The Afghan Lesson in Syria

Russian President Putin’s decision to escalate military support for the Syrian government brings to mind earlier interventions in Afghanistan that went badly but that cautionary history and the changed Syrian dynamic also raise the prospects for negotiations, says ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.

By Paul R. Pillar

The Russian military intervention to shore up the Assad regime in Syria, coupled with the previously begun U.S.-led military intervention in the same country, amid uncertainty about U.S. war aims and a reluctance to part with the objective of ousting Assad, presents the specter of a proxy war between Russia and the United States.

Before the specter gets any closer to becoming a reality, we should gain what insights we can from a country that hosted previous proxy warfare, that was the scene of military interventions by both Moscow and Washington, and that continues to be a problem for U.S. policy: Afghanistan. We should learn what lessons we can regarding both risks and opportunities in such places, while understanding the differences as well as the similarities between the conflicts in Afghanistan and Syria.

In Afghanistan, U.S. Army Pfc. Sean Serritelli provides security outside Combat Outpost Charkh on Aug. 23, 2012. (Photo credit: Spc. Alexandra Campo)

In Afghanistan, U.S. Army Pfc. Sean Serritelli provides security outside Combat Outpost Charkh on Aug. 23, 2012. (Photo credit: Spc. Alexandra Campo)

Whatever other motives Russian President Vladimir Putin has in doing what he is doing today in Syria, shoring up a beleaguered regime that has been a friend and client of Russia is clearly one of the immediate objectives. In that respect the action is very similar to what the Soviet Union did when it threw its forces into Afghanistan in 1979, in an effort to shore up a similarly beleaguered client regime in Kabul.

Another similarity in the two conflicts is that the opposition to each regime comprised a variety of armed groups in a predominantly Sunni Muslim country, with the groups ranging from mostly secular to militant Islamist. And in each case opposition groups received material support from Arab states and, later, from the United States.

So far the Russian military operation in Syria is much smaller than the Soviet expedition in Afghanistan, which at its peak involved 115,000 troops. No Russian ground troops have yet been committed to combat in Syria, although hints from Moscow and the facts on the ground will make it unsurprising if Russian “volunteers” start participating directly in the fight.

Regardless of the discrepancy in size of the two operations, the prospects for quagmire that have faced the Soviets and Russians in each place are comparable. Bashar al-Assad is no more secure today than Afghan President Babrak Karmal was in 1979.

The insecurity in each case has been due not to any direct countervailing military intervention by outside powers, the United States and the USSR/Russia have not used their forces in Afghanistan at the same time as the other did, but to the deep unpopularity of each incumbent regime and the unlikelihood that it ever could form the basis of lasting stability in its country, in the face of persistent and in large part religiously inspired opposition.

How far Vladimir Putin wades into this quagmire before devoting more attention to finding a way out remains to be seen. But we can already say that the situation he faces in Syria is more like Afghanistan in the 1980s than like, say, Ukraine.

In Ukraine he has had the limited objective of keeping Ukraine out of the Western orbit of the European Union and NATO. A relatively low-cost commitment along his own country’s border to maintain a frozen conflict, with the use of a few little green men in unmarked uniforms, may serve that purpose. The conflict in Syria will not freeze, and it does not serve Russian purposes well to be propping up endlessly a besieged client regime in control of only a fraction of its country’s territory.

The Afghan mujahedin’s war against the Soviets is the subject of fond Cold War memories of many people on the U.S. side of the Cold War divide. The effort, begun under Jimmy Carter and continued under Ronald Reagan, to supply the mujahedin is widely perceived as having been instrumental in defeating the Soviets in Afghanistan, a defeat that in turn is often seen as contributing significantly to the downfall of the Soviet Union itself.

The supply of man-portable air defense systems, the famous Stinger, to the rebels was the centerpiece of this aid. But it would be dangerous to attempt something comparable in Syria, where U.S. and allied aircraft and not just Russians operate. Distributing such systems to anyone in the fractured Syria opposition would result in a significant chance they would be used against American planes.

