How Assad Plays the Left & Why It so Often Works.

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Montage_of_the_Syrian_Civil_War

Audience members shouted at the Pakistani intellectual, standing alone on the stage, as he discussed the paralysis pervading discourse on the Syrian Civil War.

It was his first trip to America and the anger of audience members was palpable. But it was not Republican businessmen in Dallas doing the attacking, but rather Left-wing progressives and intellectuals at the legendary Trident Café in Boulder, Colorado, where my last decade has been spent reading, writing, and drinking green tea every night.

The controversy surrounding criticism of the Syrian Assad regime has been a peculiar oddity of the Left for the past several years. The civil war started when Assad forces began opening fire on pro-democracy demonstrators at the height of the Arab Spring. The protests were largely peaceful, but Assad began sending rooftop snipers to kill demonstrators. Given the extent to which Leftists protest, they should have been more sympathetic to protesters. But the Left feared a Western intervention and remained woefully silent as atrocities grew.

The Free Syria Army was formed to protect protesters from these attacks. Soldiers and officers defecting from the regular military joined together with local militias to protect protesters and religious minorities, notes Jonathan Littell in his Syrian Notebooks. His on-the-ground coverage from 2012 reveals an army of loosely organized idealists fighting for democracy. But things have changed since those halcyon days when it appeared possible to overturn the regime peacefully.

Assad primed supporters and would-be interventionists by referring to the protesters as terrorists, but terrorists were the least of his worries at that time. This would change after the Assad regime began to empty jails of jihadists. Michael Weiss and Hassan Hassan detail, in a book on the subject, how many of the jihadists set free went on the become Isis leaders.

After Isis formed, it became common practice for Assad forces to attack the Free Syria Army and leave Isis alone. The tacit understanding between Assad and Isis appears so strong that Syrians themselves often say Assad and Isis are two sides of the same coin. With Russian forces now bombing numerous Free Syrian Army sites, and largely neglecting to touch Isis, which is much less a threat to Assad, the strategy of letting Isis survive so as to better isolate the rebels seems ever-more entrenched.

Of course, Isis sprang from many sources: the old Sunni elites of Iraq, who were removed from power with the American invasion; the resistance forces to the American occupation; and the collective traumas perpetrated under Saddam, to name but a few. But the Assad regime played a critical role in brutalizing the people who would later turn to Isis, and it let the group grow unimpeded. It was a strategy that allowed the Assad regime to avoid international censure, as attention turned to the dangers of radical jihadists. The more the world focused on Isis, the more the secular Assad came to look like the reasonable man in the Western business suit, in spite of the fact that his regime had murdered by some estimates eight times more people than all the rebel groups put together.

The Syrian Civil War has now killed 220,000 people, according to the U.N. The vast majority have been killed by the Assad regime. The U.N. estimates the regime is besieging an additional almost half million people, many of whom are starving in places like the Palestinian Yarmouk camp. The regime regularly dumps barrel bombs on these heavily populated city centers by helicopter. The bombs consist of chlorine, explosives, shrapnel, nails, and axes. They are crude weapons whose purpose is to kill civilians en masse, civilians who are all too often trapped and starving.

As measured by percentage of population killed and the brutality with which they are killed, the Assad regime is arguably the world’s most brutal. But criticize Assad to a group of Leftists and you run the risk of attack. Leftists tend to assume the only possible way to dislodge Assad is by force. It is a view that runs contrary to that of experts, who usually recommend imposing a simple no-fly zone, which would tip the balance of forces.

Instead of looking at what can be accomplished, Leftists tend to obscure the debate on Syria, arguing that Israel created Isis. It is a strange conjecture, given the lack of solid evidence or logic. Israel enjoyed decades of peace with the Assad regime, after all. And the last thing they want is a millenarian Islamist regime on their border, bent on world domination. Somehow we are supposed to believe that racist Israeli soldiers would arm and train bearded Islamic radicals intent on forging a global empire. The prospect is so evil and self-defeating as to appear absurd, an absurdity that is only compounded by lack of evidence. Some note that Israel did provide medical support to about a thousand Al-Qaeda affiliated, Nusra Front fighters in the Golan Heights, as reported in the Wall Street Journal. But Nusra is a rival to Isis, and Israel may simply have wanted to strengthen Nusra on their border to keep Hezbollah from gaining a foothold and firing rockets across it. Getting from that to Israel creating Isis requires a flying leap in logic best left to Hollywood stuntmen. Israel perpetrates enough injustices; there is no need to make them up.

