PhotoPainting by the author
Diagnosis, prognosis and treatment in the light of Turkey’s invasion and the risk of a larger catastrophic war.
March 7, 2020
The world looked at the violence but didn’t have the capacity to analyze the underlying conflicts in and around Syria. For sure, it is a civil war but, to a much larger extent, it is an international regime-change war.
In 2006 William Roebuck, US chargé d’affaires in Damascus, advocated that US policy should focus on destabilizing the Syrian government and al-Assad.
At a meeting in Marrakech on December 12, 2012, lots of countries under Western leadership – perversely calling themselves Friends of Syria on the initiative of French President Sarkozy – decided to oust President Assad by decree and establish a National Council which, from then on, was supposed to be the only legitimate Syrian governing body and representative of the Syrian people (none of them ever elected nor the 24 million Syrian people ever asked, of course).
On the day four years later, December 12, 2016, East Aleppo was liberated from 4,5 years of terrorist occupation, people crying of joy, celebrating, honking the horns, drinking. I happened to be there.
That was the de facto fatal end of this senseless regime-change war.
The complex Syria conflict-formation is about many things: A French occupation history up until Independence in 1946, CIA’s involvement since 1949, 2 million refugees from “our” war in Iraq hosted there (a larger burden on this small country than the 1,5 million who entered EU and it could not handle), the Baath Party ideology, decades of US demands that oil and gas pipelines should be built across Syrian territory from the Gulf States to Turkey (which both Assad Senior and Junior declined), a severe drought 2006-2011 causing huge populations movement from the countryside to urban areas, an authoritarian political system with a brutal military and several security services.
And it is about the Golan Heights and about Israel, about Syria’s oil (which President Trump says he now controls), about the US-Iran conflict since Iran is in Syria at the invitation of the Syrian government and it is about USA/NATO on the one hand and Russia on the other (also invited by al-Assad in 2015).
And it is about the US and its friends and allies systematic support to anyone opposed to al-Assad – that is, George W. Bush’s Global War on Terror turned into the Global Support to Terror – as well as about neighbouring NATO member Turkey’s multiple destructive economic, military and political roles as a host and supporter of whoever was anti-Assad. You’ve heard less in the West about Turkey because it is a NATO country and has a President who has played all kinds of games and cards – like trying to eat the cake and have it too.
At the present, the fourth Turkish invasion of Syria – a blatant violation of international law – Western media and politicians still largely avoid pointing out that violation but report on Turkey as a country that has many problems, hosts 2-3 million refugees and can play the refugee card on the EU.
But you do not hear that its policy vis-a-vis Syria has been a criminal enterprise from Day One.
Thus, Syria is also about international and the UN or, rather, the systematic undermining of both since the Yugoslav bombings predominantly carried out by the NATO member, lead by the US.
The UN, with a large, robust military, police and Civil Affairs mission, ought to have been a central player in Syria, both as a mediator and protector of civilians and as a disarmer of irregular/terrorist forces. With at least 400 000 killed and about half of the Syrian people displaced or having become refugees abroad that would have been useful, to say the least.
In summary, Western politicians, media and commentators have acted as hypnotized about the violence (since 2011) and al-Assad’s person. But violence is little but symptoms of underlying conflicts and they have to do with history and society – local, regional and global.
That complexity-defying, easy position opens up for side-taking and – irrelevant – discussions about “who is the worst”, and who shot the first shot and who is to blame – and be punished. Ad absurdum.
I am well aware that this has never been about solving conflicts or problems or helping the Syrian people. It’s been about raw power – on all sides. The world’s governments don’t do conflict-resolution and peace and have no ministries, experts, research etc that would make that possible. But they sell their cynic policies by reference to “stability, security and peace”.
Thus, from a conflict-resolution and peace perspective, it’s been unavoidable illiteracy from Day One. As I have argued here in 2018.
Without solid conflict analysis – or conflict diagnosis – that is, asking the question of what is this about instead of judging who is right and wrong – no problem can ever be solved.
That’s why the world now has yet another tragedy on its hand (as if it did not have enough of other problems), another predictably failed regime-change war since Vietnam (1975) – lost militarily, politically and morally. And an even higher level of hatred against the US and other West – the ower of which is already rapidly declining on all the important dimensions with the exception of the military.
Or to put it more poetically – Syria is about the old world going down in the West and the new one rising in the East.
• Best case: Standstill
In this scenario, there will be no solution in and around Idlib. It’ll remain one huge camp with civilians (also a shields for), oppositional groups and brutal terrorists. For years, Syria will have to give up attempts to bring it back under government control. Russia stays in Syria and Erdogan recognizes that he can’t play all games simultaneously and win them.
