Saving Bashar Assad

Not because the president of Syria is good, democrat, compassionate or pro-Western, but because he is the better of two evils.

Bashar Assad 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/SANA/Handout)
Bashar Assad 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/SANA/Handout)
From the first day, the so-called “Arab Spring” was in fact a dark anarchic Islamic winter. Yet, the media has disseminated the idea — as if the internet, Facebook, and Twitter have produced a new situation in the Middle East: a young Arab generation that adopts Western ideals and yearns for democratic values, civil rights, and freedoms. Unfortunately this was just another wishful thinking, a mirror image, a cultural ignorance even a stupidity. In reality, this dark anarchic Islamic winter symbolizes the demise of the Arab state and the retreat towards primordialism. It is not a step forward towards democracy and open modern societies, but a huge retreat to stagnation and Islamism.
This situation takes its highest toll in Syria, where it has become not only a failed state but a demolished one. At the start, the Syrian violence of deep upheaval was not an internal war between an oppressive regime against democratic opposition supported by the people, but against al-Qaida affiliated groups from all over the world that are now concentrating in Syria. It is symbolized by the call of Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of al-Qaida , that Syria is now the most important Islamic front, and victory there means the advent of al-Qaida to regional even world hegemony. Indeed, what we see in Syria are domestic anarchic groups and external ones form Iraq; Lebanon; AQAP al-Qaida Arabian Peninsula); AQIM (al-Qaida Islamic Maghreb); from Afghanistan; Pakistan; Chechnya; Turkmenistan; even from China. Syria is physically demolished; and its cities are ruined, with millions of refugees fleeing to the neighboring states.
The scope and amount of the groups, majority of them are al-Qaida Affiliated groups, is long, exhausting and terrifying. A short list includes the following: Jabhat al-Nusra, the biggest al-Qaida affiliated group; Qatā'ib Ahrār al-Shām; `Usbat Liwā’ al-Tawhīd; `Usbab Qatā'ib al-Haqq; Fath al-Islām; Qatā'ib Abdallah Azām; `Usbat al-Ansār; Qatā'ib Shuhadā’ al-Barā’ Ibn Mālik; Qatā'ib Umar al-Faruq; Jaish al-Islām; Qatā'ib al-Ansār; and al-Majlis al-Thawri. Jabhat al-Tahrīr includes over ten Salafī-Takfīrī sub-groups; and the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, includes the same. Some other groups are organized under al-Jabha al-Islāmiyah; and Ahfād Qatā'ib al-Rasul, with four groups. There are also Jihadi converted Muslims from Europe, Africa, and the US, recruited and organized by Abu Ahmed al-Iraqi. The last estimation by the International Center for the Study of Radicalization in London is that between 3,300 and 11,000 foreigners from 70 nations are fighting now against Assad.
Whether we like it or not, the situation in Syria is clear: a legitimate regime is fighting to its existence against the worst enemy of the Free World. The flag of al-Qaida is already waving in parts of Northern Syria, i.e. on May 22, 2012, al-Qaida group coalition in Syria has declared the establishment of the “Islamic Emirate of the Levant” there. Alongside with the terrorist murderous operations, these groups are already perpetrating genocide and ethnic cleansing of the minorities, mainly the Christians. Indeed, if one wishes to understand a selected situation, the plight of the Christian minority is an illuminating symbol. The objective of al-Qaida has already declared by al-Zawahiri: “toppling Bashar Takfīrī (infidel) regime and establishing the Islamic state based on the Sharī`ah.”
More than any other place, Syria exemplifies the free world failures to understand the reality in the Middle East. Syria exhibits the cultural-civilizational dilemma of misconceptions and fallacies. There are many fallacies that hinder us from understanding the situation and establishing a proper policy: political correctness, ignorance, the politics of leaders and stupidity, but the most important component is the mirror image. It means that you look at your opponent and analyze his behavior and actions according to your set of beliefs and values. The mirror image is the projection of you in the mirror. You relate to your opponent with the same definitional attitudes and operational codes and you project your own past situation and experiences to your opponent, as if he is like you.
