CAVAN HOGUE. Why do we hate President Assad of Syria?

The US opposes Assad because he is not their son of a bitch and so supports a motley bag of groups with little in common who are probably no better than Assad. The elimination of ISIS is certainly desirable but it will not solve the mess that is the Middle East. Australia trots along behind the US because of the insurance policy argument.  

The Syrian Government has retaken Palmyra which is a significant victory in the fight against ISIS. It is looking increasingly possible that they will also defeat the motley collection of other groups who are their enemies once ISIS has been driven out of Syria. The question is what will Australia do? Will we continue to support all or some of these opposition groups? Presumably we will follow whatever the USA does. But what will the mercurial President Trump do?

We need to be clear that US opposition to Assad has nothing to do with the fact that he is a brutal dictator which he is. The US has a long tradition of supporting and often installing brutal dictators who support US interests even if this means overthrowing democratically elected governments. President Franklin D. Roosevelt was once asked how he justified American support for the brutal Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza who was every bit as nasty a piece of work as Assad. Roosevelt replied: “Yes, I know he’s a son of a bitch, but he’s our son of a bitch”. The problem with Assad is that he is not America’s son of a bitch but Russia’s. This is why the US, and therefore Australia, supports a varied bunch of religious and other groups who may well be no better than Assad if they ever get government and hang together for any length of time. Who would replace Assad? And how stable would Syria be? And, perhaps more importantly, would the consequent instability enable ISIS to make a comeback?

Australian participation in the Middle East quagmire is all about the American Alliance and it is crystal clear that John Howard got us into this mess because of the insurance policy argument which requires us to follow the US in the hope that they will come to our aid in our hour of need. Thus the constant speeches about how we have followed the Americans into every battle they have been in since WW1 (although we did not help them invade Grenada!). Some would see this lemming like policy as a badge of shame but clearly our governments do not. Whether the Americans would listen to us telling them they are wrong now and again is a moot point but we could try. Sometimes they get it right but too often they do not.

The illegal invasion of Iraq opened Pandora’s Box and it is hard to see how it can be closed again in the foreseeable future. Australia has no real influence here and our participation simply makes us a target for religious extremists both foreign and home grown. Of course, the Americans like to have our flag along even if they don’t need our troops and that remains the whole point of the exercise for Australian foreign policy. No doubt it also has domestic ramifications by ratcheting up a climate of fear which governments promise to save us from.

Cavan Hogue was a former senior Australian diplomat and Australian Ambassador to USSR and Russia.


Cavan Hogue is a former diplomat who has worked in Asia, Europe and the Americas as well as at the UN. He also worked at ANU and Macquarie universities.

This entry was posted in Defence/Security, World Affairs and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to CAVAN HOGUE. Why do we hate President Assad of Syria?

  1. Avatar David Menere says:

    The ‘Assad must go’ policy is only the latest expression of the USA’s longstanding antagonism towards Syria. The demonisation of President Assad himself is a recent development- some may recall that as recently as early 2011, the Assad family was receiving laudatory coverage in Vogue.

    Immediately following its early post-war independence from French colonialism, Syria was one of the first targets for the newly-established CIA’s regime change efforts. The development of the Israel Lobby within the USA became an additional driver for this antagonism, and Syria’s closer ties with the Soviet Union following the 1973 war with Israel completed the story.

    Syria was named as part of the Bush Administration’s ‘Axis of Evil’ in 2002, and regime change efforts continued, as evidenced by a leaked 2006 cable from the US Embassy in Damascus. Syria was supposed to be the next domino in the colour revolutions of 2010, but, as pundits tried to warn, ’Syria is different’, and so it has proved.

    Up until the 1990s, Australia had generally good relations with nations in the middle east, with productive trade connections and a perception that while being a western nation, Australia wasn’t locked to US policy. Since then, Australia has discarded any pretence of independence in its policy approach to the Middle East in the interests of the US insurance policy. This has been feasible while the policy has been stable and predictable, even though disastrous. It will be rather more difficult until the uncertainties of the Trump Administration are understood.

  2. Avatar derrida derider says:

    I really have never seen the value of the “insurance policy”. All our military history shows that the premiums are tragically high, and the likelihood of a claim being honoured does not depend on whether our premiums are up to date.

    Great powers have permanent interests not friends, and it should have been obvious that first the British and then the Americans would only come to our aid as and when it suited their interests and capacity at the time. As is exactly what happened when we made an unsuccessful claim on the Brits in 1942 and then had the Yanks – to whom we had paid no premiums – bail us out in their self-interest.

    But it is evident that US intervention, like prewar British intervention, in the ME has been one long string of self-defeating disasters; not least a disaster for the people of that region. Australian politicians, let alone diggers, ought simply to have had nothing to do with it.

  3. Avatar michael lacey says:

    “We need to be clear that US opposition to Assad has nothing to do with the fact that he is a brutal dictator which he is. ” Was this brutality taking place before the the destabilisation of the country or after?

    Was he more brutal than
    1. Barrel bombs used by the Israelis in 1948 or barrel bombs used by the United States in 1965 in Vietnam!
    2. Was he more brutal than saturation bombing conducted by the west in the middle east
    3. Is he any more brutal than the Saudi regime and its use of chemical and cluster munitions in Yemen
    4. Is he any more brutal than the illegal war in Iraq that has killed millions of people!

Comments are closed.