Tuesday 27 September 2016

If America Refuses To End The Syrian Civil War, Then Russia Will Have To Win It.

Aleppo's Agony: More than anything else, global opinion is demanding an end to the siege of Aleppo. Surely, who rules Syria matters less than bringing this seemingly interminable and indiscriminate destruction to an end? Why can’t those doing the fighting see that? Why won’t they stop?
THE IMAGES EMERGING FROM ALEPPO are gut-wrenching. Tiny babies, dust-covered and ominously silent, are pulled from the rubble of their homes. The cries of anguished parents mingle with the wailing of ambulance sirens as their broken children are carried away. A young man on Skype warns the world of Aleppo’s “annihilation”. A water-treatment plant is bombed, and in retaliation the only other functioning plant is shut down. Two million people are left without safe drinking water. This is the Syrian Civil War up-close and personal. Unbelievably horrible.
More than anything else, the global audience confronted with these horrors wants the war to stop. Surely, who rules Syria matters less than bringing such indiscriminate death and destruction to an end? Why can’t those doing the fighting see that? Why won’t they stop?
The warring parties won’t stop because they can’t stop. Not until the government of Bashar Al-Assad either triumphs over, or is decisively defeated by, its enemies.
If he chose to, the American Secretary of State, John Kerry, whose lugubrious features are so well suited to his repeated expressions of sympathy for the Syrian people, could end the war in a moment. All he has to do is halt the supply of weapons to Assad’s enemies. Yes, that would involve placing a restraining hand on the shoulders of America’s Saudi and Turkish allies. But if his government was genuinely committed  to ending the fighting, that is what it would do.
Because Assad’s regime is still recognised as the legitimate government of Syria. Its representatives continue to take their seats in the General Assembly of the United Nations, and its ambassadors continue to be recognised in the world’s capital cities – including Washington DC.
That’s because there was a time when the West was only too happy to have Syria’s friendship. It was 2003, and US forces were busy overthrowing Assad’s fellow Baathist, Saddam Hussein. No one had too much to say back then about the brutally authoritarian character of the “murderous Syrian regime”.
On the contrary, in the decade following the Iraq invasion, the Western powers were at pains to point out how very different Bashar was from his hard-line Baathist father, Hafez Al-Assad. Bashar’s western education was played up, as were the charitable works of his glamorous wife, Asma. The general diplomatic consensus up until 2011 was that a gradual liberalisation of the regime was underway. Elections had been held. Political prisoners had been freed. All Assad needed, said the Middle East-watchers, was time.
He didn’t get it. The Arab Spring of 2011 unleashed a wave of popular uprisings across the Middle East. Assad watched with growing alarm as first Tunisia, then Egypt and finally Libya succumbed to politico-military putsches that saw heads-of-state roll – sometimes literally.
This was the point at which an intelligent American administration would have made it clear to the world that it was committed to preserving the reforming government of Bashar al-Assad. Unfortunately, the then US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, fresh from her “triumph” in Libya, prevailed upon President Barack Obama to figuratively hold the cloaks of the Syrian rebels while they stoned the Assad regime to death.
Tragically, the Obama Administration had reckoned without the Assad family’s grim reputation for holding on to power at any cost. Like his father before him, Bashar looked not to Syrian civil society for salvation, but to the Syrian military. Civil war, with all of its attendant fratricidal slaughter, was unleashed. Syria was ripped apart.
Wrong-footed by Assad’s bloodthirsty response, Obama dithered. As he cast about for a solution that did not involve putting American boots on the ground, Saudi Arabia did all it could to ensure that it would be an Islamic, and not a secular, state that grew out of the rubble of Baathism.
Meanwhile, in eastern Syria, something even more deadly was rising. Remnants of Saddam’s disbanded army had crossed the Iraqi border; ruthlessly eliminated the student groups responsible for the democratic rebellion; and allowed their fanatical Salafist understudies to announce the return of the long-dead Caliphate – the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
Enter Vladimir Putin. As long-time allies of the Syrians, and with radical Islamic terrorists of its own to worry about, Putin’s Russian Federation was willing to embrace what the Americans consistently refused to endorse – foreign military intervention.
Whatever else they may be criticised for, the Russians cannot be faulted for their grasp of war’s greatest priority: securing victory as swiftly as possible. Were the Americans only willing to immediately staunch the flow of arms to Assad’s enemies, then the slow torture of Aleppo could cease, and its interminable siege be lifted.
In the absence of decisive American action, however, the Russian and Syrian bombers will continue their deadly sorties.
And the awful images of war will continue to assault our eyes.
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 27 September 2016.


Patricia said...

