Emigrants should never come back home. Whatever the reason for their leaving, history shows how they often lack minimum understanding of what happened after they left. French emigrants returning home in 1815 instigated some of the silliest decisions taken by the reinstated kings. More recently in Iraq, the vision of new ministers unable to find their way into town was a worrying harbinger of things to come. The Syrian revolutionaries who have been living in the West or in neighbouring countries for a long time, but still believe they alone know the real situation there because they spent a month vacationing in Lebanon, are another illustration. The debacle of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) confirms this fact.
To topple a dictatorship, there are not many solutions: Either local revolutionaries struggle on the ground site — and not abroad for a seat on the terrace of a cafe; or a ‘Palace revolution’ occurs, which ultimately changes nothing; or a war is launched, with results like the ones everyone witnessed in Iraq; or pieces are moved one by one, without haste, as in a game of chess. This happened in the former Soviet bloc — and was taking shape in Syria.
But once democratic leaders of the ‘free world’ suddenly realised Bashar Al Assad was not a freedom lover — unlike leaders of neighbouring countries; when they thought corruption had reached too high a level — which of course is not the case elsewhere in the region; when they felt too guilty for allowing the continued persecution of people, notably through the use of torture — which nobody practises in the region; they then decided to declare war against such an abject regime.
After three years — and about 200,000 dead and millions displaced — it may be worth our while to stop and reflect. Beyond the usual comments such as “nobody will win the war”, “Bashar is the problem, not the solution” or “Sooner or later, the country will split, if it has not already”, two recent developments shed a new light.
Firstly, the fight in Syria today mainly takes place between Al Assad’s regime and fundamentalists, whatever their name, depending upon the country sponsoring them (one would have thought the Afghan-Osama Bin Laden-related experience was enough, but apparently not). Local complexities probably explain why the ‘Arab Spring’ turned out to be different in Syria. But fortunately enough for the population, insane calls, such as those by French activist Bernard-Henry Levy, for bombing Damascus or reproofs by US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton (whose level of expertise is decidedly chilling), for not having carried them out, were not considered by US President Barack Obama. The dramatic situation in Libya shows where the country would stand otherwise.
Still, is the West closer to Al Assad or to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil)? “There is no choice between two barbarities,” said French President Francois Hollande, seeming to forget that America preferred Stalin to Hitler. One French ‘jihadist’ was recently arrested upon his return to France. As he was being put in jail on charges of ‘terrorism’, he told the police he was just fighting the same enemies as Hollande.
A second major development is precisely the emergence of Isil. We tend to believe that once the financing stops, their progress will come to a halt, even though that may take some time. The key point instead is that the way the threat is being felt by the US and its allies, has brought together the oddest alliance one could ever imagine: Saudi Arabia working hand in hand with Iran. And US drones tracking Isil fighters on Syrian territory with tacit approval from Damascus.
Of course, the US will go on claiming that in no way should their action against Isil be considered as support for the Al Assad regime. Still, former US ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, wrote in Politique Internationale’s issue of summer 2014 that “the Syrian opposition never presented any credible programme for transition” — explaining how it would substitute to [Al] Assad’s regime and who would be the future leaders”. Nature abhors a vacuum and the crazy followers of ‘Caliph’ Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi are not the right answer, at least to the Americans. “All options are on the table” — but Hollande excluded “any kind of cooperation in the fight against terrorism with Al Assad”. This is the kind of attitude that he has made his trademark in his relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin over Ukraine.
Certainly, one could have dreamt of better solutions, involving, for instance, all Arab states. But since it never worked for Palestine, why would it for Syria, especially when bombing foreign militias supported by other Arab states? The Syrian population will one day hold to account all those who made them suffer.
Meanwhile, and this is good news, reasonable people are prioritising emergencies and attacking the right enemy, despite the Al Assad regime still being in power. Welcome back, Mr President …
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