February 13th 2016


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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Democratic Progressive Party ousts Kuomintang

CANBERRA OBSERVED Barnaby Joyce: enigma, loose cannon, deputy PM?

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Temporary protection visa holders left exposed

ENVIRONMENT Bob Carter, RIP: mythbuster and fact finder extraordinaire

FAMILY AND SOCIETY Farewell, religious liberty, farewell, conscience

EDITORIAL Syria: U.S. backdown opens door to peace talks

ECONOMICS Bubble has burst on globalisation project

EUTHANASIA Media drives sales in the death market

CULTURE What does a good music review sound like?

CULTURE Can we put a rocket under religious Sci-fi?

CINEMA A melancholy heroism: Snoopy and Charlie Brown: The Peanuts Movie

BOOK REVIEW Partial but thorough

BOOK REVIEW Brutality of battle

LETTERS

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EDITORIAL
Syria: U.S. backdown opens door to peace talks


by Peter Westmore

News Weekly, February 13, 2016

After years of providing moral, military and political support to Syrian rebels, the Obama Administration has conceded that military force alone will not overthrow the regime of Bashar al Assad in Syria, bringing about the tentative beginning of negotiations to end the bloody civil war.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

In April 2011 – in a sequel to the Arab Spring uprisings which had overthrown governments in North Africa, including Tunisia, Libya and Egypt – opposition forces in Syria staged mass protests demanding the resignation of Syrian President Assad.

Assad heads the Baath Party, which has run Syria since the 1960s. The name of the party translates to “renewal” or “renaissance” in English, and its ideology is Arab nationalist and non-religious.

President Assad himself comes from the minority Alawite sect, an Islamic offshoot closest to the Shia branch, but his wife comes from the majority Sunni branch of Islam. Assad held power by basing his support on the Sunni merchant class, together with Alawites, Christians, Druze and other minorities.

In Syria in 2011, the protesters demanded the resignation of Assad, but this would have disrupted the delicate ethnic and religious balance in the country. Violent protests were brutally repressed, and dissident Sunni army officers resigned to form the Free Syrian Army.

Arming the rebels

Other Arab countries, led by Saudi Arabia and the wealthy Gulf states, immediately armed the rebels, who began a civil war to oust Assad. They were quickly joined by Turkey, a Sunni state which had long opposed the Alawite-led government of Syria.

It was at about this time that Islamic State (IS) emerged in neighbouring Iraq, which was itself descending into civil war, particularly in the northern part of the country where the predominantly Sunni minority was repressed by Iraqi Shiite militias.

The Turkish government provided substantial military aid to anti-government rebels in northern Syria. It attacked the Kurdish forces in northern Iraq, and permitted IS to export millions of barrels of contraband oil through Turkey, giving the terrorists a reliable source of revenue. The Assad regime was therefore under attack from within and without, and the well-equipped opposition gradually gained control of most of the country.

The West joins in

At this point, the United States and the European Union joined the fray, offering military support to the rebels (provided they were not terrorists), and demanding that Assad immediately leave the country and go into exile.

The effect of this was to legitimise the rebels, and create the expectation that the Assad regime would crumble, putting the rebels into power.

The imminent collapse of the Assad regime was the constant rhetoric coming from Washington, London and Paris, despite the fact that military advice had been given to Obama that such an outcome would be disastrous for Syria.

Despite the array of forces against him, Assad held on, although the civil war descended into carnage, and an estimated 150,000 people were killed, and millions were driven into exile. By 2015, it seemed that the opposition would succeed in conquering the capital Damascus, as street fighting took place in the city.

Then came a change. Battle-hardened Hezbollah fighters from neighbouring Lebanon, belonging to the Shia branch of Islam, joined the fight, as did Russia, which has traditionally defended religious minorities in the Middle East. Russia sent in both equipment and military advisers, as well as military aircraft to conduct air operations against rebel forces.

By this time, the Syrian conflict became a proxy war between the Sunni and Shia branches of Islam, and between Russia, which backed Assad, against the alliance of Arab states, Turkey, the U.S. and the EU, which backed the rebels. The main victims were the people of Syria.

Since Hezbollah and the Russians joined the war, the Syrian Government has gradually pushed back the rebels.

The war has descended into a bloody stalemate, with America being prepared to arm and equip the rebels but unwilling to sacrifice any of its own troops.

Eventually, it became obvious that Obama’s anti-Assad campaign was a failure, and the main consequence of the conflict was the flight of millions of refugees from camps in Turkey into Western Europe, creating deep political and cultural tensions across the continent, potentially destroying the unity of the European Union.

Obama has belatedly changed his rhetoric, no longer calling for the overthrow of Assad, and through U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, calling for an internationally monitored ceasefire and a negotiated political solution based on national elections in 2017.

Although this is highly desirable, Obama’s rhetoric has created such expectations among the rebels in Syria that it will be difficult, if not impossible, to get them to agree to anything less than the immediate destruction of the Assad regime.

At the time of writing, many of the rebel groups were refusing to participate in United Nations-supervised negotiations, or to sit around the table with their sworn enemies.

Peter Westmore is national president of the National Civic Council.




























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