Can there be an end in sight to the dreadful civil war that rages still in Syria and that has taken and destroyed so many lives, injured hundreds of thousands, destroyed factories and homes, displaced millions of people, wrecked infrastructure and worse, destroyed the trust of the people? Not yet and sadly, I have increasingly come to the view that we will not see an end to this conflict for a very long time yet.
For Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad, it seems the answer to the above question will continue to be no before every bit of resistance to his regime has been eliminated. That a nation and its people has been all but destroyed through five years of bloody conflict matters not to supporters of Bashar al-Assad or those that head the regime and support it as allies. Thus I can see no end to this awful conflict and despite the very worthy attempts of the US Government in the form of Secretary of State, John Kerry, I fear that bombing, fighting and killing of innocent Syrian citizens is not about to permanently cease any time soon.
US Secretary of State Kerry has worked tirelessly over the past two years in his attempt to help bring about an end to the five years of internal strife and conflict that has broken Syria apart. During that time Kerry has found himself thwarted time and time again in his attempts to broker some kind of peace deal or even a truce by the resistance not only of the Syrian regime but also from its principle Russian backers.
No matter how many times the US Secretary of State has warned the Syrian President that seeking military gains will not end the civil war the attacks by Assad forces on so-called militants and those opposed to his regime got worse.
At some point the fighting will of course have to cease as there may be nothing left to destroy. But maybe, not before every piece of infrastructure, every building, every home and every shop has been completely destroyed. It matters not to Bashar al-Assad of course and neither, it seems, does it matter to Russia’s President Putin.
No matter how the fighting eventually ends Syria as a nation state will, in my view, be unlikely to emerge out of this conflict as a unified state. While Syria’s boundaries may stay unchanged and intact the solution may be for the west to accept that Syria will need to be split into one or several states within a state.
Syria today should be viewed as being than just a humanitarian disaster. It is now a completely wrecked state in which the regime in power has turned against its people. Should the West intervene more than it is doing now by assisting those opposed to the regime in bombing Syrian government positions and attempting to flush out DAESH? The battle against DAESH will inevitably continue but even if I was to believe that western forces under a UN Security Council mandate could bring about a solution in Syria and that it should there is I am afraid, after Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, no mood of the peoples of the west to intervene on the ground.
Truce after truce has collapsed and the UN Security Council passing resolution after resolution demanding protection is given to hospitals, clinics and health workers falls on deaf ears of Assad’s forces just as it does to his Russian backers. War crimes there have undoubtedly been aplenty but I doubt that those who perpetrated such ghastly deeds that have reportedly included gas and chlorine attacks will ever be brought to justice.
Clearly Russia has blood on its hands and that nations’ consistent support for the Bashar al-Assad regime shows surely shows that it is in denial in terms of securing a permanent peace. That we are perhaps all to blame in failing to properly understand Russian fears reasons prevailing Russian attitudes and its aggression in the Ukraine. For now, as elections to Russia’s DUMA over the weekend showed, that particular clock isn’t about to be turned back.
For all that, there is not a person of sound mind that cannot be anything other than appalled and outraged at the attack last night, assumed to have come from forces loyal to Bashar al-Assad, on a UN convoy near the city of Aleppo and that is reported to have killed at least twelve people most of whom were probably volunteer relief aid workers.
UN aid Chief Stephen O’Brian was reported on the BBC website this morning to have said that if the “callous attack” was found to be deliberate it would amount to a war crime. So it would but until we can be absolutely certain that the attack on the convoy came from Syrian Government forces as opposed to the key ally of the Bashar al-Assad regime, Russia we must attempt to keep an open mind albeit in the knowledge that there is no possible excuse for an attack of any kind on a UN convoy when, as in this case, its movement had been authorised and were known to both Russian and Syrian Government forces.
The US Secretary of State and the Deputy Russian Foreign Minister, Mikhail Bogdanov will meet in New York later today to discuss the attack on the UN convoy and, one assumes, they will do what they can to salvage the uneasy truce that had existed for just seven days. They have to keep trying – there is no other choice. Resolving this civil war should not simply be a matter, as one broadcaster was attempting to play out on radio this morning, of trying to end it before President Obama leaves office in January next year but moreover, one of finding a settlement that will allow those who remain in Syria to have a lasting peace.
Rightly or wrongly I take the view that however right it may seem to some, getting rid of the Assad regime may not be the best answer to the Syria solution. But perhaps, attempting to persuade him that Syria might be better governed as a state within a state and by more than one regime might just be one of the answers to consider.
(I am in Glasgow tomorrow – Commentary will return on Thursday 22nd September)
CHW (London – 20th September 2016)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS