Erdogan’s plan for war, and peace

There are ‘global issues that we both have on our plates’, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said, mysteriously, when he met with his Turkish counterpart last week. Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, standing by Blinken’s side, thought the same. ‘We will focus on areas of partnership in bilateral and regional issues.’ Diplomacy as usual, then. Behind the boring platitudes lies a serious rift between Turkey and the United States. In late December, Syrian and Turkish defence ministers met in Moscow in the first proper meeting between the two governments in a decade. There are plans for another meeting between foreign ministers that could lead to a direct meeting between Turkey’s

Bad blood

‘How did this mild-mannered eye doctor end up killing hundreds of thousands of people?’ someone wondered about Bashar al-Assad in BBC2’s extraordinary three-part documentary A Dangerous Dynasty: House of Assad (BBC2, Saturday). It’s a question we’ve all occasionally pondered as the Syrian body count rose — 500,000 thus far — and as six million refugees fled the country. The answer is so lurid and complex that it could have come from one of Shakespeare’s tragedies. Chinless, studious, polite Bashar was never meant to become president of Syria. His thuggish military officer father Hafez, who seized power in 1970, had earmarked the job for his dashing equestrian soldier son Bassel. But

What message do Trump’s missiles really send?

Let me take this opportunity to join with our Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary in commending President Trump’s swift and decisive military action against the Syrian government as being ‘appropriate’ — one of my favourite words and one which I like to use every day, regardless of whether it is appropriate to do so. The important thing was not of course the destruction of a few Syrian planes and, collaterally, a few Syrian children. The crucial point is that this moderate and judicious use of expensive missiles ‘sends out a message’ to President Assad. And the message is very simple. We will no longer tolerate Syrian children being killed by

James Forsyth

If Trump’s listening to his generals, that’s great news for Britain

‘Great Britain has lost an Empire and not yet found a role’. Fifty-five years on, Dean Acheson’s remark has not lost its sting. British statecraft is, even now, an attempt to lay claim to a place in the post-imperial world. The events of the past few months — Brexit, the election of the most unlikely US president in history and the debate over the Union — all raise the issue of what kind of country Britain hopes to be. The chemical weapons attack in the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun in Syria last week has prompted the first foreign policy crisis of this new era. Britain’s role in the response

Can this sweet little girl get out of Aleppo alive?

Every morning, after the children go to school, I turn on my computer to check that Bana Alabed is alive and unharmed. I do the same at night. I have never met Bana. She is a sweet-faced, skinny seven-year-old girl who tweets from rebel-held east Aleppo with the help of her mother, Fatemah, an English teacher. Last weekend, as the Syrian government, Russian and Hezbollah forces took over north-eastern Aleppo amid heavy bombardments, Bana tweeted: ‘Tonight we have no house. It’s bombed and I got in rubble. I saw deaths and nearly died.’ As she and her family contemplated their rapidly narrowing options, Bana wrote to her escalating number of

A tale of two battles

For the past few weeks, British news-papers have been informing their readers about two contrasting battles in the killing grounds of the Middle East. One is Mosul, in northern Iraq, where western reporters are accompanying an army of liberation as it frees a joyful population from terrorist control. The other concerns Aleppo, just a few hundred miles to the west. This, apparently, is the exact opposite. Here, a murderous dictator, hellbent on destruction, is waging war on his own people. Both these narratives contain strong elements of truth. There is no question that President Assad and his Russian allies have committed war crimes, and we can all agree that Mosul

Russia’s dramatic new policy towards Assad is very revealing

Yesterday I argued that if it became clear that the Russian plane was brought down over Egypt by a bomb, Vladamir Putin may be forced to reassess his Syrian campaign – especially in light of a strong counterattack by Islamic State on the ground in Syria. Today, as the bomb theory became the only plausible explanation for the catastrophe, the Kremlin is strongly hinting that such a radical reassessment is already underway. Maria Zakharova, a Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman, has today said on a Russian radio station it is no longer ‘crucial’ that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad stay in power. ‘Absolutely not, we’ve never said that,’ she insisted when pressed, adding

Bombs astray

Soon, soon, you will see a wondrous sight,’ says the Isis anthem, ‘for your destruction, my sword has been sharpened. We march by night, to cut and behead… We make the streets run red with blood, from the stabbing of the bayonets, from the striking of the necks, on the assembly of the dogs.’ The people of the Syrian town of Deir Ezzor were left in no doubt that they were the dogs in question. This nasheed — or chant — was posted on the internet, played over video from Syrian state TV of Deir Ezzor residents criticising the Isis siege. The message was clear. That was at the beginning

Who should we support in Syria’s brutal civil war?

Today, Syrian rebels in Idlib shot down a Russian helicopter; five Russians were killed and footage from the site shows people dragging away at least one body, and not, I fancy, for Christian burial. The Russian defence ministry says that the crew had been engaged in humanitarian air drops in Aleppo, though I suppose there’s no way of knowing. So…what are we to make of this gain for the rebels, the loss for the Russians and, by extension, the Assad forces? Who are we cheering, who booing? Judging from the coverage right now of the siege of Aleppo by Assad forces, the Russians are in the villains’ corner. John Humphrys’

Putin’s great game

[audioplayer src=”″ title=”Putin’s endgame in Syria”] Listen [/audioplayer] Russia’s bombing of the city of Aleppo this week sent a clear message: Vladimir Putin is now in charge of the endgame in Syria. Moscow’s plan — essentially, to restore its ally Bashar al-Assad to power — is quickly becoming a reality that the rest of the world will have to accept. America, Britain and the rest may not be comfortable with Putin’s ambitions in the Middle East, or his methods of achieving them. But the idea of backing a ‘moderate opposition’ in Syria has been proved a fantasy that leaves the field to Putin and Assad. The Syrian partial ceasefire, brokered

Aleppo Notebook

I had been trying to get to Aleppo for ages, but was unable to do so because rebel activity had cut off the city from the outside world. Syrian government military successes at the start of January meant there was at last a safe road. I hired a driver, was allocated a government minder (very handy at checkpoints), and booked into a hotel. Driving north from Damascus, we picked up a 22-year-old Syrian army lieutenant called Ali, returning to his unit after eight days’ leave with his family. We drove through Homs — miles and miles of utter devastation — and then east on to the Raqqa road. Ali told

Is the West ever going to stand up to Vladimir Putin?

