Is Assad Part of a Solution?

A favorite talking point of Official Washington is that Syrian President Assad is “a magnet for terrorism” who thus must be removed, but that’s a line not stuck on other leaders who are attacked by terrorists. A more sober assessment would see Assad as a necessary part of a solution, says Lawrence Davidson.

By Lawrence Davidson

Here is the situation in Syria as I see it: Russia is taking a long-range view and wants stability in post-ISIS Syria. France and the United States are taking the short-range view and really have no achievable plans for Syria’s future stability. Turkey appears to have given little thought to Syria’s future. Ankara may be willing to see indefinite chaos in Syria if it hurts the Assad regime on the one hand and the Kurds on the other.

The Russians may be the only party interested in the long-term political stability of Syria. There is certainly no doubt that President Vladimir Putin is more determined than Western leaders to act on the fact that the various so-called “moderate” parties standing against the Assad regime cannot work together and that this fault cannot be corrected by enticements from the United States. For the Russians, this fact makes the Damascus government the only source of future stability.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad before a poster of his late father, Hafez Assad.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad before a poster of his late father, Hafez Assad.

This understanding, and not Soviet-era nostalgia, has led Russia to support President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, which possesses a working government, a standing army, and the loyalty of every religious minority group in the country.

Some might object that both Assad and Putin are “dictators” and “thugs” (by the way, “thugs in suits” in the U.S. government are all too common). But this cannot serve as a serious objection. The only alternative to Damascus’s victory is perennial civil war fragmenting the country into warlord zones. With the possible exception of Israel, this scenario is in no one’s interest, although it seems that the leaders of in Washington and Paris are too politically circumscribed to act on this fact.

U.S. and France

Thus, it would appear that neither the U.S. nor France really cares about Syria as a stable nation. Once the present military capacity of ISIS is eliminated, Washington and Paris may well clandestinely continue to support a low-level civil war against the Assad regime. In this effort they will have the help of Turkey, the Kurds and Israel. The result will be ongoing decimation of the Syrian population and fragmentation of its territory.

As if to justify U.S. strategy, President Barack Obama, with French President Francois Hollande by his side, recently  boasted that the United States stood at the head of a “65-country coalition” fighting terrorism in Syria. But this is a hollow claim. Most of these countries are coalition members in name only and some of them, like Saudi Arabia and the Gulf state governments, play a double game. And then Obama dismissed Russia and Iran as “outliers” and “a coalition of two.” Yet those two countries are the Syrian nation’s best hope for future stability.

The fact is that U.S. policy in Syria has been a losing proposition from the beginning just because of its hostility to the Assad government. Despite its air campaign against ISIS, Washington has no ground component nor any answer to the political vacuum in Syria. Both missing parts are to be found in an alliance with Damascus.

Refusal to make that alliance has also opened Washington to building neoconservative political pressure to increase U.S. military presence in the area. But American “boots on the ground” in Syria is both a dangerous option as well as an unnecessary one. Syrian government boots can do the job if they are properly supported. The support has come from Russia, Iran and Hezbollah. It is the United States and its coalition who are the “outliers.”

The Turkey Connection

It is not easy to explain Turkey’s animosity toward Damascus. Prior to the civil war in Syria, the two countries had good relations. Then something changed. It may have been something as foolish as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s taking personal offense against President Assad because the latter chose to heed the advice of Iran rather than Turkey at the beginning of the war. Whatever happened, it sent Ankara off on an anti-Assad crusade.

That anti-Assad mindset is probably the back story to the recent reckless Turkish decision to shoot down a Russian warplane operating in support of Syrian government troops close to the Turkish border.

The Turks say the Russian jet strayed into Turkish airspace. The Russians deny this. The Turks claim that they tried to communicate with the Russian plane to warn it away. When it did not respond, they destroyed it.

Of late Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has said Ankara “didn’t know the nationality of the plane that was brought down until Moscow announced it was Russian.” This statement is frankly unbelievable given that Davutoglu followed it up with an admission that Turkey had complained to Russian about military flights in this exact border area. He also asserted that both Russian and Syrian operations in this region of northern Syria should stop because ISIS has no presence there. This assertion makes no sense, since Damascus’s aim is to reassert government authority by the defeat of armed rebels regardless of their organizational affiliation.

It is hard to say whether the Turks are telling the truth about an incursion into their airspace. Most of their evidence, such as recorded Turkish warnings to the Russian plane, is easily fabricated. However, in the end it does not really matter if the plane crossed the border. There was no need to shoot it down.

If the Russian jet strayed into Turkish airspace, there would have been a range of options. The Turks could be very sure that the Russian plane had no hostile intention toward their country, and they should have assumed, for the sake of minimizing any consequences, that no provocation was meant on the part of the Russia.

In other words, the Turks should have acted as if the alleged over-flight was a mistake. The Turks could have then shadowed the Russian plane in a way that coaxed it back into Syrian airspace and followed the incident up with a formal protest to Moscow. Instead they made the worst possible choice and shot the plane down. Now both Ankara and Washington are shouting about Turkey’s right to defend its territory despite the fact that the Russian plane never posed any threat.

In all of the bloodshed, population displacement and terror that has accompanied the Syrian civil war, the least-considered party has been the Syrian people and their future. ISIS, or at least its present infrastructure, will ultimately be destroyed. However, while that destruction is necessary, it is an insufficient outcome because it fails to provide long-term stability.

Right now that vital ingredient can only be supplied by the reimposition of order by Damascus. The folks in Washington, Paris and Ankara might not like that, but they are not the ones facing a future of anarchy. And indeed, the more they stand in the way of Damascus, the more chaos they will help create.

Lawrence Davidson is a history professor at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He is the author of Foreign Policy Inc.: Privatizing America’s National Interest; America’s Palestine: Popular and Official Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli Statehood; and Islamic Fundamentalism.

