Al-Assad’s crafty moves take a new turn

Al-Assad’s crafty moves take a new turn

Syria’s Bashar al-Assad is proving to be a crafty fox. He has even managed to turn the use of chemical weapons by his forces – whether he was aware of this usage or not – to his advantage. All the talk now is of a negotiated diplomatic solution to the issue of chemical weapons in Syria. No one is talking about the broader issue of the civil war and the related human suffering.

Not surprisingly, the Syrian opposition is livid with anger, saying the issue is not merely about chemical weapons but the need to defeat a ruthless dictator who been killing his own citizens. The issue of chemical weapons however has provided the al-Assad regime with a welcome diversion and an opportunity to be accepted as an official interlocutor. 

Al-Assad has nothing to loose by accepting the Russian offer to hand over his chemical weapons under international scrutiny. He may have gotten away with it so far, but he knows he can not use these weapons again without some form of international intervention. Even his closest ally, Russian President Vladimir Putin, has said that if it is proved conclusively that the Syrian regime used chemical weapons, Moscow could endorse an international intervention. 

He may be a ruthless a dictator who should be hauled in front of the International Criminal Court for his crimes against humanity, but it appears that al-Assad still has some staying and playing power. If things go as they are there is every chance that he will be given an opportunity to absent himself peacefully, while elements of his regime remain a key part of the overall equation in Syria.

All this goes against the grain as far as Turkey is concerned. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu have made no secret of the fact that they want al-Assad to be toppled by force. This could be through an international intervention, or by arming the Syrian opposition with effective weapons against al-Assad’s army. It is clear, however, that neither is going to happen at this stage. 

For one thing, there is no appetite in any country in the world, Turkey included, for getting embroiled in the Syrian civil war militarily. Then there is the existence of radical Islamist elements that have entered Syria to fight against al-Assad who are a source of concern not just for the West, but for the region’s established Arab regimes.

If Turkey and Qatar had opposed these groups effectively from the start, the overall situation might have been different today. But there was a time when both countries appeared to rely on them against al-Assad. The bottom line today is that no one, East or West, is sure what will come if the al-Assad regime is toppled in a disorderly manner.

The dismantling of the Ba’ath apparatus in Iraq provides a painful reminder of what could happen in such a case. It was also interesting to also note U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry repeatedly refer during last week’s Congressional hearing on Syria to the fact that Washington is aiming for the emergence of a secular democratic regime in Syria.

There is no certainty that this will emerge if al-Assad is uprooted. The likelihood is that the civil war will intensify as various groups vying for power on the basis of their own ideological outlooks fight it out. Seeing all of this, al-Assad could very well end up being the key to an agreed transition of power under a secular regime, and quietly disappear from the picture to live his life out wherever it is he goes.

The idea that al-Assad may get away with his crimes is abhorrent of course. The Erdoğan government will undoubtedly make an issue out of this. But it will have to also come around to realizing that the world is not organized according to its neat expectations. 

Besides, people still remember that Erdoğan and Davutoğlu had not problems dealing with Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir, even though he is not only someone who took power by force like the Egyptian military, but also is accused of killing tens of thousands of his citizens, if not more, like Bashar al-Assad.