On Monday, during a speech at the UN general assembly, US president Barack Obama castigated Iran and Russia for their support of Bashar Al-Assad’s government in Syria and for their complicity in the killing of children. The US government’s position on Syria is that Assad must go and there must be a transition to a more ‘inclusive government’ which is at odds with Russia and Iran who want to strengthen Assad’s government and ensure it isn’t ousted.
The conflict in Syria has become multifaceted and complex with multiple countries and groups involved who have different motivations. In 2011 during the Arab spring, Syria like other MENA nations experienced a popular uprising but unlike in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt the regime managed to withstand the resistance initially by responding malevolently to the protestors using force in an attempt to deter dissent. Assad’s security forces indiscriminately fired on many demonstrators and resorted to torturing detained protestors. This however only galvanised more Syrians to participate in protests and express their disdain for their government. Eventually it developed from protests into an armed rebellion with various groups taking up arms, most notably the Free Syrian Army, which was formed when various militias along with Syrian army defectors coalesced into one group. As the fighting continued more radical groups started to become involved like the Islamic Front who are supported by Saudi Arabia & Al-Nusra both who are Salafists and who want to establish an Islamic state in Syria, regardless of what the Syrian people may desire; both these groups have cooperated in pursuit of their goal of defeating Assad’s forces. The most notorious Jihadist group involved is the so-called Islamic State which separated from Al-Qaeda in 2014 and declared a caliphate. They have become infamous for their monstrous crimes and control large parts of Iraqi and Syrian territory due to the competence of their commanders. The reason many people attribute the ascension of ISIS to the United States is because of the destabilisation of Iraq, the installation of a sectarian anti-Sunni prime minister, Al-Malaki and lastly the aggrandisement of the largest missionary state in the region, Saudi Arabia which purveys a sectarian form of Islam, Wahhabism. Furthermore, recently a US intelligence report from 2012 was declassified which discusses the prospect of a Salafist principality in eastern Syria, and declares that the major forces driving the insurgency in Syria were Al-Qaeda and other Salafists, the Pentagon report also asserts that the supporting powers of the opposition desire this to isolate the Syrian regime, which is considered the strategic depth of the Shia expansion. The group which has secured many victories against ISIL are the Kurdish militias but this has been undermined by Turkey, a NATO member and ally of the US government who views the PKK as a terrorist organisation and who vice-president Joe Biden claimed in 2014 poured money and weapons into anyone who would fight Assad including Al-Qaeda and Al-Nusra, Biden was forced to apologise to prevent a diplomatic crisis but none of what he claimed is implausible. US intervention in Syria has not yielded a humanitarian outcome, but has only exacerbated the suffering of the Syrian people, with many of their weapons ending up in the hands of vicious extremists. Their bombing of ISIS has had very little effect, but has killed civilians and probably has assisted ISIS in recruitment of new members. From a humanitarian perspective, there’s no doubt the US strategy has failed, but in terms of reducing Assad’s power it’s surely succeeded up until now. His government only controls a small part of Syrian territory and state institutions have largely been destroyed. The geopolitical implications of the Syrian war are significant, and several analysts have described it as a proxy war. Iran, the major ally of the Syrian government wants to preserve the regime because of its regional interests, and Russia, contrary to what some claim are not prioritising the welfare of the Syrians, but their own national interests; their solitary military base outside the old Soviet zone resides in Tartus and they want to empower Assad’s government for geo-strategical reasons, both these nations also harbour fears of further Western intervention considering the disaster of intervention in other countries like Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. Take for instance Libya which was hailed as humanitarian mission to liberate the Libyan people from Colonel Gaddafi’s government, well NATO’s bombs did not bring peace and stability to Libya, they just exacerbated a deadly civil war. Britain spent considerably more on bombing Libya than helping to rebuild vital infrastructures which were destroyed. Prior to the intervention in 2011 Libya topped the human development index in Africa, and had the highest life expectancy in Africa. What reason does anyone have to believe NATO intervention would produce something better in Syria? Saudi Arabia who views Iran as its major enemy within the region is determined to weaken the Syrian government which by extension weakens Iran, the opportunists in Riyadh and Washington, contrary to what they say are not interested in human rights and the welfare of the Syrian people but increasing their hegemony within the region and this is why they have exploited the civil war. The latest intervention from the Russian government is unlikely to defuse the conflict and while it’s true some of their bombs have hit ISIS, their target includes anyone who is a threat to Assad’s power which includes groups who are not Jihadists and who are backed by the West. This is a recipe for even more disaster, two nuclear-armed states on opposing sides now directly involved in Syria, with diametrically-opposed interests. One thing the media often neglect to mention regarding Syria is the Golan Heights which is occupied by Israel, and who have built illegal settlements, this was condemned by the United Nations as violating international law, but Israel rejected this and its foreign minister said in 2010 Syria should abandon its hopes of ever recovering the territory.
