Thursday, December 15, 2016

Nassim Taleb's table about Syrian conflict

This is the chart I am commenting about.  Let me take it one by one.  Orientation: no, the Syrian regime can't be said to be secular.  It is less unsecular than the Syrian rebels, yes, but that does not make it secular.  Salah Jadid was the most secular of Syrian Ba`thist rulers but Hafidh and Bashshar lessened the secularism of the Ba`th in their rule, and Bashshar in particular played games--like Saddam--with religion for political legitimacy.  Also the characterization of the regime as "secular" should be tempered with the minority sectarian connection, origins, and composition of ruling elite. On the rebel side: not all want to emulate Saudi regime. Some prefer Qatari regime and others prefer the Turkish model. But it would be fair to say that the Saudi model is the most popular one in its implementation of Shari`ah among the rebels.  Regime Type: nominally democratic? That means nothing. So there are hollow structures of a democracy where it does not exist.  So it is basically like talking about the Shura Council in Saudi Arabia.  The reference to Islamofascist, however, should be rejected.  But Taleb has strong sectarian perspectives in his analysis of the Middle East, with more than a tinge of the Lebanonese Phoenician disease which afflicts millions around the world.  Women:  Well, even if one were to agree that there are less restrictions on women in Syria than elsewhere in the region, but we can't speak of full rights. No one in Syria has full rights except the members of the Asad and Makhluf families.  Troops: Yes, Taleb is making the point that the rebels are more sectarian or even most sectarian but the composition of Syrian troops here is not accurate. My informants tell me that the Sunni percentage of the Syrian army (at the soldiers level) has dropped from the figure cited by Taleb to around 56%. It is still a majority but less than it used to be.  Support: I think that Taleb forgets that Gulf regimes were the biggest supporters and benefactors of the regime of Hafidh Al-Asad.  That should be mentioned.  Casualties:  Both sides have disregarded lives of civilians during this ugly war.  Treatment of minorities: Here, Taleb exhibits his sectarian outlook, thinking in terms of minority and majority while we should aspire to a time when those breakdowns don't matter.  But we can't speak of favorable treatment of minorities when all Syrians are not favorably treated by regime.  Taleb should read about the treatment of Alawites who were members of the Communist Action Party, for example.  PR:  I agree on this point that the rebel side enjoys an international PR apparatus the likes of which only Israel have enjoyed over the years.