And what about the Russian base in the Mediterranean near Aleppo. Sounds to me very similar to Crimea, which I believe, as I do here, is one of the purposes of the American and Russian aggression.. It is part of the old great plan. They are not concerned about those poor poor people.

Wayne Mapp said...

At least you recognise that Assad operates with grim determination. Some hundreds of thousands of dead people are testimony to that.

It is also why Assad will not be given a blank cheque by the US to win the war, which would imply the US simply surrendering to Assad and Putin. It does not seem to me that either President Trump or President Clinton would do that. And in the meantime neither will President Obama.

In my view it is much more likely that Syria will be cantonised, with Assad in the east, the US supported insurgents in the centre and the Kurds in the west. A bit like Bosnia.

This is not an ideal outcome. Bosnia has never really recovered in part because the two parts of Bosnia hardly talk or trade with one another. But it is probably the only sustainable outcome.

Getting to this solution will not be easy. Assad obviously wants Aleppo, and it looks like he will get it. As David Shearer has noted civil wars end when one side wins, or when a when it is obvious they can't win and partition results. Assad is likely to win in Aleppo - in fact maybe they should surrender on terms.

The US clearly will not bomb Assad's forces around Aleppo (mistakes not withstanding), so surrender of Aleppo seems inevitable.

The US and Russia need to work out where sustainable cease fire lines can be drawn. These would become the canton borders. It implies transgressions across these borders won't just involve local forces, they will involve their sponsors - Russia for Assad, the US for the insurgents. Unlike Russia, the US has the complication of ISIS. The US is progressively defeating ISIS, but obviously new forces then take control of the areas where ISIS is displaced. This would be (and already is) the US backed Kurds in the north east, the US backed insurgents in other places, and probably in the future an acceptance of Assad in others.

Polly said...

Chris, an excellent summary and a telling piece of writing.
In my opinion the Americans have simply got it wrong with their regime change policies in the Middle East, starting with Iraq, Afghanistan and then Syria, the British parliament refused to endorse an American attack on Assad/ Damascus so the American backed away and have been supporting so-called Syrian freedom rebels with arms and expertise, many of these rebel groups have then on-sold these weapons to ISIS. These rebel groups are all supported by Saudi Arabia who want a strict Sunni Muslim state under Saudi influence.
Has you article clearly spells out the situation has become a tragic dogs breakfast of a war.
I blame the Americans, in my opinion the Americans must take a deep breath, turn there backs on the Saudi rebel groups, support the Russian offensive and keep secular Assad as President of Syria.

David Stone said...

Hi Chris
The first casualty of war is the truth. I would implore people to read not only what our mainstream and US and UK mainstream media tell us about this horror , but also what is told on counterpunch, global research , information clearing house, RT , sputnik and Fars , and get the other side's propaganda as well. Watching Kerry you could never imagine that USA would ever drop bombs on innocent children and hospitals could you? The hypocrisy is sickening.
Cheers David J S

Polly said...

Wayne Mapp
The Assad regime in Syria is secular and was pro-western in attitude before Saudi Arabia attacked Assad and his government by supplying and arming so-called freedom rebel groups.
The Assad government has fought and will continue to fight for their country, you and your American buddies have got it wrong.
The Americans have got blood on their hands.

Unknown said...

"Whatever else they may be criticised for, the Germans cannot be faulted for their grasp of war’s greatest priority: securing victory as swiftly as possible. Were the Soviets only willing to immediately staunch the flow of arms to Franco's enemies, then the slow torture of Madrid could cease, and its interminable siege be lifted.

In the absence of decisive American action, however, the German and Italian bombers will continue their deadly sorties."

Sound familiar?

Polly said...

Patricia, you seem to be anti-Russian, why? without the Russian defeat of the Hitler fascist armies on the Eastern Front in the second world war the western world would not be enjoying the freedoms that democracy allows.
In Europe 80% of the war was fought on the Eastern Front.
22 million Russians lost their lives in repelling and then beating Hitlers armies.
Lets show a little respect to our Russian saviours.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Polly, it's quite possible to be grateful to the Russian people for essentially winning World War II, while disapproving of the Russian regime/s which that were/are antidemocratic. And while the Assad regime in Syria has been secular, it is also antidemocratic. Unfortunately, some countries only seem to be able to be held together by antidemocratic dictators. Heaven help me I'm agreeing with Wayne that the best solution would probably be Balkanisation. But unlike him, I doubt that is going to happen.

pat said...

a plague on all their houses

Nick J said...

