Deputy PM says facts on the ground have changed dramatically, in reverse of long-stated policy on Syrian president
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Turkey can no longer insist on a resolution of the conflict in Syria without the involvement of President Bashar al-Assad, as the situation on the ground has changed dramatically, Turkey's deputy prime minister said on Friday.
"As far as our position on Assad is concerned, we think that the suffering of (the) Syrian people and the tragedies, clearly the blame is squarely on Assad. But we have to be pragmatic, realistic," Mehmet Simsek told a panel on Syria and Iraq at the World Economic Forum in Davos.
"The facts on the ground have changed dramatically, so Turkey can no longer insist on a settlement without Assad, it's not realistic," he said.
But Simsek's office denied that Turkey had made a u-turn in policy towards Assad.
"Deputy PM Simsek’s response to a question was clear and he said that Assad is the cause of the tragedy in Syria; that it would be impossible to buy into a solution that includes Assad; the United States failed to carry out its responsibility and that Iran and Russia changed the reality on the ground.
"The area that now needs to be focused upon is a ceasefire and the protection of peoples’ lives," said a statement by the Simsek's office on Friday.
"However, the Sputnik news agency tried to distort the minister’s remarks by using it out of context and alluded that he said 'Turkey will no longer insist on an Assad-free agreement'," added the statement.
"The minister never made such a comment; this is how Sputnik chose to interpret it."
Turkey has long insisted that Assad must go for sustainable peace to be achieved in Syria. But it has become less insistent on his immediate departure since its recent rapprochement with Russia, which backs the Syrian leader, and ahead of peace talks planned in Kazakhstan next week.
Ankara has supported various rebel groups fighting Assad in Syria, and is currently leading operations against the Islamic State group in al-Bab, north of Aleppo.
Bassam Jaara, a Syrian opposition activist, tweeted his reaction: "Turkish deputy prime minister: ‘It is not realistic for Ankara to insist on settling the conflict in Syria without Assad!’ With friends like these you don’t need enemies."
President Tayyip Erdogan's spokesman said last week that Turkey still believes a united and peaceful Syria is impossible with Assad, but wants to proceed "step-by-step" and see the outcome of the peace talks in Astana.
Syria expert Charles Lister throws in his two cents
Turkey and Russia brokered a ceasefire in Syria which has largely held in the run-up to the Astana talks, a process which follows the defeat of the Syrian opposition in the northern city of Aleppo last month.
The shift in Turkish policy comes after Erdogan said on 29 November that Turkey was fighting in Syria "to end the rule of the cruel Assad, who has been spreading state terror".
The Kremlin demanded an "explanation" from Erdogan over his comments, resulting in a backtrack by Turkey.
"The aim of the... operation is against terror, not against anyone or any country,” Erdogan said on 1 December.
"No one should have any doubts or take our statements to mean something else."
In September 2015 Erdogan had suggested he was open to Assad being part of a temporary transition process befoe backtracking.
Turkish soldiers killed in Syria
Five Turkish soldiers were killed in an attack in northern Syria blamed on the Islamic State group, local media reported Friday, quoting the Turkish military.
Another nine soldiers were wounded in the bombing in Al-Bab, where Turkish-backed rebels have suffered heavy casualities in a weeks-long bid to retake the town from IS, the private Dogan news agency said.
ذاب الثلج وبان المرج، فإذا بواقع الفصائل المذهبية المسلحة هو النقيض المطلق لما كانت تدّعيه حول دفاعها عن الشعب السوري ضد الطغيان الأسدي. ومع أن كثيرين حذّروا الفصائل مراراً وتكراراً من العسكرة ومخاطرها، وفي مقدمها دورها في إضعاف قدرة الثورة على بلورة قيادةٍ سياسيةٍ، يلتزم القطاعان، العسكري والسياسي، بخطّها وقراراتها، فإن تحذيرات هؤلاء لم تحل دون طغيان العسكرة على السياسة، والتمذهب على مشروع الحرية، ونجاحها في إنهاك الحراك وإزالة طابعه المجتمعي والسلمي، فلا عجب إن أفضى وضعٌ هذه سماته إلى هزيمة حلب، وما ترتب عليها من حقائق منها:
أولاً، ارتهان الثورة للتنظيمات والفصائل المذهبية هو سبيل السوريين إلى الهزيمة، لأسباب بينها التناقض البنيوي بين هويتها ومشروعها وهوية الثورة ومشروعها، والقطيعة بين ممارسات فصائلها وما يتطلبه نجاح أي عمل ثوري/ وطني من برامج وخطط تكرّس لخدمة الحرية ومطالب الشعب، إن غابت، صار من المحال أن تلعب الفصائل دوراً يقطع مع بندقيتها المتمذهبة التي أخضعت المجال السياسي لفوضاها، وأسهمت في تهميشه، بدل أن تخضع هي له، وترى في السوريين شعباً واحداً، تستحق مكوناته جميعها الحماية، وليست طوائف ومذاهب وإثنيات مصطرعة مقتتلة.
