Sep 1, 2013

Michel Kilo: The U.S. is Now Obliged to Strike

Lara Setrakian

Michel Kilo, a writer and human-rights activist, is one of the elder statesmen of Syria’s democracy movement. He was a leader in Syria’s wave of democratic expression in 2000, known as the Damascus Spring, and remained a leading name in opposition politics ever since.

In the course of Syria’s civil war, Kilo, a Christian, founded the National Coordination Body for Democratic Change.  He spoke to Syria Deeply in Istanbul.

Do you think a strike is necessary? Do you think the U.S. should launch this attack?

I think it is necessary for the U.S. and the international community to help Syrians become free, and that the U.N. Security Council takes action against an Assad regime that has, for two and a half years, used all kinds of weapons against its people. It is necessary that the Syrian people finally live in freedom, as they choose, in liberty and peace.

Do you think a U.S. strike could accomplish anything – something that constitutes a positive outcome for the Syrian people?

It has already done something positive. Even before a strike there are noticeable changes in Syria. For example, there’s been a wave of defections, there’s been a check on the role of Russia in the conflict, and there is a rethink of the role of Iran in the future of our country. Even though the Americans haven’t yet launched their strike, there are positive effects [of the threat alone], from this step forward by the international community that was long overdue.

You say there’s been a wave of defections. Who specifically has left the regime?

Many soldiers and officers from across the country, from the borders with Iraq and Jordan.  Today, west of Damascus, we saw 160 soldiers defect. There was a revolt at one Syrian military base in Tabqa – the company that was charged with protecting the base. There were soldiers who have fled the country with their families to southern Lebanon, and others who have left Syria for other Arab countries. These are soldiers who were once with the regime, who’ve decided to distance themselves from it.

Now that all this has happened, do you think the U.S. should still go forward with the strike? Or that it’s achieved enough and should abandon the plans?

The U.S. is now obligated to carry out the strike. If President Obama decides not to launch this attack, after he said that it’s unacceptable for [Bashar al-]Assad to hide behind Russian support, it would be a huge defect for the U.S. to pull back. And after all its declarations, stating openly that a chemical attack is unacceptable, after all the announcements that a chemical attack will not go unpunished, [abandoning the strike] would be a major boost for the Assad regime.

What do you think would be the impact of a strike?

This strike is the beginning of a change in the military balance in Syria. And it changes the international relations [at play] in Syria; it puts a limit on the influence of Russia and Iran in Syria. And it would signal that the Russian and Iranian sway over the fate of Syria is over.

How would this help the moderates in the opposition? Otherwise, would it be a victory for Jabhat al-Nusra?

The role of Jabhat al-Nusra is exaggerated. They are a part of the fighting forces in Syria, but they are a small part. Jabhat al-Nusra and other groups like it have benefitted greatly from the ongoing tension between the regime and the Syrian people. If the regime disappears, all the internal dynamics of the country would change. Jabhat al-Nusra and other radical groups like it won’t be in a position to benefit [from the vacuum]. If the world had properly armed the Free Syrian Army from the start, Jabhat al-Nusra wouldn’t have taken root.

But Islamists have set up in pockets of northern Syria. How is that going to change?

They’re not in control, but they’re there, in the mix with the Free Syrian Army and local coordination committees. It’s not correct what Western analysts say, that Jabhat al-Nusra is the strongest among them.

When do you expect a strike?

It can happen any minute. Or it can happen in days. The Americans talk of an international coalition, as you saw yesterday the [British] were hesitant. I think the Americans are going to have to have patience until they find the time to strike.

You hear all of the comparisons people make to Iraq, afraid to get involved in Syria given how that war turned out. What is your reaction?

In Iraq the Iraqi people were against the Americans. They did not want the strike. Many people were with the regime. Right now in Syria the vast majority of people are against the regime. This is not Iraq.

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