"The US is progressively defeating ISIS". Do you know something that we are not being told Wayne? I was under the impression maybe wrongly that Russian intervention and hard-nosed "diplomacy" with Turkey was what turned off the cash and arms supplies to ISIS. I maybe wrongly concluded that the US could have achieved the same result well before Vladimir intervened. Can you disable my conclusions Wayne?

Victor said...


Respect isn't something you should inherit.

I yield to no-one in my admiration for the achievements of the Soviet armed forces in World War Two. But there can't be too many veterans of Stalingrad, Kursk or the battle for Berlin still alive. Their grandchildren or great-grandchildren (be they Russian, Ukrainian, Kazakh, Georgian or whatever)are no more entitled to respect than anyone else.

Besides, respect should not include a free pass to do whatever suits you, a consideration that also applies to the United States.

And while the Syrian Ba'athist regime may be secularist in style, it's leadership is drawn primarily from one particular religious community. Moreover, its triumph would be an undoubted boost for the regionally disruptive forces of militant Shi-ism, as manifested by Assad's allies in Hezbollah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.

This might be the best result on offer but it's a guarantee of neither regional tranquility nor a humane settlement for Syria's sorely afflicted (primarily Sunni) population.

Dammit, GS, I find myself agreeing with both you and Wayne about Balkanisation being a better solution, although that too is far from ideal and also unlikely to be the end result.

Can the US just cut and run, as Chris suggests, without dangerously further damaging its relationship with Saudi Arabia and driving the latter into a more Islamist direction? Frankly, I doubt that too.

Polly said...

Victor, as you know there was hardly a family in the Soviet Union that was not touched by the second world war, survivors and their children's children are the present day leaders of Russia, we must always respect the struggles of the Soviet/ Russian peoples in the second world war and its aftermath.
The aftermath included persecution of their country by the western world by a iron curtain placed by America and Britain and followed in the main by the rest of the developed world.
In addition to the horrors of the German attack upon their Country and the blockade of their trade with the West, Russia has survived and is putting up the best and most comprehensive way of defeating ISIS and this means defeating Saudi Arabian financed rebels and keeping Assad in power.
Because of its importance in the defeat of Nazism in the second world war and the Russian leadership in Syria, I will give respect to the Russians because of their inheritance.
Russia is now taking its rightful place in world affairs and powerful western countries do not like it so we must suffer western democracies propaganda aimed at stopping Russian influence.
They like you are to late.

Patricia said...

Oh Polly, I apologise for seeming to appear anti Russian in my comment. That wasn't what I intended. I believe we do not get the truth from our media and, I suppose, neither do the Russian people. What I was trying to emphasise was the great powers, and that includes England, France and all their lackeys are willing to play their games in any country and do not care who they kill and what they destroy in the process.

Paulus said...

Could it not be that Putin now having the US in a corner prior to the US Election is quite happy to continue to embarrass the US, as he has been doing for some time.

greywarbler said...

Victor -
I yield to no-one in my admiration for the achievements of the Soviet armed forces in World War Two. But there can't be too many veterans of Stalingrad, Kursk or the battle for Berlin still alive. Their grandchildren or great-grandchildren (be they Russian, Ukrainian, Kazakh, Georgian or whatever)are no more entitled to respect than anyone else.

I don't agree with the extent of the point you make. Those who have died, or been injured and suffered in some conflict and their children affected by their actions, are entitled to be remembered with consideration and respect. They have a human investment in the conflict at the expense of part or all of their lives and deserve to have more respect shown to them than just anybody else who happens along.

Victor said...


I would agree that trauma often has multi-generational consequences and that it particularly behoves the leaders of nations with relatively fortunate histories to take into account the sensitivities of the traumatised.

The US and the UK have certainly failed to show such sensitivity in their treatment of post Communist Russia and are therefore partially responsible for the rise of an increasingly forceful anti-Western Russian nationalism.

But I don't see why the victims of multi-generational trauma deserve more respect than anyone else, even though, from a point of view of both humanity and good policy, they might sometimes require more consideration.

And, by the way, if trauma alone creates a right to respect, then surely the often conflicting painful memories of Ukrainians, Poles, Czechs, Slovaks and the various Baltic nationalities create similar entitlements. For that matter, so do the inherited traumas of the current generation of Germans.


As someone who traveled widely in Eastern Europe under the Pax Sovietica, I can no more accept your potted history of the Cold War than I could the rival simplicities of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty.

Moreover, I would be more than happy to see Russia, a country I much admire, taking on a more prominent role in the world. The questions remain of where and how.

As to the conflict in Syria, it's essentially part of a region-wide religious struggle between the two main branches of Islam.

