While the United States’ campaigns in the Middle East have done more harm than good – this one in Syria could have much worse implications
In a previous article, I covered the costs that could result in France intervening in Syria. Of course, now Britain has opted to join France and the United States in bombing Daesh in the region. As always, Britain is following America’s footsteps. Then-Prime Minister Tony Blair felt obliged to do this in the crusade against Iraq and Afghanistan. Joe Glenton, a soldier turned journalist, claimed: “The main reason we were there [Afghanistan] wasn’t security here in Britain or security there. It was because of a perception that we failed [in Iraq] in US eyes”. And David Cameron has kept this tradition alive; first in Libya in 2011, and now in Syria. When promoting the need for intervention, Mr Cameron seemed vague when actually making a case for it; and seemed to give no solid reason why his current strategy would be effective. Only the usual scripted lines of “we need to exterminate this death cult, who in no way represent Islam”.
Sure, I agree that action against Daesh is necessary. But unlike Mr Cameron, I am not being pressured by lobbyists to make a rash decision on the issue. And that’s exactly what it is: an ill-thought plan.
Iraq was invaded due to “weapons of mass destruction” being hosted by Sadamn Hussein, despite Bush and Blair being warned by many people – including then President of South Africa Thabo Mbeki, who spoke on behalf of WMD experts in his own country. Not only that, it was a fabled strive to restore democracy too. Yet this evidently wasn’t realized. From 2004, Iraqi civilians have actually been victim to more terrorist attacks than any other country, each year – according to the Global Terrorism Index. And arguably, while Hussein was a despotic and corrupt leader, more Iraqis were killed by the West during the invasion, than by the regime overall. Moreover, the country has been torn apart.
In early 2013, veteran Iraqi MP Dr Mahmoud Othman claimed: “about half the country [Iraq] is not really controlled by the Government.” This lack of stability, a reality since Hussein was removed from power, has made it easier for extremists to flourish since. One needs to look no further than the Battle of Mosul in the summer of 2014. In what was considered a “shameful defeat” by the Iraqi Army, 1,300 IS jihadists were able to overrun Iraq’s forces of 60,000 soldiers, joined by many security officers. Middle East Journalist, and author of “The Rise of Islamic State”, Patrick Cockburn states in his book “ISIS is now holding a large part of the country and the Iraqi army appears powerless to do anything about it”.
People arguing for intervention claim that it makes sense to bomb Syria, as the border between Iraq and Syria is now almost non-existent. But does this assertion not show in itself how the countries have been destroyed from our intervention? It’s saying that as we have destroyed the countries partially, we should essentially do it further.
Look at Afghanistan too. The first victim of the “War on Terror” after 9/11. Yet by no means have the civil issues in that nation been solved after the intervention. Last year, 13% of all deaths caused by terrorism worldwide occurred just in Afghanistan alone (according to the same Global Terrorism Index Report) – making it the second country most affected by terrorism behind Iraq. Notice a pattern here?
Now Syria is going the same way. Over four out of every five civilians are in poverty, the government has lost $202 billion since the start of the war, 50.8% of children were out of school in 2014, and millions have lost their jobs and been displaced; according to a report by the UNRWA . Much of this rose sharply from 2013; the same year that the United States bombed Syria with the intention of toppling Syrian dictator Bashar Al-Assad. The country is in ruin. It will take much work from international communities to strengthen the country again – even if the conflict ends. In the meantime, a weakened government will prove to be less of an obstacle for the militant groups gaining ground in the country.
Admittedly, the Assad Dynasty has been filled with corruption. Current dictator Bashar Al-Assad’s policies against his own civilians have been barbaric. Yet since last year, ISIS has become the second most powerful force in the region, behind Assad’s government. Arguably, weakening the regime initially has only made it easier for extremism to flourish.
The arming and financing of the mythical moderates will further cut up the region. Patrick Cockburn claims that ideologically, these moderates are not too different from the 7/7 London bombers, or Al Qaeda; they are militants, but labelled ‘moderate’ when their presence fits in with US policy aims. This will just add to the division of various sects even further – anyone can see that.
Not only will this have an effect on Syria; it will affect the West largely too. First, the conflict has resulted in the exodus of millions of refugees into Europe. Secondly, Russia has its own desires for the region. Desires that conflict with that of the United States. For while the United States are keen to dispose of Assad, while Putin wants to keep the regime in place; as it serves as a strategic ally for Russia in the Middle East – going back to the Cold War, and is a big purchaser of Russian arms.
Putin has taken much credit for bombing ISIS, since entering the fray in September; with their raids also hitting the Turkish-backed Turkmen rebels who target the Assad Regime. Of course, these are more “moderate” Sunni rebels. Tensions sparked after this; and in a controversial move, Turkey shot down a Russian SU-24 fighter jet. As a NATO member, Turkey’s agitation could very well rub off on its allies – including the US. And with the West further intervening in the region, against Russia’s wishes, the clash of interests could spark a larger proxy war, or even an all out conflict between the West and Russia.
Best way to end the conflict? By no means is there a black and white solution- but Russia and the US putting aside their differences in the region would help greatly. In terms of getting rid of Daesh; outright bombing alone will not suffice. As suggested earlier in the article, this will leave a vacuum for more radicals to take its place. The group should be contained. The West and Russia should back the Assad government, and secure territories which Daesh have yet to occupy – while cutting off their oil supply.
An ideology cannot be killed. It can only be marginalized, and with joint international agreement. Take Nazism; of course, there are still Neo Nazis around today – yet an alliance of multiple nations helped crush it on a large scale. An alliance of the West and Russia incidentally. This type of agreement is once again of great importance, to prevent a worse outbreak than is already looming. And while the Assad regime has been brutal on its civilians, it is arguably the lesser evil at this present moment – as opposed to the more radical factions which could replace it.
The West had no considerable opposition when invading Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya. Syria cannot be bullied so easily now that Russia have entered the fray, to support their ally. Clearly, boundaries were crossed between Turkey and Russia, resulting in damaged relations. Diplomacy, along with a swallowing of pride, is therefore urgent. If not, hostilities could be sparked even further between the West and Russia – and this would undoubtedly make circumstances dire for the rest of the world.