How the West miscalculated in Syria

How the West miscalculated in Syria

By Claude Salhani -Trend:

Since the start of the Syrian civil war three years ago, few among the legions of so-called experts seem to have a clear understanding of the regime and its operational procedures. Nikolaos van Dam, a well seasoned former Dutch diplomat who served his country as ambassador to Iraq, Egypt, Turkey, Germany and Indonesia, is one of those.

Ambassador van Dam is also the author of "The Struggle for Political Power in Syria", and ranks among the voices of those who understand the political and social fabric that makes Syria tick.

In a speech delivered in Berlin on May 20, the former diplomat explained the harsh realities of the devastating war that in now entering its fourth year. Edged on by the Western powers the opposition found the courage to raise their voices and guns against the regime. More than three year and 162,000 dead later, they have little to show for their sacrifices, other than devastated cities and towns.

Operating with only a wishful thinking policy, the West mistook their desires for realities and began to believe their own rhetoric.

"Assad never had any intention to leave. On the contrary, he intends to overcome the revolution and win the battle for Syria, whatever the costs. And the higher the costs, the more there is a will to continue the struggle, if only to prevent all the victims from having died in vain," said van Dam.

A ceasefire followed by reconciliation talks could have worked in the early days of the war but at this stage it seems very unlikely that the two sides could agree to even meet, given the bad blood that has collected.

For all sides fighting in the conflict it appears that there can be no solution other than one obtained through the gun.

"So long as there is no war fatigue," says van Dam, the war will continue. Time plays both in favor of, and against the Assad regime. The more the threat of Islamists looms the more the Western powers re-think their support of the opposition and the stronger the Assad regime becomes.

"The worse the situation becomes, the more the Assad regime starts to be seen as an option to be preferred over the radical Islamic state that the Islamist forces want to establish," said the former Dutch diplomat.

The dilemma or at least one of them is that if the regime wins the war the violence is very likely to continue. "...Sooner or later there will be a reckoning against the Assad regime and its crimes against humanity," said van Dam.

"We should not expect any mercy in the way Assad's regime deals with its opponents: there will be no pardon for the massive armed revolutionary opposition groups that are trying to topple the regime. It is to kill or be killed. A compromise has, as of yet, not really come in sight because a real compromise between the opposition and the regime, with real power sharing and substantial political reforms could be the prelude to the fall of the Ba'th regime later on," said van Dam.

Similarly, the opposition, if they win, they are unlikely to show much mercy to Assad and his followers.

Many Western countries broke off diplomat diplomatic relations with Syria and regarded President Assad's rule as illegitimate. Indeed, this may have been the right thing to do from a moral point of view. Yet, as explains the former diplomat, it prematurely cut off any opportunity to play a constructive role in helping find a political solution to the crisis. This, adds the Dutch ambassador, was not something that Assad was about to loose any sleep over.

Three years into the conflict and as casualties began to mount the Western powers realized that Assad was not about to leave anytime soon, especially in light of the Iranians and Hezbollah who jumped in to help militarily. The West pushed for dialogue and twisted some arms until both sides agreed to convene in Geneva. But here again the Western powers committed a mistake they have committed in the past and failed to draw lessons from it.

The mistake was to exclude Iran from the talks, the only country that might have the capacity to exert some pressure on the Syrians.

Again, as the Dutchman points out, this same error of judgment was made when the Palestine Liberation Organization was excluded from talks on settling the Arab-Israeli dispute. As was Hamas and Hezbollah in other talks.

"It is a grave mistake to exclude main players in a conflict from dialogue aimed at solving it," said van Dam. Such actions achieve nothing and only help prolong the conflict.

Furthermore, although Iran is a strong supporter of Bashar Assad, the ruling mullahs in Tehran and Qom may take a more down to earth approach to solving the conflict than Assad and his gang.

"We have no great love for Bashar," confided a high-ranking Iranian official to Trend Agency during a private meeting in Astana last month. "We are only protecting our flank," added the Iranian official.

