Syria air strikes: Bashar al-Assad is not the ‘lesser evil’, but a major part of the problem

A Western alliance with Assad would be based on two colossal misunderstandings of the situation in Syria.

A Western alliance with Assad would be based on two colossal misunderstandings of the situation in Syria

Just over a year ago David Cameron was considering air strikes on Syria after the dictatorship of President Bashar al Assad dropped chemical weapons on civilians in a suburb of Damascus.

Today, in a quicker about-face than an MP dragged in front of the courts for fiddling his expenses, there are calls from senior politicians for the West to adopt Assad as an ally in the fight against the fanatics of the so-called Islamic State (IS).

Indeed, just this week Sir Christopher Meyer, the former British Ambassador to the United States, was on BBC News talking about working with Assad to defeat IS because the Syrian President is, in the well-known formulation, the “lesser evil”.

It isn’t difficult to see the logic here: the much talked about lesser evil does after all mean…well, less evil. Assad may be a bad guy et cetera, but at least he’s a “rational actor”, as the academics like to say.

Yet the idea of the Syrian Ba’ath party as a kind of rough-around-the-edges friend in the fight against IS is based on two colossal misunderstandings of the Syrian civil war and its spread into Iraq.

The first is the assumption that Assad actually wants to defeat IS, when in truth the disappearance of the jihadists from Syria would leave his regime dangerously exposed. With IS out of the way, Assad goes back to being the man who drops chemical weapons on children. Damascus has every reason to want to persuade the West that the uprising against his government is dominated by extremists, and therefore he has every reason to want IS to stick around.

Don’t believe me? Then take look at what we already know.

In Iraq al-Qaeda lived “pretty openly on the Syrian side” and without objection from the Syrian authorities, according to a top US commander in Anbar Province. Assad has also saved the most savage aerial bombardments for Free Syrian Army (FSA) positions while only very recently going after IS (no doubt with Western onlookers in mind). And then there are the purported oil deals that have taken place between IS, Jabhat al-Nusra and the regime in Damascus, raising millions for the jihadists.

If you’re still not convinced, listen to Nawaf al-Fares, the defected former Syrian ambassador to Iraq, who claims the Syrian government “would like to use Al-Qaeda as a bargaining chip with the West…to say: ‘it is either them or us.’”

And it’s working. The Free Syrian Army, the more moderate grouping that at one time dominated the various rebel factions, has been written out of history, with those fighting Assad crudely lumped together with the lunatics of IS.

The other misunderstanding  is that support for tyranny and dictatorship won’t cost us in the future. We in the West should know different by now.

One of the biggest mistakes during the Cold War was to follow the advice of US neo-Conservative and Ambassador to the United Nations Jeane Kirkpatrick. The Kirkpatrick doctrine had it that the West should support dictatorships in the “third world” so long as they were sufficiently anti-communist.

Death squads and summary executions were fine – so long as they were our death squads and summary executions. President Ronald Reagan, a devotee of Kirkpatrick, famously backed the racist Apartheid South African regime because it was, he said, “a country that has stood by us in every war we’ve ever fought”. A similar rational was evoked when the US propped up tyrants in Chile and Guatemala.

These gruesome alliances between strange bedfellows came with a cost attached. Not only in terms of the mountain of corpses left behind by the West’s allies and the purveyors of a so-called “lesser evil”, but in relation to how we came to be viewed in many parts of the world.

We were cynical, unprincipled and willing to sell out our supposed values for short-term expediency. This helped to swell the ranks of communist and anti-western movements for obvious reasons: to many the West became everything the communists said they were One needn’t be an all-seeing visionary to hazard a guess at how a western alliance with Assad – a man who has spent the past three years slaughtering Sunni Muslims (among others) – would go down in the Middle East.

Assad needs the West (or he at least needs the West to put up with him), but he also needs IS. The view from Damascus is probably that allowing the jihadists to rampage through a fairly insignificant part of northern Syrian is a price worth paying if it helps the regime to go, in just 12 short months, from an international pariah to the bulwark against fanaticism. Assad is not in any sense a “lesser evil”. He is part of the problem. What a shame to see so many falling for his game.

This piece was first published in the Independent

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17 Responses to “Syria air strikes: Bashar al-Assad is not the ‘lesser evil’, but a major part of the problem”

  1. CGR

    Given the alternative of chaos and islamic barbarism, I would say that Assad is indeed the least worst solution to the Syria problmen and he should be supported.

