Why many Syrians welcomed US strikes on Assad regime targets

 abc.net.au  4/21/2017 9:19:50 PM   Macquarie University PhD candidate Rifaie Tammas

Posted April 22, 2017 07:19:50

The chemical weapons attack against civilians in Khan Shaykhun in April has caused moral outrage from the international community.

While the world was divided over who was responsible for the attack, and many demanded an independent inquiry, most Syrians inside the country had already made up their mind and pointed the finger at the Bashar al-Assad regime.

That is why when the US launched 59 missiles into Syrian regime's military airbase in Homs a few days later, many Syrians welcomed the move.

No surprise

Most Syrians need no evidence implicating the Assad regime in the chemical weapons attack.

While it is reasonable for the international community to demand a formal inquiry into the attack, Syrians did not wait for any evidence to emerge.

They have seen and lived the real-life evidence of the Assad regime's discriminate and indiscriminate shelling using all types of conventional and unconventional weapons for more than six years.

This was not the first time civilians were targeted by chemical weapons, so the recent attack came as no surprise.

Syrians inside the country welcomed the retaliatory US strikes, but not out of a naivety to the realities or the complexities of conflict, nor in anticipation of a genuine attempt to unseat Assad through strategic calculation.

Instead many were driven by a natural instinct for survival, having dispensed of idealistic anti-war ideology that is hardly applicable, or even relevant, to those in the epicentre of war.

No room for idealism

For the conflict in Syria in particular, Syrians are quite aware that the existing military intervention by outside forces in Syrian politics leaves no room for such idealism.

Russia and Iran have provided consistent military, financial, and diplomatic support to the Assad regime for the past six years, allowing it to sustain its military campaigns against civilians.

This stands in stark contrast with the intermittent support provided to the Syrian opposition, which has been insufficient to stand up to the military might of the Assad regime and its allies.

Pithy, albeit in many cases well-intentioned, phrases such as "Hands Off Syria" are not particularly helpful or realistic and have been exploited and propelled further by the very people who support the dictator and his Russia and Iran allies.

By standing with Assad, or being silent about his atrocities, the Hands Off Syria movement is by default advocating for the continuation of what has in many ways amounted to a "politicide" and bombardment of residential areas with impunity from the international community.

Ironically, mottos such as this one are not in fact advocating for peace but are instead advocating for a continuation of the status quo, in this case further violence, at the hands of the Assad regime.

Putting an end to the violence

Most Syrians realise the need for a balance of power that pushes Assad to negotiate.

As things stand now, Assad is not compelled to negotiate, as his forces have been making consistent military gains for the past year, thanks largely to increased support by Russia and dwindling support to the opposition.

While the actual intent and motives behind the strikes may not be in line with Syrians' interest and values, nor in fact have had anything at all to do with Syria but instead US presidential popularity polls, these strikes might still have the effect of limiting Assad's military power and hopefully pressuring him to sit at the negotiating table.

The first step towards building peace is to actually put an end to the violence and to find a political solution to the conflict.

The only way to achieve that is to force the Assad regime to halt the attacks, incarceration, torture, and disappearances and to genuinely compromise and negotiate.

Under no illusions

The recent strikes alone may not tip the balance or change the situation on the ground, but if part of a strategic framework of negotiations and finding a solution, they have the potential to pave the way for peace in Syria.

Let me reiterate once again that Syrians are not under the illusion that the Trump administration has Syria's best interests at heart (lest we forget this is the very administration which has banned Syrians from even entering its country).

The United States, along with other Western countries, have long pursued their own interests in the Middle East, pursuits which have often had devastating and destabilising effects on the region.

The horrific memory of the US invasion of Iraq is firmly etched in the mind of every Syrian.

Unfortunately however, the situation has become such that the Syrians do not have the luxury to choose who stands by them and who does not, and moreover, why.

The parents who saw their children's asphyxiating deaths would consider any option that keeps them and their loved ones alive.

For many commentators, Syria presents a baffling and almost fascinating chess game which requires much pondering and punditry; for Syrians, the issue is whether you survive another day or you don't.

Rifaie Tammas is a PhD candidate at Macquarie University, researching collective violence, regime change and foreign intervention in Syria. He is a Syrian refugee from Homs, now a permanent resident in Australia, who worked as a citizen journalist between 2012 and 2013 reporting on the conflict from Syria.

Topics: unrest-conflict-and-war, world-politics, syrian-arab-republic

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