This brings us back to the beleaguered speaker, fielding selective facts from a cynical audience. Idrees Ahmad is an author and sociologist at the University of Edinburg in Scotland. Most people would consider his views to be quite Leftist, like my own. After his talk, we spent the day hiking in the foothills of Boulder, discussing the civil war. While he acknowledges the complexities of the crisis in Syria, he believes discourse on it tends to obscure real and practical solutions. There is no need for a military intervention, he argues. Rather, a no-fly zone would be enough to break the sieges and tip the balance of forces against the Assad regime.

But if the Assad regime falls, doesn’t this run the risk of radical jihadists taking over Syria, I challenge? Ahmad says there is no chance of Isis taking over Syria, because Isis is too weak and lacking in popular support in the cities where they would need to govern. Rather, their popularity lies in rural Sunni districts, and contrary to popular belief, Isis often brings order to these places, which the civil war has made lawless. Further, Isis is largely an Iraqi organization, supplemented by Syrian and international soldiers.

But what comes next after the Assad regime falls? Ahmad argues we would need an international coalition of interested parties to press for a negotiated settlement. Such a settlement would probably involve a power sharing agreement, and while it might be tense and less than democratic, it would be better than Assad. But what if the Assad regime fell and a negotiated settlement failed to materialize, I query? Ahmad argues that Syria would become another Libya, controlled by rival warlords and adds that, while this may seem a dangerous prospect, it would be an improvement over the Syria of today. For it is the Assad regime that is now doing most of the killing; warlords seldom do such damage.

Ahmad is a breath of fresh air, weaving a middle-way between Left-wing paranoia and Right-wing bellicosity. He provides lucid answers, grounded in fact and reason. What is most striking is how seldom these practical solutions receive mention. The solutions may be debatable; the problem is they are not being discussed. While it is important to give shelter to refugees in Europe, it is more important to get to the root of the refugee crisis. The Left obscures this clarity; the Right overlooks it in favor of strong action. But Syria is a political challenge for which there are solutions. It is time we treat it as such and look past the beheadings. Bad politics can kill more than Isis and Assad put together.

If you liked this article, please friend Theo on Facebook and join the wider dialogue.

 

Relephant:

Laughing Isis Off the Face of the Earth.

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Author: Theo Horesh

Editor: Travis May

Photo: Wikipedia

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anonymous Oct 12, 2015 1:36am

Unfortunately, you may be quite right. I am a slow writer and publisher. Virtually everything written here is still relevant, though. It will all be crucial information in pressing for any negotiated settlement. And the press for a no-fly zone would allow the West to call Putin's bluff. He claims to be fighting Isis but is mostly targeting other rebel factions.

    anonymous Oct 13, 2015 2:06am

    Theo, Kudos. Makes me inclined to re-read this more generously … and fully. But just in half-reading I also saw the part about no intervention, just a no-fly zone. Did you follow events in Libya at all? That means regime change, destroying the government (as much as possible – may not be totally in this case like in Libya – especially considering the air defenses that have made no-fly a no-go for so long, aside from areas already lost from gov. control anyway – "isolated").

      anonymous Dec 1, 2015 4:34am

      Causticlogic: I did follow LIbya and quite closely. The no-fly zone turned into a bombing campaign there for a very specific reason. The Gaddafi regime, which had already killed a thousand or so protesters in the first week of protests, was approaching Bengazi, where the protests were centered and he was threatening to hunt down protesters "in their closets." The escalation had widespread support within Libya for this reason. It also had Arab League support. The Libyan U.N. representative spoke at the time of fears that Gaddafi would commit genocide. None of these conditions are currently present in Syria. Virtually no one in the rebel movement wants an American bombing. There would not be support for it in the Arab League, nor in NATO for that matter. And there is no specific crisis situation that might lead to genocide. Rather, attacks on civilians tantamount to genocide have been occurring for years.

    anonymous Oct 13, 2015 4:44am

    Approval optional essay for Theo: there's way too much to cover in the gap between where we and our sources are coming from. Short: the truth as I see it is about upside down from the one most are fed – the "credible sources" have mainly just believed opposition claims, support them with more opp claims, and never double check for contrary evidence, motive, basic logic, etc.

