Assad has won 4th term, what’s next?

People walk by an image of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus on 10 May 2021 (AFP)

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was re-elected for the 4th term in office with 95.1% of the votes. According to Assad’s government, the election results proved Syria is functioning normally.

This will extend his rule over a country despite harsh criticism from the United States, Germany, Italy, France and Turkey as well as Assad’s opponents in the country said the vote was illegitimate.

Despite their condemnation of his brutal and authoritative regime during the decade-long Syrian civil war, imposing economic sanctions and militarily backing his opponents, the Syrian leader was able to remain in power and save the country from the territorial divide. Like a true captain of the wrecked ship, Bashar Al-Assad did not leave the war-torn country and, what’s important, did not let it collapse despite West’s multiple efforts to intervene.

With Russia’s support, Assad arranged constant humanitarian help flows to the country and save the sovereignty of secular state despite endless clashes and civil war in the country. Moreover, Assad assured his supporters get access to education and healthcare while his government provided jobs to workers.

Prior to the elections, the White House have warned Syrian President that it would not recognize the result of upcoming presidential election unless the voting is free, fair, and supervised by the United Nations while Biden administration said it had no plans to restart the dialogue “any time soon” claiming the Assad government failed to restore legitimacy in the country. With no doubts such open statements mean the West will continue its pressure to the Assad’s regime and will try to remove him from his post demonstrating a double standard “legitimacy” at its best.

US policy in Syria aims to cause further chaos in EU

The US recent claims to withdraw its troops from the North-Eastern provinces of Syria and the official vows of pausing collaboration with Syrian Kurds are widely regarded as an effort of Washington to build closer relations with Ankara. However, while pursuing this policy, the Pentagon and the CIA continue expanding communication channels with Syrian Kurds in case if Ankara’s political compass is navigated towards Russia rather than the US after Turkey elections in June 2018.

The United States has also encouraged its partners, members of the Anti-Terrorism Coalition to send more of their troops to the so-called Syrian Kurdistan, a territory located north-east of the Euphrates. As a result, Germany and France, along with increasing numbers of their military troops in this region, have also been given authority to provide support to Kurdish military troops in Syria. Given how sensitive the Kurdish issue is for Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Syria this will, beyond any doubts, cause further tension between the EU and the Middle Eastern countries and will let the US avoid any possible accusations of the international law violations amid the Syria war.

With ambitious plans in Syria that included the stabilization of the country, getting rid of Bashar al-Assad, knocking out Iranian influence, fighting ISIS and becoming a hero who brought an end to the seven-year Syrian war the US did not seem (and perhaps still does not seem) to care that its new policy might cause much bigger conflicts in the region and go far beyond defeating ISIS only. Similar to the EU migration crisis, the US acts as an invisible mediator while the EU takes all the fire.  This time, Washington’s goals of aggravating the further conflict between the EU countries and the Middle East are rather economical: Washington tries to undermine the EU investment opportunities and provoke further financial crisis in Europe.

EU’s bitter lessons

The European Union continues to struggle with its economic and migration crises. The huge debt, obsolete political and economic regulations and inability to manage its migration policy are important alerts for the EU indicating the Brussels’s need to change its compass, says Pino Arlacchi, Member of the European Parliament.

By pursuing the US political course in the Syria war, the EU did not get any visible profit. Instead, it was left alone to cope with the increasing flows of illegal migrants posing safety threats for the EU citizens.

Indeed, The Syrian scenario is very much alike to the one in Afghanistan in 1979. When the Soviet army entered in 1979 trying to set up a friendly government in the country and altering the Cold War balances in the region, The United States, Saudi Arabia, and other countries started arming the anticommunist Afghan militia groups. The country was flooded with weapons while most of those weapons were in hands of Taliban. Shortly after that the US became the number one enemy for Afghanistan, says Arlacchi.

During the Syria war, the US have once again learned the bitter lesson as they did in Afghanistan. However, the Syrian opposition is so diverse and uncontrolled that its arming could have much tragic consequences. This is why the US used Saudi Arabia and Qatar as a sort of a liaison to keep the balance in the region. But we also saw the conflict between Saudi Arabia and Qatar that split the countries apart. Obviously, the strategic alliance of Iran, Russia and Turkey has played a crucial role in the Syria war. All the countries could be able to gain the trust from both people and decision-making powers in the region. At the same time the US along with the EU received little credibility from the Syrian government.

Moreover, the EU is swamped with its internal issues that it faces the risk of splitting apart. Ironically it may be, but with integrity being its main value, The European Union is falling apart today. A huge debt of Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Cyprus and other EU’s members and their inability to repay it explains the attempts of those countries to boycott the Brussels’s regulations.

According to Arlacchi, the world is changing its compass and the EU has to adapt to it. The West is losing its role of the world economic and political dictator due to its huge debt and ineffective policy. Instead, China and Eurasia are on the rise today.

Russia’s Syria Congress is over: what’s next?

The Syrian National Dialogue Congress held in Russia’s Sochi on January 28-29 was aimed to boost the process for building a peaceful future for Syrian people in a war-devastated country and to define the country’s political compass for the next years. The Congress, sponsored by Russia, Iran and Turkey, gathered over 1,500 participants from various groups of Syrian society, including representatives from political parties, opposition groups and ethnic and confessional communities.

