Friday 21 June 2013

An Assad Victory Is Syria’s (And The World’s) Least-Worst Option

The Spoils Of Victory? Syria 2013. Those who cry "Let justice be done - though the heavens fall!", are seldom to be found living amongst the ruins. The World's options in Syria are rapidly narrowing. It can either allow Assad to restore enough order to make meaningful peace talks possible, or, by increasing arms shipments to the rebels, risk the whole of the Middle East erupting in flames.
RIGHT UP UNTIL its actions triggered World War I, hardly anyone in New Zealand gave a damn about Serbia. Until very recently, the same was probably true of our relationship with Syria.
Even now, with images of Syria’s gruesome civil war nightly smearing the world’s television screens, I find myself reacting to the rapidly rising body-count with a mixture of pity and frustration. As the angry, anguished faces of the slayers and their victims flash before me, I demand to know what could possibly be worth so much suffering?
Observing the “Arab Spring’s” slow descent into its entirely predictable winter of democratically-sanctioned fanaticism, I impotently admonish the opponents of the Syrian dictator, Bashar Al Assad:
“Be careful what you wish for!”
Freedom and democracy are probably impossible now, anyway, wished for or not. Too much blood has been spilt and too many homicidal sectarian passions aroused, for the ballot to be seen, miraculously, as an acceptable substitute for the bullet. The time for compromise in Syria was at the very beginning of the conflict – and that moment has passed. Neither side can now afford to rest until all their enemies are dead and absolute victory secured.
Of all the potential victors of the Syrian civil war, it is of Bashar Al Assad’s Baathist regime that the world has the least reason to be fearful. For all its faults – and they are legion – Assad’s government is now the only armed force in the country still committed to preserving Syria’s territorial integrity and to its continuance as an independent nation state.
Assad’s opponents can no longer credibly commit to either of those objectives. Whether its leaders are willing to acknowledge it or not, the Syrian rebellion has taken on the character of a Saudi and Qatar financed Sunni jihad. Victory for the rebels would dissolve the existing boundaries of the Middle East – thereby unleashing a wider and infinitely more dangerous war into which the whole world could be drawn.
By upholding Syria’s rights as a nation-state, China and Russia are, contrary to most Western commentary, making the most useful contribution to the preservation of both the regional and the global peace. It is the United Kingdom and France – both major arms exporters to the leading Sunni monarchies and emirates – that have opted to further inflame the Syrian crisis by bullying the European Union into lifting its ban on selling arms to either side of the conflict.
If the UK and France end up putting their thumbs on the strategic scales in Syria, the United States will have no choice but to weigh-in alongside them. This would result not only in the Russian Federation stepping-up its arms shipments to the Syrian Government, but also in the Shia republics of Iran and Iraq increasing the size and capability of their own military and paramilitary contingents (including the Lebanon-based Hezbollah Militia) currently fighting alongside the Syrian armed forces.
A fiery crescent of conflict, extending from Iran in the east, to Lebanon (and Israel?) in the west, and threatening all of the states to its immediate north and south, will be the inevitable outcome of any strategy which does not take as its starting point the restoration of the political status quo ante in Syria, the disarming of the rebels, a full amnesty for all of Assad’s opponents, and the drawing-up of a new constitution for the Syrian people – to be guaranteed by all five permanent members of the UN Security Council.
Whether they be English, American or Spanish, civil wars only end when one side decisively defeats the other. Unless it is the West’s desire to prolong the agony of the Syrian people indefinitely, its best option is to call upon the Sunni monarchs to cease arming the rebels and allow the Syrian armed forces to re-establish something approximating order.
That would be the least-worst-case Syrian scenario. The alternative – an oil-fuelled (and quite possibly nuclear) conflagration devouring the entire Middle East – could hardly avoid setting the whole world on fire.
This essay was originally published in The Dominion Post, The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 21 June 2013.


Brendan McNeill said...


Nice to see us agree on something.

Kind regards

Anonymous said...

If it wasn't for the oil, they build a fence round the whole Middle East and leave them to it.

Frank said...

"...a full amnesty for all of Assad’s opponents..."

I doubt that will happen. Neither side would bve pre-disposed to granting their enemies amnesty once they gain total victory. Because, really, who/what would stop them?

Victor said...

True but gut-wrenchingly dismal.

Perhaps the change in Iran's presidency will have a moderating influence on Assad. But I'm not holding my breath.