Russia's support of Assad might yet succeed in helping him win the current round of fighting. But his largely Alawite ruling clique has probably lost any legitimacy it might once have had in the minds of its majority Sunni subjects. And so, the next round of fighting will not, alas, be far away.

Charles E said...

Bit of a love fest from Polly, Pat & gw for Russia eh.

That was not Chris’ point at all. He is rightly pointing out that the lesser of two evils was the existing regime in Syria. Maybe on thin ice there because perhaps that applies to all countries in that region including the awful Saudis. Egypt now? Iran? Anyway it was a sound essay I reckon.

But since the posters have been allowed to go off-piste I will reply to their fawning before the Russian beast.
Just been watching our obviously Western biased MSM report on the Dutch investigation into the shooting down of that MAS flight. Clearly the US government runs TV One eh Polly.
The awful MSM showed a clip from Russia where a lovely decent Nazi beating Putin spokesman said no missile launchers were over the border. Oh fine. Silly CIA controlled Dutch. Yet we see video of that! Lots of it. Even it launch. But the Russians say they have evidence of a Ukrainian launch. So surely the Dutch have received such evidence? Actually no. None. Nikto. Clearly the CIA has stopped them getting it from the misunderstood Russians. Heroic Russians, no less.

Then just the other day a similar load of eyewash from the Russians who claim innocence re the killing of aid convey people.... Again they say they have evidence ..... but even a Russian NGO blames them. They will be dead soon I expect.
So you really think they are deserving of any respect? Really think 75 years ago Stalin heroically sacrificing 20m people after signing a pack with Hilter entitles respect for Putin’s Russia today? Bugger off. And actually if the Germans had beaten Russian the West would still have defeated them, and got rid of murderous communism perhaps too. They may have had to nuke the Nazis I admit. But the US military industrial machine would have eventually won.

The hatred within a good chunk of the left for the US and the dreamy bowing before the Russians etc is so so telling of your permanently distorted world view.
Both sides are blunt, brutal and often dumb as. But only one has every chance of electing a second in a row progressive (in the true sense of the word) leader. Flawed, but progressive nation.
But surely Russia and China too, are now sort of National Socialist don’t you think Polly? Like Baarthism actually. Support them? Apologists before, and still. Like Keith Locke when the Soviets (Russia) invaded Afghanistan and started the whole terrible Islamist curse off.

I'd rather be an apologist for the damn Yanks. At least they have plenty of people including leaders who admit their nation's faults, particularly the one of supporting Islamo-fascists. But incredibly, they don't get mysteriously locked up, shot or poisoned for doing so.

Steve Withers said...

Assad, bad as he may be, has strong support among more secular Syrians (be they Christian or Muslim) who have no desire to be governed by an Islamic regime with a proven history of barbarism as bad, or worse, than Assad's.

The US has no worthy allies here. No one to carry the flag of democracy and tolerance. In fact....a secure Assad is as close as they may get for a decade or two. Or the US can continue to support Al Qaeda, defacto ISIS....and fellow travellers. Not a good look....when the result would be many more dead under such a regime should they allow to to come into being.

Victor said...

Steve Withers

More than 70% of Syrians are Sunni of varying degrees of religiosity. Assad's allies include militant Shia (e.g. the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and Hezbollah). Holding down the former with the help of the latter is not a recipe for tranquility.

I agree that the US should never have allowed itself to be sucked into someone else's relgious war. Moreover, it's inevitably found itself with some fairly atrocious allies.

Even so,the notion that Russia can impose a stable and peaceful regime on Syria is simply not tenable.

Chris Trotter said...

I think you are underestimating the war-weariness of the Syrian people, Victor.

The Russians sense that bringing the war to a swift conclusion (as they did in Grozny, and in Chechnya generally) is now the only way to end the suffering.

Those who share the conviction of the loathsome US Ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, that justice must be done - though the heavens fall! - are seldom to be found living in the rubble.

The first and only legitimate priority in any war is to end it as quickly as possible. If that means refusing to be deflected by the US and Gulf States-backed Jihadis' ruthless and cynical exploitation of their human shields in East Aleppo, then so be it.

Victor said...

Well, Chris, if the Russians do indeed win the current round of fighting, then I hope you'll be proved right about it leading to peace in Syria..... even if that also means the continuance of the Ba'athist/ Alawite despotism and the further subversion of regional stability by Iran and Hezbollah.

But I really doubt that a long-standing peace will be part of the equation, though I'd be delighted to be proved wrong.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Ah well, as Madeline Albright said – half a million children dead – it was worth it. I mean, even if as they say there weren't half a million dead children, it still shows the intense callousness of the American political class when it comes to people who aren't white and Christian.