Alternatively, Turkey opens a corridor to bring these people to Turkey and then sending them onwards to the EU – in addition to those 2-3 million Turkey hosts but for whom Erdogan has already, a few days ago, opened the border to Greece.
When the EU with 410 million people could not handle 1,5 million refugees for an assumed short while in 2015, it will probably fall apart if 2-4 million begin to move north. Pitifully, the EU made itself a pawn in the hands of Erdogan by, among other things, paying Turkey for taking care of that (in principle, manageable) problem. It’s hardly too much to say that the future of the EU will be at stake if Erdogan plays the refugee card.
However, everything cannot remain unsolved forever.
• Worse case: Turkey increases its military presence in Syria
In this scenario, Turkey will increasingly find itself at war with both Syria and Russia. Putin will face an unsolvable dilemma: Shall Russia fight against Turkey in Syria – or try to get it as an ally when, for all practical reasons, it has left NATO? And if he abandons Syria and makes too many deals with Turkey, why would Syria not ask Russia to leave Syria?
If Syria and Russia move together against Turkey, Turkey will lose. But would US/NATO just stand there and see it happen?
There will be fighting here and there – and any number of “ceasefires” (as the latest declared by Putin and Erdogan in Moscow on March 5 ) that will, again and again, only hold until the next shots are fired or one of the parties inadvertently kills a larger number of soldiers or destroy the other’s equipment. The whole situation is extremely dangerous.
In this scenario, many more will be wounded and killed and there will be hundreds of thousands more refugees over time. And Syria cannot be rebuilt. It could end up with a US intervention and standing eye to eye with Russia and either lead to direct confrontation (and an even colder Cold War than today’s in Europe) or it could lead to a recognition that that is jus too dangerous and then a new standstill.
• Worst case: Large-scale international war on Syrian and perhaps Iranian territory
In this scenario, Russia and Turkey move apart step-by-step; Erdogan decides to ignore Putin’s demands that Turkey stops its international law-violating aggression on Syria. Putin/Russia will then choose 100% loyalty with Syria and stand by its right, according to Article 51 of the UN Charter, to defend itself against international aggression and gain control of 100% of its territory. Refugees and terrorists will be pushed out and into Turkey.
That means full-blown war between Syria/Russia (Iran won’t be able to do much) on the one hand and Turkey on the other. Turkey will lose that unless the US/Trump does what was promised on March 3 that Turkey will get military assistance from the US.
In fact, Turkey has already requested NATO assistance with the – absurd – argument that its troops in Syria have been attacked and therefore NATO’s Article 5 must be implemented.
Military assistance would hardly be enough. Turkey would require concrete evidence of solidarity with itself as NATO member and that means US boots on the ground. Only then could Erdogan hope to realize his – bizarre – wish to pray in the Ummayyad Mosque in Damascus as he expressed it back in 2014 – one must assume as the new ruler of Syria
Such an adventure – pushing Russia out and Syria back – would serve as a US revenge for Syria/Assad having won the first game 2011-2020. Would Saudi Arabia and Israel join in and would they then all attack Iran – which by then may have been weakened beyond recognition because of the a) US/NATO/EU inhuman, illegal embargo and sanctions, b) the coronavirus and c) internal turmoil with limitless corruption in the wake of those sanctions?
Perhaps wild speculations? On the other hand, how often have we not said “But they can’t do that” (like “they can’t bomb Serbia to make an independent state by force”) – only to find that that was exactly what “they” did – with predictable, disastrous long-term consequences.
Be this as it may, Syria would be destroyed even more like, say, Iraq or Libya is today. Terrorism would increase – because any such adventure would be interpreted as a huge support to each and every terrorist formation.
And nobody will stand outside the walls of Damascus with flowers when the US, Turkey and perhaps France roll in.
If such a huge war took place and also, at some point, involved Iran, it would also spell the end of the US Empire. The world order, as we know it, would be shattered.
What can one recommend when the fake doctors who have never opened a book of medicine have brought the patient so close to death that only a miracle will save him?
What has been done to and in Syria should never have been done. The argument that President al-Assad is a terrible dictator, slaughterer of masses of his own people and responsible for all the destruction in Syria does not hold water – even if it were true – as a legitimation of what the West and its allies and friends in the region have done in cooperation with hundreds of terrorist groups. (Intellectually, it is also a lousy theory: No complex war can be explained by the role of one individual – as Trump is not the catchword for the systemic crisis of the U.S.)
It cannot possibly legitimate the destruction of innocent human lives, souls, infrastructure, cities, UNESCO Cultural Heritage, the economy of Syria and the livelihood of its people.
