Syria is a three way proxy war involving the West, Turkey, Russia, Iran and the Gulf states. More Western bombs will only make things worse.

David Cameron has tried to shirk Britain’s responsibility for accepting refugees by saying that the solution lies in solving the problem in Syria – end the crisis so that refugees don’t need to flee. He’s technically right, of course, but his motivation is a cowardly refusal to accept refugees, and a desire for a war he failed to get through Parliament two years ago.

The refugee crisis is being used to manufacture consent for a new war in Syria. The Weapons of Mass Destruction line is being paraded again, in a BBC report today that has an anonymous US official claiming that Daesh – also know as Islamic State – are manufacturing chemical weapons.

What’s happening in Syria, and spilling over into Iraq, is a three way proxy war involving the West, Turkey, Russia, Iran and the Gulf states. It’s messy and complicated, but it lines up something like this:

  1. Russia and Iran are supporting Assad.
  2. The Gulf states and Turkey – bitter enemies of Iran – are supporting the Islamists, notably the al-Nusra Front, but support has also bled across to Daesh.
  3. The West is attempting to create a third option to protect its interests in the region by supporting non-Islamist elements of the Free Syria Army.

Despite the fact that the CIA has trained and equipped 10,000 fighters in Syria, the Free Syria Army has largely been marginalised, except in the South of the country.

The West, having seen its strategy fail, is now divided over which is the least worst option between Assad and the Islamists. Its policies have been schizophrenic as a result: the close relationship with Saudi Arabia has found the West supporting Al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, and allowing Turkey to bomb the Kurds, the only force who are effectively fighting both Daesh and Assad. The Kurds also represent the values the West nominally supports: pluralism, democracy and gender equality.Syria bombing

At other times – especially after signing the nuclear deal with Iran – the West has wondered whether maybe Assad is the best of a bad bunch. The current plan is to let Assad stay in power for “a transitional period” while using a bombing campaign to defeat Daesh.

Daesh are brutally horrific, and obvious candidates for the worst option. Western media has been filled with stories of the kidnapping, rape and sale of Yazidi women, the beheadings of captives, murders of gay men and the destruction of ancient sites, such as Palmyra. But this is partly psychological warfare by Daesh against the West, who want to provoke a world war between Muslim countries and the West. Assad has killed far more people, largely because of indiscriminate bombing of civilians in rebel held areas. It is mostly Assad who is behind the refugee crisis.

And in the middle are ordinary people – such as the Palestinian refugees who live in the Yarmouk camp in Damascus. Originally fleeing Palestine after the creation of the State of Israel, they have tried to avoid taking sides.

Masses of refugees wait in line to receive food aid distributed in the Yarmouk refugee camp on January 31, 2015 in Damascus, Syria. Picture: UN Relief and Works Agency

Masses of refugees wait in line to receive food aid distributed in the Yarmouk refugee camp on January 31, 2015 in Damascus, Syria. Picture: UN Relief and Works Agency

The disaster that is the Middle East today has a deep seam of Western complicity, from the colonial carve up of Sykes-Picot a hundred years ago, to the CIA overthrowing a democratic government in Iran in 1953 and reinstalling the Shah, Western support for Israel and of course the Iraq war, which tore a gaping hole in the region.

Of course this is not to say that it is all the West’s fault: that would deny agency to the people who live there, as well as the influence of other actors. But before talk about intervening, the West needs to acknowledge its complicity in creating the situation.

People are feeling Syria because they have been bombed out their homes. More bombs will only make things worse. The current calls for war are not about solving the crisis, but about Western positioning in a three way proxy war.

In the West, we have a responsibility to accept the refugees created by this crisis. Our governments also need to take responsibility for their role in creating and sustaining the crisis. The powers behind the proxy war are flooding the country with weapons. Russia is supporting Assad militarily. The Gulf states are supporting the Islamists. The West is bombing whoever is deemed to be worst today. More weapons will only make things worse.

The solution lies in acknowledging the truth of the situation, and pressurising the state actors to negotiate a ceasefire and then a peace deal.


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Walton Pantland

South African trade unionist living in Glasgow. Loves whisky, wine, running and the great outdoors. Walton did an MA in Industrial Relations at Ruskin, Oxford, and is interested in how trade unions use new technology to organise.

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