counter-productive.

ISIS forces are still making military gains which by the end of this month could have them approaching Damascus and Aleppo. Even if Russian military power was directed against ISIS, this terrorist army would still have the capacity to hold its territory because Assad’s army simply lacks the manpower to retake and hold territory which is currently under ISIS control.

The only feasible option to ultimately prevent the approaching collapse of the Assad regime would be for either (or both) republican Iran or Russia to commit ground troops to Syria in addition to the Lebanese Hezbollah militia troops who are already fighting in that nation. . However, even if republican Iranian and/or Russian troops intervene, then they would be plunged into the abyss of a guerrilla war-fare quagmire which could eventually and fatally undermine the viability of the respective regimes in Moscow and Tehran. Furthermore, should Russian or Iranian ground troops be committed to Syria, then there could be an outright war between republican Iran and Saudi Arabia. This is because Riyadh will never allow republican Iran (even if in close alliance with Russia) to establish a hegemony in the Gulf region.

Should there be a war between republican Iran and Saudi Arabia, the latter would have the support of Egypt (despite recent Russian arm sales to Cairo) and probably of Turkey. There is also a good chance that Saudi Arabia will also receive substantial military support from its close ally Pakistan. Although republican Iran has been cultivating links with Islamabad, the fact is that Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are too closely politically and economically intertwined that these two nations will ultimately always support the other. Therefore it cannot be stressed clearly enough that Russia’s current actions in the Middle East could take the world toward a precipice not seen since the 1962 Cuban Nuclear Missiles Crisis.

That the world is approach a potentially fatal juncture in human history has been partly attributed to alleged passivity on the part of President Barack Obama. However, Obama bashing should be avoided because it is the present and the future which really counts. Regardless of what mistakes or acts of omission Washington is culpable for, the American decision to urgently supply weapons to the FSA is undoubtedly the correct one.

The United States and its allies should broadly emulate what Stalin deviously did in Poland in 1944. Stalin deliberately held back at the outskirts of the Polish capital to allow the Nazi Germans to crush the heroic Warsaw uprising so that the Soviets would be able to subsequently fill the military and political vacuum when they eventually forced Hitler out of Poland. The arming of the FSA by Washington and Riyadh (with the latter also probably now covertly supporting ISIS) creates the scope for the scenario of the moderates later entering the fray against ISIS following the probable military defeat of the Assad regime.

Due to the potential for there to be a long drawn out war in Syria (and possibly the wider Middle East), Carl von Clausewitz’s apt observation that “war is the continuation of politics by other means” should be taken into account. What Clausewitz was essentially conveying was that it is potentially fatal not to have a political endpoint with regard to undertaking military action. The former Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic tragically engineered the break- up of Yugoslavia in the 1990s to create a popular power base for himself in Serbia as that nation moved away from a Marxist-Leninist (albeit comparatively liberal) governing structure.

Milosevic foolishly manufactured one crisis after another until time eventually caught up with him and his wife Mirjana so that they fell in a revolution in 2000. President Putin is currently at a cross-roads where he can either adhere to the Milosevic tradition or emulate the late President Charles De Gaulle of France who often strategically, creatively and heroically converted potential national and international disasters into triumphs for his nation.

Boris Yeltsin- The Poor Man’s De Gaulle

Indeed, President Putin’s predecessor, Boris Yeltsin could be termed the ‘poor man’s De Gaulle’. Yeltsin owed his rise to power in Russia between 1990 and 1991 (first as titular Russian head of state and then as popularly elected executive president the following year) due to the Russian people’s disillusionment with Communism. The so-called reform policies of Mikhail Gorbachev’s Perestroika (Restructuring) and Glasnost (Openness) did not facilitate a socialist renewal but rather an implosion of a morally, politically and economically bankrupt socio-political system which failed to re-impose itself in 1991 due to the Russian people rallying to support President Yeltsin.

In the absence of a strong democratic political tradition due to the effects of seventy years of totalitarian rule, President Yeltsin was bereft of the capacity to rule Russia in the manner of a European democratic state. Consequently, President Yeltsin (under the guidance of then deputy prime minister, Anatoly Chubais) undertook a mass privatization programme in the mid -1990s which spawned a new class of robber barons (oligarchs) whose economic and political power underpinned President Yeltsin’s position in lieu of his having a viable democratic political movement behind him.