10 comments for “Is Assad Part of a Solution?

  1. Robert Molineaux Sr
    November 30, 2015 at 18:08

    The notion of US hegemony is the product of the combined objectives of the career military, the military industrial complex, the neocons and the CIA. This four-headed monster has systematically violated the principles of the US Constitution, international law, the Nuremburg precedents and the obligations of the US under the Charter of the United Nations. Their objectives have been pursued in secrecy and in contradiction to the wishes of rank and file Americans. .

  2. Peter Loeb
    November 30, 2015 at 14:42


    The US has harbored a vision of world hegemony for many
    decades. This myth has dominated the US public mind both
    within and without of official political and media circles. One of
    the prominent threads of this view of the world is that the US
    can do whatever it wants, whenever it wants. This amounts to
    a type of arrogance that was never warranted.

    That it is in large measure due to policies of current and
    past “neocons” has merit. It is deeply rooted in the American
    political psyche. The US won the two World Wars
    of the 20th century (while Russia did nothing?). Only
    America because of its inalienable supremacy (values?
    etc.) could possibly have saved the world it is said.

    And only the US can ever save the world.

    Or so goes the myth.

    In the case of Syria, it is clear that America and
    its client states (aka “allies”) are not leading at
    all. “Boast” as it must. Russia is at this
    time the leader and what happens in Syria
    (and elsewhere) depends not solely on American
    weapons but in a most central way on Russian
    policy and action.

    Not long ago American media and so-called
    “experts” were gloating at high volume about the
    collapse of the Syrian Government. This became
    not only policy beyond doubt for so-called
    “sensible” observers but a kind of fabricated
    “fact.” The issue, one was told, was not whether
    “Assad must go” but what America would do
    when he went. And that was presumed to
    be very soon.

    Why did no one in Washington or Israel ever
    count on Russia’s actions? That in itself
    remains a mystery.

    Not only does America respond to its own
    often deadly mix of domestic pressures, but
    other nations do the same regarding their
    domestic realities.

    After November 13th’s terror attack in
    Paris, there was a unity which few in America
    can fully comprehend. Political parties from
    the left to the far right were united that if
    acting in support of Assad were required, it must
    be done. Even the leader of France’s
    far right party Marie la Peine shocked an
    American interviewer saying quite clearly
    that of course he would be willing to work with
    Assad.(The interview was ended abruptly
    by the interviewer.)

    Although the French President did go to the
    White House and stand by Barack Obama’s
    side, he immediately went to Moscow—
    to MOSCOW– to meet with its President,
    Vladimir Putin. While France may not have
    come away with all it wished, it basically agreed to
    follow Moscow’s lead.

    Reading the UN Security Council resolution
    on Syria of November 20,2015 , a French
    resolution which passed unanimously,
    Russia maintained its leadership with Security
    Council backing to pursue its policies in support
    of Assad.

    Lawrence Davidson’s excellent article provides
    depth. Its statements are verified.

    It doesn’t pretend to predict a result.

    Russia has no hegemonic control over world
    events but certainly it is clear that its actions
    have gouged an enormous hole in the American

    (Incidentaly, this myth of US world hegemony is
    alive and well in the US. The numbers
    —of weapons etc.—may comfort policy makers but
    sending gunboats to Chinese waters does not prove
    very much if anything at all.)

    I strongly recommend that the Security Council
    Resolution be read in detail. It is on the Council’s

    —-Peter Loeb, Boston, MA, USA

    • Jay
      November 30, 2015 at 21:33

      Marie Le Pen is a woman.

      This is a big enough mistake that it calls into question everything else you’ve claimed.

      France has all sorts of imperial designs on Syria, though I’m sure if Assad were willing to be some puppet France would work with him too.

      • Peter Loeb
        December 1, 2015 at 06:41

        Thanks for the correction Jay.

        Marie Le Pen (sic) was a translator’s voice.

        –Peter Loeb

  3. MEexpert
    November 30, 2015 at 10:45

    The fact is the Turkey F16s were waiting for the Russian Plane. US had supplied them with its flight path. They knew exactly where the Russian plane will be at that particular time. It was an intentional provocation.

    Israel, Turkey, and all the gulf monarchies want Assad out. They don’t want a stable Syria. US is a puppet acting for these masters. How far the mighty have fallen?

  4. Quartz001
    November 30, 2015 at 00:29

    Assad is the correct choice for stability in the region. Shocking that the same country that removed Saddam Hussein and allowed Mubarak to be overthrown would want to take out Assad, as well.

  5. Abe
    November 29, 2015 at 22:46

    On 24 November 2015, Turkish Air Force F-16s shot down a Russian Sukhoi Su-24M bomber aircraft near the Syria–Turkey border. The pilot was shot in mid-air parachuting toward land by Syrian Turkmen rebels.

    The Turkmen group operated under the command of Alparslan Çelik, a Turkish citizen and reportedly a Grey Wolves member.

    The Grey Wolves (Turkish: Bozkurtlar) is a Turkish neo-fascist organization, a paramilitary and terrorist wing of the right-wing Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) in Turkey.

  6. dutchnational
    November 29, 2015 at 18:50

    Interesting article.

    One small detail. It never was necessary to coax the Russian plane back to Syria.

    It was flying over a small “finger” of Turkey, several kms wide.

    It came back to Syria automatically after 17 seconds.

    • Jay
      November 29, 2015 at 22:02

      Right, clearly Turkey was waiting and looking for a reason to down a Russian plane.

      As the Russians pointed out the F16 is much faster and could have likely caught up to the Russian plane–though not of course within that finger of Turkey that the Russians were over for 17 seconds.

      It was a surprisingly big mistake for Davidson to make here.

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