The West babbles on, and Assad is the winner

Talks in Rome did nothing to hide the fact Syria's people have been betrayed

Share

I sniff treachery. Because – let’s be frank about it – something is going very wrong with the narrative of the Syrian war. Our Western lords and masters – as untrustworthy today as they were when they sold Poland to Stalin at Yalta – have started to talk much less about their visceral desire to destroy Bashar al-Assad and much more about their fear of the corrosive presence of al-Qa’ida within the rebel forces fighting to remove the Syrian president. As the Syrian tragedy deepens, so our moral Western policy towards the damned of this ghastly war has turned into a betrayal of its people.

Forget about Rome this week and our “pledge” – I love this news agency gunk – “to empower (sic) the Syrian people” and support the “supreme military command” (which does not exist) of the Free Syrian Army with bandages and radios.

The whole sorry story began, I think, exactly a year ago when La Clinton – mercifully now absent from US policymaking until the next presidential elections – made an astonishingly cruel statement to CBS television in Rabat. Squeaking about the refusal of the Syrians of Damascus and Aleppo to join in the uprising against Assad, she then – apparently referring to a recent statement by Ayman al-Zawahiri, the post-Bin Laden al-Qa’ida leader, in which he said he supported the Syrian opposition – asked: “Are we supporting al-Qaida in Syria? Are we supporting Hamas in Syria?”

Duplicity

Infinitely more frightful was the pitiful version of Lord Palmerston who now masquerades as our foreign secretary and who – just before he arrived in Beirut to truffle through potential oil discoveries off the Lebanese coast – gave a speech to the Royal United Services Institute which positively reeked of Potsdam-like duplicity.

While claiming that Britain had not lost faith in the Arab revolutions – Churchill said as much about his fidelity to Poland after handing the country to Stalin – William Hague said that Syria was the most serious case of a revolt being “hijacked” by militants. The country, he claimed, was “the No 1 destination for jihadists anywhere in the world today”.

Incredible. This might almost have been a speech by Bashar al-Assad himself, who has been repeating this for almost two years about “al-Qa’ida terrorists” in Syria. Even putting aside the fact that Mali was supposed to have assumed the mantle of “terror centre” less than two months ago, this was an extraordinary statement for the pitiful Hague to make.

He babbled on about UK and other European extremists in Syria, then added: “They may not pose a threat to us when they first go to Syria, but if they survive, some may return ideologically hardened and with experience of weapons and explosives. The longer the conflict continues (in Syria), the greater this danger will become.”

Ergo, I suspect, let’s bring this war to a close. Why else are Hague and Lavrov now talking about “dialogue” between rebels and regime? But the most recent reports from rebel-held Syrian territory do indeed speak of looting and sectarian kidnappings and killing, ransom and retribution, of what one report from Atme – a rebel base on the border with Turkey – speaks of as a “beautiful” revolt marred by corruption. “The real revolution in Syria is over. We have been betrayed,” Abu Mohamed (described by Agence France-Presse as a “respected rebel leader”) has said. There are countless accounts, even from government-held parts of Damascus, of hostage-taking for both cash and political demands.

The injection of Jabhat al-Nusra fighters and other proto-jihadis has fouled the secular nature of the battle so badly that Assad’s original claims that al-Qa’ida was the regime’s enemy is beginning to look frighteningly true. There have been battles between the Free Syrian Army and al-Nusra and between al-Nusra’s own commandoes.

West in retreat

Arab journalists who loathe Assad have been all too aware of this, not least since al-Nusra apparently claimed responsibility for a car bomb in Salamieh which killed dozens of civilians. “This movement with its criminal terrorist methods and doubtful patriotism must not be allowed inside the revolution,” Hazem Saghieh wrote in Al-Hayat. “It closes the doors on the foreign nations which could help the revolution. It turns away from the revolution the Syrian minorities – Alawite, Kurd, Christian Druze and Ismaeli – as well as those among the Sunnis who believe in a civil state.” Too true.

Goran Tomasevic, the award-winning Reuters photographer, filed a brilliant dispatch from Damascus only last week. “Rebel fighters in Damascus are disciplined, skilled and brave,” he wrote. “I saw them … mount complex mass attacks, manage logistics, treat their wounded – and die before my eyes. But as constant, punishingly accurate mortar, tank and sniper fire attest, President Bashar Assad’s soldiers on the other side … are also well drilled, courageous – and much better armed.”

And there you have it. Both sides still think they can win – so the war goes on. But the West is in retreat. Forget support for the rebels. Even the gutless Obama has stood up to his generals and forbidden them from arming the good guys/bad guys. Wait now for some Yalta-like bleating for talks between Assad and his enemies. “So terrible is the bloodshed that even our hatred of Assad must take second place to common humanity”; wouldn’t that do as a template for Palmerston-Hague?

And at the risk of being proved wrong in just weeks, I must add a small addendum. I came across a ferociously anti-Assad friend in Beirut last week. “He might survive, I think,” she said. Indeed.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
With an eye for strategy: Stephen Fry’s General Melchett and Rowan Atkinson’s Edmund Blackadder  

What Cameron really needs is to turn this into a khaki election

Matthew Norman
An Italian policeman stands guard as migrants eat while waiting at the port of Lampedusa to board a ferry bound for Porto Empedocle in Sicily. Authorities on the Italian island of Lampedusa struggled to cope with a huge influx of newly-arrived migrants as aid organisations warned the Libya crisis means thousands more could be on their way  

Migrant boat disaster: EU must commit funds to stop many more dying

Alistair Dawber
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own