The new US ‘solution’ for Syria has to be one of the worst ideas ever

Bashar al-Assad and Mohammad bin Salman
Ed Sykes

The latest US plan for ‘stabilising’ Syria has got to be one of the worst ideas ever.

Essentially, Donald Trump’s government wants to send the arsonists in to deal with the fire. And its plan would almost certainly add even more disaster to the already tragic Syrian conflict.

The worst possible plan for Syria?

Trump’s cabinet of warmongers is reportedly pushing for an ‘Arab coalition‘ to enter Syria as a ‘stabilising force’ after the approaching defeat of Daesh (Isis/Isil). Prolific human rights abuser Saudi Arabia would likely lead this force.

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Riyadh seems happy to oblige, and is even trying to bully neighbours like Qatar into getting involved.

The idea of sending a Saudi-led force into Syria, however, is mindbogglingly stupid – for a number of reasons.

The reasons

  1. Yemen. The Saudi regime is the leading force in the war in this country. And the UN’s secretary-general has called it “the world’s worst humanitarian crisis”. Just in the last week, the Saudi-led bombing campaign has killed at least 45 civilians – including children.
  2. Priorities. Since the start of Syria’s war, Saudi Arabia and other regional powers have been fuelling the opposition to the Assad regime. This has helped escalate the conflict into the bloody disaster it is today. And experts say the focus of these powers is still on defeating Assad rather than groups like Daesh.
  3. Terror links. Saudi Arabia has spread its state ideology of Wahhabism around the world for decades, using billions of petrodollars to do so. And while the ideology isn’t the only driving force behind terrorism, both al-Qaeda and Daesh subscribe to it. One senior Qatari official has actually claimed the latter began as “a Saudi project“ (Qatar’s ‘project’ was allegedly al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra). High-level US leaks published by WikiLeaks, meanwhile, have described: Saudi Arabia and Qatar as providing “clandestine financial and logistic support” to Daesh; and “donors in Saudi Arabia” constituting “the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide”.

Need more?

  1. Sectarianism. Syria’s got enough of it already, and a sectarian Saudi regime is only likely to make things worse. Riyadh is currently persecuting its domestic Shia population. And Al-Monitor reports that it’s “pursuing the most virulent anti-Iran and anti-Shiite policy in modern Saudi history”.
  2. Turning a cold war hot. Saudi Arabia and Iran have been fighting a cold war for decades. And it’s been hotting up recently. But the presence of Iranian troops in Syria means that direct conflict between Riyadh and Tehran would be a strong possibility if Saudi troops entered the country.
  3. Foreign vs local. US troops are currently giving temporary strategic support to Kurdish-led fighters in northern Syria – the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) – in their fight against Daesh. The focus of these local forces has not been to fight against Assad, but to defend themselves from Daesh-style terrorism. They are also building a secular, feminist, multi-ethnic, and democratic system that opposes religious discrimination. So if foreign fighters enter their communities from authoritarian countries built on religious and sexual chauvinism, harmony is hardly likely.

Saudi crimes vs Syrian crimes

The Intercept‘s Mehdi Hasan recently spoke out against apologists for the crimes of both the Saudi and Syrian regimes. And he’s right. Because no progressive person should see either of them as allies. If we condemn the war crimes and collective punishment of regimes in Israel, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and elsewhere, we must also condemn Syria for doing the same.

True – in the decades before Syria’s current war, the Assad dynasty had improved health indicators (its healthcare system was reportedly “the envy of the Middle East”). And it displayed consistent support for Palestinians against Israeli occupation, while receiving praise for its secularism.

But the Ba’ath regime was always authoritarianrepressive, and corrupt. And it increasingly took a neoliberal path in the 21st century – cutting public spending and allowing increased privatisation. These ‘reforms’ contributed to decreasing living standards and growing public anger. The absence of citizenship rights for the country’s Kurdish population, meanwhile, left 300,000 to 500,000 people stateless for decades. The Kurdish language was also prohibited under the Ba’ath party; and an Arabisation policy saw Arab settlers arrive in Kurdish communities and town names changed. Bashar al-Assad only took measures to address these issues after the start of the 2011 protests against his rule.

