The military phrase of the conflict in Syria is all but over and it has now become clear that Bashar al-Assad has one major chemical weapon of mass destruction….but don’t call the United Nations. This is not a physical weapon but rather a psychological one. Moreover, the weapon has not been used on the Syrian people but has been used on westerns who actually enjoy being “gassed” by this particular device.
Accepting new realities of peace
It is true that during the middle-phase of the conflict in Syria, there was an intense battle between the forces of Takfiri barbarism and “everyone else” and of course in such a battle, it behoved the wider civilised world to support “everyone else”. Making matters worse, the Obama administration seemed unwilling to transparently join “everyone else”, thus delaying that which has happened in recent years, namely, the formation of an Astana partnership of Russia, Iran and Turkey whose de-escalation processes have all been acknowledged and accepted by President Bashar al-Assad’s government in Damascus.
As a result, the Takfiri groups including Daesh have been largely defeated and there is likewise no longer a time and money wasting Arab on Arab conflict in respect of Syria and many in Lebanon and Iraq on the one hand versus the wealthy states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) along with their Egyptian partner on the other. Furthermore, Russia, Turkey and Iran are acting in full coordination in Syria and due to Russia’s special relationship with Israel, while Tel Aviv still conducts frequent illegal bombing campaigns in Syria, any attempt to realise the expansionist Yinon Plan into an Arab Republic has been rendered impossible and privately, the leadership in Tel Aviv are aware of this.
These developments have instigated the following two major trends which continue to unfold. First of all, while the leadership in Damascus, Tel Aviv, Moscow, Ankara and Tehran has not changed since the beginning of the Syria conflict, the leadership in the United States has not only changed but changed dramatically. Thus, with the benefit of hindsight it has become abundantly clear that Barack Obama’s role of obstructing the development of peace through cooperation (including difficult but necessary cooperation) was a far greater detriment to the Syrian people and those in the region than it appeared at the time that Obama occupied the White House.
This is not to say that Donald Trump is a peace loving paragon of virtue, he most certainly is not. But Trump is someone who has allowed events in Syria to be shaped by regional powers working within the international system. This contrasts sharply with the arrogant and detached top down approach of Obama who arrogantly forced international solutions upon regional powers. Making Obama’s approach all the more dangerous was the fact that the regional powers in question did not fully accept let alone own and author any particular half-baked Washington drafted de-escalation proposals. Putting it more bluntly, Obama’s White House never really authored any genuine de-escalation proposals, but instead offered proposals which did little more than throw a match onto a heap of gun powder.
In this sense, the decision to form the Astana partnership of Russia, Turkey and Iran in late 2016, after Obama’s successor had lost the vote in America, was a pivotal moment as it made it clear that mature regional nations could work together in order to foster a difficult but incredibly necessary peace process.
Secondly, the aforementioned realities demonstrate that while during Obama’s failed presidency, it was popular among many in the west to say that Assad had beaten Takfiri forces, the reality is that no one has won in the current conflict. But while no single faction has won, Obama and those who think like him (including many of Obama’s admirers in Europe) have clearly lost. In this sense, what passes for a victory in Syria is clearly split between the government in Damascus, Russia, Turkey Iran, Hezbollah and now even the GCC. While Israel certainly isn’t a winner in the conflict, because Russia is now working (with Donald Trump’s approval) to insure what Israel calls its “security concerns”, Israel also cannot be named a loser in the conflict.
In this instance, Israel’s “security concerns” mean two primary things: 1. Russia must secure the purple line as the de-facto border between Syria and the illegally Israeli occupied Golan Heights and 2. Russia must make sure that the planned Iranian and Hezbollah withdrawal from areas near to the purple line happens sooner rather than later. Here, Russia is all too happy to oblige Tel Aviv and as such, Trump’s United States has found at least one point of agreement with Russia in the Middle East.
In this sense, while Trump’s own domestic opponents continue to chastise his positions in respect of Syria, Trump has in fact made a big difference in respect of accelerating the peace process. This is the case not so much because of what he has done, but it is directly related to what Trump has not done. By refraining from playing Obama’s obstructionist games designed to drive wedges between the major regional players, Trump has allowed a regionally derived and internationally acceptable peace process to foment on a model that is as close to a win-win as is possible in the aftermath of such a fraught conflict.
But what about Assad’s weapon?
