Bassam Haddad Speaks on Syria’s Internal Wars and External Interventions on NPR’s Spectrum (With Transcript)

By | 2018-03-19T16:57:35+00:00 14 March 2018|Article, Featured Audio|

This month the uprising in Syria will enter its eighth year. More than 400,000 have been killed and over one-third of the nation’s infrastructure has been destroyed, says Bassam Haddad. Half the population has been displaced from their homes and other countries have felt the glut of millions of Syrian refugees fleeing the fighting. What started as a revolt against dictatorship in 2011 has become a cauldron of regional and international intervention. In addition to the United States and Russia, Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Hizballah have been involved in supporting one side or the other. The “Islamic State,” ISIS, at one point controlled more than 40 percent of the country’s territories, Haddad notes. ISIS was finally routed from most of their strongholds by various military coalitions after fierce battles in Fall 2017.

At the eight-year mark of the struggle for Syria, reminiscent of similar goals decades prior, the country still faces internal political unrest, external interventions, battles between Turkey and the Kurds, and a massive task to rebuild the physical part of the country and infrastructure destroyed by war. The recent and ongoing incessant pummeling of Al-Ghouta suburb of Damascus by the Syrian regime and Russia speaks of more horror to come in terms of the Syrian regime’s plans for other parts of the country not under its control.

Haddad talks to Spectrum about all of these issues. He puts the conflicts into historical context from the beginning of the uprisings and discusses the current challenges facing Syria and Syrians. Haddad is a scholar, a teacher, an author, and a documentary film-maker. His second book is provisionally titled “Understanding the Syrian Tragedy: Regime, Opposition and Outsiders” to be published by Stanford University Press. He also has been the co-producer/director of the award-winning documentary film, “About Baghdad” and he also directed the acclaimed film, “Arabs and Terrorism.”

“Tom Hodson (TH):  Welcome to Spectrum. Spectrum features conversations with an eclectic group of people. Some are famous and some are not, but the common thread is that they all have captivating stories. Today we are talking with Dr. Bassam Haddad, the Director of Middle East and Islamic Studies Program at George Mason University. He is also part of the core faculty there in philosophy, politics, and economics. He also is working on his second book about Syria and its internal struggles. Dr. Haddad talked with us about the armed struggles in Syria, especially since the defeat of ISIS and the continuing struggles in this war torn country.

[Intro Music Ends]

Can you explain why the situation in Syria is so confusing to anybody outside?

Bassam Haddad (BH): First, thank you for having me. I am delighted to speak on this topic and I would like to address what you asked by saying something a little different. That is: if you are actually following the news on Syria and the more you follow the news on Syria, in fact, you actually become more confused. So if you are confused, I always say it is always, probably, because you are following the news. Those who do not follow probably have a sort of classical view of the situation where they understand that there is an uprising against dictatorship, which is exactly correct in terms of the basic narrative. It actually became much more than that. It might surprise people that the trajectory of the Syrian Uprising is actually one of the more cautionary trajectories of uprisings and revolutions. Not because the uprising was not legitimate, it was perfectly legitimate and kind of late, if you will, because of the forty-some odd years of dictatorship. But it is because of what happened to the uprising as a function of meddling of various regions and international players on both sides, who effectively hijacked the uprising and turned it into a proxy war that serves the interests of state and non-state actors that are supporting either of the sides. Of course the regime, on the one hand, and the opposition—or oppositions with an S—on the other hand. And of course, you have the third player in the boxing ring, which made things even more complicated, which is ISIS, a group that was not interested in a revolution against dictatorship and for the purposes of democracy, but interested in territorial gains across Syria and Iraq to erect its own version of a state called a Caliphate or an Islamic state.

TH: So once ISIS entered, and that was about 2013, is that about the time?

BH: It basically had a presence in Iraq. And then we basically have a number of developments where the Syrian border—the porous Syrian border—allowed the entry of what was called the Islamic State in Iraq into Syria with early potential alliances with Jabhat Al-Nusra, which is an Al-Qaeda affiliated group in Syria. That did not go very well. And then, of course, the Islamic State in Syria and Al-Sham, or ISIS, emerged out of this sort of experience between 2013 and 2014.

TH: And ISIS in Syria meant to take over territory. It was not just an ideological movement, it was actually a territorial movement.

