The title of the talk was “The War in Syria Is Not Over,” but it was more like Nir Rosen’s valedictory address. For roughly 20 minutes, the gonzo war-journalist-turned-mysterious-diplomatic-operator—who counts top advisers to both former U.S. President Barack Obama and Syrian dictator Bashar Assad among his acquaintances and admirers—laid out his narrative of Syria’s civil war, the most lethal and defining conflict of the 21st century. In the speaker’s view, no one but he had gotten it right.
The U.S., Europe, and others that continued to sanction and isolate the Assad regime would be culpable for the “new social collapse” likely to follow Assad’s reconquest of much of his devastated country, Rosen told his audience at a Valdai Discussion Club event in Moscow in late February of 2019. “The same countries who claimed to care about the Syrian people and speak on their behalf supported insurgents, tried to overthrow the government and now are trying to starve Syrians,” the published version of the speech reads. “That the Syrian government behaved abhorrently does not justify the international intervention that followed and in fact the intervention helped cause these crimes.” The West’s motives for these ongoing “crimes” in the Levant were so obscure that they could only be described in theoretical terms. “Capitalism doesn’t work the same way everywhere,” he explained. “[T]he value of the Middle East is the accumulation of capital through war.”
In the text, one can forget Rosen is discussing a government that had murdered tens of thousands of people in a network of secret torture camps, bombed bread lines and hospitals, and gassed entire towns. In fact the Syrian dictator and his backers deserved thanks for defending the global order against the jihadist hordes at a steep cost in manpower and prestige. “The world owes Russia and Iran a debt of gratitude for preventing the collapse of the Syrian state,” Rosen said, to an audience that included senior Iranian and Russian foreign policy officials, as well as Robert Malley, the National Security Council’s Middle East director for most of Barack Obama’s second presidential term.