One of the principal lessons from Afghanistan is that defeat of a despised regime does not usher in peace, let alone anything resembling democracy. When the Afghan regime of Najibullah, whom the Soviets installed after Karmal demonstrated his inability to get control of the situation, fell three years after the last Soviet troops left, civil war continued unabated, with different militias that had received U.S. aid battling among themselves.

This led to the Taliban sweeping to power over most (but not all) of the country, to the Taliban playing host to the Arabs of Al Qaeda, and the rest is history. And in a later phase of Afghan history, U.S. ouster of the Taliban again failed to bring anything resembling peace to Afghanistan.

The role of extremists and of terrorists who have struck against the United States and the West ought to be of high concern to Americans reflecting on history of the Afghan conflict, and on how earlier American policymakers may have focused too narrowly and shortsightedly on defeating the Soviets. The comparison with Syria ought to be too obvious to need much reflection, given the current reality of the radical group ISIS, as well as an Al Qaeda affiliate, forming a major part of the alternative to the Assad regime.

The Afghan experience as well as the Syrian conflict itself show why the oft-voiced counterfactual about how a bigger and earlier U.S. involvement in the Syrian war would somehow have produced a more viable and effective “moderate” opposition is invalid.

The post-Najibullah phase of Afghan history demonstrated the pattern seen elsewhere as well, and being seen today in Syria, of radicals crowding out moderates in a situation of prolonged warfare and instability. It is in the nature of such situations for such a pattern to prevail, civil war being an inherently immoderate thing to wage. In Afghanistan, the Stingers and other U.S. aid bought the United States little or nothing in the way of subsequent influence.

One of the biggest, and most relevant for current policy questions, differences between the Soviet phase of the Afghan war and the current war in Syria is that there isn’t a Cold War any more. There is no reason today to gauge the advance and retreat of U.S. interests worldwide in terms of the retreat and advance of the country whose capital is Moscow, as was habitually done during the Cold War.

If Russia were to maintain all of the position and influence it hopes to maintain in whatever part of Syria the Assad regime controls, it would be small potatoes compared to how successfully the Soviet Union competed for influence throughout the Middle East during most of the Cold War.

Countering Russia wasn’t even part of the original reason for the United States to get involved in the Syrian conflict. It would be one of the worst examples of mission creep if this comes to be seen as a reason, and doubly unfortunate if the potential proxy war were allowed to become a real one.

Probably the biggest single lesson from the Afghan example concerns the quagmire potential, as demonstrated by the Soviets’ experience as their military efforts dragged on through the 1980s, and as demonstrated by the U.S. experience after the mission of retaliation for 9/11 and ousting the Taliban and Al Qaeda from their comfortable places crept into being a nation-building operation.

In applying the quagmire dimension to Syria, think about how U.S. forces now have been in Afghanistan for 14 years (which doesn’t even count, of course, the time during which the United States was giving significant material aid to Afghan insurgents, a process that began more than three decades ago). Then think about the possibility of debate in Washington in 2029, 14 years from now, about how many troops the United States ought to be keeping in Syria.

Vladimir Putin’s gambit in Syria has poured fuel on a fire and has made a complicated and dangerous situation on the ground (and in the air) even more complicated and dangerous. But for now we ought to be glad to the extent that the costs of proto-quagmire fall on Russia and not on the United States.

These include not only the material costs of fighting a war but also the extremist-fueling hatred that comes from stuff that happens, even inadvertently, in the course of fighting a war, such as, say, bombing a hospital. Here another lesson from Afghanistan is how the United States has for some time now been wearing out its welcome, as reflected in opinion polls that show much previous friendship and admiration for the United States among Afghans having dissipated.

