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Opinion

Hopefully it is the beginning of the end for Assad

Forget about fake “nationalist” condemnation and crocodile tears for a doubtful “sovereignty,” since Syria has become nothing but a mailbox where regional and international political messages are exchanged.

Instead, look deeper at a situation where human lives have become irrelevant in the face of a crescendo of chatter about false “rejectionism” and folkloric “Arabism,” and admit that the main culprit violating Syria’s sovereignty is an individual who never cherished it and never cared about the lives and dignity of Syrians.

I do not support foreign intervention or gloat about misfortunes and defeats. I would not call on foreign powers to occupy our lands or open for them the gates of what are supposed to be homelands, not detention centers where people are abused and humiliated.

It pains me deeply to see foreign military aircraft cruising the skies of Arab countries taken away from their people not by an old enemy (which we have been verbally attacking for 70 years), but by some of their own. It pains me even more to see the inability of leaders to confront the real enemy, while by force of habit and due to “inheritance” they have mastered the skill of suppressing their co-citizens when they seek the most basic human rights.

After the US Tomahawk strikes against Shayrat air base in Homs province, which was for several years a source of death and misery for Syria’s cities and countryside, I heard and read about “angry” reactions from fellow Arabs who do not seem to reject murder as a means of dialogue with protesters.

Worse, they consider the US strikes a violation of Syria’s sovereignty, as if Syria is nothing but a regime that until now is bargaining with foreign powers over how to partition it along religious, sectarian and ethnic lines, and engages in systematic population exchange under international auspices; and a “punishment” of the regime “for opposing Israel’s continued occupation of Palestine,” according to Dr. Bouthaina Shaaban, political and media adviser to Syrian President Bashar Assad.

There has been a sinister relationship of mutual services between the regime and its supporters — namely Iran — on the one hand, and Daesh and its ilk on the other. The latter never really believed in the Syrian popular uprising and never fought for it, but rather fought against it and worked hard to destroy it from within, whenever possible. This picture was always clear to Western powers.

The regime should come to an end as a sign of respect for the souls of child victims such as Hamzah Al-Khatib, Wassim Zakkour, Aylan Kurdi, and Aya and Ahmad Abdul Hamid Al-Yusuf and the stunned innocence on the face of Omran Daqneesh; and the tears of every mother, father, sister and brother throughout Syria.

Eyad Abu Shakra

Washington, in particular, knew quite a lot about the Syrian situation during Barack Obama’s presidency, but unfortunately his priorities were elsewhere. The Iran nuclear deal was Washington’s main goal, and to ensure its implementation Obama and his staff were happy to sacrifice the Syrian people, as well as America’s traditional Middle East allies and friends, to keep Tehran happy and allow it to spread its influence regionally.

For six years, since the start of the Syrian uprising, the Damascus regime and its backers in Tehran and Moscow have received all the reassurances they needed to escalate their war. They benefited from the following US positions:

1. Continuous refusal to enforce “safe havens” and “no-fly zones” intended to deter the regime and protect refugees and the displaced, while Russian and Chinese vetoes at the UN Security Council prevented the international community from stopping the regime’s carnage.

2. Stubborn refusal, despite statements to the contrary, to provide the Syrian opposition with quality weapons needed to confront and neutralize the regime’s arsenal, replenished by Moscow through a permanent “air bridge.”

3. Failure to seriously check the flagrant military activities of pro-Iran sectarian militias, which have inflamed sectarian polarization, and nurtured frustration, despair and eventually extremism in Syria.

4. Failure to back the trend of moderation and openness within the Syrian opposition, then claiming the opposition was unable to confront the regime. The US then gave its support to secessionist Kurdish militias, threatening not only Syria’s territorial integrity but also that of its neighbor Turkey.

5. Failure to foresee, then face up to, direct Russian military involvement, which is now a reality in many parts of Syria. This Russian involvement exacerbated the refugee crisis, especially after the fall of Aleppo, giving it global dimensions reflected in human tragedies and the rise of the xenophobic extreme right in Europe.

Thus the Obama administration, which refused even to deter Assad, emboldened Tehran and Moscow, and enabled them to take the initiative in the Middle East, in the process weakening players who had considered themselves friends of the US, if not strategic allies. This unhappy situation increased the political and humanitarian cost of the conflict, and decreased the chances of a victory of moderates against extremists, in Syria and elsewhere.

By ordering a punitive strike in retaliation for the use of chemical weapons in the town of Khan Sheikhun, US President Donald Trump gave the first sign of deterrence. It was the only action needed from Washington, but it had failed to materialize before.

This strike should not be a mere reaction, but a first phase in a genuine strategy that deals realistically and candidly with rulers and governments that have proved beyond doubt that they do not care about dialogue, consensus, coexistence or human rights.

Assad and his backers continued their genocide in Syria even after Washington said toppling him was no longer a US priority. This clearly underlines the futility of any dialogue with him. Daesh’s extremism can only be defeated by backing the forces of moderation. This means getting rid of those exploiting extremism and not forcing the victims of discrimination to condone and accept it.

The regime should come to an end not for Trump’s sake, but as a sign of respect for the souls of child victims such as Hamzah Al-Khatib, Wassim Zakkour, Aylan Kurdi, and Aya and Ahmad Abdul Hamid Al-Yusuf; the stunned innocence on the face of Omran Daqneesh; and the tears of every mother, father, sister and brother throughout Syria.

 

Eyad Abu Shakra is managing editor of Asharq Al-Awsat, where this article was originally published.