If there was any doubt at all that Barack Obama never intended to work towards the removal of Bashar Assad, one only needs to read his latest justifications for not arming the Syrian rebels. In a now infamous interview with CBS News, Obama called the idea that the USA could arm a moderate rebel force that was capable of beating both the regime and ISIS, a “fantasy”.
America’s Appeaser in Chief went further, stating that those in opposition to Assad were “farmers and dentists and folks”, implying that they weren’t much of a force to take on Assad’s for-hire-for-a-bag-of-weed-and-$200 rent-a-shabihas.
Which just goes to prove that wise old Yiddish proverb; “If you don’t want to do something, any excuse is as good as another”.
It wasn’t circumstances that prevented Obama from helping the Syrian people against the regime’s genocidal slaughter; it was policy. A hidden policy in blatant contradiction to the Obama administration’s public statements and stated intentions. For years, Obama told America’s allies one thing, while deliberately planning something entirely different.
The world has long regarded Barack Obama as a 21st century Neville Chamberlain. The truth turned out to be much worse; the man is a veritable Judas Iscariot.
Over the past month or so, the New York Times’ Pulitzer Prize winning columnist Thomas Friedman has used his weekly column to advance two new notions to add to his long list of “Big Ideas Explained With Metaphors”.
From the man who gave us “The Lexus and the Olive Tree”, “The World is Flat” and “no two countries that have a McDonalds ever go to war with each…ops, Serbia, my bad”, comes the notion of “Square People”, Internet savvy demonstrators who will take over city squares and centers to bring their governments to account.
And as if one “big idea” for the month wasn’t enough, Friedman’s recent trip to the Kurdish areas in the north of Iraq seems to have bestowed on him a special insight into the most pressing issue of the day; who oh who will rid us of ISIS, the Al-Qaeda inspired terrorist group that in the space of a week had managed to take over a quarter of Iraq.
As someone who at the start of the Syrian revolution fit Friedman’s definition of a “Square Person” down to a T, I am very qualified to pass judgement on his latest grand-concepts-made-easy-for-the-rest-of-us.
Mr Friedman, the nature of revolutions has not changed just because we now have Facebook. The factors that decide the success or failure of a revolution remain pretty much unchanged since Caesars were deposed and crowned by the Praetorian guards in ancient Rome.
As for environmentalists whose enlightened ways will somehow serve to counter the nihilistic ideology of ISIS, this is the Middle East. If the tree huggers have guns they can protect their trees. If not, they will be hung from those very same trees.
In the summer of 2013, I was living out of a hotel room in the regime loyalist coastal town of Tartous, having fled the fighting in Homs and the subsequent battles in my hometown of Talkalakh.
Even though while in Tartous I wasn’t taking much of a role in the revolution, I never stopped hoping fervently that Bashar Assad and his regime would lose the conflict, be overthrown, and we’d all live happily ever after in a post-Assad utopia. How that might happen without terrible consequences first befalling my sheltered existence in Tartous wasn’t something I much liked to dwell on.
But in August of that year, I almost very nearly made the decision that however bad the regime was, it was preferable to the growing menace of the alternative. If Bashar won the war, it would be a bad Syria, an oppressive Syria, the police state to end all police states, but I’d still have a state to belong to.
What could scare me so much, someone who had seen the worst atrocities of the war to date committed on my home city of Homs by the regime that I was now starting to seriously consider, if not supporting, then definitely not undermining.
Jeffery Goldberg, the award winning and highly influential columnist for Bloomberg View and The Atlantic, recently had the opportunity to accompany Chuck Hagel, the USA’s Secretary of Defence, on a tour of Israel, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. The trip, as Goldberg wrote in Bloomberg, apparently answered a question that had been “nagging” at him for a while; why don’t the GCC countries that are calling for greater American involvement in Syria, just go ahead and single-handedly launch their own full scale military intervention against Assad’s regime. Afterall, the Gulf with its 400 odd combat aircraft should, in Goldberg’s opinion, put its money where its mouth is, and do themselves and by themselves what they would clearly like the USA to have taken the lead in doing a long time ago.
It is difficult to know where to begin when pointing out the myriad issues with Goldberg’s peculiar notion. Indeed, the idea that the onus is on the GCC countries opposed to Assad to go to war and remove him is one that has been bandied about for months by Obamanite ideologues, looking to deflect the blame for America’s incoherent Syria policy away from their president. Such a position depends a great deal on ignoring some very basic facts about a) how international arms exports actually work in the real world and the restrictions placed on their use, and b) the actual precedents in the first Gulf war and Libya, and the massive political and military commitments without which those interventions would not have been possible.
Simply put, the proponents of “let the Gulf themselves charge into Syria and save the day” such as Goldberg are not after real solutions to the bloody conflict; their foremost concern is to whitewash Barack Obama’s incompetent and morally bankrupt Syria policy by demanding that the region’s countries do what NATO itself can’t even contemplate undertaking.
