Bashar al-Assad: Not so bad after all?

Fearful of what might replace him, the West appears to be warming up to the Syrian dictator


Lebedev Artur/Itar-Tass/CP

No one in Western capitals will say so out loud, but it appears the same governments that once insisted Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad must leave office are now beginning to think it might be better if he stuck around.

Today, Western governments see threats to their interests not just from Assad’s regime, which is closely allied to Iran and sponsors the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, but also from the Muslim radicals fighting him—most notably, an al-Qaeda affiliate calling itself the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, which has become steadily more powerful. In a recent New York Times column, former American ambassador to Syria Ryan Crocker wrote that “as bad as [Assad] is, there is something worse.” He advocated “quiet engagement” with Syrian officials.

Syria’s deputy foreign minister Faisal Mekdad confirmed to the BBC last week that Western intelligence agencies have visited Damascus to discuss co-operation on “security matters.” The Wall Street Journal reported that the countries involved include Britain, Germany, France and Spain, but not the United States. A spokeswoman for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service would not say whether it has been in touch with Syrian intelligence, and a spokesman for the Department of Foreign Trade and Development says no Canadian diplomats have been to Damascus since Canada’s embassy was shuttered in March 2012.

Driving Western outreach to the Assad regime are fears about the hundreds of Western citizens who have gone to Syria to join radical Islamist rebels there. The CSIS spokeswoman told Maclean’s that Syria has become a “significant destination” for Canadians participating in extremist activities abroad. Last week, news emerged of two young Canadians who have died fighting with Islamist militias in Syria.

Officially, the policy of Western allies is that Assad should go. In practice, they have done little to make this happen. Aid to opposition groups has been mostly limited to non-lethal hardware, such as boots and night-vision goggles. America and Britain stopped delivering even that sort of thing in December, after Islamist militias seized a base and weapons depot belonging to the Western-backed Free Syrian Army.

Critics, including many in the Syrian opposition, contend that the West fuelled the growth of jihadist groups in Syria because of its half-hearted support for mainstream rebels, who were left unable to match the growing strength of jihadists funded by donors in the Gulf. Rebel activists allege that Assad’s regime, recognizing the damage extreme Islamists do to the opposition’s credibility in the eyes of the West, focuses the brunt of its force on non-Islamist opposition fighters— allowing al-Qaeda affiliates to flourish, and making Assad look like someone with whom the West shares a common enemy.

Meanwhile, earlier this month, several Syrian rebel groups launched an offensive against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Hundreds have died in the fighting. With the West unwilling to move decisively against Assad, and unsure what to do about the al-Qaeda fighters opposed to him, Syria’s non-jihadist revolutionaries are fighting an increasingly lonely war against both.

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Bashar al-Assad: Not so bad after all?

  1. And the lies about Syria are fading, the world begins to see the truth.

    • You mean the truth that Assad systematically kills his own people numbering at 130,000 thousand civilians including children? The lies that are fading are his fading regime’s.

      • keep watching CNN ..MATTT…

      • Okay, Matt… you’ve gotta tell me what you’re smoking because I wanna get some for myself.

  2. This guy has killed more actual terrorists than America ever could.

    • This “guy” has killed 130,000 thousand civilians including children. Get your facts straight.

      • Give it a rest Matt, what about the deaths caused by ISIS? Ghuraba al-Sham? Al Nusrah? Al-jaysh al-Souri al-“hurr”?

  3. “Fearful of what might replace him, the West appears to be warming up to the Syrian dictator”…They are just getting this??? We are in trouble!

  4. You say: “Critics, … contend that the West fuelled the growth of jihadist groups in Syria because of its half-hearted support for mainstream rebels, ” Really! It has been obvious since the summer of 2011 that the West was supporting a terrorist rabble in the hope of having another Tunisia, Libya and Egypt (All of which have since gone bad). When they kill police and soldiers by the dozens, they are NOT peaceful demonstrators. Assad should have done like the Egyptian Army in 2013 – in one day they wiped out 1,000 Muslim Brotherhood demonstrators and threw thousands into prison. End of insurrection! If Assad had ignored the West and done the same thing, the Sysrian rebellion would have been over in a day, instead of the 130,000 dead and millions of refugees. But we in the West wanted a rebellion – and that’s what we got. Now we want Assad to sort it out! Assad should have told Obama and his European lap dogs to stuff it 3 years ago.

  5. I think UK was complicit in things after we found out they were selling chemicals to Syria. Once they did…then they claim he used them…
    I didnt like assad, but during this I think he has been a leader with Syria’s best interest at heart.