We also ought to look to other silver linings in the gambit, which admittedly assume that Putin is as smart as he often is cracked up to be: that the Russian leader knows the only way to step out of a costly quagmire is to work diligently with other outside powers to negotiate some sort of resolution of the Syrian conflict; and that through Russia’s intervention he has acquired more of the sort of leverage over the Assad regime that will be necessary to effect any such resolution.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is now a visiting professor at Georgetown University for security studies. (This article first appeared as a blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)

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19 comments for “The Afghan Lesson in Syria

  1. Mortimer
    October 12, 2015 at 10:39

    “The New Middle East”: Russian Style. The Saudis are Running Scared

    By Andrew Korybko
    Global Research, October 12, 2015
    Oriental Review 9 October 2015
    Theme: Militarization and WMD, US NATO War Agenda

    This section examines how and why the two formerly most stable states in the Mideast (at least according to conventional Western understanding) have become the ones facing the greatest prospects of full-scale destabilization:

    The Saudis Are Running Scared

    Biting The Russian Hand:

    The combined effect of the Coalition of the Righteous’ (COR) successes sends chills down the Saudis’ spine, since they’re watching their regional proxies get wiped out to the benefit of geopolitical rival Iran. The author had earlier tried to analyze the nature of the closed-door Russian-Saudi diplomacy that had been ongoing for most of the year, eventually coming to a conclusion that Moscow was trying to provide Riyadh with a ‘face-saving’ retreat from the Syrian battlefield. The tacit understanding here was that the withdrawn proxy forces could then be redeployed elsewhere, perhaps to Yemen, which is inarguably seen by the Kingdom as its number one security issue at the moment.

    The proposal sounded good on paper, but the Saudis attempted to double-deal the Russians by instead contracting Gulf forces to bear the brunt of most of the War on Yemen’s brutal ground campaign, thus allowing them to leave their proxies in Syria as they continued to pursue their regime change ends there. As is now being seen in hindsight, the author’s assessment has been vindicated, since it’s now clear that Russia was indeed giving Saudi Arabia the opportunity to covertly withdraw its associated fighting forces prior to the coming onslaught, which they of course weren’t notified about before in advance. The House of Saud thought it could finagle some type of extra benefit by declining to call its associated armies out of Syria, leading to a major miscalculation that that is seeing the Kingdom’s proxies decimated in the course of a week and its strategic planners in full-blown panic mode.

    Sinking In The Sand:

    The entire Mideast was aware of the Russian-Saudi discussions, and now that Russia has assembled the COR and is directly fighting terrorism in the region, the Saudi’s proxy forces such as the “Army of Conquest” must now be asking themselves why their patron abandoned them as sitting ducks on the battlefield. It’s not realistically thought that Russia informed the Saudis in any way whatsoever of their coming military campaign, but for the Islamists on the ground being killed by Russian airstrikes, it sure seems like a possibility, and they may be seething with anger against the Saudis for being set up. Already, over 3,000 terrorists have already fled Syria for Jordan, likely en route back to Saudi Arabia, and the Kingdom’s security establishment must surely be aware of the threat this entails. Couple the returning jihadis with the homegrown ISIL terrorists that already struck in the country before, and a cocktail of domestic disaster is being mixed before the Saudis’ own eyes, and their military establishment is too bogged down along the Yemeni border to adequately focus on it. This dire state of affairs could be made even more severe if the Ansarullah are successful enough in their attacks against the ‘Arab NATO’ that some of its Gulf members (especially Qatar and the UAE) pull out, which would then force the Saudis to compensate with their own overstretched forces. Furthermore, their paranoid fantasies of “Iranian-Shia encirclement” are probably kicking into high gear right now, meaning that it can’t be guaranteed that the country will react rationally to any threats that it perceives. In connection with this, a heavy-handed crackdown, whether against suspected terrorists or Shiites, can’t be discounted, and this would obviously add to the country’s domestic destabilization.

