One of the tragic ironies of history is that when George W. Bush declared a ‘war on terror’, such a thing was not necessary. In the early 2000s, the treat of Islamic terrorism to the world was relatively limited and logistically constrained in terms of size and scope. A quick phone call from Washington to Riyadh saying ‘STOP IT’, could have solved quite a lot.
However, given Saudi Arabia’s direct hand in helping to perpetrate the attacks of September 11th and the Bush family’s pathologically intimate relationship with the House of Saud, this was clearly not an option.
So instead, Bush and Blair invented enemies where there were none and in doing so, they created a real problem of widespread global Islamic terrorism that does require a thorough response. Today, there is a real war on terror, one brought tragically to fruition due to the original, phony war on terror.
Obama and Hillary have done more to augment terrorism than they’ve done to curtail it. Hillary Clinton like Bush before her, has a relationship with Saudi Arabia, the mother of all terrorist states, which eliminates her war on terror credentials on arrival. It is now up to Donald Trump to realise that fighting Islamic terrorism in the Middle East without forming an alliance with secular Arab states and their partners, will be like trying to fry an egg on an iceberg.
This was one of the central themes of the first interview given by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad since the US election. Assad expressed a kind of subdued and intelligent caution about Trump, saying that because Trump has never been a professional politician, it is difficult for Syria to assess what a future relationship might hold.
However, his tone then became more positive when he said that if Trump is genuine about fighting terrorism, Syria will have no problems with considering the United States a full partner in the war against terrorism along with Russia, Iran and many others.
Trump campaigned on a platform of ending the disastrous US regime change policy. Assad, however, issued a warning to those who disagree with Trump on that, saying that America is a sovereign country but not some sort of ideological global policeman.
And here is what he added:
West has its own culture, we have our own culture, they have their own reality, we have our own reality. So, our democracy should reflect our culture and our habits and our customs and our reality at the same time.
It’s deeply ironic that Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, Francois Mitterrand and Helmut Kohl were all willing and able to conduct business with Saddam’s Iraq during his war with Iran and that George Bush and Tony Blair ended up doing deals with Gaddafi.
By any objective standard, both Saddam and Gaddafi were far more difficult men to deal with than Assad, one of the most moderate and learned leaders in the world. I have always maintained that Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr was the finest leader of modern Iraq and that when Saddam assumed full control of the country in 1979 (some speculate by force), he did much to retard the progress of his noble country.
Whilst Saddam’s record on infrastructure and education remains very good, the zeal with which he went to war with the Islamic-Republic of Iran sowed the seeds of future misery for Iraq. It didn’t help that Baghdad was widely encouraged and armed by foreign powers against the revolutionary Islamic Republic. It also didn’t help global public opinion, when Saddam’s genuine concerns about the Arab Shi’a population of Iraq’s south, aligning with a country which espouses global revolution, is described as Saddam’s ‘war against his own people’.
The threat of a southern Iraqi rebellion was real and Saddam did his best to keep his country united. Yet by invading Iran, Saddam made his efforts to further unite Iraq more difficult. This was an unintended consequence of the war which he should have been wise enough not to instigate.
Saddam was a deeply flawed leader who twice predicted military triumphs when the opposite occurred. The war with Iran was one of the bloodiest stalemates in history and his war on the corrupt kleptocracy of Kuwait, however morally justified it was in many ways, was ultimately ill thought out and ended up hurting Iraq even more than the war with Iran.
Unlike Saddam, who made Iraq worse vis-à-vis his predecessor, Libya’s Gaddafi made his country unambiguously better. Gaddafi literally took a poor North African nation from the sands of simplicity and brought the country into a golden age of modernity where the population became the richest, healthiest and most educated in African history.
Gaddafi was a deeply philosophical man and his Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya was an example of a state governed on a profoundly philosophical basis which permeated every area of social life. Think North Korea with deeply higher levels of personal and religious freedom or Hoxha’s Albania without the poverty. Gaddafi’s Green Book still makes for a fascinating read, especially for students of anti-revisionist socialism.
The reason that I’ve devoted paragraphs to Saddam and Gaddafi in an article about Assad is to demonstrate the contrast of how easy it would be for any western power to deal with Assad. Prior to Syria’s war on terror (it isn’t a civil war, the majority of Syrians support their government more than ever), Syria was a placid place. It was not militarised like Saddam’s Iraq nor a philosophical state like Gaddafi’s Jamahiriya.
If one were to take someone from a southern European country, blindfold them and land them on a beach in Syria, they would not be able to tell if they were in Greece, southern Italy, Cyprus, Turkey or Lebanon. One would have to wait for someone to speak Arabic and see a Syrian flag atop a hotel before realising where one was. By contrast, if the blindfolded traveler were brought to the Jamahiriya, he would almost instantly realise he was in Libya.
This is all the more reason that Assad presents an opportunity for engagement, as a man and a politician, he is very easy to engage. Far from just being more moderate and easy going than Saddam or Gaddafi, I would say that he is a far more moderate, measured and polite man than Silvio Berlusconi, and no one ever talked about Italian regime change under his tenure. One could even go back to Charles De Gaulle who looked a bit like Assad, but was ultimately a far more stubborn man.
Russia’s redoubled efforts against ISIS and al-Qaeda strongholds in the last day, demonstrate that vast parts of Syria may be liberated from terrorists even before Donald Trump enters office.
Assad said the following about Russia:
Russians always base their policies on values, and these values are the sovereignty of other countries, international law, respecting other people, other cultures, so they don’t interfere in whatever is related to the future of Syria or the Syrian people… The Russians are fighting for us, for the world, and for their self.
By the 20th of January there will almost certainly still be some foreign terrorist elements in Syria that will need to be fought. This is particularly true in the parts of Syria closet to Iraq. The man who wrote The Art of The Deal should be thankful that in the war on terrorism, he has in President Assad, a man who will be a very easy individual to make deals with.
Such deals will ensure the safety of Syria, the wider region, America and indeed many parts of the world. The ball is in Trump’s court, it is now up to him to make the best of the opportunity.