The absence of a strong Russian political tradition led to the promulgation in 1993 of a Russian constitution which eerily resembled that of the 1958 constitution of the Fifth French Republic in that extraordinary powers were vested in the president. For all the constitutional power which was vested with President Yeltsin, his regime was generally ineffective due to illness and his having to permit massive corruption in order to maintain his position.

The Yeltsin administration’s failure to collect taxes seemed to encompass the hopelessness of post-Communist Russia breaking with its past but not being able to forge an effective future. Nevertheless, President Yeltsin, by setting narrow but achievable goals achieved a degree of success in a very difficult socio-economic and political context. For all the military ineptitude and barbarity of Russia’s invasion of Chechnya in 1994, Yeltsin’s action in preventing this republic from seceding undoubtedly prevented the unravelling of the fifteen member Russian Federation.

President Yeltsin adopted a carrot and stick approach which preserved Russian unity. By illustrating the pitfalls of constituent republics attempting to secede by invading Chechnya in 1994, while simultaneously granting special economic rights to the neighbouring republic of Ingushetia, President Yeltsin illustrated that war can be effectively applied as a state policy to achieve a political outcome as envisaged by Clausewitz.

Although President Yeltsin was a relative success because he basically strove to achieve limited goals, the problem was that his objectives were often too narrowly focused in contrast to President De Gaulle’s visionary approach. President Yeltsin’s at times limited horizon decision making was manifested by his selecting Vladimir Putin as his successor on the basis that he wanted some-one to protect him and his family against possible prosecution after he had voluntarily relinquished office on New Year’s Day 2000.

Will President Putin be a Slobodan Milosevic or a Charles De Gaulle?

While there could be criticism of the basis upon which Boris Yeltsin selected his successor, the first years of the Putin presidency were promising as there were substantial economic and political achievements. President Putin restored a sense of order and much needed competence to public administration in Russia, particularly with regard to tax collection and reining in, if not eliminating, the power of the so-called ‘robber barons’.

This new regime was also effective in harnessing the sale of oil and gas so that there was as a windfall for Russia’s budget coffers. Consequently, increased public spending was undertaken which improved the quality of life in the cities although living conditions still lagged in the regions outside Moscow and Saint Petersburg. While there are talented technocrats who serve in the Putin administration, there are unfortunately too many officials drawn from the former KGB/GRU (or the contemporary FSB) who have orientated President Putin toward authoritarian domestic policies and toward undertaking an aggressive foreign policy as witnessed in Georgia and Ukraine.

It is a pity that President Putin did not follow in the footsteps of Charles De Gaulle to utilize brilliant and honest technocrats to achieve outstanding public policy results. The opportunities for the Russian state to engineer economic diversity away from an over-reliance on natural resources is probably the main missed opportunity of the Putin era in relation to domestic policy. Consequently, there are now too many powerful *rent-seekers attached to the Putin administration who have a vested interest in stifling economic diversification and in pursuing an aggressive Russian foreign policy.

(*The concept of rent-seeking has been defined and explained in previous Social Action Australia articles as the state gaining control of resources to perpetuate socio-political and economic power).

With reference to Charles De Gaulle and Russia’s potential future, it should be recalled that the French leader predicted that one day the European Economic Community (which is now the European Union, EU) would include Central and Eastern Europe and what was then Soviet Russia. President Putin could still achieve an honoured place in world history by laying the ground work for Russian membership not only of the EU but also even of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

Furthermore, in domestic policy President Putin seems to have fallen into the trap in which Milosevic became ensnared, of going from being an authoritarian leader into a dictator. Being a dictator is fraught with difficulty and can be akin to riding a tiger in which the only way to alight is to fall. Authoritarian leaders can avoid becoming dictators by having succession plans, or at the very least voluntarily resign, as Charles De Gaulle did in 1969 and Boris Yeltsin did in 2000.

Vladimir Putin made way as president after serving two four year terms between 2000 and 2008 in favour of his prime minister, Dmitry Medvedev. That Vladimir Putin was still in de facto control as prime minister during Medvedev’s term as president between 2008 and 2012 was never really doubted and this reality was borne out in 2012 when Putin returned to the presidency for a six year term with Medvedev again serving as his prime minister.