Yemen, the poorest nation in the Middle-East has been under fierce attack for a number of years from the West, most recently the country has been beset by aerial bombing from the Saudi-led coalition which is militarily supported by the US; the Saudis are fighting the Houthis who overthrew the Saudi & Western backed government of Yemen in 2014, the state army didn’t attempt to thwart the coup because they declared their support for “the people’s revolution”. From Saudi’s perspective this is an attempt from Iran to extend their power and influence right to Saudi’s border but documents from Wikileaks and American officials have cast doubt on these claims, and have said privately Iranian involvement is exaggerated for political reasons, according to US officials Iran discouraged Houthi rebels from a takeover in 2014, a spokeswoman for US National Security council said: “Iran does not exert command and control over the Houthis in Yemen”. In one of the worst attacks since the war began 135 civilians were killed after an airstrike on a Yemeni wedding in late September, Saudi unsurprisingly denied responsibility, but considering they have air supremacy over the area that was bombed it is highly probable they committed the attack. The US and Britain have not only facilitated Saudi’s crimes by refuelling Saudi aircraft and providing intelligence, but also with their provision of weaponry to the Saudi regime over the course of the last few decades and throughout the war. Saudi Arabia is the largest importer of US arms globally, lucrative military contracts worth 90 billion have been agreed between Washington and Riyadh which results in Saudi Arabia acquiring fighter jets, attack helicopter, missiles and armoured vehicles.
Saudi Arabia has one of the most powerful militaries in the Middle-East courtesy of the West, one such weapon that was used was a cluster munition, supplied by the United States according to a human rights group, conspicuously absent from the signatories on the 2008 convention on cluster bombs which prohibits their use, was the United States and the other members of the Saudi-led coalition. In April a young Yemeni boy mistook the canister for a toy and it exploded wounding him, and several others. Since fighting started in March the conflict has descended into a humanitarian disaster. Over 2000 civilians have been killed including more than 500 children, with many more wounded and in desperate need of humanitarian assistance which is being deliberately impeded by the Saudi-led coalition; the naval blockade imposed on Yemen by Saudi which cuts them off from vital supplies in time of distress has been condemned by human rights organisations. According to aid agencies over 80% of Yemen’s population is in urgent need of food, water and medical supplies and this blockade has severely compounded the humanitarian crisis by depriving them of those necessities. The media coverage of this conflict has been alarmingly sparse with many in the West not aware of the extent of British and US complicity. Recently it’s been uncovered that Britain and Saudi were involved in a secret deal to ensure both states were elected to the UN human rights council, furthermore the United States has been accused of sabotaging a Dutch-led effort to create an independent human rights mission for Yemen, overtly the US claimed to support it, but according to Nicolas Agostini, a Geneva representative for the International Federation For Human Rights, America’s late public expression of support and the emphasis on the need to reach consensus meant they were essentially pushing for the alternative Saudi text which called only for the UN to assist a national inquiry in Yemen established by the exiled government. Saudi has also come under increased scrutiny for their domestic human rights violations, this year alone they beheaded more than 100 people, they’ve flogged and continue to terrorise blogger Raif Badawi for the innocuous sin of criticising senior religious figures and discussing the flaws of Salafism, and most recently the case of Ali Mohammed al-Nimr, a teenager who has been sentenced to execution and crucifixion for challenging the Saudi monarchy. Neither the US or British government are going to exert any meaningful pressure on the KSA to tackle their human rights violations lest they destabilise the relationship they rely on for military contracts, and strategical purposes. The victims of Saudi’s tyranny and barbarism are not as important as money – that’s the message being sent from Western governments – loud and clear.
