Reuters: West warms up to Assad regime

posted at 9:21 am on December 18, 2013 by Ed Morrissey

Just four months ago, the question in the West was whether to bomb Bashar al-Assad’s military assets after finally acknowledging that the Syrian regime had crossed the “red line” on chemical weapons after an attack so blatant that ignoring it was no longer an option. That led to the stunning display of indecision and retreat by the US and the UK this summer that all but eliminated the threat of Western intervention.  Now Reuters reports that the retreat may be complete, as the opposition coalition complains that the West has begun to embrace Assad and the Alawites as a bulwark against al-Qaeda:

Western nations have indicated to the Syrian opposition that peace talks next month may not lead to the removal of President Bashar al-Assad and that his Alawite minority will remain key in any transitional administration, opposition sources said.

The message, delivered to senior members of the Syrian National Coalition at a meeting of the anti-Assad Friends of Syria alliance in London last week, was prompted by rise of al Qaeda and other militant groups, and their takeover of a border crossing and arms depots near Turkey belonging to the moderate Free Syrian Army, the sources told Reuters.

“Our Western friends made it clear in London that Assad cannot be allowed to go now because they think chaos and an Islamist militant takeover would ensue,” said one senior member of the Coalition who is close to officials from Saudi Arabia.

Noting the possibility of Assad holding a presidential election when his term formally ends next year, the Coalition member added: “Some do not even seem to mind if he runs again next year, forgetting he gassed his own people.”

In fact, it’s not just the West that seems to be giving up on fighting Assad and his regime now.  An unnamed “Middle East diplomat” told Reuters that his advice to the opposition was to be “creative” and accept that Assad and his regime will control Syria for at least the short- to middle-term future.  Both the US and Russia are now on the same page, according to this diplomat, in keeping Assad in charge of the military and government for an undetermined “transitional” period.  A refusal now would leave the opposition with only a handful of allies — Saudi Arabia, Libya, and Turkey.

That represents a triumph of the first order for Russia.  They have opposed the veiled and not-so-veiled attempts of the West to force regime change in Syria as part of their “Arab Spring” strategy, a strategy which produced the deadly debacle of the failed state in Libya. In just four months, Moscow (and reality) has forced Obama and David Cameron to commit humiliating reversals and submit to their preferred policy outcome — a chastened West reluctantly supporting their client dictator.  The most galling part of that triumph is that Russia was largely correct in preventing a repeat of what happened in Libya, even though that means keeping an Iranian satellite in place.  As a bonus, the exercise has weakened Western relations with Saudi Arabia and Turkey, which will boost Iran’s influence in the region as well as Russia’s.

It was obvious two years ago that there were no good outcomes in Syria, only variably bad outcomes.  This won’t even be the worst of those — a failed Syrian state serving as an al-Qaeda safe zone would be that — but the manner in which this appears to be resolving is hardly the optimal outcome even from a bad set of choices. If the US and NATO had admitted its failures in Libya, it would never have repeated them in Syria, but at least we will probably be spared the spectacle of the West explicitly creating a failed state before our eyes.

If anyone wonders why the opposition will stick around after hearing this, Jamie Dettmer explains clearly why they still need the West … and why they may end up joining Assad themselves:

Last weekend, Al-Qaeda-affiliated fighters in northern Syria executed a prominent moderate rebel commander—a slaying that has exacerbated divisions between Islamic militants and degraded morale inside the beleaguered Western-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA), which is facing a defection crisis.

The slaying of Ammar al-Wawi by jihadists linked to the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Shams, or ISIS, is the latest in a series of targeted abductions and assassinations of leading moderate rebels. FSA sources say they suspect that al-Wawi was executed on Saturday after being cornered three days earlier, along with three of his men, near Bab al-Hawa as he crossed back into Syria from Turkey. …

Al-Wawi, a former Syrian government intelligence officer who defected to the rebel cause in July 2011, was a regular interlocutor with the international media, often serving as the FSA’s spin-doctor in videos uploaded to YouTube and in interviews with Arabic-language television channels.