Due to the constitutional prohibition against a president serving two consecutive terms, there is little doubt that the Putin-Medvedev tandem will continue with the latter being elected president in 2018 with the former again serving as prime minister. President Putin probably calculates that, due to the years that Russia was under Communist command to know that the Russian people would find it too difficult to make a real democracy work.

However, the smarter approach still would have been for Putin and Medvedev to have emulated Mexico’s Constitution of 1917 of limiting a president to one six year term with a subsequent ban on an individual ever again serving as president. This would have allowed an authoritarian leader to have dismounted a horse before that animal turned into a tiger being ridden by a dictator.

There is still time for both Putin and Medvedev finding a trusted third person who can be president under a constitution which allows an individual to only serve for only one six year term. Furthermore, serious consideration should be given to abolishing the position of prime minister so that authoritarian leaders cannot perpetuate themselves in power. Having the former semi-authoritarian presidential *Mexican system would remove the arbitrariness which often comes with authoritarianism so that in the distant future someone not anointed by an outgoing president may eventually win the presidency.

(*Mexico effectively became a full democracy in 2000 when the ruling party, the PRI, lost the presidential election that year, thereby ending seventy –one years of rule by the same party).
However, a semi-authoritarian Mexican style would suit Russia well for the immediate future so long as honest and brilliant technocrats were brought into the government to achieve economic reform which would give the peoples of Russia first world living standards.

War is The Continuation of Politics by Other Means- Making Sense out of the Carnage in Syria

For there to be domestic reform which assures Russia’s future, there correspondingly has to a degree of political realism applied to Moscow’s foreign policy. The war in Syria cannot be won by either Russia or republican Iran and these two powers pursuing the option of deploying troops to Syria threatens to ignite a broader regional war which fundamentally threatens the future of the world.

While wars are inherently abhorrent, they can sometimes be justified if they serve a political purpose.
The Putin administration really needs to ascertain what its political objective is in Syria. Although contemporary commentary is arguing that President Putin has outmanoeuvred President Obama, all the latter now has to do (and is now doing) is to expeditiously arm the FSA so that it can hold its current territory and later undertake new operations by being able to fight another day. Furthermore, President Obama along with the EU has the option of maintaining or even tightening the economic sanctions against Russia if that nation continues to pursue an aggressive but essentially directionless policy in Syria.

The fundamental question therefore that Moscow and Tehran have to answer is how can they achieve their political objective of gaining and maintaining a strong position in the Middle East? The one answer to this question is for Russia and republican Iran to have President Assad appoint the Jordanian prince, His Royal Highness, Hassan Bin Talal as Syrian prime minister!

Prince Hassan can be the Hector Garcia Godoy of Syria. As discussed in a previous Social Action Australia article (“Why Syria Needs a Hector Garcia Godoy”) Godoy’s provisional presidency between 1965 and 1966 successfully took the Dominican Republic to a political settlement so that conflicting political factions vied for power at the ballot box instead of resorting to endless warfare.

Prince Hassan’s Unique Capacity to Successfully Serve

This Jordanian prince has the unique qualities necessary which can save Syria and in the process remove the acute danger of the outbreak of a wider war in the Middle East. Prince Hassan upon reaching the age of eighteen in 1965 was appointed Crown Prince by his brother King Hussein. Because Crown Prince Hassan is an honourable man, King Hussein never had to worry about his brother *deposing him or challenging his authority. Indeed, Prince Hassan loyally accepted a dying King Hussein’s dismissal of him as Crown Prince, in favour of Hussein’s son Abdullah as the new heir in January 1999, less than a month before the king’s death.

(*One example, which shows that crown princes in the Middle East can seize power, was that of Sultan Qaboos of Oman as Crown Prince overthrowing his father in July 1970 in a palace coup. This palace coup is now regarded as a revolution by most Omanis because the change in Sultan ended Oman’s international isolation and the maintenance of aspects of a Middle Ages type of society).

Prince Hassan’s sense of duty has also being manifested by his publicly advocating full democracy in Jordan in which institutions such as the parliament assume full responsibility for governing the nation. This prince has envisaged the Jordanian royal family eventually assuming ceremonial and civic roles akin to the British model of constitutional monarchy, although with substantial input into international affairs in a volatile region of the world.

