OUT OF THE BOX: For Peace In Syria, Assad Must Go, By Majeed Dahiru
For peace and the restoration of Syria, the ruling Assad dynasty must give way. The violent crackdown on the majority of citizens seeking freedom from decades of suppression and totalitarian rule clearly challenges the legitimacy of Assad to continue to rule Syria. Out of desperation, he has used chemical weapons on his own people numerous times.
Like his election victory, many did not foresee President Donald Trump’s order of a strike targeted at military facilities that were believed to be useful to the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad, which was carrying out a series of deadly chemical attacks against its own civilian population. However for those who clearly understood the message of Trump, beyond the errors of fact and the inaccuracies of his often rancorous rhetoric, this military intervention didn’t come as a surprise. Whereas, Trump’s doctrine of ‘America first’ may suggest his administration’s lack of interest in matters that do not directly and indirectly affect America’s strategic economic and national security interests, the determination of making America great again may suggest an American intervention anywhere in the world to assert its leading role as a world power, and to protect the sanctity of a new world order. Trump’s twin broad based foreign policy direction may not always be mutually inclusive.
Therefore, it is clear that what is not playing out in Syria currently is Trump’s isolationist ‘America first’ doctrine. What is playing out is Trump’s determination to make America great again by intervening and standing up for humanity by confronting regimes that bring mass death upon their own people. By ordering the firing of 59 Tomahawk missiles on a Syrian air base, from where it was believed the Assad regime lunched deadly chemical attacks on a section of the civilian population, killing hundreds of men, women and children, the first firm step that will make America great again has been taken. America has a moral obligation to stand up for oppressed people anywhere in the world. This military intervention clearly took the Syrian regime and its allies by surprise because they were getting used to America’s complacency in the face of the mass murder of innocent citizens.
The war in Syria, which started in 2011 from a brutal crackdown of citizens protesting against the long and dictatorial rule of the Assad dynasty that has held onto power for over four decades, has escalated into a full blown civil war, with a sectarian undertone as the driving force. Hafez al-Assad, an air force general and veteran of the Arab-Israeli war, from the minority Alawite Shite community (of approximately three million out 17 million people) is the founder of the Assad ruling dynasty in Syria. He came to power through a military coup in 1970 and held on to power through a combination of brute force and suppression of popular dissent throughout the majority Sunni Syrian state. Conscious of his minority status, Hafez al-Assad built a massive and vicious security force, with officers and men drawn from the Alawite community whose loyalty could be guaranteed. In a single incidence in 1982, which was described as the Hama massacre, about 40,000 people, mostly of the opposition Sunni Muslim brotherhood group, were slaughtered as a result of their uprising against the regime.
The Trump administration has pulled the breaks on the fast declining American dominance as the leading power in world affairs. However, Russia and Iran have condemned the attacks as an aggression and violation of Syria’s sovereignty.
Upon the death of Hafez al-Assad in year 2000, his son Bashar took over the mantle of leadership, thereby setting the precedence of being the Arab world’s first successful non-royal ruling dynasty. Bashar maintained the inherited structure of a police state put in place by the elder Assad. Therefore, when the Arab spring spread to the Levant, it was met with brutal force in the Syrian province. The Syrian conflict has quickly transformed into a proxy war between the Shite Islamic Republic of Iran, which backs the Alawite Shite regime of Bashar al-Assad and is known to be fully committed to the export and promotion of Shia theology, not only in the Middle East, but in the larger Muslim world and the Arab Sunni Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and their allies in the gulf, who are equally determined to check the spread and influence of Iran around their traditional territorial sphere of influence.
Different reactions have trailed the strike on Syria. Americans at home, who are daily inundated with images of dying children from poisonous gases in Idlib, Homs, Aleppo and other cities, have generally approved the intervention. Close allies of the United States – the UK, Turkey, Australia, Saudi Arabia and other gulf countries – have equally welcomed and applauded the intervention. The majority Arab Sunni population of Syria, including secular and jihadist groups have also welcomed the long awaited American intervention. The Trump administration has pulled the breaks on the fast declining American dominance as the leading power in world affairs. However, Russia and Iran have condemned the attacks as an aggression and violation of Syria’s sovereignty. China has been more cautious by condemning the chemical attacks, while urging restraint on the use of force in the Syrian crisis. Some other independent analysts have questioned the veracity of the fact that chemical weapons were used by the Assad regime, suggesting its possible use by rebel groups or even the dreaded ISIS instead.
