[Marxism] Assad of Syria has learnt never to compromise — or to fear the west
lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Apr 18 09:09:33 MDT 2018
Financial Times, April 18, 2018
Assad of Syria has learnt never to compromise — or to fear the west
by Roula Khalaf
The attack on Syrian civilians that provoked the western response at the
weekend made for an appealing conspiracy theory. And that theory had
been widely bandied about as nations debated the merits of a retaliatory
I have heard people who are no fans of Bashar al-Assad argue that it is
absurd to blame him for the suspected gassing. What interest did he have
in crossing a western red line when no one was calling any longer for
his demise? The attack, the theory goes, must have been staged by the
The Syrian regime, however, operates on a different logic, one that
allows for unspeakable brutality even when that appears counter to its
interests. The same applied to Saddam Hussein, the late Iraqi dictator,
whose rule was terminated only with an outside invasion.
Since the 2011 outbreak of the uprising that quickly morphed into a
civil war, Mr Assad has followed a consistent strategy: never
compromise, no matter how small the matter or intense the pressure. As
the war wore on, and Iran and Russia came to his support, the strategy
was reinforced by the only lesson he learnt: international outrage is
fleeting, however vicious his warfare.
On the surface, the suspected use of chemical warfare in Douma was a
huge miscalculation. The young eye doctor held up as a reformer by
western leaders when he took over from his father in 2000 had just
commemorated the sixth anniversary of his war on a high. His military
fortunes turned decisively in 2017; Gulf Arab foes had given up on
trying to fight him by supporting rebels; Turkey, one of his most bitter
enemies, was now fighting the Kurdish opposition to him instead. Better
yet, those western leaders who have long called for his removal had
recognised his indestructibility. This month, Donald Trump had so lost
interest in Syria that he ordered his military chiefs to start planning
to withdraw US troops.
The western public, meanwhile, had become desensitised to Syrian
suffering. Middle East fatigue has set in as crises and conflicts in the
region have multiplied. The early sympathy for Syrian migrants arriving
in Europe has dissipated. A YouGov poll last week of British public
attitudes to western military retaliation for the Douma attack was
striking: only 22 per cent of those polled supported missile attacks.
Syria was simply no longer on anyone’s mind.
And yet, as Emile Hokayem, who has studied the Syrian war since its
inception for London’s International Institute for Strategic Studies,
tells me, the logic of the Douma violence was straightforward and indeed
successful for the regime. The area was one of the last bastions of
rebel control and it threatened the restoration of peace in the capital,
Damascus. Every other military means have been tried but failed to force
a surrender of the rebel group. After the town was gassed, Jaysh
al-Islam quickly capitulated.
Associates of the government Mr Hokayem has contacted in recent days
justified the regime’s attack on tactical grounds. “People have
internalised Assad’s victory and accepted that anything can be done,” he
What is more, the fact that western governments have turned again
against Mr Assad is perhaps not as big a loss as it seems. The military
strikes targeted chemical weapons production, but not military assets.
And, says Mr Hokayem, Mr Assad has fully assumed the role of a pariah
who takes into account the reaction of only two governments: Russia and
Iran. No one else matters.
Hassan Hassan, an expert on Syria and co-author of Isis, Inside the army
of terror, tells me that the limited retaliation, in fact, reinforces
the message intended by the gas attack and helps Mr Assad reassert
control over remaining rebel strongholds. “When you defeat the rebels
and send a message that the world is not going to stand in the way, that
amplifies it many times over,” he says. “It tells other pockets of
resistance that no one will come to their rescue. So if they want their
life back they have to enable a situation where the regime is back in
Frightfully, the psychology of the regime, and the support of Iran and
Russia it can count on, suggests that, with or without chemical warfare
at its disposal, it will follow Douma with more barbaric acts.
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