Who should rule Syria? Nobody
August 19, 2016 3 Comments
Here’s a bit of common sense:
The long civil war in Syria is still far from conclusion. Any real possibility of rebel victory ended with the entry of Russian forces last autumn — but while the initiative is now with the Assad regime, the government’s forces are also far from a decisive breakthrough. So who, if anyone, should the UK be backing in the Syrian slaughterhouse, and what might constitute progress in this broken and burning land?
It ought to be fairly obvious why a victory for the Assad regime would be a disaster for the West. Assad, an enthusiastic user of chemical weapons against his own people, is aligned with the most powerful anti–western coalition in the Middle East. This is the alliance dominated by the Islamic Republic of Iran.[…]
Not a friend of Western Freedom, then.
In November last year, David Cameron claimed to have identified 70,000 ‘moderate’ rebels ready to challenge Islamic State in the east of Syria. That figure was a myth. Yours truly was among the very first western journalists to spend time in Syria with the rebels. I recently returned from a trip to southern Turkey, where I interviewed fighters and commanders of the main rebel coalitions. With no particular joy but a good deal of confidence, I can report that the Syrian rebellion today is dominated in its entirety by Sunni Islamist forces. And the most powerful of these are the most radical.
The most potent rebel coalition in Syria today is called Jaish al-Fatah (Army of Conquest). It has three main component parts: Ahrar al-Sham (Free Men of the Levant), a Salafist jihadi group; Jabhat al-Nusra, until recently the official franchise of al–Qaeda in Syria, now renamed Jabhat Fatah al-Sham; and Faylaq al-Sham (Legion of the Levant), whose ideology derives from the Muslim Brotherhood branch of Sunni political Islam.
Nor here, either. I fail to see any reason we should not root for both of these bunches to lose. Nothing in either their belief systems or their actions leads me to believe they have anything in common with anybody concerned with freedom.
Like the author, I see no chance of Syria emerging from this mess as a unified state, that gone with the hot wind of war. Two of the contenders, one backed by Russia and Iran, the other by Saudi Arabia (and others) offer no chance of freedom to Syrians, or even much chance of living really. But there is a third choice, and amazingly, the US and the UK stumbled into them.
The West, too, has established a successful and effective patron-client relationship — with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces. Dominated by the Kurdish YPG, but including also Arab tribal forces such as the Sanadid militia, this is the force which is reducing the dominions of the Islamic State in eastern Syria, in partnership with western air power and special forces.
In contrast to the sometimes farcical attempts to identify partners among the Syrian Sunni rebels, the partnership with the Syrian Democratic Forces works. Weaponry does not get passed on to or taken by radical jihadi groups, because the SDF is at war with such groups. Training and assistance produces a united force with a single chain of command. And this force captures ground and frees Syrians living under the vicious rule of Isis.
I learned long ago, when I first read von Clausewitz, not to mention Liddell Hart, that one is wise to reinforce success and starve failure. This would appear to be a very good example of this, And so we should.
What matters is that three outcomes be avoided: the Assad regime should not be permitted to reunite Syria under its rule, the Islamist rebels should similarly not be allowed to establish a jihadi state in the country, and the Islamic State should not be permitted to remain in existence. By strengthening the alliance with the SDF, utilising it and its allies to take Raqqa and destroy Isis in the east, and then allowing its component parts to establish their rule in eastern and northern Syria, these objectives can be attained. For a change, the US and its allies have found an unambiguously anti-Islamist and anti-jihadi force in the Middle East which has a habit of winning its battles. This is a success which should be reinforced.
Indeed it should. And you know the other thing, as long as the SDF fights and holds their own (or wins) the other sides can not even start to get complacent. Liddell Hart famously said this
Helplessness induces hopelessness, and history attests that loss of hope and not loss of lives is what decides the issue of war.
And that has a goodly bit to do with keeping the common people’s hope alive.