By Scott Taylor
The U.S. has made it clear that it believes Syrian President Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons to gas civilians. The Trump administration needs to remain adamant about that point because it has already violated international law by launching a punitive missile strike against the Syrian air base where the U.S. claims that a chemical attack originated.
Keep in mind that President Donald Trump ordered that barrage of 59 cruise missiles against Assad’s forces before any international agency had even tested soil samples at the site of the gas attack — let alone prove who was the culprit.
Be that as it may, what is truly troubling is the Americans’ over-simplification of the Syrian equation following this chemical attack. Only the previous month, White House spokesman Sean Spicer had admitted that Assad’s presidency was a “reality we are going to have to live with.”
Then came the April 4 chemical incident in the rebel-held Syrian village of Khan Sheikhoun and with the U.S. finger of blame pointed at Assad, the Trump administration has renewed demands for his ouster. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Nikki Haley, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, have been leading the charge, insisting that Assad will have no place in a political solution on the future of Syria.
What we are not hearing, and have not heard since the uprising to overthrow Assad began in Syria in the spring of 2011, is who is going to have a place in the political leadership of a future Syria?
In Syria’s six years of bloody civil war, not a single rebel leader has emerged as the face of an anti-Assad movement. Instead, the Syrian rebels have shown themselves to be a fractious collection of splinter groups all fighting for different objectives. Many of those militias are in fact Islamic extremists ranging from al-Qaeda and al-Nusra Front to the especially evil group known as Daesh (aka ISIS and ISIL). Then there are the Kurdish separatists who are fighting to create their own independent state called Rojava.
Do we really want to leave the future of Syria in the hands of any of these factions? I think not.
Then again, if you simply insist that “Assad must go,” what happens to the numerous factions that have been fighting to prop up the embattled president? Despite the western media’s campaign to paint Assad as evil incarnate, there are several Syrian minorities — such as the Alawites (Shiite Muslims), Chaldean Christians and Armenians — who are fighting on the side of the Assad loyalists. It is not necessarily because of their affection for their president but rather out of fear for their own survival should any of the Sunni Muslim extremist groups triumph over him in Syria.
So when Tillerson and Haley say remove Assad, this begs the question of who will replace him?
Surely the U.S. cannot have forgotten the massive mistake they made in Libya in 2011. Canada may have nominally led the NATO charge against Libyan President Moammar Gadhafi, but it was the U.S, France and U.K. that were pulling the strings. Backed by NATO’s air armada, a polyglot collection of anti-Gadhafi rebel groups finally captured and killed the Libyan president in October 2011 after eight bloody months of civil war.
However, it was only after Gadhafi’s murder that everyone woke up to the fact that the rebels we had supported included Islamic extremists, murderers, criminals and unruly thugs. We had focused solely on the evil madman we were fighting against and, as such, failed to see the even more dangerous elements that we were fighting for. Libya was plunged into a state of violent anarchy and has since devolved into a failed state.
Likewise in Iraq, in the present allied campaign to eliminate Daesh, international forces, including some 200 Canadian Armed Forces trainers, all know that they are fighting against evildoers. However, I do not think that any one of them is risking their life to prop up a corrupt Shiite regime in Baghdad, or to establish a future independent state of Kurdistan.
If we are going to expend Canadian blood and gold in any military venture, we need to establish a clear objective — not just attempt to counter a recognized negative.
The mistakes made in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya were massive and the failed results remain ongoing. So why have we not learned any lessons from them?