The caricature of Assad is a deflection from the reality on the ground in Syria
This being said, when it comes to the Syrian president, we cannot avoid the legacy of a leader who did not hesitate to wage war on a section of his people after they rose up against his government in an insurrection that attracted the sympathy and support of external forces. Nor can we avoid the fact that, as a result, he was widely derided as a tyrant and a dictator, despised and disdained within his own country and beyond.
Though history does not recognize this depiction of Abraham Lincoln today, it happens to be true. Lincoln was painted as a monster by his enemies at home and loathed abroad, especially by a British establishment whose support for the US southern slavocracy still stands as a shameful indictment.
Lincoln is today considered the greatest US president who ever lived – and with good reason. Yet this does not exculpate us from the rigors of a serious analysis of his legacy. Because no leader, great or otherwise, is born great or was always been great. On the contrary, their greatness is a product of the choices they make at critical moments, responsible for changing or impacting the course of history to such a degree that all prior sins are airbrushed, or downplayed, when it comes to their legacies.
Abe Lincoln, for example, while undoubtedly indispensable when it came to crushing the Confederacy, was also the young man who led a company of Illinois militia in the Black Hawk Indian War of 1832, part of the series of genocidal Indian Wars responsible for decimating the continent’s indigenous population.
Likewise, take Winston Churchill, considered the greatest British prime minister who ever lived. Despite the indispensable role he played in leading Britain’s resistance to Hitler’s war machine in 1940, when the country stood well nigh alone, Churchill was also the vicious imperialist and colonialist who sanctioned the use of poison gas against the Bolsheviks in Russia in 1919, and a few years later against the Kurds in northern Iraq.
As with Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill, so with all of the so-called ‘great men’ of popular history – renowned for their achievements at the expense of justified condemnation for their crimes. It is why history and propaganda are often two sides of the same coin, lacking the sagacity of Oscar Wilde’s dictum that “Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future.”
The point is that those who are serious about understanding the conflict in Syria in our time have obligations to resist the demonization of Bashar Assad as evil incarnate or the veneration of him as a latter-day saint. Both depictions are rooted in caricature, and both serve to obfuscate rather than clarify his role in a brutal conflict that is now in its seventh year.
Focusing in on Assad’s role in the conflict – notwithstanding the role his government may or may not have played in helping to create the conditions that led to it – there is no refuting the fact that were it not for his decision to remain in Syria prior to Russia’s intervention at the end of September 2015, the black flag of Salafi-jihadism would have been raised over Damascus. Likewise, there is no refuting the fact that in the event the consequences for the country’s minority communities, not to mention every Syrian who believes in and adheres to the country’s secular, multicultural and non-sectarian identity, would have been dire in the extreme.
It is in fact in defense of this secular, multicultural and non-sectarian identity, not defense of Bashar Assad, that countless thousands of Syrians have been prepared to fight and die against the forces of hell that have been arrayed against them over the past seven years.
That they have done so despite a mendacious campaign in the West to paint said forces of hell – murderous extremist groups whose brutality has been of medieval stripe – in the romantic colors of resistance and rebellion, this is something that must never be forgotten. Such a campaign confirms that the beast of Western hegemony remains fierce and its appetite for domination unsatiated – to the point where despite the ocean of blood that has already been shed in its name, its willingness to shed or cause more to be shed cannot be underestimated.
This ocean of blood, by the way, includes the blood of the very citizens on whose behalf Western leaders – whose crimes always come stamped with a democracy waiver – maintain they are acting. The litany of terrorist attacks that have erupted across the West, fueled by the same warped ideology that has wrought so much carnage across Iraq and Libya and Syria, amount to a monumental j’accuse in this regard.
“The welfare of the people has always been the alibi of tyrants,” Camus points out, and who could argue otherwise after surveying the wreckage of Western foreign policy in recent times alone? It has been tantamount to a tyrannical hegemonic drive to ruin and destroy that which its very rich, privileged and fanatical proponents have been unable to control by other means.
Returning to Assad, as mentioned, his decision to remain in Syria even as all seemed lost will go down as a seminal moment not only in Syria’s history but the history of the region. Because, prior to Russia’s entry into the conflict in September 2015, the prospects of the Syrian Arab Army being able to withstand the inordinate pressure of a Salafi-jihadist dominated insurgency, backed by the West and its allies in the region, was very bleak indeed.
No matter, Assad in the eyes of disciples of regime change is the personification of evil. He is a monster that must be vanquished in the interests of who and what exactly? In the interests of progress and stability, in the interests of the countless number of people who’ve been butchered, or had their loved ones butchered, at the hands of the Salafi-jihadist monster created by previous regime-change wars?
The gulf that separates the unreal world of the Western ideologue from the actual world of chaos and mayhem fashioned by the West could not be wider. Whereas your average Western ideologue would have us believe that it is the moral virtue (or lack thereof) of governments or leaders that determines the development of a given state, in truth states develop in the context of prevailing and, specifically when it comes to the global south, unfavorable material conditions. And those unfavorable material conditions are created by the asphyxiating role of Western hegemony in its rapacious drive for strategic, military, economic and cultural domination.
The idea that states on the receiving end of this dynamic can be expected to develop into perfect democracies, unscarred and unblemished, is ludicrous. Only those for whom magical thinking provides an escape from the inconvenience of grappling with reality could possibly argue otherwise. Your typical Western ideologue is here guilty as charged.
Truth be told, states and nations that exist in the crosshairs of Western hegemony via economic sanctions, blockade, political subversion, and/or military encirclement cannot but help find their development impacted in various ways and to various extent as a consequence.
Thus Fidel Castro was never more right than when he averred: “The history of Cuba is but the history of Latin America. The history of Latin America is but the history of Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. And the history of all these peoples is but the history of the most pitiless and cruel exploitation by imperialism throughout the world.”
Bashar Assad’s real crime in the eyes of his detractors is not what he has done but what he represents. And what he represents in the context of the brutal conflict that has raged in Syria since 2011 is defiance of a world underpinned by the imperial and colonial mantra of might is right.
In 2018, the right of the Syrian people to determine their own future has been paid for in blood. Whether that future includes Bashar Assad as their president is also a matter for them. Regardless, what no amount of anti-Assad rhetoric can deny is that without his leadership during one of the most brutal conflicts of modern times, Syria would now have no future to speak of.
Those who understand this are not Assadists, they are simply realists.
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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.