Furthermore excluding Iran from the peace talks offered a double negative as since the closing of Western embassies in Damascus the Western powers had lost all means of direct communications with the leadership in Damascus. Once again the West was assuming that Assad would cave in under pressure and concede. What they failed to consider is that as van Dam clearly states, "dictators do not follow the rules of democratic accountability and decency."

The West was to find out the hard way.

(This is the second of two articles on the war in Syria based on the speech by Ambassador van Dam which was reprinted on SyriaComment.com).

Claude Salhani is senior editor at Trend Agency in Baku and a political analyst specializing in the Middle East, Central Asia and terrorism. You can follow him on Twitter @claudesalhani

Turkmenistan participates in UNWTO-led discussion on fighting COVID-19
Turkmenistan participates in UNWTO-led discussion on fighting COVID-19
Turkey's export to OIC member states shrinks
Turkey's export to OIC member states shrinks
Turkmenistan takes part in CIS discussion on fight against COVID-19
Turkmenistan takes part in CIS discussion on fight against COVID-19
Loading Bars
Latest
Earthquake jolts Indonesia's Bali, no tsunami alert issued
Azerbaijani president attends ceremony to launch newly renovated “Aghjabadi-2” power substation (PHOTO/VIDEO)
Azerbaijani president inaugurates grain processing plant in Aghjabadi (PHOTO/VIDEO)
Kazakhstan increases import of chemicals from Turkey
Azerbaijani president arrives in Aghjabadi district for visit (PHOTO/VIDEO)
Spain reports first new COVID-19 death since Sunday
Azerbaijani Cabinet of Ministers: Borders remain closed due to current situation
EIB funds construction project in Georgia
TABIB: If people abide by quarantine regime rules, restrictions not to be further introduced in Azerbaijan
Georgia prepares for peach and nectarine harvesting season
Azerbaijani PM to reveal details related to restrictions
Volume of deposits in national currency greatly increases in Azerbaijan
Activity of Facebook users in Azerbaijan keeps growing
Operational Headquarters: Going outside may be banned in some Azerbaijani cities
TABIB: Shopping malls planned to be fully closed on weekend in Azerbaijan
Azerbaijan names economy sector with biggest share of credit investments
Kazakhstan to up its gross agricultural output before year-end
Azerbaijani Cabinet of Ministers:Tightening quarantine regime rules under discussion
Ministry of transport eyes transferring airports of Uzbekistan to foreign investors
Timeframe for orbiting Turkish satellites Turksat 5A, Turksat 6A announced
Azerbaijan discloses data on collection of premiums in insurance market in April 2020
Bank of Georgia launches campaign to support farmers
Iran aims to boost export of mineral products
Azerbaijan confirms 325 new COVID-19 cases
Azerbaijani Azexport portal notes growing export orders after softening quarantine regime
Azerbaijan State Tax Service talks concessions made to taxpayers
Azexport portal talks availability of Facebook Shop in Azerbaijan
Azerbaijani president attends ceremony to launch drinking water supply and sewerage systems in Aghjabadi (PHOTO/VIDEO)
Azerbaijani president inaugurates “ASAN xidmet” center in Aghjabadi (PHOTO/VIDEO)
Azerbaijani president attends ceremony to start grain harvest in Aghjabadi (PHOTO/VIDEO)
Export of carpets from Turkey abroad drops two-fold in May 2020
Association of Uzbek textile manufacturers talks about progress of industry
Travel by railway remains suspended in Georgia
Ambassadors of EU member states interested in reopening tourism sector in Georgia
Turkey's export of defense products from January through May 2020 declines
Magnitude 6.8 earthquake hits northern Chile, copper mines say unaffected
France says latest U.S. trade threats over digital tax a 'contradiction'
SOCAR subsidiary starts producing raw material for medical masks fabric
Azercell introduces new “Mobile TV” service for kids
