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Hussain Abdul-Hussain

Assad is staying

A person holds a placard with a drawing of Bashar al-Assad reading "Butcher Al Assad, Syrial Killer - Dear Europe, It only needs to get one out, not to have to welcome millions" during a demonstration in support of refugees in Paris on 5 September 2015. (AFP/Francois Guillot)

To stem the flood of Syrian refugees into their countries, Europeans have found a solution: keep Syrian President Bashar Assad in power so that he can lock up Syrians, again, in the big prison that Syria was before 2011. And if Assad has to kill hundreds of thousands more Syrians, that would be a lesser price for Europeans to pay than the world blaming them for images of frightened, bruised and dead Syrian refugees.

 

In Washington, word has it that National Security Advisor Susan Rice formed a committee of Syria experts, weeks ago, and tasked them with presenting her schemes of “living with Assad.”

With a surge in the number of Syrian refugees sailing through the Mediterranean, the EU promised to welcome 160,000, which will bring the total number to 540,000 — a small number considering that Lebanon houses over 1 million.

 

Even though the aging continent should be thrilled to take young Syrian migrants who can make its economy more competitive and pay for its retirees, Europe fears that if these Muslim refugees fail to assimilate, their native traditions will overwhelm Europe and alter its Christian character. The Right in the US and Europe has exploited fears from foreign immigrants to increase its popularity, which has made it harder for leaders to argue for letting refugees resettle in the West.


To avoid humanitarian criticism while keeping Syrian refugees at bay, European governments reasoned it would be best to restore Assad. Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurtz was the first to speak out, saying that while Assad has committed crimes, he is a criminal whom Europe can work with because he is fighting on Europe's side. Britain's Philip Hammond followed, even though pundits had expected Germany's Frank Steinmeier, a longtime advocate of an Assad victory, to go second. France is not far behind, and Copenhagen published ads in Lebanese newspapers scaring Syrian refugees off from moving to Denmark.

Europe's turn over Assad's fate comes on the heels of a long Russian campaign aimed at keeping Assad in power. Russia has lobbied Arab countries — Egypt, Jordan and the UAE — in favor of Assad. It even convinced the Saudis to receive Assad security tsar Ali Mamlouk in Jeddah, though the meeting turned out to be fruitless.

Moscow has also propped up Assad’s militarily by renewing his hardware, resupplying his caches and deploying a thousand military advisors to help rebuild his forces and allow him to reconquer territory he has lost since 2011.


Iran, for its part, has also thrown its lot behind Assad. Even though Tehran has made Assad dependent on its proxy Shiite Lebanese and Iraqi militias — a tactic at odds with Moscow's plan to prop Assad up and preserve his independence — the Russian and Iranian efforts have helped Assad survive.

The joint European, Russian, Arab and American effort to restore Assad might prove irresistible for the three last countries opposing his stay — namely Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar.

The resistance of Syria's opposition and its regional sponsors might be further jeopardized by President Obama, who says that Americans should be humble and learn that they cannot shape Middle Eastern events while at the same time instructing Jordan to cut supply lines to southern rebels should they press northward toward Damascus.

Since the outbreak of the Syrian revolution in 2011, Assad has been the luckiest of the Arab dictators who has had to deal with the Arab Spring. Despite years of supporting terrorist networks that killed US soldiers in Iraq, Assad still managed to sell the world the narrative that his brutality against his own people was part of the war on terror.

Under pressure from Gulf allies, Obama reluctantly went against Assad but never allowed his collapse, arguing that the alternative would be terrorists taking over.


Having weathered the storm that once isolated Assad at the UN and the Arab League, Russia, Egypt and the UAE then started reversing Assad's isolation and losses.

With the outbreak of the refugee crisis, Europeans reasoned that the only way to stop Syrians from escaping Assad's barrel bombs was not to force Assad's departure but to let him win so that the hell he rains down on Syrians would stop.


Even though Assad regaining control of Syria is improbable, even if the world lines up behind him, efforts to rehabilitate him will do little to stop the flood of Syrian refugees to Europe. An example is Iraq, where a few weeks after Prime Minister Abadi announced reforms, thousands of Iraqis still walked through Turkey to Europe.


The old Middle East is crumbling and its population migrating. Reinstating a dictator here or there will not end a problem that requires more resources, attention and a structural fix.

Hussain Abdul-Hussain is the Washington Bureau Chief of Alrai newspaper. He tweets @hahussain

A person holds a placard with a drawing of Bashar al-Assad reading "Butcher Al Assad, Syrial Killer - Dear Europe, It only needs to get one out, not to have to welcome millions" during a demonstration in support of refugees in Paris on 5 September 2015. (AFP/Francois Guillot)

Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurtz was the first to speak out, saying that while Assad has committed crimes, he is a criminal whom Europe can work with because he is fighting on Europe's side.”f

  • Qadi

    Sad but true

    September 18, 2015

  • boontee.tan.56

    Now Russia keeps sending more troops and new weapons to Syria in support of Assad. Naturally, things would always be different when a different decision was made earlier. No point lamenting in retrospect. The west did not accept Russia's proposal because they thought Arab Spring was still warm in 2012, and insisted on pushing democracy into Arab world.

    September 16, 2015

  • WVD

    His brutality against his own people? What should he have done against an armed uprising by the Muslim Brotherhood and al Qaeda? Send them flowers? He is the guarantor for the multi faceted state Syria has always been. You seem to like a Syria where extremist dictate if needed by head chopping their terms to the rest of the population, including Sunni who hugely dislike Salafism and it's Saudi financiers. And it are not Assad's men who commit acts of terror in Europe, it are your friends. So Europe is on the same side as Assad, or should be. This a multi faceted secular society fighting terror from sharia plundering freaks.

    September 14, 2015

  • sami.soufi

    Interesting article Hussain! Whether he is staying or not, reality is he is no longer relative. Make no mistake, delayed justice with never be a forgotten justice.

    September 14, 2015