The Only Solution for Syria is Al-Assad
As you may be aware, there is currently a civil war going on in Syria. To say it has been devastating would be an understatement. Hundreds of thousands have perished, millions have been driven from their homes, and what began as an uprising against a dictatorship has splintered into a multifactional war with rebel groups fighting both the government and one another. From this void has emerged the Islamic State, probably the most utterly vile entity we have seen in recent years, infamous by now for constantly seeking ever more depraved forms of public execution and terror.
Like a black hole, this ongoing conflict has pulled more and more nations into its maelstrom. Western Iraq has been ravaged by the rampages of ISIS. The Kurds of Syria and Iraq fight for their survival. Iran has sent special forces in to protect their interests. Now the West has become involved, with even a near-isolationist liberal like Barack Obama unable to bury his head deep enough into the sand to ignore the slaughter.
Canada, being the good if unappreciated ally that we are, has been by the United States side on this. Recently, a vote was held in the House of Commons to further extend our military involvement and escalate our bombing runs to now include ISIS targets in Syria itself. This raises the question, however, of what our end game in this war is?
Now, I hold the view that having an endgame is not always a luxury in war that is readily available. Sometimes one must engage in conflict on an immediate basis without the reassurance of knowing how it will be brought to an end. War also has the tricky habit of changing on a dime, throwing what was previously assumed to be certain into uncertainty. The fool makes plans and God laughs. That being said, some governing body will need to exercise authority over the area known as Syria when the fighting is done. Having pondered the matter, I have come to the unfortunate conclusion that there is only one tenable option on that front: Bashir Al-Assad.
I can already picture the reactions to this statement. Al-Assad, the butcher of Damascus? Al-Assad, who gassed his own people? What was the point of the lives that have been lost if we only put everything back as it once was?
I will say the following in answer. I am not saying Al-Assad is the humanitarian of the year. He most assuredly is not. He is a tyrant and despot with innocent blood on his hands. He most likely has used chemical weapons on his own people. He unquestionably has used tactics to remain in power that would see him convicted of war crimes in any court of law. In an ideal world we would be fitting him for a rope necktie.
We do not live in an ideal world, however. The sad reality is that there is no viable faction that could assume the leadership of Syria at this time except the existing Ba’thist regime of Al-Assad. What alternative is there? We are not going to see a democratic government propped up by Western bayonets. Even if our leaders were in favor of it, and they are not, the populace of the West would never support another prolonged occupation of a Middle Eastern nation. We are also not going to see a secular, liberal rebel army come out of nowhere with the manpower and capabilities to restore order. The Iraqi government certainly isn’t going to step into the void, they cannot even govern themselves. As much as we all love the Kurds, they have neither the manpower or the desire to do so either, and while I would certainly love to see both Syria AND Iraq absorbed into a Greater Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan under King Abdullah (whose the rightful leader of the entire region anyway) even I’ll admit that is never going to happen. Other than Bashir al-Assad what other candidate do we have for the leadership of the Syria that could actually have a shot at governing? A multinational UN peacekeeping mission? Cue the laugh track, cause that would be the biggest joke of the year.
That is not to say that we should simply hand Syria back to Al-Assad and wash our hands of the whole affair. What the West is in a position to do at this time is demand concessions from Al-Assad in return for his resumption of power over all of Syria and hold him to them. A general amnesty for all rebels not connected to ISIS or its affiliates can be the first one. No retaliations. No executions. Perhaps even a role in the new government. Decentralization and semi-autonomy for rebel held regions of Syria that are already self-governing in all but name could be another. Most importantly, a unified front by all parties in the conflict to utterly erase ISIS from the face of the earth could finally be achieved (which is the goal we all should be working towards at this point of time anyway).
Real life is often times unfair. Many times there are no good choices, only bad ones and ones that are slightly less unpalatable. Absolute victory of the kind achieved in World War II is simply not in the cards all of the time (in fact given that World War Two condemned half of Europe to the crushing tyranny of the USSR the argument that it was an absolute victory for good is highly debatable). That does not make the pill any less bitter to swallow, but swallow it we must. If Syria is to survive someone will have to take power, and that someone, sadly, is Bashir al-Assad.