The figures from the ongoing civil war, meanwhile, speak for themselves. Hundreds of thousands of civilians have died; and different groups recording the statistics agree that the Syrian government is responsible for most of these deaths. There’s no way to argue those figures away.

Assad’s crimes don’t make escalation a solution

To end the suffering and destruction in Syria, we need to consider several important points first:

  • The rush to escalate in Syria creates a real risk of bringing the US and Russia to the brink of a near-apocalyptic nuclear war.
  • 1980s CIA memos show early US discussions about regime change in Syria, and how an Islamist opposition would be key. When interference stepped up from 2011 onwards, the result of America’s ultra-conservative regional allies strengthening and maintaining anti-Assad groups would be that at least 60% of them reportedly had similarly extremist views to Daesh and al-Qaeda by 2015. In short, the main opposition aren’t progressive actors, and they’re far from innocent. And the consequences of foreign intervention and escalation have been disastrous.
  • Considering the sectarian nature of the main anti-Assad opposition, what would realistically replace Assad? As veteran journalist Patrick Cockburn asked in 2013, “Does anybody really think that peace would automatically follow? Is it not far more likely that there would be continued and even intensified war, as happened in Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003?” As The Canary has consistently reminded readers, the invasion of Iraq was an absolute catastrophe, and gave the forerunners of Daesh fertile ground to grow.

Not enough reasons? How about:

  • Where’s the consistency? Where’s the respect for international law? If we bomb Syria because of human suffering, why don’t we bomb Saudi Arabia, Israel, or Turkey for the same reason? And how can we trust our politicians’ commitment to humanitarianism when they sell weapons and components to repressive regimes (including Syria at one point) – to the immense benefit of their friends in powerful arms companies – but then fail miserably at helping the people who suffer as a result.
  • Many pundits pushing for war really don’t understand Syria, and throw critical thinking out of the window as soon as the war bells ring. So we can’t trust them. High-level government figures have questioned the available evidence of illegal weapon usage, and we should too. Reasonable doubts from independent academics, journalists, military figures, and politicians should seal the deal.

A real solution

War is always horrific. Western governments once thought it was fine to kill up to 25,000 people in three days (Dresden, 1945) and almost 200,000 people with just two nuclear strikes (Hiroshima and Nagasaki, 1945). We should think carefully, compassionately, and logically about the least violent path to peace.

One CNN report described the US plan for a foreign Arab force in Syria as an attempt to ‘fill the void’ when the US leaves. But the truth is that there wasn’t a void when the US entered; and there won’t be a void when it leaves. In northern Syria, at least, there are local people on the ground who have been standing their ground against terrorism for years, and who have been building their own political alternative to counter the hate spread by religious, sexual, and ethnic chauvinists. Rather than pushing for more foreign intervention, we need to recognise and support these people. They’re the only truly ‘moderate’ political movement offering a way forward.

At the same time, the West needs to stop selling arms to the countries – like Saudi Arabia and Turkey – which have been fuelling the Syrian conflict from the very start. Peace talks must be a priority; and instead of continuing to exclude the Kurdish-led forces of northern Syria, we must insist on their participation.

Then, after the war, the international community can hold all those responsible for war crimes to account.

These steps aren’t easy. But they’re a thousand times better (and much less destructive) than America’s latest plan. And until our politicians make the leap and choose peace over war, we have a duty to make sure they get no rest.

Get Involved!

– In the UK, ask Theresa May and your MP to push for the steps outlined above. In the US, contact your representative and senator.

– Support Campaign Against Arms Trade.

Featured image via Kremlin/Wikimedia and Jim Mattis/Wikimedia

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