During the most intense phase of the military conflict in Syria, Barack Obama’s reckless policies drove many in the US and Europe towards unilaterally favouring Bashar al-Assad’s position. This of course is their right to do so and furthermore, while Russian media may have provided some encouragement to such individuals, this was truly more of a western derived phenomenon wherein Obama and his European colleagues were so reviled by so many in the west, that they openly sided with Assad, seeing him quite correctly as a generally more reasonable leader than the divisive Obama. This organic phenomenon says far more about the state of socio-political conditions in the west than it says anything about Bashar al-Assad or the Russian government.
In this sense, the western supporters of Assad’s government, were not all too different than the western supporters of Brexit, Donald Trump, Viktor Orban, the Italian left/right populist coalition and the Yellow Vests. Each of these political phenomena were reactive rather than original. Furthermore, that which they were reacting against were governments at home in the west that had lost touch with the aspirations of their people while also losing any sense of humility during a time when so-called austerity measures made people feel all the more alienated from their ruling classes.
In this sense, Bashar al-Assad probably wasn’t even at first aware of the weapon that he had – a weapon which made fairly ordinary westerners act as though they were paid up members of the Syrian division of the Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party. After a while though, underfunded Syrian media did catch on and openly courted such individuals for obvious pragmatic reasons.
In this sense, just as the US and its European partners armed Saddam’s Iraq with actual weapons of mass destruction during the 1980s ear war with Iran, so too did the political conditions in the west inadvertently arm Assad with a chemical weapon of psychological mass reconstruction – one which reconstructed the world views of many from Australia and Canada to America, Britain, France and Germany.
Today though, with the gunshots of war metamorphosing into the pen strokes of peace, it would appear that Assad’s western fan-club haven’t got the memo whose main points are as follows:
1. Assad’s government and the parts of the Arab world who opposed him during the conflict are reconciling at a rapid pace and this will inevitably change the fraught dynamics of inter-Arab relations into more harmonious relations in the medium term
2. Russia and Turkey have more in common in respect of a final settlement in Syria than do Russia and Iran
3. Iran and Turkey are vital economic partners in the region, over and above cooperating in the Astana format along with Russia
4. Russia is an Israeli ally and Russia’s Philo-Semitic President feels that he is bound to balance Tel Aviv’s interests against those of Russia’s Cold War era Arab Nationalist partners
5. Russia entered the conflict in Syria because after decades of neglect, in late 2015, someone in Moscow realised that it would be bad if Russia’s strategically located naval base at Tartus fell into the hands of Daesh or similar terrorists. At least here, Russia woke up before it was too late unlike in 2011 when Russia refused to veto a UN resolution against Moscow’s longstanding Libyan partner
Much needed circumspection
It is unfortunate that many of the “social media warriors” in the US and Europe who played a crucial role during the “Takfiris versus everybody else” phase of the war, have demonstrated a lack of flexibility that makes them totally unprepared to accept the terms of a compromise based peace process. In this sense, Assad’s “weapon of mass destruction” is a kind of poison gas that prohibits people in places like Toronto, Dallas, Sydney and Edinburgh from understanding that which people in Moscow, Ankara, Tehran, Damascus, Riyadh and even Tel Aviv can see with the utmost clarity.
The fact of the matter is that the propaganda of wartime (in any war) becomes a liability in peace time. Now is not the time for partisanship but the time for reconciliation. Now is not the time for cheer-leading, but is the time for cold, calculating pragmatism. Now is the time to compartmentalise one’s views on specific subjects rather than fall into the trap of backseat driver extremism.
One has no doubt that in spite of his rhetoric, Assad understands this all too well. That being said, some in the west are still living under Assad’s metaphorical “gas cloud” and as such, they remain either ignorant or wilfully blind to these changes.
Soldiers and propagandists share a similar purpose in any war – their role is to go forward and fight for their side irrespective of caution and second guesses. A peace marker’s role is to do the opposite – move with the changes and show flexibility before the winds of change so that one bends but does not break.
Assad’s weapon has stiffened his supporters in the west far more so than even his own famously stiff physical posture. This is one of the great ironies of war. Just as it is possible for some pretenders to be “more royal than the king”, now it is possible to be “more Ba’athist than Assad”.
The result is that Assad’s chemical weapon of mass destruction has not killed anyone but has rendered a good handful of western commentators totally incapable of critical thinking regarding Syria and its region, while also making them totally blind to actively burning conflicts far beyond Syria’s increasingly peaceful borders.