The logic of influence in Syria

Fred Kaplan wrote in a recent Slate article on how events in Syria may play out:

"Even if our largesse did buy us influence, that doesn’t mean we’re influencing the right people."

The context of Kaplan's comments in based around a New York Times report that CIA agents are helping provide weapons to Syrian opposition fighters.

The whole idea of providing weapons to rebels in the hope of undermining an opponent and influencing the outcome of the struggle is probably older than war itself. But that doesn't mean it works. (In fact, if anyone has done a study on how often it deosn't work, Londonstani would be very interested in reading it). 

In this day and age, Londonstani was kinda hoping we'd moved past the whole "take me to your leader" approach and could come up with something that combines the best of politics, diplomacy and communications. Maybe, just maybe, the people to reach out to here aren't warlords, but the average Syrian. After all, the warlords are going to be seeking constituencies to wield power on behalf of in the post-Assad Syria. So, whatever happens, it's the Syrian people who will set the frame in which the future of their country is cast - whether good or bad. 

If there are international bodies out there putting together contingency plans, Londonstani's requests would be:

1 - Please do lots of research

2 - Please read your research

3 - Please don't put all you eggs in baskets owned by opportunistic gangsters (Syria has many)

The tombs of Timbuktu in pictures

Reuters reported today that fighters from Malian extremist group Ansar Dine, which recently took control of the north of the country, have been destroying historical Islamic sites.

"A local Malian journalist, Yeya Tandina, said Saturday that the Ansar Dine fighters had already destroyed the mausoleum of Sidi Mahmoud, one of the 16 shrines in Timbuktu, and had declared that they would demolish all the others. Later, residents said at least two other mausoleums and seven tombs had also been destroyed," the Reuters story re-printed in the NYT stated.

Londonstani is not an expert on the politics of the Sahel (unlike Andrew Lebovich, who you can follow at @tweetsintheME), but has visited and reported from Timbuktu in his old journalism days. Reading about the rampaging extremist gunmen, Londonstani can't help thinking back to what he saw and heard in Timbuktu and the capital Bamako, which had seemed at the time like havens of Islamic tolerance after Pakistan.

"In countries, where the austere Takfiri ideology has grown, Sufis – who practice a spiritual and inclusive understanding of Islam – have been targeted. In Pakistan earlier this month, extremists blew up the shrine of a 17th century Sufi poet,"Londonstani wrote for the Sunday Telegraph.

"Back in Bamako's main market, a shopkeeper who spoke Arabic because of his education in one of the capital's Islamic schools, and sold traditional carved wooden statues of nude women said he could not comprehend an Islam that attacked the tombs of revered figures.

"If they did that here, there would be civil war," he said."

When it happened, the civil war came first; then the desecration.