My colleague here at AW, Joshua Johnson, writes an interesting piece about the latest developments in Syria. Specifically, as it relates to the April 4th chemical weapons attack in the province of Idlib in the town of Khan Shaykhun.
My colleague would like you to believe to some extent that Bashar Al Assad is the victim here. The rebels were responsible for the attack while Assad’s forces are somehow blameless for bombing a village.
In a different direction, my colleague would like you to believe the entire foreign policy establishment is against Trump and somehow they just really, really want a war in Syria. Well, I am sorry my friends, the issue is not that black and white.
Bashar Al Assad is a secular leader who Christians and other religious minorities support because he is better for their interests than a likely rebel led Islamic government. But, Assad is also a brutal dictator who has little issue with doing whatever is necessary to hold power.
Now, there is little evidence that directly links the Assad regime with the chemical weapons attack as of now. But, we do know they were bombing the village. We also know that Assad has close ties with the Iranian regime. The same Iranian regime that has tons of chemical weapons and we somehow think will honor a nuclear non-proliferation agreement with the West.
I will say it does raise a red flag as to why Assad would order an attack after 1) the US seemed to back off regime change and 2) why Syria would back out of a 2013 agreement to remove its chemical weapons. Admittedly, Syria could have just manipulated the former administration like Iran did. And we cannot forget that Iran and Syria have close ties and it would not be difficult for Iran to smuggle chemical weapons to Syria.
Not that the rebels are saints by any means. They are just as brutal and repressive as Assad. They also have been reported to have been amassing chemical weapons. So, it is very possible as my colleague asserts the rebels were behind staging the chemical weapons in the village. Not that this absolves Assad from bombing a civilian town.
What we clearly cannot assert is what my colleague calls a “false flag” operation. It is true the rebels have been in contact with the CIA but so have elements of Assad’s government. That’s part of intelligence. Being involved with all sides in a multi-dimensional conflict such as Syria.
Secondly, we know the former administration was horrible at giving enough weapons to our supposed “allies” in the Middle East. It became so bad for some of our “allies” such as the Kurds they formally complained they would lose to ISIS if the US did not provide more support. Forgive me if I am doubtful we gave heavy weapons to the Syrian rebels. This is not even considering which rebels we gave them to.
Now, it is true the intelligence services do not like Trump. As my colleague and many others have assumed, Steve Bannon was removed from the National Security Council for this very reason. Nevermind Bannon and Kushner have been going at it for months to establish a power base in the Trump administration.
The rest of my colleague’s assumptions read like a Tom Clancy novel. They also feed into the paranoia the entire US establishment somehow craves and wants war. No evidence is presented to this effect other than we cannot trust the media.
Nobody is blameless in Syria. Assad is a brutal dictator and the rebels are just as bad. If not more so. But, Americans should not feel sympathy for a brutal dictator who has killed thousands of innocents just because he curries favor with one group over another. Likewise, they should not give him a pass for his atrocities.
What we should not buy into is the idea the intelligence community is somehow creating an environment to remove Assad. The intelligence community and our military leaders have diverse backgrounds and there is no evidence they are marching in lockstep on Syria. The only thing they probably agree on is protecting American interests in the region.
Moving forward, new information will be revealed over time about the attack in Khan Shaykhun. It could have been all Assad? Iran could have manipulated certain elements in the theater of operations, whether rebels or Assad loyalists, to plant chemical weapons there.
But, all options should remain on the table in Syria. Neither the rebels nor Assad really represent US interests. As such, the US should be ready to act and not take removing Assad from power off the table. Fortunately recent events indicate this is the case.
You might be asking why? Because of ISIS. Russia and Iran have thrown massive resources into Syria to prop up Assad. The result has been Assad is now sure to remain in power.
That poses a dilemma for Trump. He promised to eliminate ISIS during the campaign. They control large swathes of Iraq and Syria. And Assad has left them largely alone. That would make Syria a safe haven for ISIS even if they were driven from Iraq. There is little to suggest Assad would side with US interests over his own by attacking ISIS or letting the US do so. Indeed, his bed is made with Russia and Iran.
This creates a contradiction for Trump. He wants to rein in Iranian hegemony in the region and eliminate ISIS. But he cannot do that if Syria is controlled by their puppet and propped up by a Russian government Trump wants to limit. Trump might harbor little ill will towards Russia, but even he recognizes they create dilemmas for US geo-political security.
These dilemmas cannot be placed at the feet of the “deep state” nor can they be blamed on “neocons.” These are the practical realities of the world we live in. Assad may or may not go. But his remaining in power props up Russia and Iran at a time when the US needs them limited to confront ISIS. That’s not the “deep state”. That’s a fact!