It simply can’t. No political goal could. Like it couldn’t in Iraq – which was also based also on a simplified, false, self-serving but delusional constructed and marketed neo-liberal/imperialist narrative. Saddam never killed even a fraction of the people the US-led presence there has killed (at least a million, mostly thanks to the 13 years of sanctions).
“But let me imagine for a moment that I had God-like powers, what would I do now when that patient called Syria has been bleeding for 9 evil years?”
But let me imagine for a moment that I had God-like powers, what would I do now when that patient called Syria has been bleeding for 9 evil years?
I believe my thinking would go in this direction:
• Open the EU for each and every innocent refugee and asylum-seeker who has fled because of “our” invasions and war. That is, disarm Erdogan’s refugee “weapon” and stand up for some decency, no matter the choirs of xenophobia, racism, Islamophobia and nationalism that haunts Europe. These forces must not win for they are much more destructive to Europe than are 1-2 million refugees who generally want nothing more than to go back to their countries as soon as they can.
• Install a huge, massive – military and civilian – United Nations presence in Syria. There is a desperate need for a) protecting people, b) secure humanitarian corridors, c) policing the streets and neighbourhoods, d) assist the re-building of civil society (which is what UN Civil Affairs does) – and, not the least, e) a robust military force that can disarm every irregular Syrian and foreign force and collect those millions of weapons in locked depots – à la the UN Protected Areas in former Yugoslavia.
If the world community stood behind the UN with resources, their best soldiers and civilians and with a clear and comprehensive mandate, the UN can do something that no other organisation in the world can do. And it can do it for the global common good, based on norms, law and principles as we find them in the UN Charter.
Only the ignorant says “The UN is useless!” If the members want it, if they could move away from national interests and nationalism and raise the eyes to the level of the common good, the UN is the only one that has the experience and who can do it.
It’s the member states that have destroyed the UN, also by not agreeing on long-overdue reforms of the world organisation.
When you say the UN is useless, you have left it to the stronger, the most criminal and militarised to run the world. Stand with the UN Charter, use its norms, give it ten times more resources – and the world would be a much better place and conflict dynamics never be allowed to develop to where they are in today’s Syria – and many other warzones.
• Let the EU invite Russia to cooperate about saving and rebuilding Syria. Where there is a heart and a will, there is a way. By inviting and cooperating with Russia about Syria, we would also decrease the present terrible tension and confrontation in Central Europe.
• The next step would be for the EU-Russia civil cooperation in Syria to invite China with its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) – or the New Silk Roads which is the world largest, most important and civilian cooperation project that involved more than 80 countries.
China will anyhow play a larger and larger role also in the Middle East and in the world. Cooperate with it. Confrontation is a loser’s strategy. China and Syria have already written economic cooperation agreements and China is ready to help rebuild Syria.
• As soon as Syria begins to move back to normal again, refugees will go back to where they came from.
• If you happen to not like refugees coming to Europe, there are two things we must do: a) Stop the wars that produce refugees and, when they have anyhow run their terrible course, b) do our utmost to help these victims while in Europe and help them return. Remember, behind almost every refugee stands an arms dealer. It feels banal to point out a) and b) – but the link between warfare and refugees is still not made – governments of NATO unable to stop their addiction to violence and their Mission Civilisatrice.
• Free and fair elections in Syria, constitutional reform etc. – all monitored by the UN. And the world must accept whatever the result is, also if the Syrians vote for al-Assad to be their future President. It is nobody’s business but the Syrian people’s.
• Start long-term, multidimensional consultations – and later negotiations – about the establishment of disarmed autonomous provinces, cantons, republics, condominiums (and/or UN-protected enclaves) – or whatever models – for those who will not accept to live under complete Syrian government control. This must include the Kurdish people, of course, who will never get any degree of autonomy or a state anywhere through warfare but only through negotiations.
• Establish a negotiation – and later reconciliation – process, perhaps including an international, neutral Truth And Reconciliation Commission with all involved Syrian groups and fractions. The International Criminal Court may come into the picture at some point, but that is certainly not where you begin. You begin with a people-to-people reconciliation process because such processes may facilitate living together in trust in the future and provide attention to, recognition of and empathy for those who have suffered more than anybody else (as usual in wars) – namely, the innocent civilians who never touched a gun but whose living conditions were destroyed. Let them be heard!
And – finally – recognize that this was the last invasion, terrorist-supporting regime-change war the West/US/NATO and allies will ever do.
Those who refuse to learn and choose to live in denial about their own destructive behaviours will decline and play a marginal role in the new world that is already taking shape. The West, the Occident, has a choice to make: Join the new world, stop doing things like Syria – or become a periphery – the new under-developed world – a museum of imperial arrogance and self-destruction.