“The road to hell is paved with good intentions” wrote Dr Samuel Johnson, although he wasn’t the first to use such a phrase as some literary experts suggest the shrewd observation derives from a 12th century French proverb. Regardless of the true source of the saying, its underlying message is as true now as it was the best part of a millennium ago.
So if venerable chroniclers of the human condition ‘got it’ as many as 900 years ago, how is it that the US government and other major western powers keep making the same errors when it comes to foreign policy decisions, mistakes that are being repeated right now in the decision to unequivocally back the Free Syrian Army and the recently formed Syrian National Council as the only legitimate entities in Syria, in response to the horrific attacks on his own people by President Bashar al- Assad’s forces?
The US gave massive financial and logistical support to the Islamist Mujahedin militia in their fight against Soviet forces in Afghanistan back in the Reagan era of the 1980’s, but it came back to haunt them as the fanatical fighters first saw off the Soviets– with the help of masses of US-made military hardware that remained in their hands after that conflict – before turning their attention to expanding their mission of the Islamification of the western world by establishing a series of jihadist groups, amongst whom Al Qaeda and its destruction of the Twin Towers in New York on 9/11 was the horrific seminal moment – so far.
The same fighters also became embroiled in the atrocities and genocide of the awful Balkan conflict of the 1990’s before branching out right around the globe into a network of terror groups striking everywhere from London to Bali, from Madrid to Mumbai.
Only last year President Obama was quick to withdraw his support for Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, a move that precipitated the downfall of a regime that, while falling a very long way short of being fair and democratic, at least brought stability to the region and secured peace with Israel. Obama’s open support for the push for ‘democracy’ in Egypt saw the idealistic secular youth of the country mown down in Tahrir Square before the regime fell, bringing in elections that in the eyes of many alarmed observers on the ground in Africa’s most populous Arab nation, simply invited the victory of the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Muslim Brotherhood achieved a significant PR victory in priming international media organizations with information and statements that suggested they represented a moderate face of Islam. But just a cursory glance at either their websites or material distributed amongst their millions of followers linked by thousands of mosques across Egypt and much further afield, would have revealed to even the most optimistic of observers that a sinister agenda of Islamification of the country underpinned the Brotherhood’s raison d’être.
The US continues to support the shaky Egyptian leadership – a hierarchy rife with Holocaust deniers – and only last week began delivering F16’s and masses of other hardware into the hands of today’s beaming hosts of none other than Iranian President Ahmedinejad. We’ve already seen how quickly the worm can turn in this region, so it does not seem unreasonable to question the wisdom of that particular US decision at this juncture.
On the Syrian front, the increasingly ambitious Qatar – who donated $400 million to Hamas in October – has also given huge financial support to Egypt in recent months and is amongst the strongest supporters of the Free Syrian Army, amongst whom the Muslim Brotherhood has significant influence. Alongside the amalgam of genuine freedom fighters of everyday Syrians bidding to overthrow Assad’s discredited regime, there is concrete proof of the presence of Islamist militias including Al Qaeda, a significant number of Salafists, various fanatical foreign mercenaries, and the Al Nusra Front, whose penchant for suicide bombings allied to their belief that they are martyrs and will go to heaven makes them a hugely violent force with few, if any scruples.
Observations from independent monitoring groups confirm that the Al Nusra Front and other similar groups are committing war crimes, if not quite on the same scale as the Syrian regime, then certainly to an extent that makes them a significantly unstable and unsatisfactory recipient for financial aid and/or weapons reaching them from the US and the West via Turkey, the Syrian National Council, and the hierarchy of the Free Syrian Army. It also makes the moderate elements of the Free Syrian Army highly vulnerable to the fanatical Islamist groups who, (as and when Assad is eventually overthrown), will almost certainly seek to assert their authority over Syria and replace what was a secular nation with a hard-line Islamist state.
It seems that the lessons of the 2011 Libyan campaign have not been learned, in that handing huge amounts of weaponry to freedom fighters and militias is an almost certain recipe for the escalation of black market arms sales once the initial conflict is over, especially when a significant number of those receiving such weapons support radical Islamist ideologies.
Maybe the seemingly unpalatable Russian and Chinese suggestion – made even more difficult a pill to swallow because of Iranian support for the same – is not quite so wide of the mark after all, in that a negotiated settlement and transition of power involving all parties and their supporters might give the international community more influence in establishing any semblance of normalcy in post-Assad Syria than trying to bring about regime change through proxies?
If the US and its allies take a step back from the brink to properly consider their position, taking into account all the evidence before them and the many shades of grey within the Syrian spectrum, (rather than making the old mistake of seeing the conflict strictly in black and white), they might well determine their blind support of a mish-mash of rebel fighters and fanatical Islamist groups with massively differing agendas and personal scores to settle, could be misplaced.
It is highly likely that such militias will step into the void of a post-Assad Syria and almost inevitably produce a new and even worse civil war, a conflict that could potentially bring the whole region to its knees and have massive ramifications a great deal further afield.
But by then, as happened with the US encouragement of the Mujahedin’s war against Soviet Russia more than 30 years ago, the Pandora’s Box will have been opened and it will be too late to undo the damage done.