More than a year ago, al-Wawi was apparently upbeat about the prospects of the rebellion against President Bashar al-Assad, saying that the regime was “like the walking dead.” Now, his execution has added to a sense of foreboding among brigades still aligned with the FSA.

The end result of this may be a big outbreak of Syrian nationalism, which would ironically suit Iran’s purposes as well as the West’s.


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King Putt: “Whatever!”

Ward Cleaver on December 18, 2013 at 9:24 AM

Syrian rebellions make for strange bedfellows.

oldroy on December 18, 2013 at 9:25 AM


In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.

All hail King Assad.

Rocks on December 18, 2013 at 9:31 AM

“Gassed his own people…” I don’t believe that for one second. Al Nusra would murder thousands (like it already has) by gas if it meant duping the dope in chief and getting the US to fight for al Queda. Our lame brain in chief and his lackey Lurch look alike swollow this load hook line and sinker. The muslim in the white house is chomping at the bit to send American men and women to fight for al Queda against Assad but he also knows no one believes his crap anymore.

Kuffar on December 18, 2013 at 9:31 AM

Did Assad gas his people or what it Al Qaeda?

The evidence seems to point at Al Qaeda.

b1jetmech on December 18, 2013 at 9:33 AM

The Russians prevented Obama from screwing up the Middle East more than he already has. The American people should be laying siege to the White House. Yet, the vast majority couldn’t even tell you what happened.

claudius on December 18, 2013 at 9:34 AM

Did Assad gas his people or what it Al Qaeda?

The evidence seems to point at Al Qaeda.

b1jetmech on December 18, 2013 at 9:33 AM

I believe it was a mutual gassing.

Steve Eggleston on December 18, 2013 at 9:36 AM

Wait a minute. After reading the article, the opposition is Al Queezer? Who knew?

oldroy on December 18, 2013 at 9:45 AM

Holy Schizophrenia, Batman!

ExpressoBold on December 18, 2013 at 9:45 AM

Serves the West right, for being so stupid – twice!

OldEnglish on December 18, 2013 at 9:46 AM

In fact, it’s not just the West that seems to be giving up on fighting Assad and his regime now. An unnamed “Middle East diplomat” told Reuters that his advice to the opposition was to be “creative” and accept that Assad and his regime will control Syria for at least the short- to middle-term future. Both the US and Russia are now on the same page, according to this diplomat, in keeping Assad in charge of the military and government for an undetermined “transitional” period.

Everyone loves a winner.

This is a foreign policy disaster of the first order. Iran’s hand has been strengthened immeasurably by this, and the US has also been badly weakened by the collapse of its initiatives. Obama never should have gotten involved in the first place, but when he DID commit us to this course of action he needed to act decisively.

Given the provocative show of US weakness, Obama’s defeat at the hands of Iran/Syria/Russia now makes it FAR more likely that the Israelis will feel compelled to either seek succour from Russia rather than us, or else attack Iran on their own.

Did Assad gas his people or what it Al Qaeda?

The evidence seems to point at Al Qaeda.

b1jetmech on December 18, 2013 at 9:33 AM

I would be unsurprised if both sides were gassing each other. The Assad family is nearly as bad as the family of Saddam Hussein. At the beginning, before al-Qaida infiltrated and took over the rebellion, I was actually cheering for Assad’s removal and thought this was the one bright spot in the administration’s otherwise dismal foreign policy. Now look where we are.

Doomberg on December 18, 2013 at 9:47 AM

We were for him before we were against him before we were for him.

Shy Guy on December 18, 2013 at 9:51 AM

All part of the multidimensional chess being played by Team Smart Power.

Read a book, rubes, THIS is how you do foreign policy.

Bishop on December 18, 2013 at 9:51 AM

Israel is truly on it’s own. Obamaclown has deserted them. When he was first running for President people were saying he was a closet muslim that he would abandon Israel and side with their enemies, I was very skeptical. Turns out those people were spot on.

