You’ve gotta feel a bit sorry for Syrian President Bashar Hafez al-Assad. If you’re an Arab ruler it’s hard to ever do the right thing by the Yanks, unless, like the Saudi monarchs, you still have significant reserves of oil.
The story goes that the secular authoritarian ruler ran an awful regime. His terrible security guys tortured opponents. This was certainly true, and they must have been good at it, because for years Syria was one of the places the CIA “rendered”, for torturing, the suspected al-Qaeda types they’d picked up here and there. But however many favours you do for the Yanks, they can turn against you in the blink of an eye.
Initially, the opposition to Assad that emerged at the time of the much-hyped and ill-fated “Arab Spring” appeared to be a coalition of just-maybe-secular and definitely-Sunni groups and they were said to be fighting for democracy.
In western Sydney, a kind of fundamentalist adventure tourism industry emerged. It helped young men (and a few young women) get to Syria to fight against Assad. It was a bit like the Hippy Trail of the 1960s and early 70s, but with Qurans and Kashnikovs instead of Kombi vans and cannabis.
For a couple of years ASIO and the federal and state police turned a blind eye to the Jihad Trail because the West was against Assad. These guys and girls were expendable idiots in the service of our foreign policy, which was about democracy in the Middle East, blah, blah. What was actually being fought out through the streets and across the fields was a proxy US-Saudi war against Syria’s ally, Iran. (Strange thing, that. For all its faults, Iran is about the closest thing to you get to democracy in the region, but because they’re against Zionism, we’re against them).
And then it emerged that the loopiest Sunni fundamentalists were the most effective fighters against Assad and they’d all but disposed of the milquetoast moderate anti-Assad coalition people and were sweeping to dominance not just in Syria but across a vast swath of Iraq.
Guess where all those fired-up second-generation Aussie jihadists were suddenly going? Not to a bunch of evil losers tainted by association with The Great Satan USA … oh, no, they were going to the successful guys with the purest, maddest, vision, and suddenly, Houston, we had a problem, and the answer was Operation Hammerhead.
In the upshot the great police swoop was all a bit underwhelming, except to the few blameless folk traumatised by a show of force that was as unnecessary as it was gratuitous. The political spin was that Islamic State was a credible and immediate threat to “our way of life” in the same way that Nazism had been, but only barking mad people like Jacqui Lambie really believe that.
All that’s emerged so far is that a few young hotheads – monitored to within an inch of their lives by security – blathered to each other about beheading an infidel at random. In the larger scheme of things, innocent folks get killed at random all the time. I mean, we’ve just been through a huge public debate about “coward’s punch” killings. Innocent kiddies get traumatised for life by paedophile priests and scoutmasters every other day. The Hunter Valley, the Great Barrier Reef and the world’s atmosphere are vandalised by coal mining and CSG extraction and thousands of innocent people die from air pollution, but the perpetrators aren’t subjected to dawn raids and Tony Abbott and Mike Baird don’t pontificate about them at press conferences with grim-faced lackeys nodding behind them. In fact the government exists to support them with every obscurantist, religious, anti-scientific spin at its disposal.
And sure, Tony Abbott and his cabinet are gravely intoning that the raids weren’t aimed at the majority of law-abiding Muslims, blah, blah, but they know as they speak that the folks they’re dog-whistling to will whisper to each other that their Tony has to cover himself by saying stuff like that because otherwise the crafty intellectual elites will crucify him.
Anyway, they say if you see something, you should say something, so here’s something. Here we are off to a weird three-way war in Syria. We’re backing the “moderate” Syrian opposition forces against the secular Assad while raining down missiles on the IS. Meanwhile Assad, with the backing of the Russians, is fighting against both our “moderate” opposition and the IS forces. What happens now if the Russians decide they’ll match our effort and send in their airforce against both sets of Assad enemies? What’s going to happen when one of our pilots, flying in support of the “moderates” comes up against a Russian plane flying against them? Or when Assad’s guys use a Russian-supplied missile to bring down an Australian plane, let alone an American one?