Why Europe should back Bashar al-Assad

This might seem like a nonsensical idea, but there are good reasons as to why European countries should back Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. This is because the most important thing now from their perspective is to bring some sort of stability into Syria.

The thing with the long-ongoing civil war in Syria is that there are no good guys. Initially, Western powers considered backing the rebels, who are mostly Sunni and hence enjoy the support of other Gulf countries. However, a part of the rebel faction turned into Islamic State and started unleashing atrocities not only in Syria but also in neighbouring Iraq.

al-Assad is no paragon of virtue, and his forces have not held back in unleashing atrocities. Yet the fact remains that he has successfully ruled over Syria (albeit as a hereditary dictator) successfully for a few years until the trouble started brewing. The other thing going for him is that he is a strong leader, and can possibly be convinced to talk, given that the only leadership on the other side is Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the self-styled “caliph” of the Islamic State.

The unrest in Syria has caused much trouble in Europe, thanks to heavy migration – much more than what Europe can normally handle. What this has achieved is in turning Syria’s problem partly into Europe’s problem, and it is in Europe’s interest to solve the problem in Syria if they are to address the problem at their own borders.

The fight in Syria is between two horrible regimes (or one horrible regime and one horrible non-regime), and the victory of neither will do good for the people of Syria. Yet, the steady state of the unsteady peace that will follow after the battle is significantly superior to the people of Syria than the current status of civil war. For this reason, there is merit in ending the war as an immediate goal, and then looking to stabilise the country in the long run.

And the best way for an interventionist power to end a war is to support the stronger side. al-Assad’s side has been officially made stronger with the recent intervention of Russia on that side. So now it is clear who the side more likely to win is. And so Europe should intervene to make sure that happens quickly.

There are other collateral benefits also – coming down on al-Assad’s side will earn European countries brownie points with Putin, which are important because they face off against him in other theatres, such as Ukraine. While it remains that Putin is a madman and the value of such brownie points is unknown, the option value of these points is surely strictly positive?

So Europe should act, and act now. The trouble is at their doorstep now. They need not commit actual troops. Some drones will do for a start. The actual fighting will be done by al-Assad’s forces with more direct help from Putin. And the civil war will hopefully be stamped out soon.

The problem of al-Assad won’t go away, and will need to be dealt with another day, but at least there can be some semblance of peace there. Which might stem the horrific flight of so many Syrians across the seas into Europe’s borders (where they are receiving a mostly cold welcome).

The Gulf countries will not be pleased, of course, but with oil prices dropping their bargaining power in the overall geopolitical sphere is dropping, that much collateral damage is okay for the benefit of putting an end to the horrific conflict in Syria.

Update: This post was updated on 14th of November 2015, in the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks. This is not a nonsensical post any more.

Why Should Anyone Invade Syria?

I don’t understand why the US or the UK or any other country should invade Syria now. Yes, there are gross human rights violations in that country now, and the civil war has been raging for a while now. However, before any foreign country wants to intervene, they need to ask themselves the following questions:

1. what is the objective of the invasion? 

The objective of the US invading Afghanistan in 2002 was to track down Osama bin Laden, the mastermind behind the WTC attacks of 2001. The then Afghan government (Taliban) was not cooperating with the US’s efforts in locating bin Laden, and sensing that having bin Laden on the loose for too long would be a further threat to America’s national security the US invaded. So far so good.

The objective of the US invading Iraq in 2003-04 was that Saddam Hussein was apparently harbouring “weapons of mass destruction”. The US decided that if any such weapons existed with Iraq, it would harm their national interest and so went ahead and invaded. That no such weapons were found is a different matter.

The question is what would be the objective of the US or the UK or any other invading power in Syria? Do they know what they want? Or is it just that they want to invade simply because they can? I repeat – Syrians might be dying but why is it in the national interest of any other country to intervene?

2. What does the invading country seek to achieve by invading?

This is similar to the previous point, but different. Basically what does an invading power seek to achieve in Syria? Rather, what is the event that needs to happen at which point the invader will decide to call off the invasion and return? In Afghanistan there was one such objective – get rid of bin Laden, get rid of the Taliban, put in a new government, stabilize it and go. Yet it’s taken this long. The objective in Iraq wasn’t as clear, still it’s been an extremely long invasion. What would an invading power’s objective be in Syria? Remove Assad? But what would that achieve?

3. What about the chemical weapons then?

Agreed that both the sides in Syria might possess chemical weapons, but why would the US or Western European countries want to invade because of that? If anyone would want to invade for that particular reason it would be one of Syria’s neighbours – Turkey, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, etc – for they are the ones that are likely to be vulnerable to collateral damage. Given that both sides are likely to have chemical weapons it is unlikely that by taking sides in the civil war the chemical weapons could come under control.

Moreover, the nature of the civil war in Syria seems rather uncivil, and I don’t think either party will care about any convention that restricts the use of a particular kind of weaponry. So hoping that one side will give up the use of chemical weapons just because you take their side is futile .

To me, the civil war in Syria is like the Battle of Kishkindha, where Vali faced off Sugriva in a one-on-one combat. There, Rama had a strategic reason to intervene, for he had 1. struck a deal with Sugriva. 2. having no army of his own, he could count on the support of the victor in his campaign against Lanka. As far as any Western nation is concerned, there is no such incentive here. There is no treaty, and it is unlikely that help in this war will lead the victor to be an ally of the invader. The reason I qualified the previous sentence with a “Western” is that it doesn’t apply to Russia. Russia (and formerly USSR) has a pact with al Assad, and they have been long-standing allies. By taking al Assad’s side in this war, Russia knows that they will have a valuable ally in the Middle East in the event of his victory.

None of the Western countries have any such agreements. The only organization which has any sort of alliance with either side in Syria is the al Qaeda, which is supposedly supporting the rebels.

That Western powers such as the US and the UK want to intervene in Syria, and that too on the side of the rebels (in alliance with al Qaeda) shows that these countries are yet to get rid of the cold war mindset. They seem to want to intervene in Syria on one side only because Russia is supporting the other side. In fact, if the US or the UK were to want to invade Syria, the only thing that might make sense is to get in on Assad’s side and take out the Islamist rebels.