[Marxism] Defiant Bashar al-Assad Vows to Retake ‘Every Inch’ of Syria

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Jun 8 06:36:45 MDT 2016


NY Times, June 8 2016
Defiant Bashar al-Assad Vows to Retake ‘Every Inch’ of Syria
By DAVID E. SANGER and RICK GLADSTONE

WASHINGTON — Syria’s president promised to retake “every inch” of the 
country from his foes on Tuesday in a defiant speech that appeared to 
reject the humanitarian relief effort and peaceful transition of power 
that the United States, Russia and more than a dozen other nations have 
pressed for since last fall.

The speech by President Bashar al-Assad was his first major address 
since the effort to mediate an end to the civil war broke down in Geneva 
in April. It reflected his sense that Russian intervention in the war 
has bolstered his position — and his ability to remain in power for the 
foreseeable future — as the war enters its sixth year.

Mr. Assad’s defiance was notable partly because of efforts in recent 
months by Secretary of State John Kerry and other leaders of a 17-nation 
collaboration, known as the International Syria Support Group, to set a 
series of deadlines and limits that Syria could not violate.

Every one of the directives has been broken. A cease-fire devised in 
Munich in February collapsed. Mr. Kerry’s demand at that time — that 
humanitarian access had to begin within weeks — was briefly observed in 
a few towns before access was again largely blocked.

“The speech was, unfortunately, vintage Assad — unrepentant and damaging 
to international efforts to end the brutal civil war that has ravaged 
the country for more than five years — the same international efforts 
that his principal backers, Russia and Iran, support,” Mark C. Toner, a 
State Department spokesman, said in a statement on Tuesday night. “His 
remarks show once again how delusional, detached and unfit he is to lead 
the Syrian people.”

Mr. Toner argued that Syria was defying not just Mr. Kerry, but also its 
two most vital allies, Russia and Iran.

Mr. Kerry was in Beijing and, because of the time difference, could not 
be reached for his reaction to Mr. Assad’s speech, Mr. Toner said.

Three weeks ago in Vienna, Mr. Kerry appeared before reporters to 
declare that if Mr. Assad continued to obstruct humanitarian convoys, 
the West would help the United Nations relief agency conduct airdrops of 
supplies to starving towns, beginning June 1. The deadline passed with 
little comment by Mr. Kerry or the State Department. It remains unclear 
when those airdrops will commence, if at all.

At the same Vienna conference, Mr. Kerry rejected the notion that 
President Obama and other allies would not use force to stop the Syrian 
government’s indiscriminate bombings or enforce humanitarian access.

“If President Assad has come to a conclusion there’s no Plan B,” he 
said, “then he’s come to a conclusion that is totally without any 
foundation whatsoever and even dangerous.”

Mr. Kerry, administration officials said, submitted to the White House 
months ago a “Plan B” that called for escalated military action if Mr. 
Assad continued his defiance. Mr. Obama has not acted on it, telling 
aides he was not convinced the plan could make a significant difference, 
especially since Syria’s Arab neighbors and European powers have not 
offered more than token support.

Mr. Obama is wary of drawing the United States deeper into a conflict in 
which he initially saw no vital American interest. Mr. Kerry and other 
officials, in private, have argued that the size of the humanitarian 
disaster in Syria and the flow of refugees into Europe have created such 
an interest. But with only seven months left in office, Mr. Obama seems 
unlikely to change his mind.

Mr. Assad spoke as the Syrian authorities imposed new obstacles on 
international efforts to transport emergency aid to civilians trapped in 
rebel-held areas. United Nations officials in Geneva said government 
approval was withheld for a delayed food convoy to Daraya, a suburb of 
Damascus that received medical aid last week for the first time in four 
years.

Mr. Assad was clear on Tuesday that he had no intention of compromising 
with his adversaries, and seemed to reject the next deadline: an Aug. 1 
target for developing a “transition plan” that Mr. Obama and Mr. Kerry 
have said must ultimately result in someone else running what is left of 
Syria.

In his speech, Mr. Assad said the peace talks that broke down were a 
“booby-trapped” effort by opponents who have been seeking to depose him 
since the war started in 2011, during the Arab Spring.

“When they failed to achieve what they wanted, their response was an 
open declaration of supporting terrorism,” Mr. Assad said in the speech 
made in Parliament, as reported by the state news agency and broadcast 
on national television.

Mr. Assad’s adversaries reacted with a mix of fury and frustration. 
“We’re seeing behavior that is the most extreme, the full military 
solution,” said Bassma Kodmani, a member of the High Negotiations 
Committee, an opposition group that had been negotiating with the Syrian 
government through United Nations mediation.

“Seventeen countries have agreed on something, does this have no value 
at all?” Ms. Kodmani said.

Mr. Assad seems unlikely to be able to make good on his boast to retake 
his country. His strength is largely limited to areas where there is a 
strong presence of his minority Alawite sect.

But bolstered by Russia’s intervention nine months ago to help prop him 
up, Mr. Assad is stronger than he has been in years, many experts say, 
and he has rejected the idea that any new government would have to 
exclude him.

He has the strong support of Iran, his longtime provider of security, 
though Russian officials seem less concerned about whether Mr. Assad 
himself remains in power.

An announcement by President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia in March that 
he was pulling back from Syria appeared to be largely a charade.

Russian airstrikes helped the Syrian Army retake the ancient city of 
Palmyra from the Islamic State that same month. The Russians have also 
been helping Assad loyalists elsewhere, including against insurgents in 
and around the city of Aleppo and other parts of northern Syria. Some of 
these groups are supported by the United States.

“Just like we liberated Palmyra and many other areas before it,” Mr. 
Assad said in the speech, “we are going to liberate each and every inch 
of Syria from their hands because we have no other choice but to win.”

Behind the scenes, Mr. Kerry has been talking frequently to Russia’s 
foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, to seek assurances that Russia was 
aiming first at Islamic State forces, and not bombing other insurgent 
groups. State Department officials offered no details of those 
discussions, repeating a standard line that they are asking Russia “to 
use its influence” to allow humanitarian intervention. There appears to 
be no plan to turn the calls for airdrops — which Mr. Lavrov echoed — 
into a reality.

At the same time, evidence suggests that many of the groups the United 
States is backing are under periodic attack from Russia and ground 
forces supported by Iran.

“It’s pretty clear Assad’s defiance and rigidity at the negotiating 
table continues to increase after the Russian intervention,” said Andrew 
J. Tabler, a Syria expert at the Washington Institute for Near East 
Policy. “This doesn’t bode well for the political negotiations in Geneva 
to find a political settlement.”




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