Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Assad is secure, but Syria's war shows no sign of ending

Syrian women walk past a giant poster of President Bashar al-Assad (L) and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin (R) in Aleppo (9 March 2017)

 Jeremy Bowen once again shows all the ways the BBC has taken its narrative from the régime.

 "The view from the presidential palace in Damascus is the brightest it has been since the war in Syria started."

 Brighter than when the Free Syrian Army was just getting going? Brighter than when Assad hadn't put the country in hock to Iran and Russia? Brighter than when he hadn't committed war crimes that he will be chased for the rest of his life? Brighter than when he held all the provincial capitals? Not really.

 Bowen has never said that Assad was weak, when Jaish al-Fateh chased him out of Idlib in 2015, and it looked like he would fall without Russian intervention, Bowen¹ relied on his sources in Assad's forces to proclaim the opposite:

 "Predictions of the imminent, or even medium-term fall of Damascus are wrong.

 It does not feel like the capital of a regime that is about to crumble.

 The government-held areas that I have visited seem calm and functional. The ministry of defence, behind heavy layers of security, moves at a stately pace."

  And the description of the conflict as a war rather than as a genocide or revolution gives us the same view as the man in Damascus.

 "President Assad has not won the war. But it is hard to see now how he can lose it, without an equally decisive intervention against him by an outside power."

 This is the position President Obama held, the only choices are Assad staying or the US deploying tens of thousands of troops against him. It ignores the instability that means Assad cannot rebuild his domestic support, and indeed relies on those responsible for crimes against humanity, and so the crimes against humanity must continue so they survive and profit. It ignores that given no significant pressure has been placed on Assad and his allies, so it would be more reasonable to think that a reasonable degree of support to the Free Syrian Army would change the equation decisively.

 "Syria has been caught up in the tide of sectarianism that has ripped across the Middle East since the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

 Most of the rebels were Sunnis: Sunni governments in Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar supported different groups.

 The dominant Alawite minority in Syria is a branch of Shia Islam; the regime's biggest supporters outside Russia are the Shia regime in Iran and Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shia movement."

 The rebels are predominantly Sunni, that doesn't mean they have a sectarian agenda. As Bowen admits later, they didn't receive significant support from outside. It is only recently that it has been suggested that Alawites are Shia, mostly in order to put a sectarian face on Iran's political support for Assad.

 "The first generation of rebels begged Western powers, and sympathetic Saudis and Qataris, for military support. It arrived, but not on the scale that Russia gave President Assad later in the war."

 Not what Bowen had been saying back in 2015¹, "Iran and Saudi Arabia are effectively fighting a proxy war in Syria." And he ignores the US role in stopping weapons get to the rebels, and ensuring the Southern Front has been inactive against Assad since 2015.

 "The crucial turning point came in August and September of 2013, after an attack using chemical weapons on rebel-held areas in the suburbs of Damascus.

 President Obama first threatened force against the regime, then changed his mind.

 In wars, hard power is decisive. Without it, Western countries could only huff and puff against President Assad.

 Western countries never decided what they wanted in Syria, beyond saying that Mr Assad had to go."

 Again the Obama-centred view, there was a policy that kept Assad in power, and the calls for him to go were mere rhetoric. That President Obama never said what action he would take against Assad, and that he had only promised action if Assad used a whole bunch of chemical weapons rather than his other war crimes, were clear signs that the US President never wanted to take action against Assad at all.

 "From the very beginning, President Assad and his people have presented the war as a foreign conspiracy intended to destroy secular, multi-cultural Syria.

 The choice, he said, was stark - the regime or Islamist, terrorist extremists, and he made no distinction between different kinds of armed opposition.

 They were all terrorists, all enemies of the Syrian people and therefore were legitimate targets.

 The Syrian armed forces, President Assad has said throughout, are the protectors of the people."

 A picture Jeremy Bowen has done his part to promote. In 2014, he wrote²:

 "Islamist fighters of different levels of radicalism dominate the rebel side in Aleppo. In rural Aleppo, east towards Iraq, Isis territory begins."

 Reading this, you could be completely ignorant of the expulsion of ISIS³ from Aleppo city in 2014, and indeed the rebels have been fighting against ISIS ever since.

 "Early in the war, if you crossed the line from regime held areas to ones controlled by rebels, as I was able to do several times, the message was very different.

 Fighters denied foreign conspirators inspired them.

 Many said they were local men who had taken up arms against a cruel dictator. Some were migrants from the countryside who had suffered badly during years of drought that had been handled badly by corrupt and inept administrators.

 But that relative simplicity became muddled as the war developed layers of conflict, as rebel groups changed, sometimes self-destructed, fought each other as well as the regime, and were kept under constant pressure by the Syrian military."

 Like the Stop the War Coalition, Bowen damns the opposition to the past. He doesn't say offer any specifics as to how the composition or the mentality of revolutionaries has changed, and the fight against ISIS is reduced to rebel-infighting.

 "The Syrian armed forces used siege tactics against enclaves controlled by rebels, sealing them off, stopping food deliveries, and shelling and bombing from the air.

 Civilians died in huge numbers.

 All the available statistics, denied by the regime, say that the biggest killer of civilians has been the Syrian armed forces."

 And yet the policy of the BBC has been to suggest that everyone is as bad.⁴

 "I have interviewed the president, and had many conversations with Syrian officers about the scale of killing by the military.

 They deny it has happened, and speak passionately about their desire to protect Syrians from religious extremists.

 But the tactics they have used against areas controlled by rebels and with large civilian populations guarantee that many will die."

 So their statements don't fit the reality, but the impression can be left that they are honest in their beliefs and statements about their motivations, rather than that they are serial liars to hide their serial killing.

 "So many foreign powers, Western as well as Middle Eastern, have intervened in Syria that it became a mini world war.

 The regime is secure, but it does not control large areas of the country. Civilians continue to suffer.

 More people are going to die in a war that has changed but not ended."

 So the foreign intervention is again important, when the anti-Assad forces have barely been aided. Civilians are not suffering due to an unseen power, but because Assad and Russia are murdering them.

 On the bright side, this does show the collapse of the BBC line that agreement between the Great Powers will lead to peace in Syria. But while Jeremy Bowen continues to hide the opposition to Assad, and present him as secure, he continues to present him as something we have to accept.

⁴ "All parties committed war crimes in Aleppo - UN" []

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