While the Congress itself did not aim to achieve the immediate political reconciliation over Syria, its main focus was to revive Geneva talks. According to Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, the forum was expected to “create conditions for staging fruitful Geneva process”.

Besides, the Congress was some kind of alert to boycotting countries and their procrastination to reinforce the 2254 UN Security Council Resolution for Peace Process in Syria, adopted in 2015. According to the resolution, the future of Syria should be determined by its people. However, the country has experienced forced intervention and external interference that prevented it from paving ways for a peaceful future ever since.

Ironically it may seem, the so-called peace process for Syria that has been joined by many countries pursuing different strategies including diametrically opposite approaches of Russia and the United States, became a fruitful soil for radically oriented groups that eroded the country’s sovereignty. The delay in reinforcing the 2254 UN Security Resolution by international community can lead to further monetization of Syria’s natural resources by terrorist organizations and cause major security threats for the entire international community.

Perhaps, the most important result of the Sochi Congress has been an agreement of all participants to consolidate their efforts in stabilizing the Syria’s future and to secure the territorial integrity of the Syrian Arab Republic. The concerns of the Syrian opposition claiming the Sochi Congress would, on the contrary, hazard the international peace process could not be more baseless since the Congress was supported by the UN, the main sponsor of the Geneva talks.

Kurdistan: More Like Israel, Less Like Iraq

It is a society that rejects religious zealotry. Most Kurds are Sunni Muslim and one can hear the five-times-a-day Muslim call to prayer, but it is muted and ignored by most.

Like Israel, Kurdistan is more democratic than any of its neighbors. Like Israel, Kurdistan is surrounded by enemies that wish it did not exist. Like Israel, Kurdistan looks West. And like Israel, Kurdistan has maintained an internal equilibrium though all the world betrays it.

Iraqi Kurdistan is full of surprises. Probably, the most unexpected discovery is how normal life is in its capital city, Erbil. Despite a late summer scare by Islamic State [IS] military gains north of Mosul and the threat of suicide bomber attacks, the social discipline of Kurdistan’s citizens is admirable. There is a relaxed state of tension. It is “business as usual.”

There is also a sense of optimism, pervasive and infectious. Entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well. While there was an exodus of foreign businessmen after the initial territorial gains by the IS, foreign investors are filtering back. The Kurdistan Regional Government [KRG] has already drawn up plans for large-scale projects to improve the infrastructure. Heavy-duty construction vehicles are everywhere. The most visible project is the beltway being built around the city.

An aerial view of Erbil, in Iraqi Kurdistan, featuring the ancient Erbil Citadel in the center. (Image source: Wikimedia Commons/Jan Kurdistani)

Political pluralism has come to the Kurdish north as well. While the Kurdistan Democratic Party [KDP] and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan [PUK] respectively remain the one-two political powerhouses, they now have plenty of company. No one party dominates the parliament. There is plenty of horse-trading on issues, fleeting coalitions, and new political personalities are being heard. Nevertheless, the most influential and respected leaders still come from the Barzani extended family, which run the KDP. The late Mustafa Barzani (1903-1979) is revered as the warrior-godfather of modern Kurdistan.

Kurds, for the most part, are a welcoming lot. The methodical and rapid settlement of tens of thousands of refugees from IS-controlled Iraq required bold leadership by the Barzani-led government and especially from the Catholic hierarchy of Kurdistan. This success also reflects the compassion of a self-confident people. The population of the Dohok region, for example has doubled due to the influx of refugees. There is no observable tension between the newcomers and the population of the host country. Despite the inveterate resentment of the excesses of past Arab regimes, Kurdistan is a multi-ethnic and multi-religious society. It has become even more so with the emigration from other parts of Iraq of Turkmen, Yezidis, and Christian Assyrians and Arabs. It is also a society that rejects religious zealotry. Most Kurds are Sunni Muslim and one can hear the five-times-a-day Muslim call to prayer, but it is muted and ignored by most.

Men, mostly, walk on the streets of Erbil, Dohok, and Zako, especially at night. Kurdistan is not, however, a society that represses women. There are many in parliament, and they are outspoken on the issue of violence to females in Kurdish society. At one conference in mid-November, at least half of the speakers were women prominent in Kurdistan. Women military volunteers are widely admired. The Kurdish media celebrates the Kurdish Peshmerga‘s female fighters. One woman — a veteran of the fierce battle to save the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobane (near Turkey’s border) from an IS takeover — who recently visited Erbil, was received as a national hero. Female Yezidis who have escaped after torture by IS operatives are deeply admired too.

Zako, once the center of Kurdistan’s Jewish population, still invites back descendants of those who long ago left for Zion. Zako’s isolated villages are the wild west of Kurdistan. Its stark beauty against a ring of mountain chains may become a tourist magnet both for its ancient historical attractions and recreational possibilities.

For all of the above reasons, Kurdistan reminds one of Israel. Like Israel, Kurdistan is not dominated by the Arab, nor by Islam. Like Israel, Kurdistan is more democratic than any of its neighbors. Like Israel, Kurdistan is surrounded by enemies that wish it did not exist. Like Israel, Kurdistan looks West. And like Israel, Kurdistan has maintained an internal equilibrium though all the world betrays it.

Dr. Lawrence A. Franklin served on active duty with the U.S. Army and as a Colonel in the Air Force Reserve, where he served as a Military Attaché to Israel.