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Work With Assad? A Monumental Mistake

HewarGuestsmGuest Writer Nehad’s Ismail’s response to Hamish de Bretton Gordon’s piece ‘Beat ISIS? It could take UK troops’.

I agree with what Hamish says in his excellent article in Tim Marshall’s theWhatandtheWhy except for working with Assad. I think this is the Russian plan all along. It is a trap for the West to bolster Assad, rehabilitate, and keep him in power.

The recent horrifying attacks in Paris has re-focused the spot-light on ISIS and its plans to take the war to Europe.

The beheading in the summer of 2014 of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff prompted the US to mobilise a broad coalition of allies to bomb ISIS bases in Iraq and Syria. This week UK Prime Minister David Cameron delivered a statement in the House of Commons after setting out a detailed, 32-page response to the influential Foreign Affairs Committee report on military action in Syria. In it he said Isis was “not a threat that can be negotiated away” and the only way to confront the threat of further terrorist atrocities in the West was “to deal with that reality” and “address the threat we face”.

Writing in Hamish de Bretton Gordon OBE suggests that –

‘Politically, we must enter into some uncomfortable alliances with Russia, Iran, and Assad – the latter being the most challenging. We must remember it is Isil threatening us in the UK and not Assad. However abhorrent the Syrian regime is, we are going to have to work with it for any chance of success’.

Hamish de Bretton Gordon is not alone, last year Sir Malcolm Rifkind, ex-chairman of the UK’s Intelligence and Security Committee proposed talking to Iran and working with Assad. A number of journalists and public figures from Lord Dannatt to Sir Christopher Meyer suggest similar alliances. But how to square an alliance with an acknowledged tyrant who is responsible for the death of over 200,000 Syrians using barrel-bombs and toxic gases?

Syria twoThe Assad regime committed unspeakable crimes against its own people, colluding with ISIS since August 2013. Ample documented evidence shows that the Assad regime never targeted ISIS but invariably attacked the Free Syrian Army, the only moderate rebel group in Syria fighting ISIS When ISIS seized oil wells the regime was its first customer, providing funding and support. Now Russia is doing the same. Until now the Russian air campaign has not seriously damaged ISIS, but targeted moderate rebels and bolstered the Assad regime. It is clear that Vladimir Putin is setting a trap for the West.

Some observers would like to see more Arab and regional involvement. Koert Debeuf, of the European Parliament’s Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe and author of “Inside the Arab Revolution” told Carnegie Europe in 2014: “Yes, Europe will go to war against the Islamic State –but it should not lead the campaign”. Europe, he argues, is already at war, albeit in a limited way. UK and France are supporting the US in stopping the march of ISIS into Kurdistan by launching air attacks and arming the Peshmerga (the Kurdish military), who are fighting the jihadists.

Even the hapless US Secretary of State Kerry is on record as saying: “Assad is the single biggest magnet for terrorists there is. He is a one-man super-magnet for terrorism. Before Assad started killing his own people, these terrorists were not in Syria.”

The debate continues, President Obama dithers, but what is certain is that action against ISIS must be taken, and very soon, without Assad.
Two years ago, the use of chemical weapons saved Assad’s regime, and now that regime is trying to survive on the back of the war against ISIS.

In the summer of 2013 David Cameron pledged his support to President Obama in confronting the Syrian regime. The pledge was wrecked by then then opposition leader Miliband, for narrow political advantage. Had action been taken 2 years ago, we wouldn’t have heard of ISIS.

The most cost effective and ethical strategy for the West is to ignore Assad and provide full military support to the FSA in Syria and to arm the Peshmerga in Northern Iraq. They can do the job themselves with air support from NATO.

Assad has mobilised every resource and every possible weapon, including poison gas, for use against the non-Islamist rebels. Day after day, his tanks, artillery and strike aircraft pound the remaining strongholds of the FSA and deliberately avoid direct confrontation with ISIS. For the last two years only the FSA and the Kurdish fighters have been battling ISIS on the ground.

The top priority now is the eradication of ISIS but without Syrian help – quite the reverse. The most pressing objective for the campaign should be the removal of ISIS’s key ally, the Assad regime.

Nehad Ismail


7 Comments on "Work With Assad? A Monumental Mistake"

  1. From what I have seen of every map of the territories held by the various forces at large in Syria it would seem that Syrian government and ISIL forces border each other in very few areas though I won’t profess to be an expert in the geographical niceties of Syria. The various groups which I will for simplicity put under the banner of the FSA seem to form a buffer between Assad’s troops and ISIL which will explain why they are being squeezed hardest. If buying oil from ISIL and killing your own citizens disqualified a regime from our support then we would currently be drafting our proposals to expel Turkey from NATO. What crimes any given regime commits has never figured in the policy decisions of the British government, if that was the case we would not have supported Saddam during the Iran Iraq war and indeed would not be supplying weapons and ammunition to the Saudi regime to bomb civilians in Yemen for example, true we hypocritically pay lip service to the idea but narrow (perceived) national interest whether judged correctly or not is the prime mover in all of these decisions. For the UK and the US there is no mileage in a unwinnable proxy war against Russia in Syria, furthermore Assad is not perceived to be a threat to the UK by the British public, what is perceived to be a threat is both ISIL training terrorists and hordes of refugees who are fleeing Syria arriving at Europe’s borders. The simple short term solution is to end the conflict as quickly as possible and then presumably down the line replace Assad with a similar puppet leader agreeable to the Russians, remember we don’t do long term strategy in the UK, US or France. Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan should provide ample proof of this if there was even any doubt.

