On Monday, August 1, 2016 I was privileged to have an in depth conversation with a Syrian doctor who has lived in the US for the past 27 years, to get his personal analysis of the political situation in Syria. I had approached him with many questions due to what appeared to me to be a near complete disconnect between Islamic vs Leftist, or US vs Russian news reports. I would like to resolve this gap in mutual understanding to move to the next level of problem solving.
Sam said in order to understand, we have to go back in history. His father was a member of the socialist, nationalist Baathist party, which was one of many post-colonial movements, and came to power in Syria in 1963. He said his father was a “true leftist” and a high-ranking military officer. In 1970, Hafiz al-Assad, the defense minister, staged a coup against the party to take power. He claimed his intention was to get the Baath party on the right track after it had become corrupted. Assad’s “corrective movement” purged half or more of the party’s leaders, including Sam’s father.
Leftists in Syria believe that Hafiz al-Assad’s coup was staged by the West in order to dismantle the socialist movement. The US at that time was propping up several governments in South America, Southeast Asia and Africa where policy decisions were made by one person. These governments, including the newly installed Assad regime, were less than socialist and more like a dictatorship. Under Assad, the political rhetoric remained leftist but in actuality, Assad tortured and wiped out all the Communists in Syria, which had been around 10% of the population.
King Hussein of Jordan had previously kicked the Palestinians out of Jordan and sent them to Lebanon. Under Hafiz Assad, Syria occupied Lebanon and purged both leftists and Palestinians. He sent the PLO and Arafat out of Lebanon and forced them to live in Tunisia. Eventually, they were able to return to the West Bank after Arafat’s peace treaty with Israel.
The Syrian regime has always been pro-Western and pro-Israel but using leftist rhetoric because of popular sentiment. Assad depended heavily on his Alawite sect, the elite of which became a mafia ruling the country and dominating the military and intelligence agencies. Assad ruled by force of intimidation and torture. His dictatorship was run by the Alawite minority using socialist slogans. Syria was not anti-American/pro-Russia as many western leftists believed. The Syrian regime, similarly to the Iranian, would use slogans such as “resistance and steadfastness” and “Death to America!” which caused the gullible to believe these regimes were anti-imperialist. However, Iran has helped the US greatly in both Afghanistan and Iraq. The US then basically handed the power to Iran in Iraq after removing Saddam Hussein at great cost.
Syria was also no anti-imperialist. The Golan Heights never had a more secure Israeli border until after Assad. Rather than pushing against Israel, Assad was busy fighting Palestinians in Lebanon. If Assad had pushed against Israel, Israel would not have swallowed the West Bank.
The US didn’t mind him saying anti-American things. He still sent his kids to college in the US and came to the US for medical treatment. His and his junta’s assets were secured in Western banks. Assad regime was not anti-US nor anti-Israel.
The Syrian Revolution came in spite of the Americans, it was not instigated by the US. They said at first they would support the “moderates” but they didn’t deliver on their promise. The US could have helped Syrians overthrow the regime but the fighters didn’t get the anti-aircraft missiles they needed, (and were crucial to win) except what they captured from the regime. The US did give FSA a few anti-tank missiles but the revolution could not survive without anti-aircraft missiles, which the US gave out 2 or 3 at a time. The short supply was secured by the US government, which could deactivate the anti-aircraft missiles at will. The technology was constantly monitored as to its whereabouts by the US, and only one person was allowed to use it, using their thumbprint. Then whenever the US decided they could cut him off. So this American help was not help. There was no trust.
Had the US supported moderate rebels, they would have overthrown Assad long ago. US is working with the regime. Their goal is not to allow any side to win, and not ending anything.
Chemical weapons were used, and nothing happened despite American declared red lines. There was a point when the regime was weak but the US did not intervene to tip the balance towards the rebels. After a few planes had been shot down, Assad would have been forced to come to the negotiating table. But the US is working with the Russians.
The US gave limited amounts of weapons to FSA - the Syrian army members that defected because they refused to fire upon their own people and have now joined the people’s struggle. The FSA received no practical help from the US. The Islamists have more support. They are rumored to receive weapons from Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and even from Iran and the regime!
Why? Because the Syrian regime wants to be seen as “fighting Islamic extremists.” The world would see the moderate democratic rights activists as a viable option to replace Assad. But the world will never accept an Islamic government. Therefore in 2012, the regime actually released thousands of Islamic movement prisoners, who became the leaders of the Islamic resistance, which soon overpowered the secular Free Syria movement. Most Syrians do not want an Islamic government and many even prefer the regime, but the world powers promoted the Islamists in order to get rid of the potential acceptance of a popular Syrian movement for democracy.
The regime is acting in concert with the West’s policies. They got rid of any acceptable replacement to their government. The initial revolution was wiped out and their struggle for freedom was replaced by a struggle between the regime and Islamist forces.
Since the 1940’s, there existed the Muslim Brotherhood, who wanted to work within the system and use elections to promote their political platform, but there was no big Islamic movement in Syria. The moderate Muslim Brotherhood was outlawed and their members would be executed.
ISIS could not survive without outside support. They have regular military parades displaying their weaponry but nobody bombs them. Nobody touches the ISIS convoys with their many many vehicles. They are supposedly opposed by Russia, the West, and all other countries but even the US bombing is not effective. It serves no purpose except to justify continued military presence in the area.
The US support to the Kurds is very open, and serves to demonstrate the difference between Kurdish areas and other areas in Syria. Any time a Kurdish town is about to fall, the US will actively intervene effectively. The Kurds have a defacto alliance with the Syrian regime, who does not bomb them, and with Israel, who used them to fight against Saddam Hussein.
Nobody really knows who arms ISIS. They are heavily armed, made up of foreign fighters, and they are fighting the Syrian regime’s foes. The regime gave up land to ISIS without a fight. There was a regime prison notorious for torture. ISIS blew up the prison, destroying all evidence.
Sam said the US preferred Assad and stability for their geopolitical ambitions. Assad helped Israel neutralize Egypt in Sinai. He told me to look up Henry Kissinger’s 1973 pact between Assad and Israel.
Regardless of what the US wants, the Assad regime is no longer acceptable to govern because of what he has done. Assad has to be replaced; could be with a similar regime with a new name but that he needs to be replaced is a fact. It doesn’t mean that the US desires it but they have to work with the situation. The US has not supported the uprising against Assad. But at this point there is no choice for the world powers. Once they desire to solve the problem, replacement of Assad is a must. This is not a victory for the revolution. Perhaps some of the people’s demands will be addressed.