Mark Hubbard said...

This will go down as an interesting thread: you've got conservative Brendan, and this Libertarian, agreeing with your analysis. (Largely, anyway.)

The FSA have proven themselves of being able to match Assad atrocity for atrocity, and if they win, I suspect an Islamic Theocracy as likely. I balk at Assad skinning through unscathed though: surely he should be tried for war crimes? (I don't know the region/issues well enough to know what or who should fill the vacuum, however).

As time goes on I find myself moving from solid libertarian, to a more anarchist (anarcho-capitalist) position, pursuant to which getting involved in these conflagrations becomes both immoral, and self-defeating for the West. Regarding your PRISM post, the best defence against terrorism must be to simply not make yourself a target; don't involve yourself in un-winnable battles, because you're going to put yourself in the sights on the fanatical backers of one side or other: in this way at least the Western state no longer would have the sanction they perceive for the surveillance state on the level it has come to.

Regarding Syria, and so many countries in the Middle East, the biggest portion of the population will be moderate, decent people, and my heart goes out to them: they and their families always seem to be caught between a bastard, and another bastard, with a whole bunch of bastards in the wings, all armed to hilt.

Death to mysticism in all its forms. The battle is always in peoples heads.

(Hah, my CAPTCHA is 'Lord' :) )

Yoza said...

"Unless it is the West’s desire to prolong the agony of the Syrian people indefinitely, ..."

I have thought for a while this is what the West (US/UK/France) through its Saudi proxy, is angling for. It wasn't that long ago that Syria enjoyed the status of being one of Washington's most favoured torturers as victims of rendition were 'disappeared' there to enjoy the tender mercies of Assad's interrogators.

I imagine the permanent civil conflict scenario suits Israel which, despite of its hatred of the Assad regime, would probably be alarmed at the thought of sharing a border with the kinds of religious fanatics that seem to be flooding into Syria. Furthermore, I doubt Israel would be too upset watching Hezbollah fighters leaving Lebanon to reinforce those border towns.

Russia,Iran and Iraq all need the Assad regime to survive to accommodate their strategic interests. Syria is important to Russia, but Russia would survive if Syria fell. Iran and Iraq, on the other hand, face a very real threat to their survival as independent nations if Syria falls. I expect the foreign offices of the US and the UK expect those three countries to commit troops if the Assad regime looks seriously threatened. As such the US/UK/France coalition need not worry about how much support they lend to the 'rebels' as they understand the 'rebels' will never win.

Another 'positive' for the Western coalition is thousands of Saudi funded jihadists are being sucked out of Afghanistan.

There doesn't seem to be any rational reason to support the notion that those Western powers sponsoring the 'rebels' would find any advantage in a Saudi backed theocracy or a 'stable' Syria under the Assad regime.

Anonymous said...

"Whether its leaders are willing to acknowledge it or not, the Syrian rebellion has taken on the character of a Saudi and Qatar financed Sunni jihad. Victory for the rebels would dissolve the existing boundaries of the Middle East – thereby unleashing a wider and infinitely more dangerous war into which the whole world could be drawn."

Has it ever occurred to you that the Sunni see the opposite, that Shia from Iraq, Iran and Lebanon, are attempting to bring a Sunni majority into Shia domination bloc.

I think its a log bow to draw to claim that a FSA victory would result in dissolving of national boundaries and all out civil war in the middle east.
The jihadist elements of the FSA are ascendent in Syria because the West had decided to sit on their hands and wait for something to happen that doesn't involve intervention thereby creating space for the extreme Islamic movement to mobilize. Perhaps it is not too late to reinforce the more palatable elements of the rebel movement but why the FSA trust the West more than Saudi or Gulf states who have been supplying money and arms may be an unbridgable gap.


Anonymous said...

I'm sorry, but democracy comes first. That none of you can see that is deeply sad. 1848 plus 60 years for Europe because all the neighbour countries were autocracies at the time. I realise Lebanon is no ad but they had an autocracy as a neighbour. is'nt our position that no good can come from anything but demo-cracy. The Syrian Sunnis deserve that. What we should be insisting on is the UN in there.

Anonymous said...

Democracy is a majoritarian tyranny, hence Fiji.
The usa's constitution operated against it, did it succeed? Or did it deliver the US to the rich? It is our base. There is no freedom worth having in a tyranny except a democratic one. It leads and it leads...

