“I was packing my luggage, I had to leave, but now I can stay.” Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said late Thursday in an interview with Dutch television station NPO2.
It may be a little optimistic to think that after almost five years of fighting, the loss of 250 000 lives, 4 million refugees and millions more internally displaced, the Syrian conflict could be nearing an end, but the events of the last week must at least be seen as cause for hope.
In a sudden and unforeseen series of events US Secretary of State John Kerry has announced that Washington will no longer be seeking regime change in Syria and that US F-15 bombers stationed in Turkey are to be removed immediately. In addition Turkey has been ordered to withdraw its troops from Iraq, and a UN Security Council resolution seeking to cut off funding for Islamic State has been adopted by all 15 member nations.
All the major news channels are reporting this as a turning point in the five year long ‘civil war’, with emphasis on a ‘cease fire’ and ‘peace talks’ and the prospect of ‘free and fair elections’ in 2017. As usual much is missing from the western media spin cycle. Conspicuous in its absence has been any mention of Syrian president Bashar al Assad, although Obama couldn’t resist throwing in one last jibe even while backing away with his tail between his legs: “In accordance with this logic we should support tyrants like Bashar al Assad who drops barrel bombs to massacre innocent children, because the alternative is surely worse”, he told a special meeting of the UN Security Council on Friday.
What has happened to affect such a radical turnaround in US foreign policy when everything seems to have been going swimmingly so far? Could it have anything to do with Russia threatening to expose a cache of unsecured private emails belonging to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defence Secretary Ash Carter? Or was last week’s revelation of a plan masterminded by Saudi terrorists to take down the world’s 13 root name servers and destroy the global internet a bridge too far? Might it have been the threat to expose information about the Swiss Bank accounts being used by Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Nations to finance ISIS that led to this policy backflip? Or was it Turkish MP Eren Erdem’s admission that Islamic State terrorists in Syria received all necessary materials to produce deadly sarin gas directly from Turkey and that Assad was probably not behind the chemical attacks at Ghouta after all? Was the destruction by Russian warplanes of 1200 ISIS oil tanker trucks en route to Turkey the final straw?
With the conflated ideas of a despotic tyrant, a fictitious civil war involving armed rebel groups such as al Qaeda and al Nusra playing the part of the ‘moderate’ good guys, and a barbarous death cult called ISIS/ISIL/IS/DAESH starring as the arch villain, it’s little wonder that the western media narrative has become somewhat confused. In the face of this, Russian President Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s decision to drop a giant truth bomb on the UN Security Council is a masterstroke, equal parts ultimatum and middle finger salute to Washington and its allies.
The shooting down of a Russian SU-24 over the Syrian border and murder of one of its pilots was clearly a red line for Russia and was never going to go unpunished, but rather than respond with an escalation of military force which would undoubtedly lead to a direct confrontation between the US and Russia, Putin and Lavrov have made a strategically brilliant move, laying bare before the world the ugly truth behind this genocidal coup. Could this be game over for Obama? Russia, Iran and Iraq are of the opinion that only the Syrian people should get to decide who their government will be. I tend to agree.