He has singlehandedly set the Middle East back to where it was in 1967, on the brink of war.

Johnnyreb on December 18, 2013 at 9:52 AM

Read a book, rubes, THIS is how you do foreign policy.

Bishop on December 18, 2013 at 9:51 AM

Can you suggest a book to read that would advance our limited understanding of the world?

oldroy on December 18, 2013 at 9:54 AM

So Assad is the new Saddam. We embrace him because he is the enemy of our enemy even though he is a mass murderer? The bizarre thing is we embraced Saddam because he opposed Iran. In embracing Assad, we are embracing Iran. Realpolitik can lead you down very twisting paths.

The truth is there was always another option: to depose Assad early and midwife a new Syrian democracy into existence. This would have been difficult but not impossible. Now the “realists” have us embracing Iran because we are afraid of Al Qaeda. The Assad/Iran/Russia strategy has worked perfectly. How they must despise us.

In the end we will have to intervene in Syria just as we did with Saddam.

breffnian on December 18, 2013 at 9:55 AM

The truth is there was always another option: to depose Assad early and midwife a new Syrian democracy into existence. This would have been difficult but not impossible. Now the “realists” have us embracing Iran because we are afraid of Al Qaeda. The Assad/Iran/Russia strategy has worked perfectly. How they must despise us.

In the end we will have to intervene in Syria just as we did with Saddam.

breffnian on December 18, 2013 at 9:55 AM

This encapsulates my thinking on the subject. If Obama had Assad in his sights, he should have acted when the rebellion was still new and hadn’t been taken over by al-Qaida. Now we’re at a situation where a big war in the Middle East is MORE likely because Iran is likely to emboldened by this and become more aggressive.

Doomberg on December 18, 2013 at 10:00 AM

Back To The Future:

In 1968, after a comprehensive defense review, the British announced their intention of withdrawing “east of Suez” by 1970.

The British departure meant the end of the security system that had operated in the Middle East for over a century, and strategic requirements moved Washington’s objectives even closer to those of the shah.

The US could not afford a power vacuum in a region that supplied 32% of the world’s petroleum and that, at the same time, held 58 % of the world’s proven energy reserves. Consequently, President Nixon and Secretary of State Kissinger decided to employ a Nixon Doctrine, allowing the US to supply arms to selected client states instead of sending troops.

The Nixon Doctrine relied on strong local allies to act as regional policemen. This policy, of course, meant that the shah could achieve his long held objective of acquiring substantial quantities of advanced weaponry.

Quickly Iran became “the key guardian of Western interests in the Gulf.

The safety of the Gulf had to be guaranteed, and who but Iran could fulfill this function?

kcewa on December 18, 2013 at 10:16 AM

Jeane Kirkpatrick made it quite clear in her essay Dictatorships & Double Standards that is quite a bit easier to deal with one crazy murderous bastard in dominion over a multitude of crazy murderous bastards rather than dealing with a cabal of crazy murderous bastards in dominion over that multitude of crazy murderous bastards.

The logic is impeccable; the inferences inescapable. And yet, the establishing of cabal is how we left Iraq, is where we will leave Karzai -or his successor- at the mercy of, and has indeed been our entire oeuvre re Arab Spring.

M240H on December 18, 2013 at 10:16 AM

…The truth is there was always another option: to depose Assad early and midwife a new Syrian democracy into existence. This would have been difficult but not impossible. Now the “realists” have us embracing Iran because we are afraid of Al Qaeda. The Assad/Iran/Russia strategy has worked perfectly. How they must despise us.

In the end we will have to intervene in Syria just as we did with Saddam.

breffnian on December 18, 2013 at 9:55 AM

The establishment of democracy within a culture that believes in thugocracy -the rule of the strong- deeply, intuitively, and as a matter of ethics, will never be fostered by another democracy simply because the will to provide the necessary support across the time-span of an entire generation is not sustainable from administration to administration in the fostering democracy. Which is a long way of saying you’re talking out your a**.