  6. The Syrian opposition shares nothing beyond the desire to remove Assad’s regime from power. Those so-called moderates that purportedly seek ‘democracy’ are now the minority faction in an overwhelmingly Islamist opposition. Rebel factions are already battling each other for control of several Syrian cities in rebel-held territory. To think that the opposition will not be engaged in a power struggle once Assad is no longer on the scene is naive. We mustn’t be blinded by the fantasy of democracy in Syria. Obviously, a stable and democratic Syria is the best case scenario, but it is also the most implausible of outcomes. You cannot have democracy without a modicum of stability. Even a cursory look at all the other “Arab Spring” state reveals the elusiveness of democracy in states without a viable civil society.

  7. Propping up dictators because they are “our” dictator is what gave us the Islamic Republic of Iran… which is now bent on developing nuclear weapons for the express purpose of destroying the Great Satan (America) and the LIttle Satan (Israel).

    As putrid as it may sound to some of the bleeding heart liberals in Europe and North America, the “Arab street” has to be given the ability to take and exercise their democratic right of self-determination. If that means supporting jihadi elements in places like Syria and Libya… fine… we’ve supported Islamic terrorists fighting totalitarianism in the past (Afghanistan in the 80s).

    Why? Because the Arab people need to have the chance to determine their own democratic destiny AND so the Arab people can see for themselves that Wahabism is not the way to build a state in 2014. When the people of Egypt saw that the Muslim Brotherhood was failing to lead them where they want to go… they threw Morsi out (with the help of the army) in order to better express their desire for the kind of country they want.

    When we prop up these dictators it gives the extremists ” a free pass” because they can just blame all their people’s problems on “America” and “Israel”.

    If the terrorists have to build an economy, provide education and actually seek to build a society that functions for its members AND fail, then they will lose the popular support they currently enjoy and the West is more likely to see moderates rise to take their place.

    Its a gamble for sure… but we know what doing what we’ve always done will get us… perpetual revolution, ethnic cleansing and self-righteous terrorists controlling the Arab masses with their hateful propaganda.

    • The Syrian people should have the ability to determine their own destiny without being invaded by terrorists funded and armed by the Western powers. The legitimate peaceful Syrian opposition could have been supported through diplomatic and non-interventionist means and over time, they could have helped their own nation move toward democracy. Democracy cannot be imposed by foreign powers whether through military means or by NGO’s interfering in elections.

  8. It’s about time that our so-called leaders finally came to the senses. Every time the West (mainly the US) has allied itself with terrorist and criminals in order to change the government of another nation, it has failed and caused more problems for the West. Recruiting and training people who will end up hating us is a stupid policy but it keeps coming back to haunt us.

  9. بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
    حضرة رئيس الجمهوريه العربيه السوريه حفظه الله نفيدكم علما انه بعد الانسحاب الاسرائيلي من جنوب لبنان وضع شارون خطه لتدمير العرب بالاسلحه النوويه الامريكيه وذلك انه قام بتعليم نخب من اليهود العرب في الموساد على تعلم المذهب الوهابي السلفي وارسلهم خلسه الى بن لادن وعندما اصبحوا ذوي حظوه لدى بن لادن اعطوه مخطط ضرب امريكا في الحادي عشر من سبتمبر ولهذا عندما حققت الحكومه الامريكيه لم تجد احدا من اليهود من الذين كانوا يعملون في برجي التجاره العالمي حاضرا الى عمله ولهذا ولتكفر اسرائيل عن ذنبها اعطو شارون ادويه تجعله في حاله غيبوبه دائمه الكوما وبعد ذلك قامت امريكا واسرائيل بنفس الخطه ولكن ضد العرب والمسلمون وذلك بارسال علماء سلفيون مزيفون الى تنظيم القاعده واقنعو قادة القاعده تثبيت ارجلهم اولا في بلاد العرب والمسلمين اولا وذلك باقامة دوله اسلاميه كبرى ومن ثم يقوموا بمحاربه المشركين في الغرب وامريكا وكان هدف امريكا واسرائيل من تلك الخطه جعل تنظيم القاعده يخرب في بلاد العرب بدلا من امريكا على امل ان يقوم العرب بالقضاء على تنظيم القاعده دون ان تتكبد امريكا والغرب اي خسائر
    ودمتم سالمين والسلام عليكم ورحمة الله وبركاته ودمتم لسوريا العروبه

  10. Lets not forget the false flag sarin gas attacks by the terrorist rebels and how they tried making it look like Assad used them and was the bad guy……. The west and it’s allies!

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