Trump administration set to bar Chinese passenger carriers from flying to U.S.
Investments help Kazakhstan raise agriculture goods processing
Turkmenistan's Dashoguz region growing foreign potatoes
Italy may use new Kazakhstan-tested platform to track quarantine compliance
Azerbaijani president visits military unit in Aghdam (PHOTO/VIDEO)
Baku Stock Exchange pays interest on bonds of Azerbaijan Mortgage and Credit Guarantee Fund
Georgia, Estonia discuss cooperation in field of transportation, tourism
Agriculture sector digitalization leads to significant money savings in Kazakhstan
Turkey's export of cars abroad from January through May 2020 slips
Airlines cut fares to help boost May traffic
Export of Turkey's export of ready-made clothes down compared to 2019
Georgia expects average cherry crop
Netherlands, Azerbaijan could create train connection
Azerbaijan developing new alternative energy project
Saudi, Russia reach deal on oil cuts, raising pressure for compliance
Uzbek textile products in great demand on French market
German bans digital doppelganger passport photos
Textile industry of Uzbekistan - fastest growing sector of country's economy
Quarantine regime to be strengthened in Kazakhstan’s Almaty city
Azerbaijani enterprise starts exporting canned goods to US
EU implements new projects to support vulnerable groups in Georgia
Payments of insurance claims by four Azerbaijani insurers decline
Export of Turkey's leather products to int'l markets down
Azerbaijani Azexport portal talks Facebook Shops integration
Kazakhstan's Samruk-Kazyna decreases its share in Kazatomprom
ADB continues to support Azerbaijan’s efforts to diversify its energy mix
Turkmenistan’s Turkmenhimiya opens tender to buy various equipment, spare vehicle parts
Turkey's export of wood, furniture abroad from January through May 2020 plummets
Coronavirus negatively affects almost all sectors of Georgian economy
Kazakhstan records decrease in money transfer volume
Oil, gas exploration work to be held throughout Turkey
Uzbek-Korean JV opens tender for procurement of pump repair kit
Hajj pilgrimage from Azerbaijan may not take place this year
Azerbaijan's Agricultural Insurance Fund talks managing company branding
Azerbaijan's pomegranate association aims to increase export volumes
BoE says advising banks to prepare for possible no-deal Brexit
16 insurance companies increase payment of insurance claims in Azerbaijan
Belgium to open bars and restaurants but not nightclubs
Azerbaijani president attends inauguration of Tartar branch of “Azerkhalcha” OJSC (PHOTO/VIDEO)
GNERC: Over 20% of business entities provided with internet services in Georgia
Cargo transshipment through Turkey's Antalya port disclosed
Turkey's export of grain, legumes to int'l markets marginally up
Exhibition of historical Baku photos opens on Baku boulevard (PHOTO)
Azerbaijani pomegranate association reveals new export targets
Turkey's export to D-8 countries down from Jan. through Apr. 2020
Turkmenistan’s Dashoguz region completing preparations for wheat harvesting
Sumgait Technologies Park talks export of aluminum to Central Asia
Cargo transshipment from Greece via Turkish ports disclosed
State share of Kafolat Insurance Company sold in Uzbekistan
Azerbaijan's Central Bank talks problematic insurance companies
Uzbek Ipak Yuli Bank, EBRD increasing their support to entrepreneurs of Uzbekistan
Uzbek-Korean JV buys sockets, switches via tender
Bank loans on rise in Azerbaijan
Turkey, US trade turnover suffers drop in April 2020
Azerbaijani president opens newly renovated highway (PHOTO/VIDEO)
Turkmenistan evaluates new varieties of cotton
Net revenue of Kazakhstan's KazMunayGas plummets in 1Q2020
Turkish ministry reveals cargo transshipment through local Hopa port
Azerbaijani president launches newly renovated 'Tartar' power substation (PHOTO/VIDEO)
Chamber of Commerce talks problems created by ministries' merger in Iran
Coronavirus body count in Iran surpasses 8,000
All news