Questions should be addressed concerning the situation in Syria. When the democratic world condemns Assad as a cruel bloody dictator, and accuses him of butchering his own people, does it really has the accurate knowledge and the reliable information of the domestic situation in Syria and who are the forces operating there? Does the reality match the myths disseminated around about who are the butchers? Moreover, does it take into consideration that all the political leaders in the Arab-Islamic polity during its entire history are coercive brutal and oppressing? By that, is Bashar Assad really different in dictatorial and brutal terms from all other contemporary and previous historical leaders?
Another set of questions relate to outer forces. Does the Assad regime pose a greater threat to international security than the Al-Qaida elements fighting there? Do we really believe that toppling the Syrian regime means weakening Iran and Hezbollah, and turning the balance of power in the ME in favor of Western interests? Are the forces fighting Assad, called ‘the opposition,’ pro-Western and more democratic forces? Shouldn’t we deeply be concerned that toppling Assad regime could strengthen the al-Qaida affiliated groups, thereby endangering the regional and in time even the global security?
A third set of questions are, what will happen to Syria after toppling Assad? Will Syria become more stable and tranquil with the opposition rule? What will be the regional balance of power and the political stability of Jordan and Lebanon, let alone Israel? What will be the fate of the religious and ethnic minorities in Syria, like the Christians and the Druses? Above all what will happen to the Alawite minority? Isn’t it highly probable that pervasive bloodshed massacre, a full-fledged genocide will be conducted against them?
What happened in Egypt, with President Husni Mubarak; and in Yemen, with Abdallah al-Salih; and stamped in Libya, with the butchering of Qaddafi, has completed in Syria: the military regimes were toppled down, and knowingly or unintentionally, we see the advent of Islamic extremist regimes and groups, from the Muslim Brotherhood to al-Qaida :
-In Tunisia, instead of secular open regime, we received the al-Nahdah movement.
-In Egypt, instead of moderate pro-Western regime we received the notorious Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood (thrown away by the blessed overthrow of coup d’Etat by the Army headed by al-Sisi).
-In Yemen, instead of moderate pro-Western regime, we received the emergence of al-Qaida Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which now controls almost 50 percent of the Yemeni territory.
-In Libya, instead of stable (though violent) regime, we received the advent to power of al-Qaida Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) located formally in Benghazi, and threatening Mali, Niger, Chad, Algeria, in collaboration with Nigeria’s Boko Haram and Somalia’s al-Shabab.
However, the best of this disastrous policy is seen in Syria, with its climax the threat to intervene militarily to topple Bashar Assad. The best pronouncement of the situation was made by a Syrian general: “why the world does not understand that we are the last dam that blocks the flood of Islamism in Europe? What blindness!” And the US, stubbornly, with huge extent of stupidity, continues to support evil. It is as if it has not learned the lessons of Afghanistan where it supported Bin Laden and al-Mujahidin al-Afghan; and has not learned the lessons of supporting Khomeini against the Shah, both immediately turned against her.
It must be clearly stated: Bashar’s disappearance means the persistence of domestic chaotic anarchic situation in Syria, like Iraq, Libya and Yemen. Contrary to the US (and Israel) wishful thinking, the regime that will emerge will be no democratic and not liberal; not pro-Western and not a secular regime with the Free Syrian Army; even not a Muslim regime like the Muslim Brotherhood style Egypt, Out of the anarchy and chaos reigns in Syria, the highest probability is for al-Qaida affiliated groups to win over. The consequences to the regional stability are horrific: they will endanger the surrounding states. Bashar downfall also means deteriorating and exacerbating the Arab-Israeli-Palestinian conflict to bloody wars.
