It is difficult to look at the situation in Aleppo and not see it in a broader context. Not only of Syria, but of Libya, the past several years, and of the entire region. And of international affairs in general.
We probably shouldn’t; we should probably view different situations entirely in their own light. But I can’t help but look at Aleppo – both the fall of Aleppo to rebel militias and foreign-backed mercenaries and now the liberation or reclamation of Aleppo by Syrian government forces – and see it as a point on a timeline that goes all the way back to Benghazi, Tripoli, Sirte and elsewhere.
In some ways, that connection is obvious: as I’ve said before, I always saw the Libyan and Syrian nightmares as one event, albeit occurring in two different countries. And, for example, we know about how Libyan arms were smuggled from the fallen Gaddafi-era state into Syria under the watch of Turkey and the CIA for use by Syrian rebel militias, and how all of the same players involved in orchestrating, initiating and propagandising for the anti-Gaddafi movement in Libya were also involved in the anti-Assad uprising in Syria.
It occurs to me that the Syrian government victory in Aleppo isn’t just a strategic and territorial victory; it is a moral victory, not just of Syria over the various foreign-backed forces that were sent to terrorise and subdue its communities, but also a moral and symbolic victory in the context of a society struggling to survive amid a multi-faceted, multi-lateral conspiracy conducted by an international mafia that considers itself all-powerful.
If Assad and Syria do survive, it will drastically change the perception concerning the odds of potential survival against such a concerted geopolitical onslaught involving so many institutions, agencies and actors.
Gaddafi showed everyone how to fight: but Assad and the Syrian government have shown that you can win – albeit with massive help from foreign allies, and at massive, massive cost.
It also occurs to me that Bashar Assad has outlasted virtually everyone who was insisting ‘Assad Must Go’ for years.
He has outlasted a Saudi King, a British Prime Minister in David Cameron, a French President in Sarkosy, another French President in Hollande, several other leaders or officials, and is now certainly going to outlast Barack Obama. He also, crucially, outlasted Hillary Clinton, who – even right up until a couple of months ago was still saying Assad would be removed as one of her “first priorities” when becoming president.
Hillary fell before Assad did – just think about that. Hell, Assad has even outlasted Turkish democracy.
He hasn’t outlasted Angela Merkel (yet); but, for the record, Merkel is actually one of the few leading Western officials who *hasn’t* sung from the ‘Assad Must Go’ hymn-sheet and has in fact generally said that Assad should be included in any plan for Syria’s future.
And Obama, in truth, has actually been softer on Assad and Syria – if it can be put that way – than Hillary or the Bush regime would’ve been. For all the talk of Obama himself having been behind the chaos in Syria, this simply isn’t true; he was simply inheriting a foreign-policy agenda that pre-dated him and was actually an extension of the Iraq War agenda (as was Libya: Libya and Syria both being on the Rumsfeld/Pentagon ‘hit-list’ immediately after 9/11 and leaked by Retired General Wesley Clarke).
And the Cheney/Rumsfeld regime still been in power at the time, Syria would’ve been outright invaded by the US military and Assad removed long ago.
We also have to remember how close we came to direct military invasion into Syria in 2013; and how Russian diplomatic intervention and – and I cite this so that people don’t forget – a British parliamentary no-vote against David Cameron’s wish to go into Syria and led principally by the much-maligned Labour Party leader Ed Miliband. Seriously, Ed Miliband – who lost the election – helped save Syria from Western military invasion and directly helped derail what was, at the time, an inexorable Washington-led push towards forced regime-change. People should remember that the next time they mock him for being ‘a Jew’ or a ‘Liberal Elite’ “Lib-Tard” or whatever other dumb labels get thrown around these days by dumb people.
But Assad’s survival has been frankly Herculean.
Many of Assad’s critics place the blame on him for refusing to step aside. This is nonsense, of course: the President of the country could not go into exile when there was no feasible successor or alternative to take his place and when it would’ve meant leaving the country at the mercy of armed militias, mercenaries and foreign-backed jihadists. Assad – who, remember, had never really sought the Syrian presidency, but had wanted to be an eye doctor – had no choice but to fight: and he had no choice but to call upon Russia and Iran to assist him – without that help, he would’ve lost, he would be dead, and Syria would’ve gone the way of Libya and Iraq.
None of this is about lioinisng Assad himself; and I wholly accept that the Syrian state handled the early 2011 protests very badly and that – prior to the escalation of the fighting – there were civilian protesters and dissenters being cruelly and violently suppressed by state actors or agencies. I know this, having had it told to me by people who were there. And I also wholly accept that there were probably some very ugly figures in the regime who may also have been behind some horrible acts in early 2011; though there’s no real evidence that Bashar Assad himself was one of them.
