Opinion 'Assad Must Go' Is the Wrong Solution
The West insists that for any negotiations on an end to the Syrian civil war to happen, President Bashar Assad must first step down. The demand is fatal and only prolongs the bloodletting, allowing Syria to slip into anarchy while radical Islamists slowly hijack the revolution.
The Syrian people are fighting desperately for freedom against a dictator. The war has cost nearly 70,000 lives. At least a million have fled their homes and face an uncertain future.
But that is only half the truth.
World powers are also fighting over who is to have influence in the region. It's the West and its allies against the old allies of the regime. No one is openly getting involved in the conflict, and no one is sending soldiers to Damascus -- the West appears to have had enough of an all-out policy of invasion. Still, the United States, Europe, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar have interests in Syria.
What do the West and its partners want? They want to decrease the influence of Syria's allies Iran and Hezbollah for their own security, but above all for the sake of protecting Israel. Meanwhile, the Turks and the Saudis are interested in strengthening the regional influence of Sunnis, who also make up a majority of their own populations. What France accomplished with their NATO bombing campaign in Libya -- the downfall of the dictator -- is to be achieved this time with the aid of money for weapons and guidance alone.
Sunni Gulf States Supporting Islamists
The roles are clearly divided. America says it's about defending democracy and human rights. US diplomats are negotiating abroad with opposition leaders, while others are providing resources to the rebels. The Qataris are giving money, while the Saudi secret service is coordinating the resistance to the Assad regime on Syrian soil.
Saudis have provided military advice, and to a large extent also bundles of cash for weapons. And when doing so, the Gulf states don't show preference to beginners as their partners in the struggle, but rather experienced jihadists. They are fearless, militarily effective and ideologically close. The fact that extremists are prone to act with particularly brutal violence, as in the case of the Yarmouk brigades, which execute unarmed government soldiers and has even taken UN peacekeeping troops hostage, appears to be mostly irrelevant.
Turkey, too, serves as a hub for weapons and fighters, and routinely welcomes rebels to its field hospitals for medical treatment, regardless of whether they belong to the more moderate Free Syrian Army or if they wear the banners of Salafist organizations like the al-Nusra Front, the Ansar Brigade or the Abdullah Azzam Shaheed Brigade on their foreheads. A revolution for freedom and democracy fought side-by-side with allies of al-Qaida is disconcerting to say the least.
Officially, the United States has excluded the Al-Nusra Front from the groups it recognizes as potential government representatives for a post-Assad Syria, and the influence of Islamist fighters is still limited. But it's not just the brutality that is growing every day the civil war drags on. The roles of sectarianism and Islamism are growing as well.
Preconditions Prevent an End to War
Analysts in Ankara and Washington are underestimating the tenacity of the Syrian government. They're also overlooking the fact that many of the Assad loyalists and the nearly 3 million Alawites, of which President Bashar Assad is one, have no choice but to fight to the last round. If they're defeated, they'll have to face the worst. "If the rebels come to this city, they'll eat us alive," said one wealthy businessman in Damascus. Thousands of others share his fear. The opposition is already kidnapping Alawites, Christians, secular Sunnis and simply the affluent, in addition to staging targeted killings of representatives of the government.
Through the one-sided demonization of the Assad government and the precondition set by the US that nothing can proceed until the despot steps down, the West has essentially blocked any solution through negotiations. It has also destroyed hope for an armistice, a possible orderly division of the country or the establishment of safe zones for refugees.
The war just goes on, also because Iran cannot allow the Syrian government to be replaced by Sunnis with close ties to Riyadh and Washington. And Russia is also not about to give up its influence in the region without a fight. All this translates to the destruction of an entire country, the home to 21 million people and a unique cultural heritage. Syria could soon fall into anarchy, fractured into war zones and Islamist enclaves.
The country has a way to go before the atrocities of its civil war reach their peak. That's true not just for Assad, but also for the various revolutionary groups, of which not a small number have already been radicalized or overtaken by radical Islamists. And the West has so far mostly sympathized with them without criticism.