Thursday, 29 October 2015

Charles Glass on the origins of the Syrian war

I have been saying that, unlike the disastrous chaos in Iraq and Libya, the war in Syria cannot be blamed on the USA, the UK or France. It pains me to read about a lecture given by foreign correspondent Charles Glass, in which he argued that this might be my mistake.

He said that the U.S., Britain and France had long harboured a wish to get rid of the Syrian regime. When the Syrian revolution began, his contacts in the opposition told him they were determined to keep the movement non-violent, “to use a strategy the regime couldn’t cope with”: mass civil disobedience and general strikes. Instead, they told him, the Western powers and their allies, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey “persuaded members of opposition to take up arms, and turn peaceful demonstrations in a civil war.”
Is this true?  It is impossible to know but it must reflect how some people in the 'moderate rebel' camp remember it. Some in the opposition might have interpreted the declarations by Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton that "Assad must go" as a sign of support for them to remove Assad by any means. it is widely believed that the Qataris and Saudis were pumping in weapons from early on in the "Syria spring".

Glass pointed out that  if the United States and its Islamist regional allies prevail, “that means Jahbat al Nusra [al Qaeda’s Syria affiliate] wins, Syria will be religiously cleansed, and its people will be enslaved to an ideology they don’t believe in.” This is exactly what I have thought for years. He thinks total victory for Assad (surely impossible?) would mean a bloodbath. But a bloodbath is what is happening at the moment.

On the current trajectory, Glass said, the most likely outcome is not victory for either side, but “a long and bloody war with a big impact on Europe that endures as a problem in U.S. foreign policy for years to come.” 

I imagine this is what will happen. But if Iran, Saudi Arabia, the USA, and, I suppose, Russia were to come to a deal a peace could come quickly.

In an interview on Monday Mr Glass said:the US is still allowing the Saudis to give weapons to the Islamic State and other jihadist groups, including anti-tank weapons.

Either this is fine with American policy and consistent with it, or they’ve simply lost control over the course of events.


  1. His account of how the Syrian protests evolved into armed insurrection seems a bit troubling and facile. It reads like a page from Soviet agitprop. How convenient it is to paint the opposition with one brush (as terrorists) and then to proceed to kill them all, including the non-violent ones. On the other hand, I have no doubt that extremist agitators from Saudi had an interest to infiltrate the peaceful opposition and to throw bombs (would you as a Saudi despot wish to see an effective civil disobedience movement succeed on your border?).

    And so it seems, alas, the first casualty in the Syrian civil war is the truth. We may never know the actual unfolding of of events early on. But to lay blame at the doorstep of the Western powers, because they "persuaded members of the opposition to take up arms" sounds a bit too glib for me and ignores the accusations against Assad of his alleged heavy-handed response (including torture) of protesters.

    1. I agree that the cruel response of the government seems to explain the armed insurrection but it is very murky. I stupidly ignored the cynics who said the Arab Spring would end in tears and hoped it would bring freedom to the Middle East and to Syria. But when the fighting broke out by googling 'Syrian Christians' I was soon reading about Christians in places like Homs being killed by the rebels and realised the narrative one read in the papers was as usual very misleading.
      There is much hypocrisy all round. In George W. Bush's time the CIA sent prisoners to Syria to have their fingernails torn out by Assad's torturers. I do not know why the USA favours 'moderate' rebels who are likely to be worse than the government if they come to power. At least the Assads are not Islamists and will not drive out any remaining Christians. But it is about power politics and all parties are probably pursuing their mistaken ideas of their own interests, as usually happens.

  2. For some time, I have questioned both Glasses agenda and the source of his many anonymous sources. Alan v H B

  3. I tend to think that it is a loss of control, knowing that the Saudis have no reason to believe that the US would or could do anything to actually penalise them

  4. Interfering with other countries is rather like interfering with ex girlfriends, superficially attractive and fun for a bit but rarely ends well.