I love Yiddish proverbs. It’s hard to find fault in wisdom that’s been passed down for thousands of years, and when a religion has been around as long as Judaism has, it’s worth listening to the proverbs of the accumulated experience of its people.
I’ve collected fifteen of my all-time favorite Yiddish proverbs, and applied them to the war back home in Syria. Remarkable how relevant some of the sayings of the ancient Hebrews remain today.
After living through the Syrian army’s February 2012 artillery and tank assault on my neighborhood of Inshaat in Homs, I moved to my home village of Talkalakh, where I met a cousin with close ties to members of the Free Syrian Army in other neighborhoods of Homs. When I inquired what those brigades were doing to relieve the pressure on Baba Amr, my cousin’s answer was astonishing;
“Nothing. Nothing at all. The different areas haven’t reached that level of co-ordination yet.”
“Lack of co-ordination” would doom the revolution not just in Homs, but in the province as a whole. Over the course of the conflict numerous different opposition outfits would spring up, my own home village having at least seven “brigades” at any one time. Loyalists would joke that the Free Syrian Army was the only army in the world with more brigades than individuals.
And for the most part, they were highly uncoordinated brigades at that. Each neighborhood and town in the province was pretty much left to fend for itself. If the regime started to besiege an area, almost no efforts were made by other brigades to relieve the targeted town or neighborhood. By 2013, the conflict in Homs province had started to resemble a very bad martial arts movie fight scene; while on the screen it might look like alot was happening, in reality the one vastly outnumbered protagonist was allowed to beat up his opponents at leisure, while their friends did little more than take poses, shout alot, and wait their turn to be pummeled.
Bradley Secker, a British photographer based in Istanbul, has been putting together a remarkable series of photographs. Entitled “Syrian Nakba”, the project consists of pictures of the keys to Syrian homes left behind by Syrian refugees, or were destroyed during the war. Each photograph is captioned with the name of the keys’ owner, the city or town in which the home was located, the period of time since each subject last saw their home, and a few poignant words on what the long lost home represented to their owner. Words like “paradise”, “life memories”, “my games, my toys”, “security, safety stability”.
My own home’s keychain is a novelty-item Lego Man that my brother gifted me when I bought my own house. It was his way of jokingly telling me that even though I now owned a home in Inshaat, Homs’ most desirable area, to my brothers I’d still be the elder sibling obsessed with gummy bears and nursing a borderline addiction to spaghetti. The keychain also doubled as a modest flashlight. I’d often find it very useful when walking in dark streets. But in February 2012, my keychain would become more than just a convenience. During the Syrian army’s invasion of my neighborhood of Inshaat, it became a lifesaver.
This week the world observed the 20th anniversary of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, when up to one million Rwandans were butchered over the course of three months by extremist Rwandan Hutus. To mark the event, solemn ceremonies were held. Speeches made. And countless determined resolutions were uttered that such inhumane savagery would “never again” be allowed to happen.
Never again. The promise that time and again has proven to be humanity’s most perverse lie. The lie the world tells itself to assuage its guilt for allowing past atrocities, decades after the fact.
Recently, the LA Times’ Beirut bureau chief Patrick McDonnell had the opportunity to visit my hometown of Talkalakh. Under the control of the Syrian army since June 2013, Mr McDonnell was shown around the town by regime officials, and got the chance to interview the ever prevalent Khalid Eid, a “former commander” in the FSA who apparently has seen the error of his ways and effectively switched sides.
Regime representatives in Talkalakh who Mr McDonnell talked to were eager to portray the current situation in my hometown as being that of a populace “reconciled” with the state, with life returning to normal in the wake of a “truce” that had been in effect since June 2013. Khalid Eid sounded appropriately contrite about his past, but was now happily on talking terms with his loyalist daddy once more, and was even moving forward with his life by “studying law”.
All of which goes to show, that even with complete control over the town and an unhindered ability to present an unchallenged version of events for the benefit of foreign reporters, the regime still can’t seem to maintain a narrative consistent with its past version of events. Liars always end up contradicting themselves, and the regime’s Talkalakh Tales 2014 stand in stark contrast with previous reporting on the town by foreign journalists, such as the ever loyal regime stenographer Patrick Cockburn, and a CNN report from February 2013. Simply put, what we have right now in Talkalakh is not a “truce”. It is a military occupation, by an army that has not once honored any truce.
Any Syrian or Lebanese hearing the Russian Foreign Ministry’s version of events can’t help but feel an overwhelming sense of déjà vu, and an equally powerful feeling of contempt for a Russian narrative that apparently couldn’t do any better than to borrow wholesale from the 1970s playbook of one Hafiz Assad, a playbook Assad applied to justify and sustain his army’s occupation of Lebanon. By studying the similar pretexts used by both Putin and Assad to invade their western neighbors, clues can be gleaned as to what Putin’s intentions are for Ukraine.