M240H on December 18, 2013 at 10:23 AM

The evidence is that the rebels were using the gassing, not the other way around.

astonerii on December 18, 2013 at 10:36 AM

We were for him before we were against him before we were for him.

Shy Guy on December 18, 2013 at 9:51 AM

…Horseface…for president!

KOOLAID2 on December 18, 2013 at 10:53 AM

[breffnian on December 18, 2013 at 9:55 AM]

Of course that was an option, but it was an option the American people would not tolerate, because it would require a similar effort as we put into Iraq, if not a greater one, since we didn’t have the 911 card to play against the Russian & Iranian objections to doing it.

So it was an option that wouldn’t work or would cost too much.

The problem in Syria was that the rebellion against Assad was led by moderates. Moderates don’t win rebellions in fights like this.

Dusty on December 18, 2013 at 11:02 AM

There is a penalty when the Saudi Kings bullet catchers don’t dance to his tune.

BL@KBIRD on December 18, 2013 at 11:21 AM

the will to provide the necessary support across the time-span of an entire generation is not sustainable from administration to administration in the fostering democracy
M240H on December 18, 2013 at 10:23 AM

That is all too true and the truth is clear from Iraq. The war was longer and harder than expected but ultimately successful. Unfortunately politicians at home used it as an excuse to attack and weaken the president (liberals, Democrats) and foster their own political careers (you know who). It was the most depressing display of political cynicism I have ever seen. Democrats literally prayed (or should that be brayed?)for defeat in Iraq. Liberal culture/media demonized the war relentlessly which made intervention in Syria a political impossibility.

The country has changed. I wonder if the multigenerational effort to defeat communism (long and hard too but ultimately successful) could be won by the America of today.

breffnian on December 18, 2013 at 11:27 AM

Well, why not? This administration hasn’t found a terrorist regime they didn’t like. Assad didn’t gas his own people, btw.

John_G on December 18, 2013 at 12:12 PM

Even if Assad did gas his own people, so did Clinton. The difference is just one of degree.

PersonFromPorlock on December 18, 2013 at 12:45 PM

Just another Obama failure.

rplat on December 18, 2013 at 12:55 PM

If you like your despot you can keep your despot. Period.

Ward Cleaver on December 18, 2013 at 2:11 PM

Despotism is probably the only way to keep a lid on Al Qaeda, the Taliban, etc. What’s the alternative? Another Iraq-type war. There’s zero support for that in this country, especially with the Obama deficits, a struggling economy and the uncertainty of a failing Obamacare system.

There’s nothing we can do in Syria, because Assad is a client of the Russians.

Before we can see ourselves as exceptional, a force in the world, we need to become economically healthy again.

flataffect on December 18, 2013 at 7:32 PM

Putin is running an old-fashioned, brutally nationalistic Russian foreign policy. Everything is crystal clear. If you are of benefit to Russia he supports you, and it doesn’t matter how evil you are. If you are getting in Russia’s way he’ll try to make you pay, not out of a sense of justice but to show that being nice to Russia pays and if you aren’t nice to Russia you pay, bitterly.

These old-fashioned nationalist policies are enjoying great success.

Meanwhile all the more “sophisticated” policies supported by “smart power” geniuses from American universities are leading only to fiasco.

Clean out all the foreign policy schools. They evidently teach stuff that is much less effective than what any good KGB man knows works.

Vladimir Putin: not so much an enemy as a nationalist role model.

David Blue on December 18, 2013 at 7:35 PM

If you like your despot you can keep your despot. Period.

Ward Cleaver on December 18, 2013 at 2:11 PM

Vladimir Putin demonstrably knows how to keep his despot.

David Blue on December 18, 2013 at 7:36 PM

Not sure why this seems to be so difficult…

1) Wipe out Assad regime

2) Let terrorists take over

3) Wipe out terrorist regime

4) Home for tea and medals

neocon stormtrooper on December 19, 2013 at 3:53 AM