In 2014 and 2015 there was an exponential increase of refugees into Europe. Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan are where a good percentage of the refugees are fleeing, all three have been adversely affected by Western intervention. Other countries include Nigeria which has been plagued by the radical Jihadist group Boko Haram and Eritrea whose government has one of the worst human rights record in the world. Sadly, myths about the refugees are prevalent, and there’s been deluge of irrational fearmongering. What’s often overlooked is how the EU cooperated with Colonel Gaddafi’s government, and financed their brutal treatment of migrants and refugees for years, the problem with this oppressive approach apart from being morally reprehensible is it doesn’t confront the problem and when Gaddafi’s regime was defeated it was inevitable there would be an increase in refugees travelling to Europe. In 2014 the UK said it would stop supporting search and rescue operations because according to their dubious logic it would prevent more people drowning at sea. They were warned that this strategy was not only callous but illogical but didn’t listen. The number attempting to make the dangerous journey only increased in 2015 with many dying. The EU has invested millions in defence, high tech security and border patrol, but not much in preparation for an increase in refugees so it was woefully unprepared for this crisis. According to EU law a refugee is required to stay in the state it arrives in, the problem with this policy is it puts enormous pressure on border states like Greece which has been crippled by austerity to deal with the problem and it doesn’t take into account the complicity of imperialistic states like Britain and the United States in contributing to the problem. Claims that the refugees will have major effects on European demographics along with containing prejudice are also patently false. Even if the EU were to take 4 million Syrian refugees and they solely consisted of Muslims the percentage of Muslims living in the EU would rise by 4% to 5%, hysteria about Muslim birth rates also aren’t grounded in reason, while birth rates in the Muslim population are higher they drop and adjust as the standard of living and quality of education rises, consistent with other groups of people. What’s also forgotten is the vast majority of Syrian refugees are in neighbouring countries like Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon, together they’ve taken in more than 3 million refugees, despite being a relatively poor nation Jordan has taken in more Syrian refugees than all of Europe combined. The response from Israel and the wealthy Gulf states has been pitiful, both have framed this as security issue rather than a human rights one. Refugees will continue to suffer unless the world’s most powerful states come together to devise a workable and humane solution to the crisis. This should be a top priority.
War criminals like Barack Obama often lack self-awareness so none of his hypocritical rhetoric should surprise us, his moral posturing is no deviation from other US presidents, pursuing murderous policies while masquerading as someone who cares about peace and democracy is characteristic of a US president. Bashar Al-Assad too is a war criminal and the crimes he’s committed against his people should not be trivialised, but the US government has no right to dictate to a sovereign state considering its crimes far exceed the Syrian government over the course of the last century. Bombs are unlikely to bring an end to this conflict, and will only inflict more misery on the Syrian population. Anyone who claims there’s a simple solution to this conflict is being disingenuous, too many powerful states are involved and there’s no guarantee they’ll choose peace over war, but bombing has been tried for a number of years now and the situation has only deteriorated for the Syrian people. Trying the diplomatic route is not certain to work, but there should be at least an attempt from all countries involved to resolve this through peaceful means. While the war persists we should make every effort to alleviate the suffering of the Syrian and Yemeni people, this means governments, globally investing in more humanitarian aid, confronting the stigma and misconceptions regarding refugees, providing asylum for more refugees and donating to aid groups like Oxfam and Unicef.