    Just look at what has happened in the other middle-eastern states that suffered an “Arab Spring” !!!

  2. Leon Wolfeson

    So basically, you want to ally with him and his Islamists. To ally with the man who started the civil war and the chaos in Syria. This to you, is “least worse”.

    And yea, how dreadful, there’s been some nasty dictators and strong men removed. Can’t be allowed, etc.

  3. Leon Wolfeson

    No ****. And allying with him is very arguably complicity in his war crimes and use of poison gas, too, and I’m not shy of saying it.

    “to many the West became everything the communists said they were One needn’t be an all-”

    I think you’re missing a full-stop between were and One there.

  4. David Lindsay

    Quite what you would have done in either World War, heaven alone can begin to speculate.

    There is no Third Force. There never has been. There never will be. Anyone who thinks that elderly émigrés sipping coffee in Paris amount to a row of beans, coffee or otherwise, in Syria needs to get out of not even the student union, but the primary school playground.

    And stop telling lies about the chemical weapons attack, which was launched by the side that you were then not only backing, but encouraging Britons and go and join. They did.

  5. ChrisEstMonNom

    You won’t stop till the whole world’s in flames, will you?

  6. TN

    Do you ever contribute anything on here other than shouting the odds like a mad man?? Stop it already it’s making my head hurt.

  7. TN

    That’s the beauty of this website when reading most of its bull on foreign policy…

  8. TN

    Agreed, but don’t expect any understanding about this this view by the simpletons on this site who view foreign policy in such black and white terms.

  9. Leon Wolfeson

    No, that’s your choosing to slamming your head into the wall repeatedly, as you scream “be silent” at the top of your voice and spew your far right, totalitarian, social darwist slogans, LordBlagger.

    No surprise you can’t tolerate any other views, or in this case just a summary statement of what someone else has called for.

  10. Guest

    Yes, there’s always room for people to support murdering dicators in your “revised” version of events, as you spew your garbage about how people who are not automagically in favour of as many dead civilians as possible are “simpletons”.

  11. Guest

    No, that’s YOUR website. Not this one. No wonder you’re confused.

  12. Guest

    There are always two sides for you, black and black. One must support mass murder, one must ally with those whose views are abhorant to anyone civilised in your world, as you spew your excuses for Assad, whose WMD usage you evidently so heartily approve of.

    You are no better than any other Islamist in the service of a foreign power.

  13. swat

    Assad is the solution. As was Saddam and Gadaffi. and Mubarak. They may have been brutal dictators, but they unmderstood the mentallity of the Arab, and managed to keep their jigsaw of a country together. Gadaffi also had a vision of a secular UAR stretching from the Med down to Sahara, bringing the Arabs together under one head. The Americans and Brits were laughing at the idea then, but they’re not laughing now.

  14. Guest

    Ah, the view that Arabs are naturally inferior and have a lesser “mentality”. Good eugenics.

    Assad did not manage to keep his country together. He stated a civil war because he was so afraid of the Arab Spring he cracked down, hard.

    No dictator or tyrant fails to get your praise, all hail the Chlorine Bombers!

  15. Saliba khoury

    Assad should not have the opportunity to stay any longer. Most people in the Arab world believe that he should be removed, together with his whole entourage, since they are more evil than ISIS. He is no Palestine liberator nor a nationalist Syrian. He destroyed Syria beyond repair.
    When he falls no Iranian or Russian should stay in Syria, they will be slaughtered by the people. It will take a long time to heel the wounds. ISIS-free Syria is back to the status co. ISIS-Assad-free Syria is a better option.

  16. JoeDM

    Very true.

  17. Antoine

    Assad didn’t start the civil war. The “moderate” Syrian rebels that rape and behead Christians are from Saudi Arabia. So this isn’t a civil war and this is a Saudi invasion. The media gets paid to bash Bashar Al-Assad who was fairly voted into president by the Syrian people. It isn’t the USA’s job to step in and choose for our interests. Everybody in Syria loves Assad. He’s a smart guy and he runs his country well. BTW he never used chemical weapons ever. There is no proof against that. It was the “moderate” Syrian rebels that are jihadis that behead Christians and rape them that used the chemical weapons.

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