Bashar al Assad’s war on terrorism

Most estimates agree that more than 15,000 Syrians have been killed since the uprising began. Whatever the make-up of the armed opposition, everyone agrees that the only forces in Syria with tanks and heavy artillery belong to the Syrian army. Damage to buildings in many cities caused by shelling by these forces has been widely seen. Yet, President Bashar al-Assad now claims that the majority of the casualties in the conflict are government supporters who have been killed by “terrorists.”

Here’s my question for anyone who anyone who casts a critical eye on the global war on terrorism: why would you not be even more skeptical about Syria’s war on terrorism?

Robert Mackey has posted an interview of Assad conducted in English by Jürgen Todenhöfer, a former member of the German Parliament who is an outspoken critic of Western foreign policy in the Muslim world.

Mr. Todenhöfer also interviewed Mr. Assad during a previous reporting trip to Syria, late last year. After that visit, the German author wrote in a report for Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung: “Paradoxically, it is Bashar al-Assad who could most likely achieve a peaceful transition toward democracy, because he still has the power and still holds the authority among the majority of the population.”

In that same article, Mr. Todenhöfer also criticized foreign media reports on Syria and the armed rebels. “According to my personal experiences in Damascus, Dara’a, Homs and Hama,” he wrote, “at least half of the reports on Syria are simply false – almost like before the Iraq war.” He added that the “guerrilla commandos, whose methods differ little from those of the state’s security services,” have “robbed the revolution of its innocence and also harmed the peaceful demonstrators who have the historical merit of having initiated the process of democratization.”

Mr. Assad’s comments in the new interview included the accusation that Syrian rebels — whom he described as “an amalgam of Al Qaeda” and drug-smuggling criminals — were responsible for the recent massacre in Houla. He also claimed that the “armed gangs” who carried out the killings had worn government uniforms to frame forces loyal to him.

Meanwhile, The Guardian reports: Kofi Annan has declared his third round of talks with Bashar al-Assad as “constructive” and suggested his stillborn plan to stop the violence in Syria may yet be revived.

The UN special envoy to Syria said on Monday that a fresh approach to end the conflict would be put to the Syrian opposition, but offered no further details.

The centrepiece of the former UN chief’s plan announced in April was a ceasefire by both sides that never took hold. Instead, the violence in Syria has escalated, with daily death tolls over the past two months approaching those seen during the bloodiest days of Iraq’s civil war six years ago.

Before Monday’s summit, the Syrian president described Annan’s plan as good. After the two-hour meeting, Assad’s aides couched the the talks as “constructive and good”.

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7 thoughts on “Bashar al Assad’s war on terrorism

  1. Colm O' Toole

    “Here’s my question for anyone who anyone who casts a critical eye on the global war on terrorism: why would you not be even more skeptical about Syria’s war on terrorism?”

    It’s a good question. What makes America’s WoT different from Syria’s WoT in the eyes of some in the Anti-War movement. Why condemn American actions and then not condemn Syrian actions?

    The difference is clear though. America’s “War on Terror” is the waging of “aggressive war” against other nation states. Invading foreign countries halfway across the world (likely for some ulterior motives like Oil or Encircling Russia/China). Syria’s “War on Terror” is not an “aggressive war” but a “defensive war”… The Syrian government didn’t ask for War, it was imposed on them.

    So right there you have a huge leap in morality. Choosing war over having a war imposed on you. When the US launched an invasion of Iraq it was because they chose to invade (aggressive war) when Iran launched an invasion of Iraq in the 1980’s it was because Iraq was attacking them (defensive war).

    Finally since it is within Syria’s own boundaries it is more akin to a Civil War than a war on terror. Hell President Lincoln killed almost a million of his own citizens when they rose against him.

    What’s the difference between Lincoln’s actions and Assad’s? Both men reacted the same way when a Civil War was imposed on them.

  2. Paul Woodward

    By this line of reasoning, every state, whatever its character, is justified in using whatever means are necessary in order to defend its power. In the killing fields of Cambodia the Khmer Rouge regime did what it needed to do to “defend” itself. Through the Holocaust, Hitler did what he needed to do to “defend” German culture. Stalin conducted the Great Purge in order to “defend” the Soviet Union.

    There’s a name for the idea that within a national border a state can use any means to defend its power: it’s called fascism.

  3. Colm O' Toole

    There’s a name for the idea that within a national border a state can use any means to defend its power: it’s called fascism.

    Actually its called the Westphalia Treaty which has been followed in international law since 1648 and states “based upon the concept of a sovereign state governed by a sovereign and establishing a prejudice in international affairs against interference in another nation’s domestic business.”

    That is the international legal framework the Russians and Chinese are thinking off when they say things like “states intervening in the internal affairs of Syria”. Going back to the US civil war again alot has been written about France almost joining on the side of the confederacy. France at the time needed the cotton and heavy industry and considered the Confederacy too economically strong to ignore. Many Confedate Generals thought France would rush to its aid with supplies and soldiers.

    In the end though it was those exact Westphalian laws “intervening in the internal affairs of a foreign state” that made France determine it would not be the lawful thing to do.

    The Russian and Chinese stance is not the radical stance here, and its certainly not Facsism. It is a stance that has governed the conduct of foreign affairs for centuries. The US and Saudi stance (and your own) is the radical departure from long established laws in your desire for “humanitarian intervention” which is just friendlier more liberal version of Neo-Con “regime change”.