Whatever the nature of the Syrian state going forward, the Syrian regime in the past was a very harsh one that didn’t tolerate dissent or anti-government opinion – but in this it was no different to any other state in the region, including Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and including Bahrain (where the British PM has just been in recent days, selling weapons) and now, sadly, even Turkey.
I noted above how ironic it is that Assad has outlasted most of those leaders who were calling for him to go: in the case of Turkey, the irony is of a different kind. Here, we see a Turkish government – led by Erdogan – that has been acting criminally against Assad and the Syrian state for several years: a Turkish government that, when it started propagandising against Assad, was itself a democracy, but is now more or less a dictatorship and might end the war as more of an oppressive dictatorship than even what will be seen in Syria.
How ridiculous is that? To highlight the point, below is a picture of Assad laughing – and to further highlight how absurd all of this has become, I found a picture of him with Sting.
And the thing is, if there hadn’t been a covert, dirty war fought against Assad and Syria, had foreign mercenaries and fighters not been flooded into Syria to terrorise the population, if international agencies and officials hadn’t been willing to sacrifice countless Syrian lives, communities and towns for the sake of dirty geopolitical schemes, and if Western media and governments hadn’t engaged in outright lies and propaganda campaigns to pervert reality and perception, then I wouldn’t care about Assad or the Syrian government: and in fact, I would probably be the kind of person who might’ve been criticising the Syrian state for its treatment of opposition and protest.
But that whole list of things did happen – and is still happening – and the entire narrative stopped being about whatever flaws or unpleasant things there used to be about the Syrian state and Syrian politics and became about the ceaseless array of unpleasant things that were being inflicted upon Syria and Syrians from the outside.
Every one of those things – every foreign terrorist, every false-flag event used to frame Assad as the ‘brutal tyrant’, every massacre and every deception employed to create a false narrative of events – has actually given Bashar Assad far more ‘legitimacy’ than he had *before* the war. Along with every scripted call of ‘Assad Must Go’ from Hillary Clinton, Sarkosy or anyone else, it has all actually had the precise opposite effect: it has made Assad the most ‘legitimate’ President of Syria that could be imagined at this point in time.
And this was already arguably the case long before the retaking of Aleppo.
When it comes to dispelling the myth about ‘Assad the Tyrant’, who ‘countless Syrians’ want gone from their country, I could quote Eva Bartlett here or Vanessa Beeley or some other independent journalist who’s been in Syria and moved among Syrian people and communities. Instead, however, I’ll point us to a different source – just to reinforce the point.
Assad’s legitimacy, at least at this point in time, seems to be affirmed by an opinion poll from not that long ago commissioned by the BBC and conducted by the market research firm ORB (conducted across all 14 governates of Syria). The same poll found that a staggering 82 percent of those Syrians surveyed believe that Daesh or the so-called ‘Islamic State’ is the creation of Washington (85 percent of Iraqis were found to believe the same thing).
More importantly, the poll found that there is very little support for dividing the country and creating a federal system. In Syria, 70% oppose dividing the country up. What’s important about citing this particular source is that it isn’t a naturally pro-Assad or pro Syrian government source, so it’s findings are all the more significant. By the same token, an internal NATO study (dated June 2013, during some of the worst days of the fighting), which took stock of Syrian public opinion, found that some 70% of Syrians supported President Assad (with 20% expressing a neutral position and 10% supporting the “rebels”). Had a similar study been (honestly) undertaken in the past year, the percentage would be even higher.
I said earlier that Libya and Syria were/are the same war.
And neither is actually over yet. Where Gaddafi’s government lost in 2011, Assad’s government also lost: the former lost Tripoli and Benghazi and Sirte and other towns or cities, while the latter lost much of Aleppo, and Raqqa and elsewhere. And in both cases they were lost to the same schools of people on the ground, using the same methods, driven by the same ideologies, backed by the same foreign countries and supported by the same international media and government institutions.
The main difference was that Gaddafi was killed early, signalling the perceived collapse of the Libyan state against the marauding forces of chaos; whereas Assad managed to survive month after month, year after year, protected by his government forces and the Syrian Arab Army and aided by allies in Iran and Russia. And because he survived, he lived to fight another day.
And because he lived to fight another day, almost six years on from the initial crisis in Syria, he is now taking back territory from the rebels and jihadists, overturning the longstanding plans and operations of foreign powers and agencies, and winning not just the war on the ground but also the propaganda war and the high ground.
Had Gaddafi lasted long enough for the real nature of the Libyan rebellion to be widely exposed, for Western and Gulf-State deceptions to be unraveled and for the beginnings of the Migrant Crisis to start to appear, things may have started going back in his favor too.
As previously pointed out, the situation in Libya may have more recently been – albeit quietly – gravitating back towards a yearning for something resembling the Green Libya that the Western governments helped destroy in 2011. This has been most symbolised by the reported release from detention of Saif al-Islam Gaddafi (pictured below in Tripoli in 2011), who had previously been sentenced to death.