    We check – both sides' stories, video and photo evidence, all considered, reading between the lines. See A Closer Look On Syria research wiki, some on the blog Monitor on Massacre Marketing. In case after case, best reading for massacres and the like – the Houla Massacre, for example – shows rebels / shady allies actually did these, had false "survivors" lie about the who and why, to both kill gov. supporters (whole families = genocide) and to get the gov. blamed for genocide and hopefully punished (here's another truckfull of bodies, where's our air force?). It's been easy, the "credible sources" want to believe this, and isolate Syria/weaken Iran etc. – easier if they're insane bad guys. And each new case calls on the precedent of other, sloppily accepted rebel massacre allegations. On the flip-side, our better analysis piles up and the picture gets clearer and clearer, not murkier like the narrative of the "humanitarian interventionists." The difference best evidence and best thinking makes.

    That and, as Putin sees it correctly, these Jihadists became a problem only midst the armed rebellion, fostered to isolate Syria, weaken Iran, etc. Now the bar is how low for those allowed to bomb terrorists in Syria? ISIS is almost as bad as "Assad," everyone wants to hit them. Al-Nusra, the al-Qaeda group dominating half the field, seems like someone we can work with, would have to work with, whatever. Now openly calling for massive indiscriminate shelling of Alawi towns to punish "Assad" for getting Russian help. " Not-quite al-Qaeda Sunni salfist groups who commit genocidal crimes are golden, off-limits "CIA trained" assets … how dare Russia bomb those too?

    Odd tidbit: opposition VDC lists members of FSA Islamist units, al-Nusra, and ISIS all dying side-by-side as they fought that way in conquering the Latakia villages of Sheikh Nabhan mountain in August 2013, where they massacred and kidnapped hundreds of Alawi civilians. (For that case, Human Rights Watch's report 'you can still see their blood' is actually quite informative.) How's that for same coin?

    again, thanks for thinking

anonymous Oct 11, 2015 8:02pm

"Syrians themselves often say Assad and Isis are two sides of the same coin." Syrians themselves admit that? Wow, that's deep. Any intelligence seen by, say, the DIA, implicating Assad in seeking a "salafist principality" to emerge in the Iraq-Syria border areas in order to make themselves look good? None that I know of. DIA did notice the opposition's supporters (Western governments, Gulf monarchies, Turkey) were pursuing just such a development in mid-2012 – in order to "isolate the Syrian regime" (from support from Iran or Iraq). And in the end, they planned to blame "Assad" for the emergence of Islamic State. And they have, with much help. But it's still not widely bought.

anonymous Oct 11, 2015 5:08pm

ISIS was created in 2006 (reported by Simon Hersh), and they are on a rampage since than and are responsible for more than million Christians. And Sunni extremist in Syria, also known as CIA asset are just opportunists (as "peaceful" protesters responsible for some 10 000 security oficers killed-ask Nick Robertson from CNN what he saw), counting on US and Saudi dominance to get them in power. By any definition they are just TRAITORS.

anonymous Oct 10, 2015 10:26pm

Unfortunately events have overtaken you, the fate of Syria will now be decided in Moscow.

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Theo Horesh

Theo Horesh is the author of the newly released, The Holocausts We All Deny, as well as, Convergence: The Globalization of Mind and The Inner Climate: Global Warming from the Inside Out, a book of interviews with leading thinkers, like Frances Moore Lappe, George Lakoff, Paul Ehrlich, Andrew Revkin, and Peter Senge. He is a human rights activist and host of the Conscious Business podcast, which was recently chosen by the Business Insider as one of 100 podcasts that will make you smarter and more successful. He has been meditating for 30 years and currently resides in Boulder, Colorado. The Holocausts We All Deny is now available for purchase.