By Greg Reynolds
Time Magazine declared “The Guardians” (meaning journalists who faced persecution, arrest or murder for their reporting) as Person of The Year for 2018, and The Financial Times selected George Soros for the same honor. Yet those of us who do not worship Moloch might prefer an alternative who actually accomplished something for the good. The Myth of the Twentieth Century podcast recently released a nearly five-hour episode that discussed the events and 2018 and mentioned many men worthy of this honor, but condensing a year’s worth of news into one episode means inevitably some subjects will be under-emphasized. As my area of interest is geopolitics, I thought I should identify the man had the best 2018 in the geopolitical arena, and there is only one logical choice: the President of Syria, Bashar al-Assad.
The U.S. Establishment Wanted Him Dead
Trump’s entire U.S. foreign policy team lined up against Assad. “A murderer of his own people cannot generate the trust required for long-term stability,” then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said. “The United States is locked and loaded,” then-Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said at a U.N. meeting in April, and warned Assad of dire consequences at another U.N. meeting in September. “It is time for all nations to hold the Syrian regime and its sponsors accountable for their actions,” then-National Security Adviser H. R. McMaster told a security conference in February. “So I don’t have evidence right now of it. I just want to reiterate- it would be very unwise for them to use weaponized gas,” the more subdued then-Secretary of State James Mattis told reporters in March. “We also think that you cannot have an enduring defeat of ISIS until you have fundamental change in the Syrian regime,” the U.S. envoy to Syria, James Jeffrey, said. Even Trump, in a tweet in April, referred to Assad as an animal and said there would be a big price to pay.
Assad had many enemies beyond the U.S. as well. “The essential thing will be to have a political process that preserves the institutions of the Syrian state while decapitating the monster,” then-Foreign Minister of the United Kingdom, Boris Johnson, said. “It is not realistic to imagine Bashar al-Assad staying in power in a reconciled Syria,” the French Foreign Ministry said. “Assad is no longer immune. His regime is no longer immune. If he fires at us, we will destroy his forces,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in June.
The Syrian government has been deplatformed from other channels. In September, the U.S. Department of the Treasury announced sanctions of five companies and four individuals that supply fuel to Syria. Around the same time, YouTube disabled the accounts for the Presidency, the Ministry of Defense, and the state-run news agency SANA.
By the year’s end, many U.S. officials who opposed him- Haley, Mattis, McMaster and Tillerson- had all lost their positions. In contrast, Assad has only expanded his control over his country and his family remains safely inside the Presidential Palace. It’s not easy to have most of the world’s superpowers against you, but Assad is a survivor.
He Was Falsely Accused
One cannot barge into a country without any justification, so Western politicians resorted to lying. The U.N.’s Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons took samples from the site of an alleged chemical attack in Ghouta, and compared them to chemicals that Assad had submitted for destruction back in 2014, and claimed that the chemical signatures matched. In February, a new U.N. report claimed that North Korea sent Syria supplies (specifically acid-resistant tiles, value and thermometers) used to produce chemical weapons, and that North Korean specialists had visited the country in 2016 and 2017. In November, a chlorine attack occurred near Aleppo, and both Syria and Russia stated that the opposition was responsible. The United States flipped the script, accused Syria of staging the entire event, and issued their own (rather suspicious) statement: “The United States is deeply concerned that pro-regime officials have maintained control of the attack site in its immediate aftermath, allowing them to potentially fabricate samples and contaminate the site before a proper investigation of it by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.” Throughout all of this, this has never been any evidence that Assad possesses or has used any chemical weapons, but that will not prevent every Western leader from constantly repeating this lie.
He Won Battle After Battle
In February, ground troops arrived in eastern Eastern Ghouta (a suburb just six miles from Damascus), and were led by Suheil al-Hassan, the commander of the elite Tiger forces. Hassan allegedly prefers scorched earth, day after day of artillery fire, airstrikes, and door-to-door raids. “I promise I will teach them a lesson, in combat and in fire,” Hassan said in a video. Western politicians called for a ceasefire, but Assad decided to press on. By March, the rebels were split apart; some groups of fighters surrendered and were bused off into exile. Assad appeared in a sharp black suit to take selfies with his weary troops, and they chanted: “With our souls and blood, we will sacrifice ourselves for you, Bashar!” In May General Ali Mayhoub announced on state television that Damascus and its surroundings were completely secure for the fist time since the civil war began.
In June, fighting broke out in Daraa governorate in the south. The U.S., Russia and Jordan had previously agreed to a ceasefire and designated this area to be a non-escalation zone, but they did not enforce it. The Syrian Army dropped leaflets letting residents know they were coming and calling on them to hand over the rebels. The Russian air force bombed the area heavily. By early July, the rebels agreed to a ceasefire and handed over their weapons. Syrian and Russian forces entered Daraa city and raised the national flag. This also allowed Assad to reclaim the Nassib border crossing with Jordan, which is an important trade route.
It had became increasingly obvious throughout the year that Assad is going to win, and by the end of the year major newspapers were running stories about Assad’s impending victory. Assad rewarded his loyal troops by raising their salaries, including tripling the salaries of his pilots. He has been magnanimous in victory, and in October he extended a general amnesty to deserters. Those who deserted the army or avoided military service have some time to apply- four months if they are inside the country or six months if they are outside.
He Relied On His Friends
Assad visited Moscow in mid-May, and thanked Russia for it support. President Putin congratulated him and the Syrian Army for their significant victories in clearing out the areas around the capitol, and said that he expected foreign troops to withdraw. The following week, Assad received Russia’s envoy to Syria, Alexander Lavrentyev, who again congratulated him. In August, ten Russian ships and two submarines arrived in the Mediterranean, many of them armed with long-range Kalibr cruise missiles. In October, Assad met in Damascus with representatives of Russia’s foreign and defense ministries. They discussed their desire to destroy the remaining terrorist presence and to create a long-term settlement. Russia has been involved in Syria since 2015. Not everybody is fan of the Russian presence, but without their capable air force, Syrian forces may have lost some important battles, and Assad could have been removed or dead by now.
He Has Reopened Syria
The number of deaths related to war has dramatically declined. About 500,000 have died in the course of this war. As Assad won control this past year, only about 20,000 died- the lowest since the war began. Assad received more good news in December. The United Arab Emirates reopened their diplomatic embassy in Syria (which had been closed since 2011) and the charge d’affaires took his post. Also, sources claim the Arab League intends to reinstate Syria’s membership in their organization (which it lost in 2011). As its neighbors begin to recognize Assad as the legitimate leader of Syria, it is time for the United States to do the same.
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I can’t argue with that. The lion of Syria has a lot more work to do, but his people love him and his allies honor him. Here’s hoping that, once the war is officially over, he can make the nation a regional (or even international) powerhouse.