Let me take this opportunity to make it clear that I am in no way sympathetic towards the unrepresentative Middle Eastern dictators in general and Bashar al-Assad in particular, but in order to assign blame for the wrongdoing in Syria, we need to remind ourselves of the elementary distinction between the constant and variable factors.
Bear in mind that Bashar al-Assad has been ruling Syria since 2000, and before that his father had ruled over Syria for another 30 years. I do concede that Syria was not a democratic state under their rule but it was at least a functioning state. The Syrian crisis that has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and made millions of refugees dates back only to 2011, something changed in Syria in that fateful year and it was obviously not Assad since he has been ruling since 2000, and up to 2011 at least people were not dying or migrating en masse out of Syria.
Therefore, though I admit that Assad is responsible for dictatorship, heavy handed tactics and forceful suppression of dissent in Syria, but he is not responsible for all the killings and violence, except may be in self-defense; for all the casualties and population displacements, the “change or the variable” that was added to the Syrian equation in 2011 has primarily been responsible.
Now if that variable is the Islamic jihadists then why did the Western powers nurtured them, when the latter are ostensibly fighting a war against terrorism (Islamic jihadism) at the same time? And if that variable is the supposed “moderate rebels” then what difference does it makes whether their objectives are enforcing Shari’a or “bringing democracy” to Syria?
The goals of the “Syrian Opposition,” whatever its composition may be, are irrelevant in the context of preventing a humanitarian disaster that has reduced a whole a country of 22 million people to rubble; in other words, the first priority of the so-called “humanitarian interventionists” in Syria should have been to prevent all the killings, violence and mass migrations irrespective of the objectives for which the Syrian militants have been fighting.
It can be very easy to mislead the people merely by changing the labels while the content remains the same – call the Syrian opposition secular and nationalist “rebels, militants or insurgents” and they would become legitimate in the eyes of the audience of the Western mainstream media, and call the same armed militants “jihadists,or terrorists” and they would become illegitimate.
How do people expect from the armed thugs, whether they are Islamic jihadists or secular and nationalist rebels, to bring about democratic reform in Syria or Libya? And I squarely hold the powers that funded, trained, armed and internationally legitimized the Syrian militants as primarily responsible for the Syrian crisis.
For the whole of last five years of the Syrian civil war the focal point of the Western policy has been that “Assad must go!” But what difference would it make now to the lives of the Syrians even if the regime is replaced when the whole country now lies in ruins?
Qaddafi and his regime were ousted from power in September 2011; five years later Tripoli is ruled by the Misrata militia, Benghazi is under the control of KhalifaHaftar who is supported by Egypt and UAE, and Sirte has become a new battleground between the Islamic State-affiliate in Libya and the so-called “Government of National Accord.”
It will now take decades, not years, to restore even a semblance of stability in Libya and Syria; remember that the proxy war in Afghanistan was originally fought in the ‘80s and even 35 years later Afghanistan is still in the midst of perpetual anarchy, lawlessness and an unrelenting Taliban insurgency.
Notwithstanding, in political science the devil always lies in the definitions of the terms that we employ. For instance: how do you define a terrorist or a militant? In order to understand this we need to identify the core of a “militant,” that what essential feature distinguishes him from the rest?
A militant is basically an armed and violent individual who carries out subversive activities against the state. That being understood, now we need to examine the concept of “violence.” Is it violence per se that is wrong, or does some kind of justifiable violence exists?
I take the view, on empirical grounds, that all kinds of violence is essentially wrong; because the ends (goals) for which such violence is often employed are seldom right and elusive at best. Though, democracy and liberal ideals are cherished goals but such goals can only be accomplished through peaceful means; expecting from the armed and violent militants to bring about democratic reform is preposterous.
The Western mainstream media and its neoliberal constituents, however, take a different view. According to them, there are two kinds of violence: justifiable and unjustifiable. When a militant resorts to violence for the secular and nationalist goals, such as “bringing democracy” to Libya and Syria, the misguided neoliberals enthusiastically exhort such form of violence; however, if such militants later turn out to be Islamic jihadists, like the Misrata militia in Libya or the Islamic State and al-Nusra Front in Syria, the credulous neoliberals, who were duped by the mainstream narrative, promptly make a volte-face and label them as “terrorists.”
Truth be told, democracy as a ground for intervention was invented by the Machiavellian spin-doctors of the Western powers during the Cold War. Here we must keep the backdrop inmind, the whole world was divided into two camps vying for supremacy and global domination: the communist and the capitalist bloc.
The communist bloc had a clear moral advantage over the latter; using its rhetoric of social justice, revolution of the proletariat and communal ownership of the modes of production, it could stir up insurgency against the status quo anywhere in the world, and especially in the impoverished Third World.
The capitalists with their “trickle down” economics had no answer to the moral superiority of the communist bloc. That’s when the Western propagandists came up with democracy and human rights as grounds for intervention and to offset the moral advantage of their archrivals vying for global supremacy.
Since then, and even after the dissolution of Soviet Union, it has become a customary tactic in the Western playbook to bomb a country, reduce it to rubble and then hold sham elections in the absence of political culture and representative institutions, like political parties, in order to legitimize the intervention and include the occupied territory in the neocolonial sphere of influence. Whether it’s Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria, the same exercise has been followed ad nauseam to create a charade of justice and fair play.
Fact of the matter is that the neocolonial powers only pay lip service to the cause of morality, justice and humanity in the international relations and their foreign policies are solely driven by the motive to protect their national interest without any regard for the human suffering in the remote regions of the world.
More often than not, it isn’t even about protecting their national interests, bear in mind that the Western powers are not true democracies; they are plutocratic-oligarchies catering to the needs of their business interests that wield a disproportionate influence in the governmental decision-making and the formulation of public policy. Thus, the real core of the oft-quoted “Western national interests” has mainly been comprised of the Western corporate interests.
Nauman Sadiq is an Islamabad-based attorney, columnist and geopolitical analyst focused on the politics of Af-Pak and MENA regions, neocolonialism and Petroimperialism.