    From Supreme Power To Second-Rate State:

    Approaching the country from an international perspective, it’s evident that Saudi Arabia’s regional influence is waning as the COR’s steps up its anti-terrorist campaign and drives its proxies out of Syria and Iraq. In the near future when ISIL and other terrorists are defeated in these states, the Saudis (if they’re still a unified country) will be forced to accept a second-rate status in the Mideast, nothing at all like the position they had enjoyed since 2003. Additionally, they will find themselves increasingly relying on Russia in order for Moscow mediate between the Kingdom and the Islamic Republic and help maintain the “cold peace” that’s expected to settle over the Gulf (as the authorpreviously forecast in his “Pivot of Pragmatism” scenario). The US’ diminished role in the Mideast will be a fait accompli by this point, signaling that the Saudis’ days of fully relying on it for its security guarantees will be long gone. Also, the energy war between the two might by that time have placed the Kingdom in a weakened economic position, especially if it’s not as successful as it hopes to be in diversifying its economy through financial instruments. Overall, the geopolitical forecast for Saudi Arabia looks quite gloomy, and it’s a sure bet that it’s moving towards what might be the hardest times its ever experienced in its history, which will present an existential challenge that will strain its government to the maximum.

    Turkish Turmoil

    The Current State Of Affairs:

    The author forecast this scenario in his most recent article for The Saker, but it’s definitely worth citing again and exploring more in-depth because it looks ever more likely that it’ll transform into a reality. The gist of the idea is that Turkey is undergoing such strenuous domestic difficulties at the moment (civil war, left-wing terrorism, Islamist terrorist bombings [which may have been a false flag]) that there’s a real possibility that it could become ‘the next Syria’ of absolute destabilization if the government and/or military (through a coup) doesn’t regain full control soon. The situation was already precarious even before the COR’s anti-terrorist crusade, but now Turkey faces the very real prospect of its own Islamist proxies retreating northwards to their nest just as the Saudis’ are doing in the southern direction.

    With the Turkish military focusing most of its attention on the Kurdish-dominated southeast, it’s dubious whether or not it even has the capability to fully secure its border now that it literally has the pressing security urge to finally do so. An influx of experienced terrorists into the Turkish heartland is literally the last thing that the security establishment needs during this already turbulent time, and depending on the level of political uncertainty after the snap November elections, it could very well be that the military decides to once more take matters into its own hands and restore order in the country. If that happens, then it might be the decisive moment needed to push the country towards a full-on Eurasian Pivot, which in that case would completely dismantle the US regional security architecture and send shockwaves through the rest of NATO.

    READ MORE:
    http://www.globalresearch.ca/the-new-middle-east-russian-style-the-saudis-are-running-scared/5481170

    The Unintentional Flank and Turkish/Balkan Stream:

    Erdogan’s Imaginary War Against Russia:

    The Military’s Mindset:

    A Geopolitical Blessing:

  2. Masud Awan
    October 11, 2015 at 11:04

    The biggest omission in Pillar’s nerrative regarding Afghanistan is Pakistan whithout whose help the result in Afghanistan would surely have been different. Absence of a Pakistan-like ally in the Middle East is the single most important factor going against the US and its so called coalition since ite involvement in Syrian conflict. And Putin is well aware of this fact. that is why he did not hesitate to repeat the ‘mistake’.

  3. Mortimer
    October 10, 2015 at 17:40

    Personally, I want to see the ISIS people dead.
    And I don’t like to be in an alliance with those monsters just to take down a local dictator to please Israel.
    Assad may not be any kind of a prize, but he’s a perfect saint when contrasted with ISIS and the “moderate” rebels.
    And frankly, I’d prefer being a Christian in Assad’s Syria to being a Palestinian in ‘democratic’ Israel.
    Any day of the week! — Z Smith

    .

    sigh me on to all of the above, Z Smith.

