The Syrian war is at once incomprehensibly byzantine and very simple. It is complex in the number of countries involved, in the shifting and fragile internal alliances and resentments of the groups constituting the rebellion, in the threads of national interest that circle back and consume themselves like a snake eating its own tail. To take just one example: after a decade of friendly relations with Syria, Turkey turned on Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and decided to work toward his downfall, and Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan vowed that his country would “support the Syrian people in every way until they get rid of the bloody dictator and his gang.” Since then, Turkey has served as a staging ground for the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA), but it has also been repeatedly accused of funneling funds and arms to ISIS, which regularly attacks FSA bases and beheads the soldiers it captures. Turkey has provided military aid to the effort to combat ISIS, but it also devotes energy and resources to fighting Kurdish nationalists, who have been more effective in fighting ISIS than any other group to date. In November 2016, Erdoğan reiterated his determination to unseat Assad, saying Turkish forces had entered Syria in August 2016 for no other reason than to remove Assad from power. One day later, he retracted his statement and claimed Turkey’s military campaign in Syria had been designed solely to defeat ISIS, the terrorist group whose operations Turkey had at least tacitly and perhaps actively supported. Turkey is now working closely with Russia, which has done more than any other country to prevent Erdoğan from realizing his goal of bringing down Assad. Turkey is just one of at least nine countries involved in the conflict.
Tag Archives: Syria
Talk to Bashar al-Assad’s enemies, and they’ll tell you he’s to blame for every man, woman and child who has been killed in Syria. That’s 400,000. Or 450,000. Or 500,000. The figures, so carelessly put together by the media, the UN and the various opposition groups who naturally want the statistics to be as high as possible, now embrace 100,000 souls who may – or may not – be still alive. But death tolls have nothing to do with compassion. They are about blame, about culpability.
And the claim that Assad is responsible for every one of the dead rests on the notion that he ‘started the war’. In his case, this means that the arrest and torture – and in one case, reported killing – of a group of schoolchildren who had written anti-regime graffiti on a wall in the southern city of Dera’a, was the ignition switch for the mass opposition rallies and subsequent armed uprising which has devastated Syria. In the case of Dera’a, Assad realised the seriousness of the event – he fired the city governor and sent his deputy foreign minister, Faisal Mekdad to see the families. Too late.
It’s time America explored how to end the multiple wars it has helped cause since 2001, rather than dropping more bombs
War-whoops and loud applause from foreign policy establishments and their media supporters have greeted President Trump’s missile strike in Syria, the dropping of the world’s largest non-nuclear bomb on Afghanistan and the dispatch of a naval task force in the direction of North Korea.
This spurt in belligerence over the last week has as much to do with domestic American politics as any fundamental new development in the rest of the world. Trump needed to defuse the accusation that he was too close to President Putin and too tolerant of a Russian ally like Bashar al-Assad. The resort to military action was largely in keeping with the old Pentagon saying that “defence policy ends at the water’s edge”, meaning that it is politics inside, not outside the US, which is the real decision-maker.
If Trump cares so much about Syrian babies, why is he not condemning the rebels who slaughtered children?
It was the Mother of all Hypocrisy. Some dead Syrian babies matter, I guess. Other dead Syrian babies don’t matter. One mass murder in Syria two weeks ago killed children and babies and stirred our leaders to righteous indignation. But the slaughter in Syria this weekend killed even more children and babies – yet brought forth nothing but silence from those who claim to guard our moral values. Now why should this be?
When a gas attack in Syria killed more than 70 civilians on 4 April, including babies and children, Donald Trump ordered a missile attack on Syria. America applauded. So did its media. So did much of the world. Trump called Bashar al-Assad “evil” and “an animal”. The EU condemned the Syrian regime. Downing Street called the gas attack “barbaric”. Almost every western leader demanded that Assad should be overthrown.
When I wrote a few weeks ago that the Middle East would at some point reach out and grab America’s crackpot President, I never guessed it would do so at such speed. Nor that the entire fandango would come wrapped up in a Hitler fiasco which dumped the White House madmen back in another hole. Nor, indeed, that an American media which had identified Trump as insane should so quickly fall into line and regard the firing of 59 Cruise missiles at Syria as a change of US foreign “policy”.
Sometimes the right thing can be done by the wrong person. Donald Trump’s bombing of a Syrian airfield seems to belong in that category, though even that verdict depends on events yet to unfold. For one thing, we don’t yet know if the 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles that rained down on the Shayrat base in the early hours of Friday morning were a one-off or the start of something more.Antony Blinken, who served as Barack Obama’s deputy secretary of state, recalled that the US intervention in Libya, which he backed, began with a very narrow, legitimate goal – the protection of civilians from an imminent threat of slaughter – but “ended in regime change”. Blinken warned Trump of the dangers of “mission creep”, urging him “to avoid falling into an escalation trap.”
So now we know what it takes for an unhinged, bigoted demagogue to win liberal applause: just bypass a constitution to fire some missiles. It had seemed as though there was consensus among those in the anti-Trump camp. This man was a threat to US democracy and world peace. The echoes of 1930s fascist leaders were frightening. “This republic is in serious danger,” declared conservative writer Andrew Sullivan on the eve of Trump’s triumph. That this megalomaniac “pussy-grabbing” ban-the-Muslims ex-reality TV star would soon control the world’s most lethal military arsenal was chilling. Opposition would be uncompromising, a reflection of the Republican intransigence that Barack Obama faced from day one.It has taken less than three months for these illusions to be shattered. A man widely castigated as a proto-fascist only needed to drop bombs without observing due process.
Vladimir Putin can’t be pleased at President Trump’s decision to launch a missile strike against Syria—but he may not be all that despondent or panicked about it, either. On a basic level, Putin’s Kremlin is hostile to anything that suggests regime change: everything is Milosevic and Yugoslovia, Saddam and Iraq, and Qaddafi and Libya all over again. No matter where they are fired, or against whom, U.S. cruise missiles always raise these dark associations in the minds of Russia’s political élite. That is certainly how they were portrayed Friday on Russian state media. The head of RT said, with purposeful sarcasm, that now that Trump had “bombed someone someplace over there,” he had earned the support of the American press and political élite. Putin’s spokesman, meanwhile, said that the strike violated international law and would deliver a “significant blow” to relations between Russia and the U.S.
Syria crisis: G7 leaders couldn’t change Vladimir Putin’s mind on backing Assad – even if they wanted to
It is very unlikely that Russia will change its support for President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, despite calls to do so from foreign ministers from the G7 nations gathered in Italy in the aftermath of the use of poison gas in Syria and the US missile strikes.
Russia owes its return to great power status in the eyes of much of the world to its military intervention in Syria and will not want to change its previous stance. Mr Assad’s forces, which are backed by Russia, Iran, Hezbollah and Shia militias from Iraq, are close to winning the civil war and it is doubtful if President Putin, even if he wanted to, could remove the Syrian leader from power.
Donald Trump feels he had no choice but to launch air strikes on Syria – but the balance of power on the ground has not changed
President Donald Trump had little option but to order a missile strike against a Syrian airbase after holding Syria responsible for that poison gas attack on Khan Sheikhoun that killed 80 civilians. He had criticised President Obama for being weak, slow and indecisive when facing similar challenges, so he could scarcely do nothing when President Bashar al-Assad appeared to breach the agreement in 2013 to hand over all his chemical weapons to be destroyed.