BH: Absolutely, and this is what distinguishes ISIS from, say, Al-Qaeda. Given that ISIS actually had territorial aims, it wanted to establish a state of sorts with communities, with all the trappings of a state from a judiciary, to a bureaucracy, and so on and so forth, and of course an army. And it aimed to establish its state in both Syria and Iraq and, in fact, at some point, ISIS controlled about thirty percent of Iraq and close to forty-five percent of Syria. And we are talking here mostly about non-metropolitan cities because ISIS was better equipped to seize and control non-metropolitan cities as a function of the existence of more equipped armies in metropolitan cities, but also as a function of the social structure in more rural areas that was more susceptible to control by a group like ISIS with its own ideology and its own conservatism socially and otherwise.

TH: And Mosul became sort of a focal point of ISIS, correct?

BH:  And the only city that actually is a full-fledged metropolitan city in either of these two countries that ISIS was able to seize. And it actually seized it sort of in an odd way because there was really no battle in Mosul. They just almost walked in. And that was a function of the dissatisfaction that people in Mosul had with the government, on the one hand, and the lack of readiness of the troops or the official presence of the Iraqi government in Mosul. And ISIS was able to walk in without much of a battle. And that became, in 2014, the most significant territorial gain in terms of metropolitan areas for ISIS besides its, if you will, its wilaya or its statelet in Raqqa, in rural north Syria.

TH: So let us summarize to this point, and then we will go on. But we had the Assad Regime trying to stay in power against multiple intersections of rebels that were not necessarily consolidated in one force. Then we had ISIS coming in, disrupting that battle between those two entities, and interjecting a third entity into this conflict. Now ISIS, allegedly, has been pushed out. Were they pushed out by sort of a ceasefire or… how did ISIS get pushed out while the other two were still battling?

BH: Let me start from the beginning, perhaps, and that is always a thing when one talks about Syria; you get involved in more, so to speak, juicy or, if you will, exciting details and then you have to go back to the beginning. The narrative about Syria, of course, is always contested. There are no narratives on Syria that are not contested. What I would like to share with you are some of the basic narratives that are very difficult to contest, even by differing opinions—and they will still be contested to an extent.

So the most important thing I think we should recognize about the Syrian situation is that Syria has been ruled by a dictatorship since 1970 or 1963 depending on when you want to start the clock, but in all cases some four to five decades. And it does not mean that the pre-dictatorship era was rosy, it just means that we have a particular sort of dictatorship under a particular party that ruled since 1963 and then 1970 respectively when Assad Sr. took over.  This background, in my view, is the context within which everything happens. After forty years of dictatorship, we cannot expect an uprising of angels. We cannot expect allies of the dictatorship to actually be on the sidelines, they will actually intervene. We cannot expect that the opposition to this dictatorship is going to be supported also by, if you will, angelic state actors or non-state actors. So the situation from the very beginning has been set up to attract problematic allies, supporters, and as we have seen, foreign fighters with the case of ISIS and other groups. So we have a situation where a legitimate uprising emerged in Syria in 2011, very much instigated by the uprisings and somewhat successful quick results in Tunisia and Egypt. This uprising was civilian in character, it was peaceful.

However, those early days and weeks of the uprising, and in some cases months, were disrupted by a number of developments. The first development that disrupted this uprising against dictatorship which then, as I shared earlier, was transformed into some sort of a proxy war was the weaponization of the uprising, the militarization of the uprising. This changed the character of the situation and provided an already brutal regime that was content to crush even civilian protesters’ voices, was even more intent on doing so and went the extra mile with the justification that the uprising is not civil or civilian. And that began to change the character of the uprising and changed the conflict from an uprising against dictatorship to somewhat of a war with a significant number of people on the side of the uprising. Forming various groups that became quickly empowered, not just militarily, but also politically from the outside. And that created a war-like situation that gave a carte blanche, from the regime’s perspective, to crack down even more brutally on the protestors as well as, of course, the rebel armies. That transformed the context from an uprising against dictatorship to, as I shared, a proxy war in which various groups—on both sides—supporting both sides regionally, were trying to use this context of the Syrian Uprising to transform the region or to redraw the map of the region according to their own interests, each assuming that they will be victors. The tragedy of the Syrian situation is that there are no victors, especially several years down the line. There are only victims. And those victims, sadly, are the majority of the Syrian population that ended up being exhausted by what was going on on all sides. Not necessarily supporting the area or the leadership within which they live because territorially, they were confined to a particular area. And you root for where you are at, for the most part, unless you are able to flee or become a refugee like most Syrians. The idea here is that the exhaustion of the majority of Syrians made them step back, actually, from the conflict— not in a neutral way. I believe that the majority of Syrians—the overwhelming majority of Syrians—want a change in Syria, want a removal of this regime. What became more complex, and that is what a lot of people sometimes miss, is that the alternatives were becoming less and less desirable. It is not that the regime became more attractive, it is that the alternatives, given what was happening on the ground, the nature of the rebel force, was changed from a civilian military rebel force that wanted a more progressive alternative to a rebel force that actually was bent on formulas that did not necessarily meet the aspirations of the revolutionaries—the original revolutionaries in Syria. Within that context, various actors—state actors and non-state actors— locally, regionally, and internationally tried to take advantage of this mess to basically settle their own scores and to serve their own interests. Whether it was the pro-opposition camp represented by countries such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, and the United States or whether it is the pro-regime camps represented by Iran, Russia, Hezbollah, and when it came to diplomatic relations, China. So we ended up producing a disillusionment among most Syrians as far as who to support—again not because the lack of clarity that the regime needs to go—but because the lack of certainty that this alternative on the ground is the way to go.

