Tuesday, 27 June 2017
They are the puppet masters behind Bashar al-Assad
Talk of a post-Assad Syria, of Russia having to make a choice about whether to keep a murderous dictator in power, cut across the idea that all establishment politicians are as determined to keep Assad in power as those who complain that there is a régime-change war to get rid of him. And other correctives are there, nobody is sleepwalking into world war three (I give elsewhere* plenty of reasons why nobody is going to start WW3 to keep Assad in power, essentially he's not worth it), and nobody in the US wants to fight a war in Syria. There still seems no strategy other than a diplomatic push to convince Russia to abandon Assad, but it is wrong to take from that implied support for his continued misrule. I am aware that the signs from Macron on accepting Assad are not good, and as Channel 4 reported this evening, Assad used chlorine in an attack on Jobar in the Damascus suburbs last week, and babies were being pulled out of the rubble from one of his airforce's attacks today.
It is also interesting that Assad needs to use chemical weapons again. He has no other way to expand his control over Syria than to force people to flee in terror.
Katty Kay: "Do you think there is a more comprehensive strategy, beyond taking action against one airforce base?"
Mark Kimmitt: "Well, frankly, I don't think there has been an overall strategy for Syria that has come from either of the two main parties..."
Katty Kay: "For six years."
Mark Kimmitt: "That's right, from either the United States, or its coalition partners, such as the United Kingdom. That has to be part of any solution. But the solution can't simply be military, it has to be diplomatic, and I'm glad to see that the French have started pushing very hard to put this back on the table.
Christian Fraser: "General Kimmitt, President Trump obviously wants to look like he is the strong man on the world stage, and I suppose the upside from this is that you perhaps can head it off; the flipside though, is that if they were to use these weapons, you have to follow through."
Mark Kimmitt: "Well, we've already demonstrated that we'll follow through, and I think the most encouraging news today is that President Assad denied that he was preparing for a chemical attack. That demonstrates to me that President Trump's words have had a deterrent effect, not only for Bashar al-Assad, but for his supporters in Russia and Iran."
Christian Fraser: "The problem is of course, that if there were a second attack, the Russians might not be as tolerant as they were last time."
Mark Kimmitt: "Well, that's a choice the Russians have to make. Clearly, they are the puppet masters behind Bashar al-Assad, as are the Iranians; the only reason Bashar al-Assad is in power today is because of the support he's had from those two countries. So they've got to make a decision, keep a corrupt murderer in power, or move towards a diplomatic solution.
Katty Kay: "The military situation has been getting more tense, we've seen Russian and American jets flying very close to each other. The Americans have downed a Syrian plane. The Russians didn't like that. What are the risks at the moment of some kind of miscalculation in Syria?"
Mark Kimmitt: "Well, that's my greatest worry as well, because the Russians have turned off the deconfliction channel. We've had a strong communications channel between ourselves - the coalition nations - and the Russians, to make sure there wasn't any kind of accidental shootdown, any accidental problem in [Syrian airspace]. That can only be done if this deconfliction channel remains open, so it up to the Russians, in my mind, to re-open this deconfliction channel so we don't have that miscalculation that you're suggesting."
Katty Kay: "There isn't a political strategy, here in the United States anyway, nor is there amongst the coalition, for what happens post-Assad, if there is going to be a post-Assad. We seem to be in some kind of a holding pattern, to some extent that reflects American public opinion, and an incredible reluctance; I was speaking to a top Democrat just this morning who was saying there is no appetite in the United States, either among Republicans, or amongst Democrats, even amongst president Trump's most ardent supporters, for the United States to get more militarily involved in Syria, and the President, while issuing this threat on the chemical weapons issue, is very well aware of that lack of support for more engagement."