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Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Is Joe Biden Turkey "roast" is a feast for Assad?

Joe Biden did tell "an Inconvenient Truth" when he told a Harvard crowd, "Our allies in the region were our largest problem in Syria." That is what Foreign Policy called the Vice President's remarks at the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum of Harvard University late last week. He directed his fire particularly at Turkey: 
"The Turks were great friends, and I've a great relationship with [Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan, … the Saudis, the Emiratis, etc. What were they doing? They were so determined to take down [Syrian President Bashar al-]Assad and essentially have a proxy Sunni-Shia war. What did they do?" Biden asked, according to a recording of the speech posted on the White House's website. "They poured hundreds of millions of dollars and tens of thousands of tons of weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad, except that the people who were being supplied were al-Nusra, and al Qaeda, and the extremist elements of jihadis coming from other parts of the world."

"President Erdogan told me -- he is an old friend -- said, 'You were right; we let too many people through. Now we are trying to seal the border" with Syria, Biden said.
Calling these remarks "an inconvenient truth" has become something of a banality in the media when reporting on this speech. I've heard it called that on CNN and FoxNews, so Foreign Policy was hardly being creative with this tag line. They all mean to say that Biden's remarks about Turkey rang truth., but as regular readers of this blog already know, I often see things differently, and I think the "inconvenient truth" to be found in these remarks is what it reveals about the Obama Administration’s view of the Assad regime.

By making the Syrian government the victim in his analysis, Biden was saying that the regime of Bashar al Assad was not the biggest problem "we" - he was speaking as an executive representative of the United States - face, in Syria. That may well be the position of the Obama Administration, but it is certainly not the reality that millions of Syrians and all the countries bordering Syria have had to deal with as Assad's brutal crack down on pro-democracy protesters turned into a civil war in which that regime has used the most vicious tactics and committed war crime after war crime as it has attempted to crush any opposition to its forty plus years of dictatorship.

The "inconvenient truth" revealed in Biden's remarks is that such dictatorships and such tactics have never been a problem for the US government and they don't really oppose them now in Syria either.

Missing from Biden's remarks was any mention of Assad's three year air assault on Syrian civilians, his use of long range artillery to decimate Syrian cities and villages, his attacks on hospitals, schools and breadlines, even his use of chemical weapons. This civil war has resulted from Assad's desperate attempts to cling to power and it has killed as many as two hundred thousand Syrians, displaced about 9.5 million, and forced 3 million to flee to neighbouring countries to escape the carnage, sometimes with Assad's forces trying to shoot children in the back as they crossed the border. 1.6 million have become refugees in Turkey and that has placed a tremendous burden on Syria's northern neighbour. Joe Biden doesn't mind about that, and he doesn't mention it in his one-sided condemnation of Turkey. He doesn't care about Assad's slaughter or the people desperate to escape it. He demands that Turkey close its border.

Syrian refugees walk past tents at the Boynuyogun Turkish Red Crescent camp

The flow of Syrian refugees fleeing to Turkey began slowly at first. It got its first big push in June 2011 before the Syrian Army siege of Jisr al-Shughour. This town of 41,000 near the Turkish-Syrian border was nearly abandoned by its residents, with many seeking refuge across the border. As Assad's violence against his people increased, what began as a trickle became a torrent. While the Obama Administration may have liked to see that border closed, leaving those refugees to their fate, the Turkish people and the Turkish government took a more humanitarian approach. They welcomed the these refugees, and at great cost and "inconvenience" they did what they could to care for and protect them.

They realized that they may have to make space for millions of uprooted neighbours as the wounds of war were allowed to fester by its NATO allies while Assad was provided almost unlimited military support, and "boots on the ground," from his allies, Russian and Iran, two other forces that were conspicuously absent from Biden's list of countries causing problems in Syria. The Turks also realized that these people could never go home as long as Assad was in power. So they did help to arm and protect the Free Syrian Army and other democratic forces fighting his regime. However they never supported ISIS and other jihadists as Joe Biden and Bashar al-Assad have claimed. Hence Biden's apology.

For all its rhetoric to the contrary, the Obama Administration has never viewed the Assad regime as the problem. It used his torture chambers as he partnered with the CIA in the "War on Terror," he allowed Israel to keep Golan without too much fuss, his brutal methods were credited with creating "stability" in the region, and Obama thought he was on the verge of forging a new "peace deal" with Assad when protests against his rule broke out. From the US government perspective, Assad has not been the problem, those who would overthrow him are. This is the "inconvenient truth" hidden in Joe Biden's Harvard comments.

2013 saw more than a million Syrians flee Assad's killing spree to Turkey. Hundreds of thousands more fled to Syrian neigbors Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq, tens of thousand to other Arab countries. Bulgaria accepted about ten thousand, while more than a thousand each were taken in by countries as far away as Sweden, Italy, Argentina, and Brazil. Joe Biden wants borders closed to Syrian refugees and in this case, the Obama Administration practises what it preaches, in 2013 only 36 Syrian refugees were accepted by the United States.

Click here for a list of my other blogs on Syria

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