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Why European leaders are lining up behind Assad

Syrian and Afghan refugees fall into the sea after their dinghy deflated some 100m away before reaching the Greek island of Lesbos
Even though the aging continent should be thrilled to take young Syrian migrants who can make its economy more competitive and pay for its retirees, Europe fears that if these Muslim refugees fail to assimilate, their native traditions will overwhelm Europe and alter its Christian character. The Right in the US and Europe has exploited fears from foreign immigrants to increase its popularity, which has made it harder for leaders to argue for letting refugees resettle in the West.
To avoid humanitarian criticism while keeping Syrian refugees at bay, European governments reasoned it would be best to restore Assad. Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurtz was the first to speak out, saying that while Assad has committed crimes, he is a criminal whom Europe can work with because he is fighting on Europe’s side. Britain’s Philip Hammond followed, even though pundits had expected Germany’s Frank Steinmeier, a longtime advocate of an Assad victory, to go second. France is not far behind, and Copenhagen published ads in Lebanese newspapers scaring Syrian refugees off from moving to Denmark.
Europe’s turn over Assad’s fate comes on the heels of a long Russian campaign aimed at keeping Assad in power. Russia has lobbied Arab countries — Egypt, Jordan and the UAE — in favor of Assad. It even convinced the Saudis to receive Assad security tsar Ali Mamlouk in Jeddah, though the meeting turned out to be fruitless.
Thomson ReutersSyria’s president Bashar al-Assad speaks during his meeting with the heads and members of public organizations and professional associations in Damascus, Syria
Moscow has also propped up Assad’s militarily by renewing his hardware, resupplying his caches and deploying a thousand military advisers to help rebuild his forces and allow him to reconquer territory he has lost since 2011.
Iran, for its part, has also thrown its lot behind Assad. Even though Tehran has made Assad dependent on its proxy Shiite Lebanese and Iraqi militias — a tactic at odds with Moscow’s plan to prop Assad up and preserve his independence — the Russian and Iranian efforts have helped Assad survive.
The joint European, Russian, Arab and American effort to restore Assad might prove irresistible for the three last countries opposing his stay — namely Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar.
The resistance of Syria’s opposition and its regional sponsors might be further jeopardized by President Obama, who says that Americans should be humble and learn that they cannot shape Middle Eastern events while at the same time instructing Jordan to cut supply lines to southern rebels should they press northward toward Damascus.
Since the outbreak of the Syrian revolution in 2011, Assad has been the luckiest of the Arab dictators who has had to deal with the Arab Spring. Despite years of supporting terrorist networks that killed US soldiers in Iraq, Assad still managed to sell the world the narrative that his brutality against his own people was part of the war on terror.
A man carries a girl reacting at a site hit by what activists said were airstrikes by forces loyal to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad on a market place in the Douma neighborhood of Damascus, Syria
Under pressure from Gulf allies, Obama reluctantly went against Assad but never allowed his collapse, arguing that the alternative would be terrorists taking over.Interaction
Having weathered the storm that once isolated Assad at the UN and the Arab League, Russia, Egypt and the UAE then started reversing Assad’s isolation and losses.
With the outbreak of the refugee crisis, Europeans reasoned that the only way to stop Syrians from escaping Assad’s barrel bombs was not to force Assad’s departure but to let him win so that the hell he rains down on Syrians would stop.
Even though Assad regaining control of Syria is improbable, even if the world lines up behind him, efforts to rehabilitate him will do little to stop the flood of Syrian refugees to Europe. An example is Iraq, where a few weeks after Prime Minister Abadi announced reforms, thousands of Iraqis still walked through Turkey to Europe.
The old Middle East is crumbling and its population migrating. Reinstating a dictator here or there will not end a problem that requires more resources, attention and a structural fix.
Hussain Abdul-Hussain is the Washington Bureau Chief of Alrai newspaper



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