Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

In the War on Terrorism, Only Al-Qaeda Thrives

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

In the War on Terrorism, Only Al-Qaeda Thrives

Article excerpt

The first week of June was a good week for those who like their hypocrisy neat and straight from the bottle. There was U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry condemning the Syrian presidential election in which Bashar al-Assad was re-elected for a third time against nominal opposition as "a great big zero." But at the same time, the U.S. and Britain said they were officially looking forward to working with President-elect Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in Egypt, who is turning out to be a somewhat comical figure who cannot even fix an election properly. Despite an official holiday, free transport, massive media support, religious encouragement and the threat of $70 fines for non-voters, polling booths remained stubbornly empty or underused.

Of course, the hypocrisy does not end there. For all his triumphalism over the turnout in Syria, Assad's way of dealing with parts of Syria not under his control is to shell them and drop barrel bombs on them. Nor is the opposition much better when it comes to targeting civilians, except that its means of destruction are much less than that of the state. In Aleppo, the government pounds rebel-held districts in the east of the city, with a population of 300,000, with barrel bombs dropped from helicopters. These attacks have become even more lethal since the helicopters started operating at night, when civilians cannot see them in time to take cover.

A reporter in Aleppo, who writes under the name of Edward Dark for the online magazine Al-Monitor, mentions a case that "clearly illustrates the ludicrous nature of this inhumane conflict that happened to the Sheikh Maksud neighborhood in Aleppo." He relates how, when this district was held by Assad's forces, it was regularly shelled by the rebels, who said it was full of pro-government militiamen. When the rebels stormed and captured Sheikh Maksud in March 2013, it was the Syrian army that blazed away indiscriminately into the civilian houses that were still standing.

Almost any development in Syria these days should be regarded with some cynicism. For instance, when a cease-fire is declared in a suburb of Damascus and the rebel fighters switch sides, it is often with the assurance that in the future they will be allowed to man checkpoints in their districts and have 50 percent of the takings extorted from passing vehicles. I was in Nabq on the Damascus-Homs main road earlier this year, where government forces had arranged a public celebration of their success in driving out the rebels. Local people angrily pointed out that all that had happened was that rebel fighters, having previously sworn to fight to the last bullet against Assad, had simply joined the pro-government National Defense Force militia and were happily taking part in celebrations of their own defeat and expulsion from Nabq.

The Syrian war has turned into a Syrian version of the Thirty Years War in Germany four centuries ago. Too many conflicts and too many players have become involved for any peace terms to be acceptable to all. A comparison is often made with the Lebanese civil war, which lasted from 1975 to 1990, with the comforting moral sometimes being drawn that, bloody though it was, eventually all sides became exhausted and put away their guns. But the war did not quite end like that: it was Saddam Hussain's invasion of Kuwait in 1990 and Syria's decision to join the U.S.-led coalition to evict him that led Washington to tolerate Syria extinguishing the last resistance to its rule in Lebanon. It is not a very comforting parallel.

There is no doubt that the Syrian people inside and outside Syria are utterly exhausted and demoralized by their civil war and would do almost anything to end it. …

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