The news that Saudi Arabia was opening up its embassy in Damascus might have come as a surprise to some but given the momentum from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) neighbors to bring Assad in from the cold, it was inevitable.
Early December saw a great many commentators take to their quills over the significance of the move, with many arguing that it’s only a matter of time now—perhaps less than two years—before Syria can return to the table of that so-called auspicious yet opaque club called the Arab League.
Why is this important?
Arguably, the Arab League doesn’t really do anything, other than provide a venue for Arab leaders to swank about in traditional attire and get photographed nodding off to sleep during the long speeches in the afternoon. The talk shop is important though for its symbolism as, being a member of it, makes it hard for that same country to be an enemy of anyone in the region.
And that’s where the West will have a problem with its Gulf Arab partners as, in particular with Trump (and his Downing Street pal in London), it will be harder and harder for them to carry on with this complacent, if not reckless, policy of alienating Assad and using him as the scapegoat for everything wrong and immoral that Washington is doing in the region—whether it’s stealing oil, supporting known terrorist groups, or simply interfering in geopolitics when it has neither the first clue about the nuances or history of the countries it is meddling with and can only make matters worse.
Case in point: Iran. For no other reason than Trump wishing to secure a second term in office and wanting to distance himself from any conflict which would result in US losses (following the Saudi oil fields attack), regional players have pushed aside Washington and are doing their own thing.
The Saudis are in discrete talks with the Iranians; the Emiratis are not only playing a key role in brokering peace between themselves and Iran, but also between Tehran and the entire region; and the Saudis and the Qataris are once again talking.
The Saudis are in discrete talks with the Iranians; the Emiratis are not only playing a key role in brokering peace between themselves and Iran, but also between Tehran and the entire region; and the Saudis and the Qataris are once again talking and are already admitting that the 13 point “wish list” which Riyadh drew up in June 2017 for the Qataris to succumb to, is actually folly and is already in the waste paper bin.
Add to that mix the visit to Saudi Arabia recently of Russian premier Vladimir Putin who has almost certainly steered the Saudis away from the outrageous ideas of the Trump administration, to the firmer ground of calming tensions with Iran, and Riyadh’s decision to open its embassy in Damascus is seen for what it is: a smart move.
Trump being afraid of his own shadow in the Middle East is the best thing to happen for a very long time. Diplomacy, open and direct or backchannel is leading to a lot of common sense and when Qatar is returned with full GCC status, it will be a victory for regional politics and a defeat for the divisive and destructive US foreign policy, which is more or less entirely based on fueling an arms race and little more.
No one is hailing Assad as an innocent player in the Syrian war. His record on human rights atrocities cannot be ignored. But then none can say that the West is a clean player in the region either.
It’s a similar story with Assad. No one is hailing the Syrian leader as an innocent player in the Syrian war. His record on human rights atrocities cannot be ignored. But then none can say that the West is a clean player in the region either. History is repeating itself as Assad very much assumes the role of Gaddafi for both Washington and London.
After the downing of Pan Am flight 103 in Lockerbie in December 1988, it took years before the truth started to emerge, not only about who was responsible for it (Iran) but the reasons why Gaddafi had to take the rap for it. Iran used a Syrian-Palestinian terror cell based in Germany for the revenge attack of the downing of an Iranian airliner in the straits of Hormuz by a US aircraft carrier the year before, but the US was too afraid of taking on Syria or Iran in the Middle East.
And besides, it needed Syria on its side for its illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003 (which was a penciled in option in 1991 in the wake of the Gulf War, let’s not forget), hence that historic photograph of Gaddafi and Blair shaking hands in March 2004 with the British PM talking about new energy deals and the Libyan leader turning a new leaf on terrorism. Syria was always a key partner in the West’s ambitions of a long-planned invasion of Iraq which was supposed to extend to other countries in the region. And a war of any sort with Iran was unthinkable.
Gaddafi fitted the bill perfectly, and so London and Washington peddled a lie for at least 15 years that Libya was culpable for Lockerbie when in reality their own dishonest ambitions in the region were center stage, and Gaddafi played a role for them admirably. He was entirely expendable and very useful to both Blair and Sarkozy, who took the relationship to another level by generously accepting a donation of 50 million Euros for his 2007 presidential campaign.
With Saudi Arabia now preparing to open an embassy in Damascus (and the last Gulf Arab country to join the trend), which will soon be followed by Syria retaking its seat at the Arab League, it will be particularly hard for the West to keep up the pretense.
Almost identical circumstances are at play with Assad in Syria except this time, unlike before with Lockerbie, the regional allies are no longer playing a role to keep the lie alive. With Saudi Arabia now preparing to open an embassy in Damascus (and the last Gulf Arab country to join the trend), which will soon be followed by Syria retaking its seat at the Arab League, it will be particularly hard for the West to keep up the pretense.
Presently, all Trump has to do is say the word ‘Assad’ and Washington journalists go into a spasm of auto-scribe where all the old clichés—and in many cases lies—are peddled out without even the slightest care to detail or fact. Washington journalists fall into an echo chamber all too easily and simply cannot write about Assad objectively.
Just try and see how many western journalists are covering the extraordinary scandal of the doctored Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) report on chemical attacks on the Syrian city of Douma. One British journalist working for the UK franchise of Newsweek tried to cover it and promptly found his reporting was suppressed by bosses anxious not to break house rules on how the State Department doctrine must prevail—leading to him resign December 6.
Like Gadaffi before, where all Reagan had to do was use the term “mad dog” to incite chapters of false narrative and fake news, western hacks are following the trend with Assad. But if the mea culpas of the Saudis and Emiratis vis-a-vis Qatar are accepted, then that may not be for much longer. And then it will be Trump who ends up looking like the irrational actor.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Inside Arabia.