Chris Trotter said...

Why should Assad and his allies stop fighting? That's the question.

If he was able to subdue the rebels to the point where UN peacekeepers could enter the country and guarantee the safety of the Syrian Shia, then Assad might see some purpose to a general cease-fire.

Anything less than that would be a bloodbath.

If the FSA wants a better Syria then it must end the fighting, allow the UN to enter, and begin the long, slow process of negotiating a lasting peace with the representatives of their opponents. If that means negotiating with Assad and the Baath Party, then so be it.

In demanding that Assad stand down before talks begin the FAS is attempting to achieve political victory before military victory has been won.

Why would Assad agree to that?

David said...

From an international perspective Assad might be the lesser evil, but those on the ground who know that their enemies will torture and kill them and their families won't be thinking about what's best for us. They may lose to superior fire power but the Assad regime now has a limited shelf life, whatever happens.

Anonymous said...

This is very disappointing to hear you come out with this Chris. Assad is a brutal tyrant and the Syrian people are against him.

This 'pro-Assad lite' line I'm hearing coming from liberals 'worried about radical Islam' just shows how the west both fear and misunderstand Islam.

The Shia hold on key areas of the middle east is artificial and to block the desire for a Sunni government in Syria is like trying to damn a raging flood.

We make not like Sunni Islam in the west, but it is the political and religious choice of the majority of the population of the middle east. We are simply not understanding that it is pointless to stop it.

Chris Trotter said...

Brutal tyrants are everywhere in the Middle East, Andrew, and the Sunni extremism which now dominates the military conduct of the FSA is not in the least benign.

You speak of majority rule as if Syria was a mild-mannered democratic regime somewhere in the West.

Were the Sunnis to defeat the Shia in the present fratricidal circumstances currently gripping that unfortunate country, there would be slaughter on a Rwandan scale.

Is that what you want?

Yoza said...

Anonymous said...
"I'm sorry, but democracy comes first."

I seriously doubt the Western leaders are going to fight tooth and claw to prevent anything resembling democracy to take root anywhere near its oil reserves there. Arabs, Persians and the like are regarded as assets or liabilities to be used or eliminated in the fight to maintain control of the planets most valuable energy reserves.

Unknown said...

I have strongly suggested American involvement in Syria. If they don't get involved you may see an Islamic sectarian bunfight!

Victor said...

"I'm sorry, but democracy comes first."

I disagree with infinite regret....but human life comes first.

Anonymous said...

"Were the Sunnis to defeat the Shia in the present fratricidal circumstances currently gripping that unfortunate country, there would be slaughter on a Rwandan scale. "

And what do you think the Alawites have planned for the Sunni if they are victorious - harsh language?

Syria is an artificial construct of the French and British so I can't understand why should be valued above all. Maybe you are of the same opinion as Putin who called the dissolution of the Soviet Union the greatest tragedy of the the 20th century?

Anonymous said...

^This. Both sides will be bloody. A government that is more representative is the best outcome. The Syrian Baathist regime are past masters at inhuman cruelty. The FSA have only recently started to behave cruelly as even the Allies in WWII did.

It seems in the west that, for the Middle East, Islamism is the only thing to be avoided at all costs. A black amorphous thing we get paranoid about and don't fully understand. A Christopher Hitchens mentality.

Look at the Muslim brotherhood in Egypt, they are the most representative and responsible government one can realistically ask for. The have satisfied the anti-western and Islamic aspirations of the people without being jihadist warmongers. They brokered the last Gaza ceasefire and recently sentenced a radical preacher to 10 years in jail for burning a Bible.

Allowing the moderate Islamists to take power takes the steam out of the al Qaeda movement. Sooner or later the west will have to accept the independentist and Islamic aspirations of the Arabs. Supporting tyrants like Assad is just extending the bloodshed and putting off the inevitable.

Victor said...


Herein lies the dilemma: back either side and you're likely to end up with a bloodbath.

I'm not a dyed-in-the-wool non-intervener and believe, for example, that (on the whole)western backing for the Libyan revolt produced a better result (for the Libyans)than would otherwise have come about.

But logistics, topography, geopolitics and , above all, sectarian divides ensure that no such similarly more-or-less satisfactory outcome is available in Syria.

I acknowledge that if I'm wrong, I'm horribly wrong. But that's how it seems to me.