US and Europe throw Syrians to the wolves
Linda S. Heard, Arab News
Tuesday 23 July 2013
SYRIA’S devastation is yet another example of the evils of foreign interference in a nation’s internal affairs. A popular “Arab Spring” uprising morphed into a bloody civil war due to Bashar Assad’s arrogance who disingenuously termed the opposition “criminals,” “terrorists” and “foreign agitators” from the outset. Sadly, it wasn’t long before his calculated false branding of ordinary citizens seeking political plurality became a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s not really helpful to indulge in what ifs but if Assad had truly loved his nation, he could have spared it from going over the precipice by stepping aside, thus leaving the way for free and fair elections. Alternatively, Syria’s army chiefs could have come to the rescue by choosing to support the people’s will rather than the despot’s, an option the Egyptian military has twice taken during the past two-and-a-half years.
Syria is now a magnet for various shades of extremist militias from Jabhat Al-Nusra that has sworn allegiance to Al-Qaeda chief Ayman Al-Zawahiri, to fighters from Al-Qaeda in Iraq that battle alongside the Free Syrian Army. In Assad’s camp are Hezbollah’s military wing, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and militant Iraqi Shiite groups. The regime has rightly been condemned for committing war crimes and for using chemical weapons, but the inescapable truth is that atrocities — torture, mass executions, beheadings, car bombs, forced conscription of child soldiers — are also being committed by Assad’s opponents who’ve also been indicted for chemical weapons use. The sight of an FSA rebel cannibalizing the corpse of a government soldier, captured on video, was a blow to the Syrian National Council’s (SNC) moral platform.
If anyone thought the situation couldn’t get any more confused, they were wrong. In recent times, outright enmity between The Free Syrian Army and Al-Qaeda rebels has developed. The FSA is said to have armed “Al-Qaeda in Iraq” fighters which turned those same guns on an FSA commander, Kamal Hamami, for suggesting that Al-Qaeda wasn’t welcome within opposition forces. The FSA announced a declaration of war against Al-Qaeda and its co-ideologues Jabhat Al-Nusra. Likewise, Kurdish gunmen from northeastern Syria have been battling to expel Al-Qaeda from the province of Hassakeh and have faced off against Jabhat Al-Nusra jihadists close to the border with Turkey. According to one of Asharq Al-Awsat’s sources, Al-Qaeda is poised to declare an Islamic state in northern Syria with an announcement timed to coincide with the end of Ramadan.
The US, Britain and Europe don’t have clean hands either. They were quick to throw support behind the SNC and its Free Syrian Army, gleeful at the prospect of the toppling of Assad perceived as a fly in the ointment of their regional hegemony as well as a threat to their ally Israel. With the West applauding their efforts and promising success, the SNC believed its goals were guaranteed. After all, what regime could endure against the US and its allies who didn’t hesitate to “free” Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya from dictatorship? By comparison, ousting the Assad regime would be a genuine cakewalk – or so its antagonists must have hoped in those heady early days of the SNC’s formation. Most of the world, including the majority of UN Security Council member countries and the Arab League that gave Syria’s seat to the opposition — strongly backed them.
Unfortunately, the optimists in Washington and London failed to foresee that Moscow, whose geopolitical influence and economic interests were undercut by the 2003 Iraq war, would stand firm against Western military intervention. In an attempt to bypass Russia’s red line, Israel has launched several attacks on Syrian military facilities to goad Assad into retaliating which would have paved the way for an Israeli onslaught under the banner of self-defense, allowing the US and NATO to rush to Israel’s aid. But, until now, Assad has been too savvy to take the bait.
President Obama’s policy on Syria has been ambiguous to say the least. He’s had plenty to say on the topic, but, as usual, his bark has been worse than his bite. All he’s done is give the opposition false hope and wishy-washy promises. He’s ignored advice from experts in his own administration to get proactive and has been criticized by veteran Republican senator John McCain for sitting on his hands. McCain has railed against Obama’s inaction calling it “a disgrace.” The West has missed the opportunity to head off the growing influence of Islamist extremists “while we sit by and watch these people being massacred,” he said.
Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron who was one of the opposition’s most gung-ho supporters has turned tail. He’s reneged on his pledge to arm rebel fighters in case weapons fall into the hands of “the bad guys” — a U-turn that’s been condemned as treachery by the Free Syrian Army and one that serves to bolster Al-Qaeda. Cameron claims that the Assad regime is stronger than he was some months ago and admits he finds the picture “very depressing.” The UK “should have nothing to do” with opposition elements that has committed atrocities, but more should be done for those battling for a “free, pluralistic, democratic Syria,” he says. The problem is when opposition forces are such a mish-mash, defining good guys from bad is an art in itself.
The bottom line is that the Syrian people have been badly let down by foreign powers who hollowly urged them on to victory and by foreign fighters, there to implement their own ideological/religious agendas. When the dust ultimately clears it’s more than likely that Assad will preside over a devastated landscape, a broken economy and a people regretting their decision to put their faith in Western leaderships whose self interest always trumps humanitarian concerns.