From matters arising from the recent strike on the Assad regime’s military facilities, it has become important to situate all the issues surrounding the Syrian conflict in proper perspective. The Syrian conflict is the continuation of a centuries old bloody schism among the Muslim ummah into the Shia/Sunni divide. The rise and rapid expansion of ISIS is a result of the legitimacy it enjoys among Arab Sunni Muslims who are in sympathy with their brethren under the yoke of the Iranian backed Shite oppressive regimes of Iraq and Syria.
The original focus of ISIS was Iraq and Syria but it expanded its deadly activities against Western nations and interests when the Obama administration tilted the balance of power in favour of the Shite power bloc in the Middle East, and in Syria in particular. This was by making a nuclear deal with Iran, refusing to impose a ‘no fly’ zone on Syria under the Assad regime, and reneging on its resolve to degrade the lethal capabilities of the regime if it crossed the red line set at the use of chemical weapons. To make matters worse, Russia appeared to have out-manoeuvred the United States, when it opted to broker a deal with the Assad regime, which resulted in the removal of the stockpiles of chemical weapons in its possession and the pledge to help Syria to defeat ISIS. However, under the pretext of fighting ISIS, Russia went beyond the assault on terrorists to attacks on the Syrian National Congress and other associated freedom fighting groups.
The beginning of the end of the Assad regime will not in any way strengthen ISIS… The intervention of the United States on the side of the people of Syria will drastically take the flame out of the burning fire of ISIS’ global anti-American radicalisation drive.
The Obama administration was not so diplomatic with ISIS. Without a direct provocation against the United States, the Obama administration deployed massive air power and logistics support for the Iraqi regime and Kurdish resistant group, the Pershmaga, to halt the multiple advances of ISIS towards Baghdad, and their ejection from Mosul. This would prove to be a deadly turning point in the Syrian conflict. The impression from Washington, as perceived in the Sunni Muslim world, was that, not only was America fighting Islam but anything symbolically identified as Islamic, even if not like ISIS. Furthermore, the inaction of the Obama administration against Assad’s murderous exploits in Syria against the majority Sunni population displeased the Arab Sunni kingdoms of the Middle East who are traditional American allies. These diplomatic misadventures of the Obama administration in Syria further fuelled the anti-American sentiments in the Sunni world and drew thousands of recruits to ISIS whose message has a mass appeal for radical Muslims globally.
For peace and the restoration of Syria, the ruling Assad dynasty must give way. The violent crackdown on the majority of citizens seeking freedom from decades of suppression and totalitarian rule clearly challenges the legitimacy of Assad to continue to rule Syria. Out of desperation, he has used chemical weapons on his own people numerous times. The doubt over the veracity of the allegations of the United States against the Assad regime over the use of chemical weapons is highly unfounded. The various groups, including ISIS, fighting the Assad regime lack the capabilities to lunch chemical attacks by air on the scale witnessed recently in Syria. If ISIS possessed chemical weapons and the capabilities to deploy them, they were unlikely to use these against fellow Sunni Muslims who are collectively against the Assad regime. Rather the terror group would have deployed the chemical weapons against strategic targets in government controlled areas in and around Damascus. If ISIS possessed chemical weapon capabilities, it would have used it against the Kurdish and Iraqi forces with who they are locked in a bitter battle over the control of Mosul.
The beginning of the end of the Assad regime will not in any way strengthen ISIS. The fall of Assad would have satisfied the original intention of the group, which was the dismantling of the shite regimes in Iraq, and particularly Syria. The intervention of the United States on the side of the people of Syria will drastically take the flame out of the burning fire of ISIS’ global anti-American radicalisation drive.