  4. Zachary Smith
    October 10, 2015 at 17:33

    Regardless of the discrepancy in size of the two operations, the prospects for quagmire that have faced the Soviets and Russians in each place are comparable. Bashar al-Assad is no more secure today than Afghan President Babrak Karmal was in 1979.

    This may turn out to be true, and it may not. The Russians appear to have decided that this Syria thing is really important, and have come loaded for bear.

    Seems to me that they’d know better than anybody else the risks, and likewise they’d recall more strongly than others the “quagmire” of Afghanistan.

    Strictly an opinion here, but the Russians were slow to wake up to their danger. I think it took the shootdown of MH17 and the concurrent suppression of the price of oil to finally wake them up. The neocons were going for the throat of the motherland!

    Win or lose, the Syrian expedition has been thoroughly thought out. Some very impressive gadgets have been installed in Syria, including one of their most advanced jammers – the Krasukha-4 system.

    If the West presses Russia too closely on this issue, the neocons are going to find themselves eyeball deep in a real war. My main concern is that they’re truly arrogant and stupid enough to push the issue.

    Personally, I want to see the ISIS people dead. And I don’t like to be in an alliance with those monsters just to take down a local dictator to please Israel. Assad may not be any kind of a prize, but he’s a perfect saint when contrasted with ISIS and the “moderate” rebels. And frankly, I’d prefer being a Christian in Assad’s Syria to being a Palestinian in ‘democratic’ Israel. Any day of the week!

    • Kiza
      October 11, 2015 at 08:18

      Best comment on a bad article.

  5. Roger Milbrandt
    October 10, 2015 at 17:33

    This article by Pillar is conspicuously incoherent – I will read future contributions by Pillar with less trust.
    But I want so make a suggestion about Pillar’s dismissal of the Assad government as a “despised regime.” I agree with previous commentators who have mentioned the elections and the opinion polls which indicate public support for Assad. But we should take into account the possibility that when Pillar uses the phrase “despised regime” he does not seriously distinguish between a regime despised by the US media and a regime despised by its own people. One reason it is so difficult to secure social peace in the aftermath of the destruction of a regime despised by the US media but supported by much of the populace (as was the case in Libya) is that many of the people on whom it would be logical to rely to construct the new order have either been killed or forced into exile or else are viewed with jealous suspicion by the would-be architects of new order.
    Oh, and kudos to Sanford for his poetical summation of the situation.

  6. Brendan
    October 10, 2015 at 15:00

    Mr Pillar seems to be relying entirely on the western media and government officials for his information on the situation in Syria. He doesn’t question the standard view that Islamist extremists make up only a minority of the armed opposition:
    “comprised a variety of armed groups in a predominantly Sunni Muslim country, with the groups ranging from mostly secular to militant Islamist.”

    The problem with this story of moderate rebels is that there is no public information about them. For example who are they, what military successes have they had and what territory do they control? If nobody can even reveal basic facts like that, then the only conclusion is that the moderate and secular rebels play an insignificant role, if any, in the war in Syria.

    Mr Pillar doesn’t give any evidence either for the “deep unpopularity of [the] incumbent regime and the unlikelihood that it ever could form the basis of lasting stability in its country, in the face of persistent and in large part religiously inspired opposition.”

    It might be true that a signicant minority of the Syrian Sunni population supports the islamist opposition, but very many Syrians support the government, or are at least able to tolerate it.

    An opinion poll was conducted in July by ORB International, who are part of Gallup. It found that the number of Syrians who believed that President Bashar al-Assad had a positive influence was 47 percent, more than for any other group involved in the conflict.
    (page 3) http://www.opinion.co.uk/perch/resources/syriadata.pdf

  7. F. G. Sanford
    October 10, 2015 at 14:34

    There once was a man named Putin
    Who decided to do him some shootin’
    His cruise missiles flew, and Pillar turned blue,
    As the CIA’s boys got a bootin’

    A lot of the story’s omitted.
    Richard Pipes and his “Team B” admitted
    They stirred up some cr@p, never faced any rap,
    And never should have been acquitted!