TH: And this uprising—this civil uprising—became an international conflict. And that internationalism made people wonder what interests were going to prevail and what countries were going to interfere, correct?

BH: Absolutely, and that is the tragedy we are actually encountering year after year and today. So if you want to look at the larger context, if we want to establish a bird’s-eye-view, we find that the Syrian Uprising that started in March 2013 has gone through a couple of phases and each of these phases include various stages. The first stage was, as I shared, a civilian uprising which was transformed into a militarized uprising and then into a proxy war. So these represent stages within the first phase that ended in December 2016 when the regime was able to seize the entire city of Aleppo from the rebels, which constituted the seizing of all major metropolitan cities by the regime—or retaking—whatever language one wants to use, because the regime did in fact control it beforehand, of course. The point here is that that ended, in my view, the war for Syria. In other words, those who wanted to remove the regime—for good or for ill in terms of their own intentions, whether they really cared about the Syrian people or not but wanted to remove the regime for one reason or another—that signaled the end of that goal, or the end of that objective because the regime was able to control most of what is called “Useful Syria” or “Syria Al-Mufida” by December 2016. The second phase is what started after this process, which is basically: we moved from a war over Syria to a number of smaller wars within Syria that really represent at least a couple of goals; either settling scores for certain countries such as Turkey with its war against the Kurds, or retaking what is left of Syria by the regime. These constitute the two major dynamics today in Syria, even though there are other dynamics at work. And what made those dynamics dominant, especially today in 2018, frankly, is the dramatic degradation of ISIS over the past year, which freed up most players who actually were together; even though they oppose each other on everything else they actually worked together as in, maybe I should not say work together but they actually all had a goal of degrading ISIS—

TH: That was a common enemy.

BH: That was a common enemy and they had a similar opposition. Even if, in my view, whether it is the United States, the Syrian Regime, the Iranians, the Russians, or the opposition—at least in some cases, there is some sort of a utility for leaving ISIS degraded, but not completely destroyed because that can be used as a card in various situations down the line. And this is a speculation, but there is enough reason to believe that there is not an intent to completely root out ISIS from the very small remaining parts of Syria. And that represents the second phase of the Syrian Uprising, whereby we no longer have a war to take over the central government of Syria, at least nothing extant and evident. And more smaller fragmented wars that represent the interests of various countries, in using Syria to settle scores or to actually prevent further development of a conflict or threat in the case of Turkey and the Kurds. Turkey’s invasion and incursion into Syria, happening today, in the city of Afrin in Syria is meant basically to dismantle and defeat the YPG, a Kurdish movement that is accused of being connected to the KPP, which is the Kurdish Workers Party, a separatist party with which the Turks have been at war for many years. And it accuses both of them, by association, of being terrorist groups. Turkey is trying to do this because it wants to secure its southern border and is now in conflict with other groups and actors that view this as a violation of sovereignty, including the Syrian regime, whose militias—or pro-regime militias—are now in this fight. So we have a very complex train in that regard and it is actually proceeding at very high losses of course on the side of the Kurds in Afrin, but also on the side of the Turks who were not able to push forth as fast as they wanted. The regime, on the other hand, is trying to retake various parts of Syria that have been lost to the rebels over the past several years. And we see the tragedy unfolding today in Eastern Damascus, in the Ghouta region, where the regime and the Russians are pummeling the region of some three hundred and eighty thousand people that have been besieged for years.  They claim in response to various rockets that are sent to Damascus and claims about the proliferation of terrorist groups inside. Of course all groups name terrorists as the enemy or the enemy becomes terroristic respective of the veracity. And that is one, or the first attempt right now, after Aleppo, to retake one of several major strategic areas. Ghouta has now suffered the deaths of about six hundred to seven hundred innocent—I mean mostly civilians, even though the regime claims they are mostly military personnel or militia fighters. And it seems that the next step in this campaign will be a hotbed of the rebel opposition that is controlled by Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham in the North, and that is the Idlib province, where it is said that Ghouta is basically either the training ground or the first step before getting into that region. Because this is the only major stronghold of the opposition that is well equipped in terms of military might. And then of course other parts of the country seem to be in the sights of the Syrian regime including the South—which is actually pretty much stable as a function of the lack of one military authority controlling that region, though it is actually a coalition and it is confined or bound by various treaties and agreements made with Syria, Jordan, and Israel as well in terms of what kinds of movements can happen there. And of course, then you have the big question which is the latent potential conflict between the Syrian regime and the Kurds—who have been frenemies, friends at certain points fighting similar enemies and they actually are in opposition structurally and ideologically. But they have not really entered into a full-fledged war. And one of the reasons has to do with economics, given that the Kurds control more than sixty-five percent of oil fields now in Syria.