I wrote several months ago; ‘Imagine if Assad continues to preside over a re-unified and sovereign Syria and a Gaddafi begins to gather mass support to move towards not only unification, but restoration of the former Libyan republic. Then the brutal covert, regime-change wars that were inflicted on both nations in 2011 will have ultimately failed – albeit, only after several years of vast bloodshed and destruction…’
That might still, over time, prove to be what happens: and one wonders if the survival of the Syrian government might also hold symbolic value for Libyans, the Green Resistance and the possibility of rising back up from what had once seemed like total ruin and collapse.
The symbolic link between Libya and Syria isn’t just related to the ‘Arab Spring-turned-nightmare’ or 2011.
The Federation of Arab Republics had in fact been Muammar Gaddafi’s own initiative to merge Libya, Egypt and Syria in order to create a United Arab state based on secular Arab nationalism. The idea had, among other things, had broadly been to create strong Arab states that would, through mutual defense and cooperation, be able to withstand existential threats from the outside. Although approved by a referendum in each country on 1st September 1971, the idea never properly developed and was dead by 1977.
By 2011, it might’ve proven useful – because what has happened, via Neo-Con/PNAC policy in the Middle East since the Iraq War in 2003, has essentially been the deliberate, callous collapsing of three strong, independent, secular Arab states (Iraq, Libya, Syria) and the sought-after creation of huge pockets of lawless, terrorist-occupied territories and sectarian strife.
We know that, during the events of 2011 as the crisis was unfolding in both countries, Gaddafi had been in regular contact with Assad: and, to some extent, seeing what unfolded in Libya may have helped Assad and his government make key decisions in Syria. There were also suggestions from some sources that it had been Assad who had sold out Gaddafi’s location and movements to NATO bombers in Sirte, leading to the Libyan leader’s murder – allegedly, this had been in order to strike a deal with the French to buy Assad some more time. I don’t know if that version of events is true or not.
Either way, little over a year ago, it genuinely looked like Assad was finished and Syria was days away from Libya 2.0: a year later and, albeit with massive help from Russia, the situation is completely different.
Of course, victory in Aleppo doesn’t necessarily guarantee a quick end to the war or even Syria’s survival. Almost at the same time as the reports were breaking from Aleppo in recent days, the report was also breaking that ISIS fighters had gone back into Palmyra. Weapons are already being delivered again to rebel groups by Washington in the wake of the Syrian government victories in Aleppo. Turkey and Erdogan are still there and still an unknown factor in terms of long-term intention.
And the Israeli government will not easily tolerate the Syrian President staying in place with the help of Iran and Hezbollah: indeed, if a Netanyahu/Trump alliance seeks to destroy Obama’s Iran Deal and resort to open hostile action against Iran, then the entire thing will blow up even more and Syria won’t even get the chance to rebuild or to establish peace. As much as Hillary was fixated on the regime-change in Syria, the incoming Trump administration is more than likely to be a stronger ally to Israel and fixated on Iran, which would mean Syria still wouldn’t necessarily be out of the woods – especially now that Iran is so heavily involved in Syria.
Trump was right about one thing recently – American foreign policy has essentially placed both Iraq and Syria under Iranian control. Which presumably wasn’t the plan, but is simply an indication of how catastrophically bad all of US policy in the Middle East has been from Iraq onward. Indeed, that perceived level of Iranian control is one of the main reasons ‘ISIS’ was able to flourish both in Iraq and in terms of the rebellion in Syria: because it was able to appeal to some Sunni Arab insecurities and fears about Iranian/Shia domination of the region.
There is also a question of whether Syria’s survival – if it does survive – will mark a decisive turning point in the geopolitical dynamics and signal the end of the programme; or whether conspirators will simply move onto a very vulnerable Lebanon instead, which was also part of the post-9/11 Rumsfeld/Neo-Con hit-list.
Of course, even if the Syrian government survives and the nation survives as a sovereign state, it has come at an extraordinarily high price in destruction and human life: they’ve had to fight for every inch of the country, and not only against the armed militant forces on the ground, and against endless false- flags and propaganda exercises, but with the entire weight of international government institutions and media against them for the entire five-to-six years.
But Bashar Assad, albeit with a lot of external help, has politically outlasted virtually everyone who has spent the passed several years trying to get rid of him. And the symbolic and propaganda – or counter-propaganda, as may be more accurate – weight and significance of that, both for Assad politically and for Syria as a sovereign nation and society, could be regarded as enormous.
If we were talking, just days ago, about the symbolic power of Fidel Castro and his defiance and resistance, then there’s really no way we can not talk about Assad and Syria – who have been under assault for almost six years from multiple armed militias and several nations and institutions, including some of the most powerful in the world – in that same light.