As for the US: Did the US learn the lessons of toppling Qaddafi in Libya? The result is that the flag of al-Qaida -affiliated groups (AQIM) waves openly in Benghazi and the groups’ activity is now seen in Mali, Niger, and Mauritania, directing to Algeria and Morocco to the west, and uniting with al-Qaida affiliate Boko Haram in Nigeria. On the east, AQIM has reached a collaboration with Somalia’s al-Qaida affiliate group, al-Shabāb, and together they threaten Kenya and Ethiopia. AQIM has also close relationships with Hamas in Gaza, and al-Qaida groups in Sinai.
Generally speaking, does the US understand that betraying its allies constitute a lethal threat to the entire region? Does the US understand the moral contradiction of its policy when it supports anarchic Jihadi violent and anti-Western forces against the legitimate governments? Does the US take in account its many failures in the region concerning the adoption of democracy – in Afghanistan; in Iraq; in Lebanon; in Gaza; in Pakistan?
What we can understand from all these? The Obama Administration’s betrayal of its regional allies, mainly Egypt, Saudi-Arabia and the Gulf states, has brought the Middle East into deep trouble. The US could have stopped the entire process mistakenly called ‘Arab Spring’ from its beginning, but has shown no leadership, no commitment, and no responsibility.
The conclusion is clear: one can choose his friends, but no one chooses his enemies. However, if one can do it, to choose his enemy, it is sure to select Bashar Assad. It is highly urgent and crucially important to declare: save Bashar Assad. It is not because he is good, democrat, compassionate or pro-Western, but because the alternative is horrible and disastrous to regional peace and stability, perhaps to the entire international system. One has to bear in mind: in the Middle East if you are not a brutal autocratic even murderous leader, you cannot rule for a long time. The political culture of the people means the masses fear you being strong and brutal, and at the same time admire you for that.
From Israel’s perspective, toppling Bashar’s regime does not mean weakening of Iran. It is an imperative to understand this. Moreover, as politics brings to the bedroom strange fellows, it is possible and just to save Bashar even with a tacit coalition of Iran and Hezbollah. The alternative to Bashar regime is much horrible and threatening, as al-Qaida affiliated groups in Syria pose a grave threat, which is significantly stronger. Just look at the situation in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in Libya and the second belt of North Africa states. With al-Qaida there is no balance of power, there is no deterrence, and there is no cost and benefit politics. It exists with Syria, even with Hezbollah, and it is possible with Iran. It is impossible with al-Qaida.
Here comes the critical question to analyze: when we state that Iran is contending for hegemony in the ME, and this is Iran’s main political historical strategy, is Israel the arch enemy for Iran or the Sunni regimes of Saudi Arabia and Egypt? And if Iran has a nuclear weapon, is Israel the target or Saudi-Arabia? Does Israel prefer trans-national players on legitimate institutionalized states that understand deterrence and sanctify the balance of power? Israel should act wisely and to understand that from every perspective analyzed it is imperative to save Bashar’s regime.
David Bukay (Ph.D.) teaches at the University of Haifa in School of Political Sciences. His main research fields and teachings are: “al-Qaida and World Jihad;” “Arab-Islamic Political Culture;” “The Arab State between Militarism and Islamism;” “International terrorism and Islamic Fanaticism;” “Inter-Arab Relations and the Palestinian Issue;” “The 1967 and 1973 wars - Lessons and insights;” “Islamic Studies, Jihad, and Islamic Propaganda (Da`wah).” His publications are among the many: From Muhammad to Bin Laden: the Ideological and Religious Foundations of the Homicide Bombers Phenomenon (2007). Yasser Arafat and the Politics of Paranoia (2005). Books in preparation: 1) Islamic Imperialism and Colonialism: How Islam Occupied the Middle East and Asia. 2) Da`wah in the Free World: How the Stealth Jihad Wins and Subdues the Free World. 3) Islamic and Palestinian studies: Mythology and reality.