TH: What you have described really helps us, I think, understand the regionalism here and the historical dynamics. It seems, though, to an outsider that the American foreign policy, as it relates to Syria, has been one that is in flux. It is confusing. It is fragmented. Is that a correct characterization?

BH: From the point of view of people living in the United States, like you and me, it might seem like there is hesitation. It might seem that there is a kind of confusion as to what to do about Syria. But in reality, the confusion is not all that much. The appearance of confusion actually is evident, yes, is palpable. But in reality, the United States under the Obama Administration—and interestingly under the Trump Administration—if you notice there has not been a dramatic change on actual policy in Syria. There has been rhetoric that spoke of difference, but in reality, states operate based on national interests, usually, that are rather stable. And the single most important point for the US administration has always been that the prize in Syria is not that high, on the one hand. So we are not looking at a conflict where the returns or the rewards are evident and the costs can be minimized. That is a central component of the US position on Syria. Another component, of course, has to do with the extent to which the US public and, of course, the US military and US government is willing to go into a full-fledged war generally. And that has, of course, been precipitated by the problems that took place in Iraq—and of course when we talk about our problems we are, in a way, not recognizing the catastrophe that befell Iraqis themselves—but what the United States went through in Iraq has actually tempered our appetite for war. Whether it was in Syria in 2005 when some were calling for striking Syria or the ongoing appetite for war with Iran where there is—there always will be calls—but, you know, the administration—even this administration, with its very blunt rhetoric, is actually treading very carefully on the question of war. So this second issue of appetite for war in the region or full-fledged war is also not high. The third is a factor that allows us to understand US foreign policy over and above the zig-zagging of rhetoric is the combination of the two in recognizing the context in Syria. The simple fact is, and that is part of the reason why the uprising was not successful, is that all the supporters—if not most of the supporters—of the Syrian Uprising, the uprising for democracy, are for the most part not genuine supporters of an uprising for democracy. If anything, they were betting on removing the regime for purposes that served their interests. The coincidence of wanting to remove dictatorship with the aspirations of the overwhelming majority of Syrians created an alliance that was very fragile, between the uprising, if you will, and external forces. However, what the US administration—the previous administration— recognized is that this fight, this conflict, for the regime and its allies is an existential conflict. Whereas for the supporters of the uprising, it is a strategic conflict in which they could actually withdraw at any moment when the threat and the danger becomes higher than a particular threshold, which is exactly what happened in the case of Qatar and Saudi Arabia who recently were actually arguing amongst each other who messed up in dealing with Syria and the Syrian rebels; who weaponized which groups and radicalized the situation in Syria or the uprising.

TH: It became a point of conflict between those two.