ثانياً، انفكاك الحاضنة الشعبية المتسارع عن الفصائل المذهبية المتأسلمة الذي نلاحظه، خصوصاً لدى القطاع الشبابي، والذي يوجد ما يشير إلى أنه أخذ يجمع نفسه، ويتلمس سبل استعادة وحدته ورهانه الثوري الأصلي: الحرية للشعب السوري بصفته شعباً واحداً.
ثالثاً، تراجع خطاب التأسلم الفصائلي وواقعه، نتيجة هزائمه المتتابعة التي فضحت زيف وعوده بتحقيق الانتصار، ومقولاته عن الصراع السوري التي ترى فيه حرباً، هدفها انتزاع السلطة من العلويين، وإعطاؤها لأهل السنة، مثلما فضحت تناقض أيديولوجية الفصائل مع الإسلام وقيمه الإنسانية. وكشفت أخيراً ما أفضت إليه علاقاتها من قمع واضطهاد أسدي ضد مواطني المناطق التي تحكمها، وإذا كان لقادتها آذان تسمع، فلا بد أنهم سمعوا سيل الشتائم الذي انصب عليهم بعد حلب، واتهم معظمهم بالخيانة، وبأنهم اختراقات مخابراتية.
لئن كانت الفصائل المتمذهبة قد نجحت في خداع سوريين كثيرين بعض الوقت بشأن حقيقة مواقفها من قضيتهم، وأقنعتهم بأنها تقاتل دفاعاً عن الإسلام، فإن أكاذيبها انهارت تماماً خلال ما سمّته "ملحمة حلب الكبرى" وبعدها، حيث تبيّن أنها ليست إسلامية، ولو كانت كذلك، لما تطابقت نظرتها إلى الشعب وممارساتها ضده مع نظرة النظام الأسدي وممارساته، ولما تصرّف قادتها وأمراؤها، كما يتصرّف ضباط مخابراته الفاسدون والقتلة.
ثم، ماذا يمكن أصلاً أن تحقق للشعب فصائل يدّعي معظم قادتها أن سكاكينهم وسلاحهم ينفّذان إرادة الله ضد الكفرة والمرتدّين، أي الذين يرفضون نهجهم من المسلمين، ويقارنونه بنهج الرسول (ص)، الإنساني والرحماني، ويطالبونهم بالاقتداء به، إن كانوا مسلمين حقا؟ وماذا تستطيع قيادات فصائل تركها بعد حلب عدد كبير من مقاتليها أن تفعل، بعد اليوم، لإقناع الشعب بأهليتها لحمل آماله وتحقيق أهدافه؟ أسقطت حلب ورقة التوت عن عورات هؤلاء، وفضحت التناقض الكبير بين أقوالهم وأفعالهم، حتى صار من المستبعد أن يصدّقهم الآن مَن خُدع بهم البارحة، واعتبرهم المدافع الأمين عنه، فإذا بهم يسلمون حلب للنظام ويستسلمون له، من دون قتال، في عدد كبير من أحيائها، ويصعدون قبل مدنييها العزّل إلى حافلات الأسد الخضراء، ليغادروا المدينة بحماية من كانوا يعلنون، إلى ما قبل سويعات، تصميمهم على "الجهاد" ضده، إلى أن يطردوه من كل شبر في سورية، بينما كانوا يخونون كل من صعد إلى هذه الحافلات قبلهم، بمن في ذلك من تخلوا عنهم، مثل مقاتلي داريا ومواطنيها.
