While it might be emotionally satisfying to see Assad strung up or in prison – he has equalled and even surpassed his father’s monstrous predations – the alternative would probably be as dismal or worse.
By Neil Macdonald
Apr 12, 2017
Maybe Trudeau’s simply decided to play the empty-word game that’s so fashionable now in Washington
Perhaps Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was swept away by the glory of the French beach code-named “Juno,” a place where Canadian troops once courageously advanced into Nazi machine gun fire, sacrificing their very lives to remove the evil tyrant who’d slaughtered so many innocents in Europe.
Standing there, suffused with liberation theology, Trudeau declared Syria’s president a war criminal, a threat to his own people, and that he too must go.
“There is no question,” declared Trudeau, “that anyone who is guilty of the types of war crimes against innocents, against children, that Assad and his regime are needs to be held to account. I think there’s no question that the medium- and long-term future of a peaceful Syria no longer includes Bashar al-Assad.”
So, regime change in Syria is now Canadian policy.
Not that Canadian policy matters a great deal in the Middle East. It really doesn’t.
But regime change is a serious matter, and Trudeau leads a G7 country, and Canada does have troops in the Middle East, and you have to wonder how much thought he put into his words, if any.
As any of the serious foreign policy experts at Global Affairs could tell the prime minister, regime change might have some gunslinging public appeal, but it comes with the law of unintended consequences – usually bad ones.
Change in Libya
The West wanted, and achieved, regime change in Libya six years ago. Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi had angered the West by harbouring, training and supporting violent extremists, and by 2011, had turned the military on his own people.
Canada, citing the UN’s “responsibility to protect” doctrine, was an enthusiastic member of the military coalition that backed Gaddafi’s opponents, who eventually captured and beat the dictator to bloody death.
The result: Libya is now a failed state torn that harbours violent extremists. Ordinary Libyans are unprotected, and the country is now a far greater strategic threat to the West.
Washington wanted regime change in Iraq after 9/11, even though there was zero evidence Saddam Hussein had anything to do with the attacks in New York and Washington.
President George W. Bush got what he wanted, and Saddam died at the end of a rope, but only the most rigidly ideological neoconservative would say Iraqis are better off today, or that Iraq hasn’t become a far greater threat.
When the Arab Spring erupted in 2011, President Barack Obama agreed with the protesters in Cairo: Hosni Mubarak had to go. And so he did, clearing the way for the election of the Muslim Brotherhood, which deeply upset Israel and its supporters, many of whom were relieved a few years later when Gen. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi brutalized his way to power.
And now Syria. While it might be emotionally satisfying to see Assad strung up or in prison – he has equalled and even surpassed his father’s monstrous predations – the alternative would probably be as dismal or worse.
Who will replace Assad?
Either someone else from the Alawite elite, probably the military, would replicate Assad’s rule, or some Syrian equivalent of Afghanistan’s Gulbuddin Hekmatyar would turn the country into an unpredictable theocracy.
Maybe, though, Trudeau just thinks it sounds right-side-of-history-ish to talk about getting rid of someone like Assad, even if doing so is unrealistic and strewn with peril.
Or he’s decided to play the empty-word game that’s so fashionable now in Washington.
He’s certainly picked up on “holding accountable,” perhaps the most meaningless (and ubiquitous) phrase in American politics.
Next he’ll be talking about “calling out” countries that “don’t have our back.”
President Trump, whose press secretary cannot stop reminding reporters how much praise his boss has received for bombing the Syrian air base last week (but leaving its runway intact), once attacked Obama for even considering the same action after Assad’s forces killed hundreds, perhaps well over 1000 people with chemical weapons in 2013.
Trump even put his tweet to Obama in capital letters: “AGAIN, TO OUR VERY FOOLISH LEADER, DO NOT ATTACK SYRIA – IF YOU DO MANY VERY BAD THINGS WILL HAPPEN & FROM THAT FIGHT THE U.S. GETS NOTHING!”
It was actually pretty good advice.
And in the end, Obama didn’t attack Syria, reasoning that as vile a figure as Assad might be, the alternative could be worse. He also believed, wrongly, Syria could be forced to give up all its chemical weapons.
But of course, that was then. America now has a new, praise-loving president who seems to have abruptly altered his thinking about the wisdom of foreign entanglements.
And Justin Trudeau wants to make him happy, which is understandable, if a tad callow.