BH: Absolutely. And they both withdrew their, you know, ample support to a large extent, not completely. Turkey no longer was willing to make its border open and porous to incoming fighters from which many thousands of fighters came to fight “the good fight” and got into its own trouble with the islamists or with ISIS who began to blow things up in Turkey. And Turkey therefore hit the brakes on its rhetoric against the Syrian regime and its facilitation of various forces fighting the regime—state or non-state actors, as well as individual foreign fighters. And of course it became more, as you shared, involved with the Kurdish situation. And the United States, of course, has no stake compared to, for instance: Iran, Hezbollah, and the Russians who actually went in full force and did what the United States was not necessarily willing to do in terms of going all-out vis-à-vis ISIS, even though the Russians also did this as a cover to help the regime root out the remaining rebels in the name of fighting terrorist, not distinguishing between groups that they do not like that are against the regime and groups that they do not like like ISIS—

TH: Whether you are ISIS or a rebel, either one, you are an enemy of the state so you are the same—

BH: And there was some sort of manipulation on the part of the Russians whereby they grouped these movements together like Jabhat Al-Nusra that was mostly Syrian and fighting the regime, as opposed to ISIS that is significantly non-Syrian and not interested in revolution in Syria; more interested in its territorial control in Iraq and Syria, and creating a state of its own that goes against, almost literally, most of what the rebels want, even the fighting rebels. So in a way, the US readiness for anything from establishing a no-fly zone to committing to significant troops on the ground—because obviously there are some troops on the ground— was extremely low within the Obama Administration for those three reasons I mentioned and continue to be low under Trump with the one exception, and that is: should there be an event that might spin things out of control in Syria? The Trump administration will be more likely to respond in ways that, perhaps, the Obama administration would not.

TH: If we look at the country, at least from the news clippings that we see and from the newscasts that we see, Syria is destroyed. The infrastructures, the buildings, there is widespread damage, at least in some of the cities and some of the areas where they were fighting. How will that be rebuilt? And who will help pay the bill to have it rebuilt?

BH: I recently gave a talk at both UCLA and George Mason University precisely about this question. The question of reconstruction, rebuilding, reconciliation, potential peace. And the unfortunate fact is that the problem in Syria—as opposed to what many believe, especially in the international community who are looking for lucrative entry points into Syria—the unfortunate fact is that the problem in Syria is not one of destruction. I mean that is a component of the problem, but it is wrapped up in profound political rivalries, decades of repression, and various other factors that make the resolution not simply one of reconstruction. The destruction is evident. Besides the more than four hundred thousand Syrians killed, we have, of course, more than a million injured severely, we have hundreds of thousands of disabled Syrians, and we have the destruction of at least a third of the infrastructure, and the destruction of various institutions of learning, various healthcare centers and hospitals—thanks to the purposeful regime bombing and Russian bombing for the most part—and for the most part in rebel held areas. We have more than half the Syrian population—a population of about twenty-four million—displaced. Some, about half or a little bit less than half, displaced from Syria to other countries including Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, and various other countries like Egypt, Europe, and so on. And then the rest are internally displaced. We also have a considerable amount of damage that is not concrete and tangible, that a lot of people do not talk about, and that is a very destructive development in Syria. The trauma that has affected all Syrians. The psychological issues that—you know, we talk here about our own tragedies, our small tragedies like the high school shootings. And you can imagine the trauma of some of these people who did not even witness firsthand what happened. And we get concerned about them, we put their pictures on CNN, and we talk to these people who are traumatized by just being in the territory of the school when this happened. So you can imagine after seven years of death and destruction the extent of the trauma in Syria. And then there are developmental consequences. For seven years, many people did not have the proper education in a country that is used to actually having almost full literacy. So we have seven years blacked out from the lives of many people—not all, because schools continue to operate here and there in various places. The working force, imagine the extent to which Syria lost a workforce with skills who are now actually doing a good job in places like Germany and elsewhere in terms of being able to use their skills. So Syria now is bereft of all sorts of dignity and resources. So we have a damage that is profound. The rebuilding, however, cannot continue or even start properly without some form of establishing not peace, even, but territorial integrity. There are at least four major semi-sovereign or sovereign divisions in Syria. The regime which has the largest portion now, the Kurds who have the second largest portion in most of northern and northeast Syria, and then of course the opposition who have some strongholds in the North in Idlib and around Damascus and some in the South, and then, of course, ISIS which is mostly in eastern Syria in smaller patches of land and they are now trying to, if you will, close their businesses and smuggle out weapons, people, and money. Without having some sort of territorial integrity, the rebuilding is going to be fragmented and it will actually not serve the average Syrian. It is, in fact, starting in Syria—in the Syrian regime controlled territories—where they are actually engaged in heavy reconstruction. But this reconstruction does not seem to be aimed on the account of the best analysts and field researchers to actually serve those Syrians who lost their lives and their homes. It is actually reconstruction that is more aimed at propping up the state and basically providing housing for people who can afford this sort of housing. And it is tragic that most people who lost their houses and are displaced within and outside Syria will not be able actually to come back to those areas. If there is a plan to rebuild Syria, whether it is the World Bank or the IMF’s support; whether it is the Chinese, the Iranians, the Russians, the United States, and various international institutions like the UN and the UNDP and so on, the question is: who will they make these deals with? If it is the regime, then the rebuilding will happen according to the interest of the regime and its immediate partners, not according to the interest of most Syrians who have lost their lives and their homes. If it is others, well one worries how long these others will be in their place. The rebels, the Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham, for instance, in Northern Syria, who are not exactly admired by most Syrians… it is not exactly tenable. The Kurds, they have a very similar precarious future. Of course ISIS is not even a contender. So the best case scenario which is: the regime yields undesirable results and then you move on from there.