بسبب حلب، فقدت الفصائلية، بوصفها نمطاً من التنظيم العسكري، القليل من الصدقية العسكرية الذي كان لها، وغدت، في نظر أغلبية السوريين، مجرد حواضن للعنف والفوضى. لذلك، لن تبقى الثورة بعد حلب، إذا لم يتخلّ الشعب عن الفصائلية أداةً للصراع، ويستعيدْ، في الوقت نفسه، حراك الحرية المجتمعي والسلمي الذي صار أداتنا لإنقاذ شعبنا وثورته، وإلا كان انهيار العسكرة المتمذهبة في حلب انهياراً للثورة نفسها، وحلّت بنا الكارثة.
تلوح اليوم فرصة لاستئناف مشروع الحرية وحراكه المجتمعي، إن لم نفدْ منها فرّطنا، نحن أيضا بحقوق الشعب وثورته ووطنه. ماذا نحن فاعلون؟
دافوس – رويترز – قال محمد شيمشك نائب رئيس وزراء تركيا الجمعة، إنه لم يعد بوسع أنقرة أن تصر على تسوية الصراع في سوريا بدون مشاركة الرئيس بشار الأسد إذ أن الحقائق على الأرض تغيرت كثيرا.
وقال شيمشك في جلسة عن سوريا والعراق في المنتدى الاقتصادي العالمي في دافوس “فيما يتعلق بموقفنا من الأسد.. نعتقد أن معاناة الشعب السوري والمآسي يقع اللوم بكل وضوح على الأسد بشكل مباشر. لكن علينا أن نتحلى بالبرجماتية والواقعية.”
وتابع “الحقائق على الأرض تغيرت كثيراً وبالتالي لم يعد بوسع تركيا أن تصر على تسوية بدون الأسد. غير واقعي.”
Trump is not just America's greatest nightmare, but the result of conditions created by Obama, Clinton, Blair and Cameron
In just 48 hours, the keys to the world’s most powerful off-road vehicle will drop into the lap of one Donald J Trump, a driver with road rage. On the most dangerous roads - the Middle East, global warming, China - he has no idea where he is heading.
As the premiere of this road trip movie draws closer, people have already started to look back on Barack Obama with nostalgia. They should know better.
It is no mean feat for a president-elect to make the fifth series of House of Cards redundant, but this Trump has already achieved
Judging Obama by no less a standard than his own words, his term of office proved, in so many ways, to be a cruel deception. Cruel, because millions allowed themselves to believe in the dreams he spun. Deception, because it was he who set himself the task of becoming nothing less than a transformational figure after eight years of George W Bush. It was he who promised to "heal this nation and repair the world”.
No one put these words into his mouth. He uttered them. It was he who promised the Muslim world a new deal in Cairo. It was he who promised to face down Israeli settlers in the West Bank.
As things turned out, however, Obama was not the agent of change, but its object. He did not transform. He was himself transformed. Confronted by regional bullies, he stepped to one side, observing the action from a new vantage point in the annals of US foreign policy - from the sidelines.
This happened with Benjamin Netanyahu, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Vladimir Putin and Bashar al-Assad. Syria was not a case of "damned if you do intervene" and "damned if you don't". If Obama had learned the lessons of two decades of military misadventure in the Middle East, he should have made sure that neither Russia, nor Iran intervened either. He had the tools to stop both. He never used them.
If Obama had merely been inactive in Syria, that would have been one thing. He, however, actively prevented the rebels from getting the weapons they needed to stop barrel bombs falling on their hospitals, markets and schools. In his last months, Obama attempted to spin this as policy.
Obama’s work on his own legacy began with an interview with Jeffrey Goldberg in the Atlantic, which ends with following judgement: “George W Bush was also a gambler, not a bluffer. He will be remembered harshly for the things he did in the Middle East. Barack Obama is gambling that he will be judged well for the things he didn’t do.”
That was penned in April last year. In December, East Aleppo fell and how differently those words read now.
Obama was a president on whom accolades were showered before he had even started, and one who persistently fell short of earning his own praise. This may seem harsh on the man, who gave millions of Americans health insurance and who had the right response to the Great Recession.
But America’s first black president was as irrelevant to the lives of Black Americans as Britain’s first woman prime minister was to British feminism.
Cause and effect
Obama’s real legacy is Trump. Centrists like Obama, Bill Clinton, Tony Blair and David Cameron should not duck their responsibility for creating the conditions in which right-wing populists, if not outright fascists, thrive.
