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Syria can only be contained, not extinguished, top former U.S. diplomat Ryan Crocker tells CNN’s Amanpour

September 11th, 2013
03:30 PM ET

By Mick Krever, CNN

The United States has fundamentally misread the uprising and subsequent civil war in Syria, the former American ambassador to that country and one of American’s most experienced Foreign Service officers told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Wednesday.

“I think we made a mistake right at the beginning in somehow thinking that Syria was like Egypt, like Tunisia, like Libya,” Ryan Crocker told Amanpour. “You and I know it's not.”

That misreading has lead Crocker to a stark conclusion.

“Assad isn't going anywhere outside of Syria anytime soon, if ever,” he said. “And maybe we're beginning to understand that.”

Crocker is a career diplomat who has served as ambassador to Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Kuwait, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“The Syrian regime has been ready for this fight since Hama in 1982; very few Americans remember what happened then. You and I do, when up to 10,000 innocent Sunni civilians were murdered by Assad,” he said. “It radicalized the Sunni population and the regime knew that a day of accounting may come. And they've been ready for it for three decades.”

That 1982 revolt in Hama was put down by Bashar al-Assad’s father, Hafez. His response, brutal and merciless, an example to any would-be revolutionaries, was famously dubbed “Hama Rules” by the writer Thomas Friedman.

Bashar al-Assad “is just like the old man,” Crocker told Amanpour. “Maybe not quite as flexible and more doctrinaire, just as ruthless.”

Russia’s proposal to put Syria’s chemical weapons under international control, while unlikely to alter the dynamics of the civil war itself, is a positive development, Crocker said, as is Iran’s backing of such a deal.

“Iran has suffered from chemical weapons,” Crocker said. “They are no fans of them. So pressure from Tehran, pressure from Moscow will be critical in all of this.”

Indeed, he said, even if a deal is not struck, the past week has been a very successful one in the world of international diplomacy.

“Whatever happens next, we have the Russians and Iranians on record as saying that Syria should put its chemical weapons under international control,” he said. “We have Syria acknowledging it has such weapons and it is prepared to do so.”

But Russia’s plan, even if implemented, would almost certainly leave the civil war in a bloody downward spiral. Crocker says he only sees two alternatives for the civil war.

“Either Assad regains control, foot by bloody foot,” he said, “or it settles into some kind of stalemate.”

Only if a stalemate settles in will a diplomatic solution be possible, he opined. In other words, now, in which Assad clearly has the upper hand, is not the time.

“I'm from the West of the United States,” Crocker said. “We have giant forest fires; the one burning now in Yosemite. You can't extinguish them. You can only contain them. That's Syria. We can't extinguish that fight. Neither side is ready. All we can do is try and contain it and keep it from spreading further into Lebanon, into Iraq, into Jordan, into Turkey. That's the best we can do right now and wait for circumstances to change.”


Filed under:  Christiane Amanpour • Latest Episode • Syria
soundoff (4 Responses)
  1. ashok

    It will be a tragedy of epic proportions if the world sits back while Assad reclaims Syria foot by bloody foot. The US can surely do better than that.

    September 11, 2013 at 4:49 pm | Reply
    • Laud

      you are a big fool war monger. a dirty two footed shoes were thrown to G.W.Bush Obama would receive a gun shoot on his testicles if he dare try to attack serious.

      September 11, 2013 at 7:15 pm | Reply
  2. Sherifa Zuhur

    1. The conflict is nothing like a forest fire. People, not trees are dying every single day while US policitians fiddle with their own political calculations. Rather, it is a gasoline tanker on fire & it will explode soon 2. "Iran has suffered from chemical weapons,” …. So pressure from Tehran, pressure from Moscow will be critical in all of this.” shows that Crocker has forgotten that Iran backs Syria all the way! Iran considers Syria one of its provinces (in the words of leaders), its own Revolutionary Guard are in Syria & both nations, Russia and Iran are importing weapons and cash, while our US politicians say this conflict is unimportant to them. Shame on you.

    September 12, 2013 at 5:32 pm | Reply
  3. Chukwuemeka

    The Americans made a mistake by routing Sadder Hussein from power. He was a stabilizing factor between the Sunnis and Shia. Now, the Awalites of Syria which is a form of Shia though in the minority do not want to relinquish that position of authority. Perhaps next time western interests would exercise a bit more caution before delving into the political backyards of other nations.

    September 17, 2013 at 11:41 am | Reply

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