TH: You have a new book coming out shortly—the second book that you have written about this area.

BH: I cannot claim that I have written it completely, every time I try to finalize what needs to be part of this document, things develop—and not small things, either. So I tried from 2013 to finalize things, and then ISIS emerged, of course. I was both busy enough and lucky enough to not have finished it. So I am working now on—my first book was on the collusion between the regime and big business moguls in Syria. The collusion that actually led to the deterioration of the Syrian economy and to the dramatic social polarization in Syria which was the background to the uprising. My second book is the continuation of the story that starts with the first ten years of Bashar Al-Assad’s rule starting in 2000 that demonstrates the extent to which that rule drove discontent to a higher degree and set the stage in very tangible ways for an uprising that was long overdue to begin with. And it continues to address the dynamics of the Syrian Uprising by first looking at why is it that it is so complex, even more complex than the other uprisings around the same region, in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Yemen, and Bahrain. And looks at the pivotal role—the regional role—of Syria and how it is at the center of various conflicts simultaneously—local, regional, and international. And then goes on to address the transformation of the uprising to something that does not any longer resemble the original sentiments of the uprising and addresses the driving—or the drivers—for the prolongation of the uprising including what is called the “War Economy” from which all rebels benefit and from which all fighters benefit and all states benefit, which sort of explains to an extent why there is very little interest locally and regionally in ending the war—because that is an economy that has benefitted various players who are not really interested in revolution on all sides. And it addresses the dynamics of the uprising in the sense that it allows us to understand the formation, reformation, and breakdown of various coalitions and groups amongst the opposition. What explains this roller coaster of emergence and disappearance and breakdown of groups within the opposition. Instead of doing what a lot of think tank papers do or a lot of analysis does sometimes—or news—which is basically follow this or that group and how they emerged and how they coalesced and how they broke down, I tried to develop a framework to understand what governs these processes—the larger picture that governs these processes—so that we could link pre-2011 Syria with the dynamics of the uprising itself locally, in the interest of regional and international players that come together in basically providing the incentive structure for formation breakdown of these various coalition groups. And then it ends with this discussion of reconstruction. Basically, in my view it is a bit of a farce. At the same time that you cannot not reconstruct, right? So I am not critiquing the reconstruction for the purpose of rebuilding hospitals and schools and homes. What I am concerned about is that this has become an opportunity for capital gain. This has become an opportunity for increasing revenue of various actors. And this has become an opportunity to replenish state coffers in some ways and support various international allies and enemies by offering them a piece of the pie.

TH: And graft and corruption is along the way I am sure.

BH: That is a constant, unfortunately. And the bottom line is that after this tragedy of more than seven years soon—this month, actually—we will not be serving the Syrian people, even after everything that I just shared in terms of damage. The reconstruction might well not serve the majority of Syrians, but serve to prolong the life and security of the supposed victors.

TH: We thank you for helping us understand this very, very complicated area of the world, I appreciate it very much.

BH: Thank you for having me, I really appreciate your questions and this conversation.”

This is a transcript of an interview conducted in March 2018. This article is published jointly in partnership with Jadaliyya

About the Author:

Bassam Haddad is Director of the Middle East and Islamic Studies Program and Associate Professor at the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University. He is the author of Business Networks in Syria: The Political Economy of Authoritarian Resilience (Stanford University Press, 2011). Bassam serves as Founding Editor of the Arab Studies Journal and the Knowledge Production Project. He is co-producer/director of the award-winning documentary film, About Baghdad, and director of the series Arabs and Terrorism. Bassam is Co-Founder/Editor of Jadaliyya Ezine and Director of the and the Executive Director of the Arab Studies Institute. He serves on the Board of the Arab Council for the Social Sciences and is Executive Producer of Status Audio Magazine. Twitter: @4Bassam.