    Hekmatyar is a name few remember
    He popped up again one September
    Without any warning, evidence was suborning
    Not a soul did he mean to dismember!

    From the caves in a mountainous lair
    Where a plot would be hatched with much flair
    The CIA’s boys took stock of their toys
    and concocted a strike from the air!

    The poppies had stopped being farmed
    Their black budget proved to be harmed
    So they hijacked some Boeings, their comings and goings
    Were denied without being alarmed.

    Nicaraguan fascists sold crack
    And the flight school transported some smack
    When the feds came around to that plane on the ground
    There were 43 pounds in the back!

    Nobody made the connection
    Between Atta and his predilection
    For flying in planes while frying his brains
    But in Venice, there’d be no inspection.

    Police records just disappeared
    Jeb Bush was involved, it was feared
    The feds all pretended, the leads were all ended
    And any who doubted were smeared.

    The Russkies invaded the Stans
    Fearing terrorists mongering plans
    On their soft underbelly those Taliban smelly
    Would strike while Ronnie ate beans packed in cans!

    Poppy Bush sold the Richard Pipes “story”
    The Russkies had no plans for glory
    They were after the oil, would certainly spoil
    That Kingdom so head-chopping gory!

    So Carter came out with a plan
    His “doctrine” would save ‘Ghanistan
    Ronnie would use it, improve and abuse it,
    Hekmatyar was an all-purpose man!

    The plan would work like a charm
    Brzezinski would lather on smarm
    Ronnie’d get credit, the mainstream would edit
    And the “Homeland” would suffer no harm

    Those proxies proved useful, effective,
    So our “boys” cooked a brand new directive
    They’d try it again, knowing not how or when
    But “Assad Must Go” was infective!

    The “Bay of Pigs” plan worked so well
    Those proxies would fight but not tell
    They’d suicide bomb and fight with aplomb
    And Assad would go through sheer hell.

    Bibi would keep land he stole
    Saudi Princes would garner a toll,
    All would be happy, the public is sappy
    Weapons contractors stayed on the dole!

    Then Vladimir spoiled it all
    Assad seems unlikely to fall
    Those flunkies Islamic don’t have bombs atomic
    Looks like Putin is having a ball!

    Is there a quagmire unfolding?
    Diplomacy works without scolding.
    But it’s US that lacks season to listen to reason
    And Putin’s cards look like they’re holding!

    • Mortimer
      October 10, 2015 at 16:48

      F. G. Sanford, ——– THIS IS BRILLIANT!

      3rd line rhyme is key to this joint

      historical sequence booms on point

      every 4th line beats clean up tight

      rhythm match’n words B outta sight.

      • F. G. Sanford
        October 10, 2015 at 17:20

        Thanks – I try my best, don’t always get my point across.

        • Mortimer
          October 10, 2015 at 17:33

          Your quickened mind embraces a modern technique which suggests you have younger people near and dear to you. Yet, you have the sophistication of a jazz enthusiast.

          I repeat, your comment is Brilliantly composed.

      • Roger Milbrandt
        October 10, 2015 at 17:38

        Mortimer,

        I completely agree – is is the internal rhyme on the third lines that turns the crank on this one.
        But my favourite line is “Brzezinski would lather on smarm.”

        • Mortimer
          October 10, 2015 at 18:15

          But my favourite line is “Brzezinski would lather on smarm.”

          Smarm’s a modern world/you-tube word, huh?

          Hekmatyar is a newly introduced personification

          of these behind the scenes Obliterators of life

          that sink or swim in slime and Smarm and codes.

    • October 11, 2015 at 00:34

      my compliments!

  8. Mortimer
    October 10, 2015 at 13:47

    After revisiting the publishing date of Michael Klare’s ominously prescient book – Resource Wars, published spring 2001, did I recognize the true worth of Mr. Klare’s foresight.

