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  Opinion   Columnists  08 Apr 2021  Saeed Naqvi | Syria is still in the eye of the storm even after 10 years

Saeed Naqvi | Syria is still in the eye of the storm even after 10 years

The writer is a senior journalist and commentator based in New Delhi
Published : Apr 9, 2021, 4:26 am IST
Updated : Apr 9, 2021, 4:26 am IST

The free run the US and regional allies like Saudi Arabia had to alter the ground realities in Syria ended when the Russians arrived in 2015


In 1952, like a bolt from the blue, came UP chief minister Govind Ballabh Pant’s order abolishing zamindari. The abrupt drop in prestige and lifestyle caused a relative across the Ganga to hide his arsenal of a few rifles and 12-bore shotguns along with boxes of Eley cartridges.

Whenever courtiers in rags, with some previous pique, stoked his fragile ego with stories of rampant lawlessness in villages because “huzoor’s” power had ended, “huzoor” would come out with his preferred shotgun. This sad, fake “dadagiri” lasted as long as the boxes of Eleys did.

This trans-Ganga tragic hero came to mind when my eye fell on a bold headline of a piece by Graham E. Fuller, formerly of the CIA, on the aggressive style of Joe Biden’s and Anthony Blinken’s early outings in Foreign Affairs: “Hell Hath No Fury Like A Superpower in Decline”.

The subsequent utterances are subdued and moderate but the initial knee-jerk reaction was revealing. Fuller writes: “The US leadership must have set some kind of new record in managing to personally insult the powers of the world within 48 hours of each other in these early days of the Biden administration. President Biden called Vladimir Putin a ‘killer’ and lacking ‘a soul’. Blinken was equally insulting on China.

“This country has some grounds for pride in its own imperfect democratic order. Still, how much reflection does it take to acknowledge what the Chinese Communist Party has accomplished in the past 30 years? Is it more worthy to bring half a billion people out of poverty into middle-class life in a mere generation? Or more worthy to maintain intact an American electoral system in which mediocre or bad leaders emerge as readily as good ones?”

Fuller’s invective is focused on the Biden-Blinken opening salvos at Russia and China. I would have scoured anything Fuller wrote on the tenth anniversary of the Syrian crisis. Five Western powers observed the occasion with all the fire and brimstone of the past. Fuller knows the area backwards.

A key policy document advising the Reagan administration in 1983 on military action against Syria for strategic reasons was his handiwork. I have had this document ever since it was released in 2008, having been in secret vaults for 25 years.

After visiting Damascus and almost all the trouble spots in Syria’s neighbourhood, I had written a paper “The Storm in the Arab Spring”, the eye of the storm being Syria. I feel qualified to take a critical look at the statement the foreign ministers of the US, France, Germany, Italy and UK issued on the tenth anniversary of the beginning of the tragedy.

One allegation the ministers repeat is straightforward: President Bashar al Assad started the ghoulish operation against his own people who were rebelling against misrule, corruption, economic distress. Not true. I was in Damascus at the outset.

There were reports fairly early in the Obama administration leading the global effort to deploy “shadow” Internet and mobile systems which “dissidents can use to undermine repressive governments that seek to silence them by shutting down communications network”. James Glanz and John Markoff of the New York Times described one operation in a fifth-floor shop at Washington’s L Street, where “a group of young entrepreneurs, looking like a garage band, are assembling deceptively innocent-looking hardware into a prototype ‘Internet-in-a-suitcase’. It was all part of the big push for the Liberation Technology Movement, and how comprehensively it was applied against the Syrian regime”.

In Syria’s case, the “moderate operation” the “free” world was busting its guts to help, in many cases, turned out to be cover for extreme Islamists like Jabhat al Nusra. One such instance defence secretary Lloyd Austin admitted before the Senate Armed Services Select Committee: A $500 million project to train “moderates” to fight Assad turned into an embarrassment for Washington. Most trainees disappeared, along with the lethal equipment. Mr Austin mumbled “four or five” of the moderates trained were still with “us”.

Among the trick sentences in the foreign minister’s statement was one on Daesh (Islamic State). “Preventing Daesh’s resurgence remains a priority”, the statement says. Hadn’t Daesh, in the administration’s words, been “destroyed”? So why is possible resurrection posed as a threat? Because the threat, when live, can justify airstrikes and other forms of intervention?

In America’s “sole superpower” moment, countries were averse to calling the US names: how can it be accused of nurturing “terrorists” as possible assets in future contingencies?

The free run the US and regional allies like Saudi Arabia had to alter the ground realities in Syria ended when the Russians arrived in 2015, boots on the ground.

A brief background to place Baghdadi in perspective. President Barack Obama was livid with Iraqi PM Nouri al Maliki for not signing the status of forces agreement before the US troops’ departure. Washington wanted him out.

Just about this time, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi puts out a video from Mosul’s main mosque on July 4, 2014, declaring the formation of an Islamic Caliphate. In August 2014, Mr Obama gave a significant interview to Thomas L. Friedman of the New York Times. Asked why he didn’t order airstrikes against ISIS when it reared its head in June-July 2014, Mr Obama admitted that airstrikes on Baghdadi in July “would have taken the pressure off Nouri al Maliki”, Iraq’s stubbornly anti-American Shia PM. In other words, the rapid march of ISIS from Mosul to Baghdad’s outskirts was “facilitated” to keep the pressure on the PM. In September 2014, Mr Maliki was shown the door. Moral: Terrorists can be assets in certain circumstances!

Tags: syria, us, biden administration, saudi arabia, russia, president bashar al assad, syria after 10 years, military action against syria