    • I think that’s a fair assessment, Rob. Turkey intrigues me, though. An important part of NATO for symbolic reasons but also a buffer between the Middle East and Europe. That said: just can’t see what Turkey hoped to win by shooting down the jet. They’ve screwed their relationship with Russia and can’t have made many friends in the rest of NATO.

      Regarding bombing: I find it hard to justify bombing Syria knowing that each bomb costs the same amount of money as the local community centre needs to stay open. Cameron seems to have a Boy’s Own Weekly attitude to the army: send the SAS into every situation, just bomb to kill the leaders. If only it were that easy.

      At this stage, I really don’t think European leaders care too much about who rules Syria. They want the refugee crisis to end and, as I wrote weeks ago, if that means giving Russia more influence in the Middle East, I think they’ll consider that a price worth paying. The future of the global economy no longer rests in the Middle East.

  2. nehad ismail - United Kingdom | 29th November 2015 at 1:55 pm | Reply

    Thanks Rob. Whilst agreeing with a lot of what you say, I would like to comment on the point that “Assad is not perceived to be a threat to the UK”. Fair enough, but Assad’s barrel-bombs and poisonous gases forced millions of Syrians to flee to neighbouring countries and eventually to Europe. So we have a refugee crisis within the EU. Statistics show that only 5% of refugees said they were escaping ISIS and over 90% said they are escaping the Assad’s regime. So the most ideal solution in my humble opinion is for ISIS to be crushed and for Assad to step aside as agreed the the Geneva I conference on 30th June 2012 and also Geneva II in January 2014. The entire world accepted Geneva I and II EXCEPT: Iran, Russia and Assad himself. Does this surprise anyone?

  3. nehad ismail - United Kingdom | 29th November 2015 at 3:01 pm | Reply

    Thanks David. I don’t disagree. But to end the flow of refugees, the Syrian conflict must be ended. Some weeks ago Donald Tusk President of the EU Council was quoted as saying “If Assad stays in power, we shall see millions of refugees” heading for Europe.

    • To be honest, Nehad, that thought hadn’t occurred to me. But is there a solution that would keep people in the region? If much of this is tribal, based on ancient allegiances, could any new government in Syria satisfy all sides? What would a peaceful Syria look like?

  4. I think the problem is Nehad that whoever receives the backing of the international community it will inevitably lead to disastrous consequences where with the benefit of hindsight we will be saying in 10 years time we should have backed the other side. A civil war leaves deep scars and whoever ends up being the victor a large number of Syrians will find themselves suffering from terrible repression and retribution. We have seen this in Iraq with the Sunni population which eventually played such a crucial role in ISIL success there and to a lesser extent with the persecution of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. While the number of refugees fleeing Assad is huge, the number of Syrians remaining to support and fight behind his government is also considerable, with a victory for the FSA we could simply see a mass exodus of these people who would (justifiably I think) fear the vengeance of the victors. We would in effect be swapping one refugee crisis for another in the same way that in Kosovo we traded the ethnic cleansing of Albanians for that of Serbs. I have been fortunate and always lived in a democracy and so have never had to ask myself if I was willing to pay a price to achieve it in my country, I do wonder often though if the people who first set off on the road to overthrow a tyrant would have done so if they had comprehended where that journey would take their people and if they would still have considered it a price worth paying?

    I think you are correct David, Europe’s politicians just want this to go away now and don’t much care how that is achieved as long as it doesn’t involve any casualties on their side. I think the Turkish action was a prideful miscalculation by a leader made arrogant by his domestic stranglehold on power, he probably genuinely believed that this would stop the Russians bombing his allies. You must remember this is a man who sent his bodyguards to arrest an old woman in her own house because she had the temerity to gesture at him from her balcony and who when 311 miners perished in Soma due to his party ignoring calls to improve safety simply shrugged his shoulders to say that these disasters happen everywhere and to prove it reeled off a list of disasters in British mines….FROM THE 19th CENTURY.

    When looking at global politics I always keep in mind the proverb ‘my enemies enemy is my friend’ with that in mind I do wonder what the ‘West’s’ rapprochement with Iran can mean long term for Saudi Arabia and how much it is a subtle admission that an obsession with denying Russia and Iran influence has allowed the Saudis to light a bonfire in the region which has got a little out of hand to put it mildly.

  5. nehad ismail - United Kingdom | 29th November 2015 at 3:47 pm | Reply

    Both David and Rob make compelling arguments for non-intervention. I am for any steps that stop the slaughter of innocent people. David asks: is there any solution that would keep people in the region? this is the $64000 question. At this moment in time the only formula that can deal with the refugees and the conflict is Geneva I and II which have UN/US/EU and Arab League backing. To be honest guys, we need several articles of 2000 words each to cover the tricky issues raised by the comments of Rob and David. Thank you both.

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