Trump Seems to Realize Assad Is No Ally Against Islamic State

American president Donald Trump reviews troops at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, February 6
American president Donald Trump reviews troops at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, February 6 (DoD/D. Myles Cullen)

It appears to have dawned on Donald Trump that a pact with Syria’s Bashar al-Assad against the Islamists in his country makes no sense.

“It’s very, very possible, and, I will tell you, it’s already happened, that my attitude toward Syria and Assad has changed very much,” the American president told reporters in Washington after it emerged that Assad’s troops had again deployed chemical weapons. Read more “Trump Seems to Realize Assad Is No Ally Against Islamic State”

Political Dynasties and Their Discontents

Members of the Bush family watch a sports game at the White House in Washington DC, June 3, 2001
Members of the Bush family watch a sports game at the White House in Washington DC, June 3, 2001 (George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum)

Political dynasties have always been a big part of human civilization and today is no exception.

In the United States, of course, the rise of Donald Trump (and Bernie Sanders) was at least partially a reaction to the dynastic, Clinton-versus-Bush election that only last year most Americans were expecting to get.

Among other things, Jeb Bush’s candidacy split the non-evangelical portion of the Republican establishment in two, preventing it from coalescing around Marco Rubio early on and thus leaving an opening for Trump to force his way into. Hillary Clinton’s candidacy, meanwhile, may even leave the door open for Trump to become president, however unlikely and unappealing that may be. Read more “Political Dynasties and Their Discontents”

Let’s Not Fall into Assad’s and Putin’s Trap in Syria

Vladimir Putin
Russian president Vladimir Putin attends negotiations in Minsk, Belarus, February 11 (Press Service of the President of Ukraine)

Since the start of the uprising against him, Syrian dictator Bashar Assad has maintained that all his opponents are fanatics and terrorists. His Russian ally, Vladimir Putin, agreed and reiterated his position in interviews and at the United Nations this week.

What the two are saying boils down to this: Without Assad’s firm hand, Syria has descended into violence. Hence, the world better support Assad to stop the mayhem. The alternative is the barbarism of Al Qaeda and the self-declared Islamic State.

With an estimated 230,000 dead and half of Syria’s population displaced, Westerners may be forgiven for thinking they’re right.

Problem is, Assad isn’t fighting Al Qaeda and the Islamic State.

Worse, as the Atlantic Sentinel has reported, there is evidence his regime helped create the latter. Read more “Let’s Not Fall into Assad’s and Putin’s Trap in Syria”

Will America Talk with Syria’s Assad or Not?

American secretary of state John Kerry answers questions from reporters in Montreux, Switzerland, March 4
American secretary of state John Kerry answers questions from reporters in Montreux, Switzerland, March 4 (State Department)

Four years into Syria’s civil war, the United States may have come round to the view that President Bashar al-Assad needs to be part of a political solution.

Despite earlier insisting that Assad “must go,” Secretary of State John Kerry told CBS News on Sunday, when asked if the United States would be willing to speak with Assad, “We have to negotiate in the end.”

The State Department rushed to clarify that Kerry did not mean direct negotiations with Assad.

“By necessity, there has always been a need for representatives of the Assad regime to be a part of this process,” a spokeswoman said. “It has never been and would not be Assad who would negotiate. And the secretary was not saying that today.”

Maybe not. But it seems rather hardheaded to continue to exclude the Syrian dictator from any effort to mediate an end to the conflict in his country.

The United States believe Assad “lost legitimacy” when he started killing his own people but not all Syrians agree. Many minority Alawites and Christians have stuck with him for fear of a radical Sunni takeover. By Assad’s design, the peaceful protests that started in 2011 morphed into a fanatic, sectarian uprising that is dominated by violent Islamists — primarily the Al Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra Front and the self-declared Islamic State. Both groups have been targets of American airstrikes in Iraq as well as Syria.

Nor do all powers agree that Assad should step down. Iran is his ally. To an extent, so is Russia. China still considers Assad to be Syria’s legitimate leader.

