Australia is the latest country to fully join the “Axis of Resistance” lining up behind the tyrannical dictatorship of Bashar Assad in Syria, using the excuse, as always, of the rise of ISIS to justify supporting a regime whose main opponents are in fact not ISIS at all, but the Syrian masses, armed and unarmed, a vast rebel movement which has done far more to beat back ISIS than the Assad regime has either ever tried to do, or succeeded in doing the rare times it has tried.
People should not be fooled by this ruling class rhetoric: they are lining up with a regime that has bombed its country back to the Stone Age for four years straight, killed hundreds of thousands, tortured to death tens of thousands and driven millions into exile. That the result would be a degree of extremism, including the truly barbaric extremism of ISIS, is hardly a surprise; offering more of the same is hardly a solution. But the very deliberate ignoring of the overwhelming majority of the opposition to Assad, which is also opposed to ISIS, is not ignorance: it is the politics of ruling class solidarity.
I’ve said it till my throat is hoarse, but every new event seems to confirm it: while imperialist politicians may prefer Assad the person went away to better protect his Syrian ruling class regime as a whole against the masses, the one thing they will never do is actually support the masses rising up against the regime. It is class politics.
In recent days and weeks, US, British, German, Italian, Austrian and other leaders have one after the other declared either that Assad is a necessary part of the fight, er, “against ISIS,” or a necessary part of the “political solution” or “negotiated settlement,” even if he plays an allegedly “temporary” role. Cameron suggested 6 months; Kerry suggested the point wasn’t to say how long. Merkel seemed more straight out supportive. Meanwhile, Kerry has essentially welcomed the Russian build-up in support of Assad as a potentially constructive move that the US could partner with to, you know, “fight ISIS,” and Israeli leader Netanyahu took his top IDF generals to Moscow to organise how to “coordinate air operations” and share intelligence.
Seemed the Axis of resistance was getting unbearably long when out came French ultra-rightist Le Pen likewise declaring that Assad was the best option to fight ISIS, but France doesn’t need to strike “terrorist targets” in Syria itself, it would be better to just align with Russia and its greater resources to fight these terrorists (http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-09-27/le-pen-says-france-should-align-with-russia-on-approach-to-syria). Must be embarrassing how much that sounds like some of the voices coming out of the UK Stop Some wars Coalition.
Now back to Australia.
I say Australia has now “fully” joined the pro-Assad “Axis of Resistance” because it essentially already was a member under former PM Tony Abbott. Even though this article heralding the reactionary Liberal Party government’s “new” policy of explicit support for Assad, under the new Malcolm Turnbill leadership, suggests it is a break from Abbott’s “harder” position, in fact all it does is firm up the Abbott position.
When Abbott several weeks ago declared Australian bombers, already bombing ISIS in Iraq, would begin bombing in Syria as well, he asked, while we allegedly want Assad gone, “do our military operations contribute to that at this time?” and answered “No, they don’t.”
Moreover, for years now he has reiterated his view that the struggle in Syria was “baddies versus baddies,” ie, not just ISIS, but everyone fighting Assad is just as “bad” as the regime.
At this time, he made that clearer: ““It’s not easy to find moderates in that part of the world, particularly in Syria. At the moment the main forces are the gruesome Assad regime; the if-anything more diabolical Daesh death cult; and then of course there’s the people linked with al-Qa’ida. So it’s difficult to find effective moderates in Syria” (http://www.theaustralian.com.au/in-depth/terror/bashar-al-assad-not-in-our-sights-says-tony-abbott/story-fnpdbcmu-1227520260640?from=public_rss&utm_source=The%20Australian&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=editorial).
So now the new leadership, via the same Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, declares agreement with the “emerging view in some quarters that the only conceivable option would be a national unity government involving President Assad.” In fact, last April, as Abbott’s Foreign Minister, Bishop went to Tehran to explore common interests with the mullahs in bolstering Iraq’s sectarian regime: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/foreign-affairs/julie-bishop-in-anti-terror-accord-with-iran/story-fn59nm2j-1227308803474?from=public_rss&utm_source=The%20Australian&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=editorial
This emerging view among the Australian right has been heralded by reactionary Tory journalists such as Islamophobe Paul Sheehan, who recently declared that: “Removing the Assad regime in Damascus is not an option. **The rebel movement** (note: not just ISIS) is genocidal. The Russian move to defend the Syrian regime with military force is a necessary evil. It is a buttress against Islamic State and complete state failure. Iran’s arming and training of Shia militias to fight Islamic State is another necessary evil” (http://www.smh.com.au/comment/the-black-flag-flying-over-a-dark-state-can-only-be-stopped-with-firepower-20150913-gjlizn.html).
No offense to the Kurds, but unfortunately they also get bad press here: they get supported by Sheehan.
Likewise, after the current “change” was announced, another reactionary journalist, Greg Sheridan, cheered it on: “Julie Bishop has executed an important, justified and probably overdue pivot on Australia’s policy towards Syria. The Foreign Minister has recognised reality: as utterly horrible as Bashar al-Assad’s regime is, it may not make sense any longer to wish for its removal, much less do anything to achieve its removal” (http://www.theaustralian.com.au/opinion/columnists/syria-harsh-realities-make-hard-calls-the-strongest-solution/story-e6frg76f-1227544355444?from=google+current_rss?from=public_rss&utm_source=The%20Australian&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=editorial).
