‘The devil you know’ in the Syrian crisis

‘The devil you know’ in the Syrian crisis

A cheering crowd was tearing down a huge statue of a man under whom they suffered gravely, and the man who was leading them was having a moment of long-awaited joy with pride and hope for the future while he was sledge-hammering the pedestal of the statue.

He did not even think that this moment would be the highly symbolic scene for the next decade of a nation desperate for change after years of iron-fisted rule. What he also did not know was that in four years, the joy of ousting their leader would be replaced by such regret.

Kadhim al-Jubouri was the leader of the rallying Iraqis in Baghdad’s main Firdaus Square in 2003 and was the main actor in crafting the historic moment not only for his country but also the world when he struck the statue of Saddam Hussein with a hammer. After four years of despair, misery and suffering under the U.S. occupation, the national heavy-lifting champion, who had also spent years in the notorious Abu Ghraib prison due to a business row with Saddam’s son, Uday, bitterly regretted what he did in Firdaus Square. In an interview published in 2007 by the leading British daily, The Guardian, he was quoted as saying: “The devil you know [is] better than the devil you don’t. We no longer know friend from foe.”

Amid certainly far different motivations and sentiment, the plot over Syria is nowadays being shaped with the simple narration of al-Jubouri, and the world powers led by the United States have somehow been having a “the devil we know” trauma over ousting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who was once powerful, became embattled over the last two years and is recently regaining strength.

After the two years of catastrophe that have ravaged Syria, the anti-al-Assad camp now appears to be moving away from their initial goal of overthrowing him after realizing that it would not be a similar task for them like in Iraq, Afghanistan or Libya. Their backpedaling in the Syrian crisis came with the mounting fear of a worse enemy, or in al-Jubouri’s words, “the devil they don’t know,” as the al-Qaeda-linked group, al-Nusra, starts to cement its influence amid the power vacuum in Syria, particularly along Turkey’s border.

With their haunting nightmare that risks bringing more headaches to the anti-al-Assad camp in the region, the United States shifted to a “the devil it knows” stance in its deal with Russia despite the outcry from the opposition. The deal is now forcing the already-alienated Syrian dissidents to more confusion in their ranks as they are trying to buy some time in a recent Istanbul meeting by stalling their main supporters with dilly-dally arguments, such as having Damascus say that it will be represented in highly anticipated negotiations in Geneva.

On the other hand, al-Assad forces have been gaining an upper hand in their fight with the rebels, and the ongoing heavy battles in Qusayr are a breakthrough since both the armed opposition forces and the Syrian military have dispatched a significant amount of their might to the strategic town. However, having “so little” in terms of aid, supplies and arms, which actually are actually far more than “so little,” the rebels appear to be losing in their last stand while the al-Assad regime is receiving a boost through the reported help of its Lebanese ally, Hezbollah.

For Turkey’s part, “the devil you know” choice for Syria will be highly embarrassing since senior Turkish officials have based their entire policy regarding the neighboring country on placing bets on the rebels amid bellicose rhetoric. Under the lingering pressure of the U.S.-Russian deal, Turkey could be forced to accept a deal that foresees a transition without President al-Assad, but does not rule out his staying in power after a negotiated solution and an election.

That would be a blow to Turkey’s regional drive in the Middle East, as well as the overblown breeze of the so-called “Arab Spring” in the region. The Middle East and its populace seem to be avoiding once popular unrest against long-time rulers, fearing the same ugly fate of Syria. And, that is the ebbing sign of the “Arab Spring” in the region with the mood shifting to remaining with “the known devil.”

A quick note for those who might be curious about the fate of al-Jubouri; he is currently in Lebanon’s capital, Beirut, since he could not manage to live in Baghdad amid ongoing violence and widespread poverty. The champion-turned-motorcycle mechanic is beyond regret and said in an interview with CBS News in 2013: “If this Saddam statue still existed, I would put it up again.”