China and Russia have used their vetoes in the United Nations Security Council to forestall any international military intervention in Syria. If world powers are to find the much-desired political solution to the Syrian crisis, the views of China and Russia cannot be ignored.

Americans’ outrage is not without cause. Assad’s henchmen have indiscriminately and purposefully targeted civilian areas, using crude and deadly barrel bombs as well as chemical weapons, withheld food and medical aid from Syrians in need, executed rebel sympathizers and systematically raped, tortured and killed detainees. But Assad is also a major party to the conflict.

Unless the United States are willing to impose a “political solution” on Syria on their own — meaning, intervene in the conflict with force — it is difficult to see how Assad can be altogether sidelined.

Analysis Confirms Suspicions Assad Helped Islamic State

Analysis from the Jane’s Information Group released earlier this week confirms suspicions that the forces loyal to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad have mostly left the Sunni radicals of the Islamic State to their own devices while concentrating their firepower on more moderate opposition fighters.

Just 6 percent of Syrian counterterrorism operations this year targeted the Islamic State, according to Jane’s, while 13 percent of Islamic State attacks in Syria targeted the regime.

“These figures suggest that the Islamic State and Assad’s security forces have embraced the clever strategy of ignoring each other while focusing on attacking more moderate opposition groups,” said the manager of the company’s Terrorism and Insurgency Center, Matthew Henman.

“Assad is trying to downplay the Syrian revolution narrative and instead portray it as an Islamist insurgency against his government,” according to Henman. “This way, he can crack down on it with the indirect support of the West.” Read more “Analysis Confirms Suspicions Assad Helped Islamic State”

Bashar Assad: Root of Islamic State’s Evil

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said in an interview with America’s PBS earlier this week he still considers his Syrian counterpart, Bashar al-Assad, as much a threat to the Middle East as the militant group that calls itself the Islamic State. It was Assad who “left space” for terrorist organizations like it, he said. “He was the one who prepared the ground for this.”

Surely, Erdoğan’s resentment has something to do with his failure to rein in Assad despite cultivating a close personal relationship with him in the years preceding the Syrian conflict. When Assad refused to heed Erdoğan’s calls for political reform, Turkey went on to support the largely Sunni uprising against the Syrian dictator.

But that doesn’t mean Erdoğan is wrong. There are, in fact, many indications Assad not only “left space” for the Islamic State, and radical Islamist groups like it, but that his regime actively helped it rise to prominence. Read more “Bashar Assad: Root of Islamic State’s Evil”

Assad Hails “Turning Point” in War, Rebels Advance on Latakia

Syrian president Bashar al-Assad said on Sunday that the civil war in his country was at a “turning point.” At the same time, opposition fighters were advancing on his Alawite homeland in the northwest of Syria.

Speaking at Damascus University, Assad “pointed out that there is a turning point in the crisis in Syria in terms of the continuous military achievements … by the army and armed forces in the war against terror,” state news agency SANA reported. Read more “Assad Hails “Turning Point” in War, Rebels Advance on Latakia”

Condemnations of Syrian War Crimes Have Little Impact

While much of the world is focused on the dismantling of Syria’s chemical weapons program, the United Nations Human Rights Council is devoting serious resources to another major issue in the Syrian Civil War: the lack of accountability for those who are engaged in atrocities.

In a speech to reporters in Geneva, Switzerland, the international body’s top human rights official, Navi Pillay, disclosed that her colleagues had uncovered numerous incidents in the fighting that amounted to war crimes or crimes against humanity.

Observers of the Syrian Civil War, which is now in its third years, might not be surprised. Reports of what can well be considered crimes against humanity have regularly surfaced. Syrian military forces deliberately bomb densely populated areas, regardless of how many civilians are in the vicinity. Entire neighborhoods have been destroyed by the regime’s use of fighter aircraft, heavy artillery and helicopter gunships. Cluster munitions and barrel bombs that explode on impact, covering wider areas than regular munitions, have been used throughout the year. Bakeries, schools and power stations have all been targeted — if not to destroy rebel supplies and command centers, than to frighten civilians into thinking twice about supporting the opposition.

But in a twist that could potentially add renewed urgency to the humanitarian crisis in the country, Pillay singled out President Bashar Assad for either ordering or condoning these abuses. Read more “Condemnations of Syrian War Crimes Have Little Impact”

Assad, Russia Warn West Against Backing Islamist Rebels

William Hague and Sergei Lavrov, the foreign ministers of the United Kingdom and Russia, deliver a joint press conference in London, England, February 15, 2011
William Hague and Sergei Lavrov, the foreign ministers of the United Kingdom and Russia, deliver a joint press conference in London, England, February 15, 2011 (FCO)

Syria’s embattled president Bashar al-Assad and his ally Russia both warned Western powers on Wednesday against supporting Islamist rebels in the country.

In an interview with Syrian television, Assad insisted that his regime is fighting extremists and reminded European countries and the United States, which support the opposition against his secular dictatorship, that they “paid heavily for funding Al Qaeda in its early stages in Afghanistan. Today it is supporting it in Syria, Libya and other places,” he claimed, according to extracts published on the Syrian presidency’s Facebook page.

Russia’s Vladimir Putin, whose country is loosely allied to Syria, similarly told RT television in September of last year, “Today, some want to use militants from Al Qaeda or some other organizations with equally radical views to achieve their goals in Syria.” Like Assad, the Russian leader compared the situation to the United States backing mujahideen rebels during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s and warned that propping up Muslim extremists in Syria will similarly backfire.

Putin’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov added on Wednesday that Western efforts to isolate Assad’s regime might wreck the chances of a peaceful resolution to the conflict and help radical Islamists.

“One must understand that the more one bets on the isolation of the regime of Bashar al-Assad and a military solution, the more these threats will be felt,” Lavrov told a press conference after meeting with his Turkish counterpart Ahmet Davutoğlu in Istanbul.

Turkey, a rising Sunni Muslim power in the region, also supports Syria’s rebels despite improving commercial and diplomatic relations with the country before its uprising began more than two years ago.

Initially peaceful protests turned into revolt after Assad’s security forces tried to suppress dissent from mainly Syrian Sunnis, the largest sectarian group in the country. Minorities, including Christians, largely support Assad’s Alawite administration, if for fear of prosecution under an Islamist government.

The most potent elements in the armed opposition movement appear to be the more radical groups, including Jabhat al-Nusra which last week formally pledged its allegiance to Al Qaeda, the organization that carried out the attacks on New York and Washington on September 11, 2001.

Western powers have been reluctant to provide more than “nonlethal” aid to rebel fighters for fear of propping up a jihadist insurgency although The New York Times reported in October that most of the communications equipment and weapons supplied by the United States and its allies in the region, including Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, did end up in the hands of religious extremists.

The European Union prohibits weapons sales into Syria but France and the United Kingdom are increasingly critical of the embargo as the civil war in Syria seems at an impasse. Britain announced last month that it would provide millions of pounds worth of nonlethal civilian and military assistance, exempt from the embargo, including body armor and sanitation systems.

Syria’s Assad Soldiers On, Blames Foreigners for Civil War

In his first public address to the Syrian people in six months, President Bashar al-Assad ended any and all speculation as to whether he would consider stepping down from his post to end the bloody civil war that has engulfed his country for almost two years.

A vast segment of northern Syria may now be in rebel hands and the capital city of Damascus a critical frontline in the battle; Assad was calm, composed and defiant in front of his supporters, pledging to fight for the safety of Syria against what he calls a campaign of terrorism armed and financed by foreign states.

The president’s speech, just under an hour long, took place in a packed opera house in the center of Damascus, the government’s power base and an area that the Syrian army has locked down with dozens of checkpoints. The regime had clearly been careful and methodical in its preparation. Hundreds of supporters stood up and applauded Assad as he walked to the podium. Dozens of loyalists rushed the stage to shake hands with him once the speech was over. The whole affair had a cult like atmosphere, with rhythmic chants of “God, Syria, Bashar is enough” erupting during the speech. Read more “Syria’s Assad Soldiers On, Blames Foreigners for Civil War”