Like Sheehan, and Abbott, he also declared that, again “apart from the Kurds,” (poor Kurds) “there are no moderate ground forces involved in the Syrian civil war that Western policy can back.”
Therefore, “A collapse of the Assad regime now, in that substantial part of the country it still controls, would almost certainly make the situation even more catastrophic, leading to a gruesome war of all against all, and presaging a relentless, violent struggle of rival jihadist, tribal and warlord groups,” in the usual breathtakingly essentialist and orientalist language of right-wing journalists and politicians who are really scared of the masses taking matters into their own hands, “especially in that part of the world.”
Sheridan in fact went one important step further than Abbott, Bishop, Kerry, Cameron, Merkel and most of the other array of imperialist leaders who have been lining up in recent weeks to declare Assad a part of the solution, but a “temporary” one; he cuts straight through the temporary cover, and supports the end result, “reluctantly”, of course:
“Bishop is justified in arguing that Assad’s personal involvement in the future political settlement should be temporary, but this is probably in itself a temporary position by Western leaders; there is little indication that the essence of the Assad regime could survive without the Assad family.”
And now, yesterday’s article on the “change”:
Assad part of solution in Syria Julie Bishop signals policy change
Paul Maley, SEPTEMBER 26, 2015 12:57AM
Australia is set to abandon the Abbott government’s long-held position that disgraced President Bashar al-Assad step aside as part of any durable peace settlement in Syria, in what amounts to a major policy shift designed to hasten the end of the bloody civil war.
Instead, the Turnbull government has reluctantly accepted that Assad, whose brutal regime has been blamed for the majority of civilian deaths in the 4½-year conflict, may form a part of any future government of national unity designed to preserve the crumbling Syrian state.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop told The Weekend Australian there was an “emerging consensus” that the Assad regime would be likely to be pivotal in any ¬attempt to fortify the Syrian state and prevent further gains by the terror group Islamic State, also known as ISIS or Daesh.
“Given Australia’s significant contribution to the humanitarian crisis in Syria and Iraq and our involvement in militant operations against Daesh, it is inevitable that we will play a role as an advocate for a political solution in Syria,” Ms Bishop said.
“It is evident there must be a political as well as a military sol¬ution to the conflict in Syria.
“There is an emerging view in some quarters that the only conceivable option would be a national unity government involving President Assad.”
Until now, Canberra had been staunch in its view Assad must go before any peace initiative could begin or an enduring political sol¬ution could be achieved. Canberra’s about-face reflects an interplay of factors, including Islamic State’s strength on the ground as well as the changed political environment in Australia, where Malcolm Turnbull is prepared to take a less hardline but more pragmatic approach to the Syrian crisis than his predecessor did.
Prior to his removal, Mr Abbott said Assad “should go”, des¬cribing his government as a “dread¬ful regime” that had committed “monstrous” atrocities against its own people.
More than anything, the new position reflects the shifting power-politics of the Syrian civil war, including the recent build-up of Russian troops in Syria, who have been flown in by Russian President Vladimir Putin to shore up Moscow’s weakened ally in Damascus.
Washington, too, has softened its opposition to the Assad regime, with Secretary of State John Kerry saying the US was now prepared to countenance the presence of Assad as an interim player in resolving Syria’s civil war. Previously, Washington had said Assad’s ouster was a deal-breaker in political negotiations.
The calls for Assad’s removal began in the early stages of the civil war, when his downfall looked assured, but the dictator has held on for longer than expected, thanks largely to vicious infighting among Syria’s fractured rebel movement.
Assad’s resilience has created a quandary for the West, which finds itself facing a much larger problem in the form of Islamic State, a bitter foe of both the Syrian regime and Western democ¬racies. Last week, Mr Kerry said Washington was not going to be “doctrinaire” about the timing of Assad’s removal.
“It doesn’t have to be on day one or month one,” Mr Kerry said. “There is a process by which all the parties have to come together and reach an understanding of how this can best be achieved.”
Ms Bishop also indicated Assad did not have a long-term role to play in his country’s future.
“The specific role and duration of President Assad’s involvement would likely be temporary,” she said.
She added that any peace settlement would require the backing of the UN Security Council, where both Washington and Moscow exercise veto rights.
“Therefore the views of Russia and the US are vital,” Ms Bishop said.
Moscow has significantly bolstered its presence in Syria, deploying about 28 fighter planes and about 2000 personnel to Latakia, Assad’s Alawite stronghold. The build-up has provoked mixed feelings in the West, which has welcomed help in the fight against Islamic State but is apprehensive about the Kremlin’s long-term ambitions in Syria.
Ms Bishop gave credence to speculation that the Russian effort might indicate Assad’s regime was weaker than many thought, perhaps even close to collapse.
Since it began in 2011, Syria’s civil war has become one of the most brutal in recent history, leading to an estimated 220,000 deaths and driving hundreds of thousands more from their homes, a development that has triggered the worst refugee crisis in Europe since World War II.
Update at Saturday, 11.30am
Labor wants to hear an explanation on the plan from the government, security expert advice and the views of American and European allies before deciding its position on the move.
“We are going to be very careful before we go down that path,” Opposition Leader Bill Shorten told reporters in Casino in NSW on Saturday.
“I do not believe Australia should be picking sides in Syria.”
As far as Mr Shorten could tell, there was “not a great deal to separate” the Assad regime and Islamic State.
“It’s a matter of record that Assad has been a dreadful dictator,” he said.
“Labor has no time for the administration or the government of Assad.”