Playing With Fire

A political look at relations between the EU and the Assad regime


No one ever reads the rules for Monopoly until a fight breaks loose. With play money and capital takeover galore, the political board game we call our world is in true competitive conflict. And in the case of the Syrian civil war, perhaps we are running low on “get out of jail free cards.”

Bashar al-Assad is the standing president of a nation that has been war-torn for over four years. With terrorist organizations run amok, estimated four million refugees dislocated, and land nearly leveled from air strikes, at this time intervention seems unavoidable.

As the New Year starts to unfold, the war continues and a resolution remains elusive as ever. With Iran and Russia firm in keeping Assad in power, the European Union as well as other world leaders have loosened their original beliefs on working with a regime that has violated international law.

“The majority of people fleeing Syria aren’t fleeing ISIS, they are fleeing Assad.” Member of European Parliament Alyn Smith said with a tone of immense solemnity. Smith serves as a full member of the Foreign Affairs Committee and see’s the Syrian conflict with clear view of an end game. “If a man’s coming at you with a gun, it doesn’t really matter what his motivation is, if someone is bombing your house it doesn’t really matter what they pretend the purpose is,” Smith said.

After Paris was devastated with terrorist attacks from the extremist Islamic State armed group in November, France has played an even stronger role in the Syrian conflict.

While French President Francois Hollande has long called for President Assad’s departure from power, the move to destroy ISIS became the paramount goal.

Through international talks in Vienna, Austria it became clear that accepting Assad’s presence was inevitable for fighting ISIS. Most European member states remain reluctant to get involved if it means digging themselves in the deep hole of the Syrian Civil War. So, the outcome from the peace talks was essentially a timetable where Assad’s exit comes with the last bit of sand in the hourglass.

The parties involved pledged to work on a cease-fire and agreed to begin formal negotiations on Jan. 1, 2016. They aim for within six months to establish an agreed-upon process for internal governance and begin the drafting a new constitution and within 18 months hold free and fair elections. That all may sound nice on paper, however, in practice, it appears hardly reachable and disheartening for those in crisis.

A change of heart from Hollande came on January 11, as he welcomed Syrian Opposition Coordinator Riad Hijab to the Elysee Palace in Paris. Hollande made a statement saying that any further action against Assad’s regime was being assessed by, “its indiscriminate bombing and its policy of starving whole cities, in flagrant violation of international law.”

With the spotlight on the Syrian rebel-held village, Madaya, which has seen an influx of aid trucks after the Assad regime has continued its siege of the region. Doctors Without Borders says at least 28 people have died of starvation there since the start of December. Reports have specified desperate acts, including residents reduced to eating weeds, insects and pets.

It is an, “absolute necessity for Syria and Russia to stop their military operations against civilian populations, and in particular that the ordeal facing Madaya and all of the besieged Syrian villages come to an end,” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said in a statement after talks with Hijab.

Working to bring peace to a country being dominated by one of the most dangerous geopolitical games, Smith looks back to the first dice role, “Western foreign policy created chaos in Iraq. The Western invasion of Iraq created a zone of chaos into which men with guns are naturally attracted and that gave them an organization and capability. That then spread and we see it spreading further,” he said. Moving farther along the axis of the Monopoly board we see that, “The actions of the Assad regime fighting the rebels, and to an extent ISIS as well, will thrive on instability, where there is chaos and instability and no faith in institutions or government, you’re going to get this.”

With a conflict running rampant in a neighboring nation to the European Union, eyes turn toward the supranational governing body to make their move. Similar to the horrors that took place in Madaya The Syrian Coalition’s EU representative Mouffaq Nyrabia comments on bombardments against civilians that recently occurred in Eastern Ghouta.

With this violence being a common recurrence, Nyrabia stresses the importance of timely action. “We, Syrians today, urge the EU to stand for the rights of the Syrian people and to make all the efforts to guarantee the protection of civilians from further indiscriminate attacks,” she said.

Calling on the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Frederica Mogherini to condemn the Assad regime for repeated violence against the civilians of Syria, Nyrabia details that, “if the EU is unwilling to take such measures, then we call on our European partners to take unilateral action to ensure the protection of civilians in accordance with the Vienna Track and that those responsible for these heinous crimes are held to account.”

The political relationship between the EU and Syria has been anything but affable. For the entirety of conflict in the nation, Europe has often tried to err on the side of neutral, however, with engagement knocking on European doors, it is no longer a foreign matter.

“It is this environment of fear, which ISIS and other extremists exploit and the reason why so many Syrians risk their lives to seek refuge in Europe. These unlawful attacks demonstrate one more time Assad’s aim of terrorizing innocent civilians, and not at defeating ISIS,” Nyrabia said.

The terrorist attacks that have impacted and threatened European countries as well as the waves of refugee’s fleeing from Syria have brought a level of intensity to the problem at hand. How do you bring a country back from disaster? But most importantly what is the true root cause?

“Once we understand that Assad is engaged in total war with large swathes of the civilian population in Syria, we understand why he used such tactics in the past as chemical attacks, and cluster barrel bombs,” Dr. Azeem Ibrahim a policy development advisor from the University of Oxford explains in an opinion piece. “That was exactly the point – Assad was not trying to win people over to his war goals. He was trying to beat them into submission,” he wrote.

Understanding that after nearly half a decade of war there can never be peace without intervention is the next move. With competition and greed riddling the cards of the Syrian civil war, key players are in stalemate and it is time to read the back of the box.

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