  4. Trond

    By what line of reasoning? Where did Colm O’ Toole say that Assad is justified in using whatever means necessary in order to defend his power?

    How can you compare WWII and the Holocaust to an armed uprising?

    “Damage to buildings in many cities caused by shelling by these forces has been widely seen. Yet, President Bashar al-Assad now claims that the majority of the casualties in the conflict are government supporters who have been killed by “terrorists.””

    What is your evidence that he is lying? That he has better weapons?

    So every state, whatever its character that fights an armed uprising is a fascist state?

    “Why would you not be even more skeptical about Syria’s war on terrorism?”

    What do you mean?

    Assad calls armed rebells that terrorize the country and attack the government for terrorists. And has allowed the UN to monitor the situation and collect evidence if he commits any war-crimes. Assad can (probably) be punished if they find any evidence.

    Can Bush be punished for his war-crimes in Iraq? Fallujah?

    Why would you not be even more skeptical about US war on terrorism that has killed hundreds of thousands of people?

    There were UN observers in Iraq too but for some reason, when the UN finds evidence of American massacres they do not report to the UN, but to Washington.

    “The leaked cable was written by Philip Alston, the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary, or Arbitrary Executions, and was sent to Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice.”

  5. Paul Woodward

    A response to Colm and Trond.

    There was a time when the antiwar position had some clarity, even if it was simplistic. It spoke of the need to protect people from violence.

    That position is now being perverted by those who want to defend Assad’s use of violence on the pretext that it is justified by his need to protect the sovereignty of Syria.
    Supposedly he is doing no more than use the necessary force to supress an armed uprising.

    Who is challenging Assad’s power?

    According to him the threat comes from “terrorists”, drug smugglers, criminals, and a number of ordinary Syrians who have been enticed by financial rewards.

    Assad describes Syria as a democracy in which the last parliamentary elections unequivocally demonstrated his popularity since the opposition only won 2% of the vote.

    He also says that most of the 17,000 people who have been killed since the uprising began were supporters of the government and most belonged to the security services.

    To believe these claims is to treat the popular uprising as pure fiction.

    It’s sad that some individuals who live in countries where we enjoy the freedom to criticise their own government without getting thrown in jail, find it so difficult to empathize with those who live in a police state where criticism of the government can lead to detention, torture, and death.

    As far as I can tell, this unwillingness to be aligned with the Syrian opposition has very little to do with what is happening in Syria. It is the product of an anti-Americanism and anti-imperialism that is so dogmatic that any tinpot dictator who positions himself as an opponent or victim of Western power immediately wins a free pass.

    Assad says he is under threat from Western powers who are hell bent on regime change. Does this turn him into some kind of laterday Che Guevara?

    Why be more skeptical about Assad’s war on terrorism than America’s war on terrorism when the later has resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent people? Simply because Assad’s choice to frame the challenge to his power in this way is so transparently cynical.

    Over the last decade, Western populations have been indoctrinated by fearmongers who have effectively employed fear of terrorism in order to justify wars of aggression, massive increases in defense spending, the corruption of legal rights, the use of torture, kidnapping, and murder.

    And this has translated into a form of political guidance for tyrants across the globe: if you want to defend indefensible policies, then explain everything you are doing in terms of the need to combat terrorism.
    If you recognize that Bush, Cheney, and Obama use fear of terrorism as a tool of political manipulation, then have no doubt: Assad is doing exactly the same.

  6. Colm O' Toole

    I agree with alot of what you are saying there. Assad using the “War on Terror” mantra is cynical that is why I wrote that I prefer to call it a civil war. I also do not equate Assad to some laterday Che Guevara, Assad is corrupt, Assad is a coward who spoke of being in the Resistance Axis but never actually did any resisting (unlike Iran, Hezbollah). There is no Che Guevara in him at all.

    Don’t confuse me as someone who likes or supports Assad. I hated Saddam Hussein as well… yet I opposed the US invasion to topple him.

    On the topic of Anti-Americanism. I’ll admit I am Anti-American. You will spare me if I don’t believe that the same nation that cheered as 1 million + Iraqi’s were slaughtered has suddenly developed a conscience over the deaths of 15 thousand Syrians just across the border. Something tells me that America is not being fully authentic in its cries of despair over the suffering of innocent Arabs. Lets not even mention the joke of Saudi Arabia wagging its finger at Syria for human rights violations.

    But we all know where this feigned outrage comes from don’t we. It’s the big picture and Assad is being attacked with an eye on cutting off Hezbollah from Iran. Bring down Assad and you weaken Iran and give Israel free-reign to go after Hezbollah who have lost there supply lines. That is the real goal. Iran is not the only country that can do asymmetric warfare.

  7. Paul Woodward

    I have no problem with anyone who describes themselves as anti-American. America has done very little to endear itself to the world — least of all in the last decade.

    But when it comes to Syria, why give so much attention to the hot air coming out of Hillary Clinton’s mouth? Assad’s position is under threat not due to the efforts of the US government. Assad acknowledges that thus far the only support the opposition has got from the US is political. The threat to his rule comes from his own people and the amount of support they receive from outside is frequently exaggerated.

    Remember Libyans waving American flags? Contrast that with this image of Obama depicted as a donkey with Assad riding on his back.,5
    This is not an image of American might but American impotence. If Assad is brought down, the people who can take credit for that will first and foremost be ordinary Syrians who risked and often lost their lives in order to bring down a tyrant.

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