    With all that’s happened in the space between & up to the minute, my esteem for Michael Klare is exponentially elevated. (Spring 2001 – Fall 2015) – He saw this coming… .

    — Michael Klare— “Resource Wars”

  9. Mortimer
    October 10, 2015 at 12:53

    Afghan lessons in Syria just might become a reversal of fortune for the Actual Aggressors… .

    http://www.boilingfrogspost.com/2014/10/24/the-secret-stupid-saudi-us-deal-on-syria/#sthash.DkrWBD7v.dpuf

    • Mortimer
      October 12, 2015 at 11:49

      2 powerful Gulf sheikhs talk Syria with Putin

      BY M.K. BHADRAKUMAR on OCTOBER 12, 2015

      The meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin took Sunday at Sochi on the sidelines of the Russian Grand Prix with the powerful Defense Minister of Saudi Arabia and Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman al Saud (son of King Salman) signifies a dramatic shift of the templates in the geopolitics of the Syrian question.

      Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) and Saudi Defense Minister Mohammad bin Salman Al Saud in Sochi Sunday
      The very fact that Mohammed bin Salman travelled to Russia for a second time this year already (ostensibly to watch the Formula 1, but intentionally to meet up with Putin) becomes hugely symbolic against the backdrop of the Russian military operations in Syria.

      The bottom line is that Saudi Arabia has far from shifted into a hostile mood vis-à-vis Russia following the latter’s commencement of military operations in Syria.

      The scant details available so far make out that Syria figured in Mohammed bin Salman’s talks with Putin, with the visiting Saudi prince maintaining that Riyadh backs a solution to the crisis in Syria, which would result in the formation of a transitional government and the removal of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

      Now, is there a vague sign of a softening in the Saudi stance? Possibly so. At least, Mohammed bin Salman did not make Assad’s removal a precondition for the transition itself.

      http://www.atimes.com.2015/10/two-powerful-gulf-sheikhs-talk-syria-with-putin/

  10. Herman S
    October 10, 2015 at 12:31

    Pillar begins with the prevailing assumption that Assad is a bad guy in the eyes of Syrians and compares the situation in Afghanistan where the leaders the Soviet Union supported were also the bad guys in the eyes of the Afghanis. I don’t know about the Afghan leaders and how much public support they had, but Pillar should explain the results of the 2014 election in Syria. Assad won an overwhelming victory.

    Like the US and its allies, he can disclaim the election before and after it was held, but thirty observer countries agreed the results were valid, and I know of no way you could explain the huge margin of victory and more importantly, the turnout. Sure, you could argue that people weren’t voting for Assad but Syria, but the election results are critical all the same.

    In Pillar’s eyes and the eyes of many outside Syria, Assad does not meet the standards to which leaders should be held, notably his treatment of enemies of the regime. Aside from double standards, what about the Syrian people, are they to be ignored in this conflict?

    Russia is in a quagmire if the west behaves as it has in the past and makes Syria a proxy battleground. Its sticking point is Assad, in effect saying the leader of Syria is not to be decided by the Syrians but by those outside Syria who know better.

    These might be thought of as Hussein and Khadafi moments, when the west decided what was best. We know what happened there and we’re still at it with Syria.

    In short, Assad must be involved in reaching at least a semblance of peace. Syria as a nation must be retained, and Obama needs to rise above his domestic opposition to strike a deal with Putin to point our weapons at the real enemy, extremism.

    • October 11, 2015 at 00:28

      well put …
      I will add that if one will discount the election …
      one cannot discount the number of men and women who have held fast in the face of certain death at the hands of wahabi militants and other mercenaries bent on genocide.
      … everyone who fights for Syria wearing red, white, and black bars with two green stars on their shoulder, gives the Bashar al-Assad legitimacy. like it or not.

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