Jordan has begun the transition to being a fully democratic constitutional monarchy as advocated by Prince Hassan. Inspired by the Arab Spring protests of 2011, demonstrations erupted in Jordan that year which were principally centred in that kingdom’s cities where the Palestinian majority lives. King Abdullah II responded by conceding that parliament would henceforth elect the prime minster (instead of that position being appointed by the king) and that the holder of that office would be responsible to the legislature.

Parliamentary elections subsequent to this political reform were held in January 2013 in which just over half the electorate voted. This apathy was mainly due to a gerrymander which discriminated in favour of rural and tribal voters at the expense of urban areas so that monarchist independents won a majority of the parliamentary seats. However, members from the city based opposition parties were still appointed to the cabinet.

While there is a need (to say the least) to abolish this gerrymander so that Jordan becomes a fully-fledged democracy, this kingdom is still one of the most politically liberal nations in the Arab world. The progression to a full Jordanian democracy will be linked to a political settlement being reached between the Palestinian Authority and Israel because over half of Jordan’s population is Palestinian.

An important reason why the Palestinian majority have not yet pressed further for more political reform is due to a wariness of taking on the Jordanian army which is arguably the most formidable in the Arab world. This was demonstrated in September 1970 when the army of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) unsuccessfully attempted to *overthrow King Hussein. By March of 1971, the PLO had been comprehensively routed that the position of the Hashemite dynasty was consequently secured.

(*The September 1970 PLO revolt against King Hussein also precipitated an attempted Syrian invasion of Jordan. The abysmal failure of this Syrian aggression was a precipitant factor in the then Syrian defence minister General Hafez al-Assad seizing power in a coup in November that year).

A very important reason why Prince Hassan should be appointed Syrian prime minister in a French style of cohabitation political arrangement with President Assad is because His Royal Highness Prince Hassan could fashion a new Syrian army into a highly effective fighting force which could defeat ISIS. A defeat of ISIS in Syria would also have the flow-on effect of the Iraqi army consequently having the capacity to achieve victory over this terrorist army.

A Prime Minister Hassan would initially have to have a Jordanian bodyguard but over time he would be able to facilitate the unification of the current Syrian armed forces with the FSA and the Kurds. Prince Hassan would ensure that Shia, Alawite and Christian communities were represented in a new armed forces so as to guarantee future protection for those communities. As a Sunni Muslim, Prince Hassan would have the inherent trust of the majority of the Syrian population.

Furthermore, someone as cosmopolitan as the multi-lingual Prince Hassan would have the capacity to co-operate effectively with Russian and republican Iranian military advisers as utilising the input of American and Saudi military officials when it comes to the formation of a new Syrian armed forces. The prince would be prepared to positively collaborate with Russia and republican Iran because he would partly owe his holding the position of prime minister to these powers.

Prince Hassan also has the proven diplomatic skills to act as a go-between and possible mediator with regard to possibly mediating with regard to republican Iran and Saudi Arabia. Because Syria’s Shia, Alawite and Christian communities will undoubtedly- for their own sense of protection- desire some form of continued Russian presence in their nation, Prince Hassan could facilitate this.

Having previously loyally served as the number two in King Hussein’s number two, Prince Hassan would be psychologically adapted to serving as prime minister under President Assad until free and fair elections could be held for a constituent assembly to elect a new government by a two-thirds majority. The tasks which would confront a Syrian government in the time before such elections would be formidable but Prince Hassan and his immediate family would be up to them.

The Prince’s wife, Princess Sarvath al-Hassan (who is originally a Muslim Indian) and their four children could apply their considerable talents to securing and administering international aid to resettle both internally displaced refugees and those Syrians who have fled abroad. The Jordanian royal family has an impressive record of working with United Nations (UN) agencies. This was illustrated in the wake of the first Gulf War of 1990-91 when Jordan’s then queen consort, Queen Noor, with UN assistance, very successfully established camps for displaced refugees.

The specialized skills that the Jordanian royals possess could therefore be applied to obtaining both civic and political outcomes. Prince Hassan is someone who can apply the necessary political skill to perform the world service of redeeming the situation in Syria - and then returning to Jordan- because he is motivated by an ethos of service.

Every problem has a solution if there is the will to find that solution. Syria is a case in point where the world’s powers have to be sufficiently agile to find the solution by supporting the best leader who is available. Prince Hassan is such a leader that it is highly desirable that his talents be placed in the service of Syria, the Middle East and ultimately the world.