Clinton, Bush, Obama are all walk-on parts in the same drama - the decline and fall of Western leadership
The nationalism sweeping through liberal democracy is a direct result of a system failure. Be that failure in the form of embracing the retreat of the state and being supremely relaxed about extreme inequality or in the creation of economies which globalise insecurity and nationalise debt.
Clinton, Bush, Obama are all walk-on parts in the same drama - the decline and fall of Western leadership. Yes, there are outside forces at work, but primarily, we are witnessing an implosion, a weakening of the pillars which support Western hegemony in the post-Cold War world, the EU, the UN, Nato. Michael Moore is not alone in planning the first 100 days of resistance. The CIA is too. That is what makes Trump's insurgency so interesting. With the best of intentions, Obama’s presidency played its part in that collapse.
And so, on to the next actor in this drama, Donald Trump.
A move to the right
For Israel, Trump has appointed David Friedman, an ambassador who supports Israeli settlements, advocates annexation of West Bank territory and questions the citizenship of Palestinian citizens of Israel. Advised by his son-in-law Jared Kushner, Trump has opposed the UN Security Council resolution on settlements and the Paris Peace conference.
Trump has already moved well to the right of Benjamin Netanyahu and is in the territory ofNaftali Bennett, leader of the right-wing Jewish Home party, who believes that the new US president will bury the Palestinian state, a logical consequence of Trump’s wish to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Under Trump then, Israel could well expect to see a green light to annex Area C of the West Bank, and continue the work of cleansing the Jewish state of its non-Jewish citizens. Ethnic cleansing is back in vogue, after what Assad and the Iranians have been allowed to get away with in Daraya and Aleppo. Israel could well feel free to do the same.
Each and every move outlined above would be enough to trigger a third Intifada.
Boon for al-Qaeda
For Syria, Trump’s answer is security zones, for which he intends to get the Gulf states to pay. Whereas Obama at least clung to the rhetoric of human rights and democracy promotion, Trump has no qualms about overt support for dictators such as Sisi. Trump’s administration not only will support dictators, but will listen to them as well.
Evidence for this is contained in the testimony of Rex Tillerson, the former ExxonMobil chief executive who is Trump’s nominee for secretary of state. Tillerson, in his opening statement, warned that the US must be honest about radical Islam, and that once the Islamic State is defeated, the US then should move on to address other “radical” Islamic groups in which he included al-Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood.
Tillerson’s inclusion of the Brotherhood in his list of radical Islamic forces was not a slip of the tongue. Trump’s Middle East adviser, Walid Phares, a Maronite Christian from Lebanon, has already said the incoming president plans to outlaw the group.
Phares has a murky past, for his support of a far-right Lebanese militia which committed war crimes in the Lebanese Civil War, and has himself been denounced by the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee when he joined Trump’s election campaign.
There is already a draft bill in Congress, the Muslim Brotherhood Terrorist Designation Act, outlawing the Brotherhood, which Obama refused to sign. If Trump does, he would be consigning millions of Islamists, who form the largest political party in most Arab countries, into the hands of al-Qaeda. Trump would be giving al-Qaeda the biggest possible eid the group could have ever dreamt of, far bigger than the boost to their ranks provided by Sisi’s military coup.
The Dubai connection
The bill in Congress was the result of heavy lobbying from the Emiratis, for whom the Brotherhood remains an obsession. Trump’s link with the Emirati regime is through businessman Hussain Sajwani, chairman of Damac Properties Dubai Co. The company already has two golf resort development deals with Trump in Dubai. Trump told his first press conference since his election that he was offered $2bn in Dubai with this "very, very amazing man, a great developer from the Middle East”. He turned it down, but as he kept repeating, he did not have to.
It is, therefore, not true to claim that Trump enters the White House as an unknown quantity. His cards in the Middle East have already been marked: by Israel, by Russia, by the Emirates, by Egypt - all the regimes battling to suppress the forces which will eventually bring free elections, democracy and transparency to the governments of the Middle East.
It is no mean feat for a president-elect to make the fifth series of House of Cards redundant, but this Trump has already achieved. Tighten your seats belts. It's going to be a rough ride.
- David Hearst is editor-in-chief of Middle East Eye. He was chief foreign leader writer of The Guardian, former Associate Foreign Editor, European Editor, Moscow Bureau Chief, European Correspondent and Ireland Correspondent. He joined The Guardian from The Scotsman, where he was education correspondent.