Saturday, 6 February 2016

Are Syrian rebels losing the war? We must hope so


Are Syrian rebels are losing Aleppo and perhaps also the war?

This was the Washington Post headline. The article, as first drafted, seemed unhappy about this possibility and said it would block peace efforts. It was later changed. But all the papers I read treat the sudden Syrian-Russian success as a cause for regret, not a hope that the war might end.

Russian-Syrian victory over the allegedly moderate rebels, if it happens, will bring peace close, surely. And no, I am certainly not a fan of Putin or Assad, or their bombing of civilians, but prefer them to Islamists. Yet British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond on Monday accused Vladimir Putin of 
"undermining international efforts to end the Syrian civil war" 
by bombing opponents of Islamic State in an attempt to bolster Bashar al-Assad, as if this were more wicked than backing and offering false hope to the Islamist rebels, as the UK is doing, or attacking the Kurds, as NATO member Turkey is doing. As for the Saudis, who
offered this week to put boots on the ground in Syria, they are not genuine about wanting to fight ISIS, any more than Russia is - no-one is interested in fighting ISIS, though every country says she is. The Saudi troops, well-equipped but effete, are there to help the non-ISIS rebels. Today we hear that more Saudi and Turkish troops are on their way for that purpose - and to prolong the war. 

Syria suffers as the powers fight proxy wars. They should stop, but won't.

I have absolutely no illusions about the cruelty of the Syrian and Russian forces. About the crimes of Assad we already know enough and Putin is using the same murderous methods he used in Chechnya. I doubt the 'moderate rebels' are any better. 

I know that Russia wants to assert her power not only in the region but in Europe. I am sure Putin is happy that another flood of refugees will help destabilise the EU. Conflict between Russia and Turkey will cause NATO grave problems. But, for all that, if Russia's intervention can defeat the moderate rebels, this will be a positive achievement. I suspect most Syrians think so too, though it's just a slightly informed guess. It is not the UK's or the West's business to get rid of Assad or choose a better Syrian government, even were we able do so, so long as it is not a government that endangers us.

Putin is making a solitude and calling it peace. But peace is the best thing that can happen and the West has no way of helping achieve peace. Turkey and the Saudis have no interest in peace, since their surrogates have no chance of defeating the Syrian government. If they somehow, after years of war, did defeat Assad, the result would be chaos or an Islamist regime in power. In fact, almost certainly both. The non-ISIS rebels' disappearance will lead some Syrians to side with ISIS against the regime but others to do the opposite.

I confess that I am guessing when I write this, am no expert, but I console myself that even experienced reporters like Patrick Cockburn and Charles Glass do not know what is happening. I am sure MI6 and the CIA do not.

Israel and Saudis, who are allies and prefer endless war to victory for Assad, also have no interest in peace. Nor has Iran, of course. Had it not been for Iran the regime would have been toppled four years ago but the Iranians, like Russia, now look like winning.

Simon Jenkins shares my view, in an article worth reading on the Syrian peace conference that will prolong the war. Though it seems that Turkey and the Saudis have ordered the so-called moderate rebels to pull out of the negotiations. Russia had already wrecked them by its attacks on the rebels.

Is a nineteenth century deal between Russia, Turkey, Iran and the Saudis possible, to achieve an ordered rebel surrender with guarantees that further massacres will not take place? Probably not, I know. What is clear is that the US, UK and France are not honest brokers, but committed to the rebel side.

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