If you walk down Holland Park Avenue, down the hill to Shepherd’s Bush, you’ll come across a statue wreathed with peonies, lit by a single candle. Two years ago, in February 2014, the flowers stretched almost to the street curb; the candles were myriad, ringing the statue in ever-widening concentric circles. This is the statue of St Volodymyr, founder king of the Ukrainian nation, set up in the old heart of the British Ukrainian community. In the days around the fall of the Yanukovych government, and Russia’s subsequent annexation of Crimea, St Vlad was the site of nightly vigils, passionate and prayful protests, many of them led by orthodox priests.

‘National security’ has become our main justification for war

I’ve been in touch with Anisa for just over a year, ever since I met her in a dingy refugee compound on the outskirts of Amman. She’s a super-educated young woman from Damascus (most of the early wave of refugees were) and she’s never had much time for self-styled IS (‘none of them are actually Syrian, they’re invaders,’ she insists). Today Anisa is more depressed than ever. If Britain joins the coalition of airstrikes against IS territory in Syria, it will largely be symbolic, as The Spectator’s leader explains. The US has already been bombing Raqqa for nearly a year and a half. As the analyst Shashank Joshi suggests, we have a limited airforce, and

Cameron’s Syrian stew

[audioplayer src=”″ title=”Fraser Nelson and Isabel Hardman discuss whether MPs will ever vote to bomb Syria” startat=864] Listen [/audioplayer]David Cameron doesn’t do regret. It is not in his nature to sit and fret about decisions that he has taken and can now do nothing about. But there are still a few things that rankle with him. One of those is the House of Commons’ rejection of military action in Syria two years ago. This defeat was a personal and a political humiliation for Cameron. For months, he had been pushing for action against Assad. President Obama had finally accepted that something must be done following the Syrian regime’s use of

The Russian plane crash could undermine Putin’s Syria strategy

It now seems fairly likely that an explosion brought down the Russian passenger airline over Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula over the weekend. One Metrojet official has already suggested that the ‘only explainable cause is physical impact on the aircraft’ and they have ruled out technical failure or human error. If the ongoing investigation proves that to be the case, it will obviously have an immediate and catastrophic impact on Egypt’s already decimated tourism industry. A jihadist would have been able to infiltrate one of the country’s supposedly most secure airports to plant a sizeable explosive device on a specific airline. PR disasters do not come much worse than that – and just one

Israel’s ‘neutral’ position towards Syria has created some strange bedfellows

Over the weekend an Israeli-Arab flew from his home in the Jewish state on a paraglider, evading Israel’s formidable air defences to land smack bang in the middle of the Golan Heights. Despite a search by the IDF so intense it provoked a flurry of tweets stating that an Israeli invasion of Syria was underway, he disappeared. No doubt he was hidden by one or other of the assorted jihadist groups based there, predominant among whom is the Al-Qaeda offshoot Al-Nusra Front. They long since booted out the UN peace-keeping mission in the No-Man’s Land part of the territory and, to the delight of binocular-wielding day-trippers, have for the past

How Putin outwitted the West

Saddam Hussein hanged: is Iraq a better place? A safer place? Gaddafi murdered in front of the viewers: is Libya a better place? Now we are demonising Assad. Can we try to draw lessons? — Sergei Lavrov, Russian foreign minister, United Nations, 1 October Russia was right about Iraq and Libya, and America and Britain were dead wrong. Regime change doesn’t seem to have changed Middle Eastern countries for the better, as Vladimir Putin has been warning for years. His policy is not to support any armed groups ‘that attempt to resolve internal problems through force’ — by which he means rebels, ‘moderate’ or otherwise. In his words, the Kremlin

The Vicar of Baghdad – ‘Israel is the most intelligent country in the world’

‘We weren’t even at opposite ends of the table. Because he was in the eyes, and I was fighting over my own bit of space to keep the patient alive.’ If you’re surprised to learn that Canon Andrew White used to work alongside Bashar al-Assad in the same London operating theatre, then you clearly haven’t met White – perhaps better known as the Vicar of Baghdad. Once you have, nothing about him will surprise you. A tall, bearish, immediately likeable man, his enthusiasm is contagious, whether it’s for vanilla ice cream, or intercession in war zones. When he talks to me via Skype from Jordan – a couple of days after

Forget Chilcot

[audioplayer src=”″ title=”Peter Hitchens and Fraser Nelson debate whether the Chilcot report needs to be published” startat=1916] Listen [/audioplayer]It might actually be better if Sir John Chilcot’s report is never published. I for one can no longer be bothered to be annoyed (though I used to be) by the increasingly comical excuses for its non-appearance. We all know the real reason is that the Iraq war was the product of lies, vainglory and creeping to the Americans, but they don’t want to admit it. I suspect Sir John and his colleagues would be more hurt by a patronising acceptance that they are a hopeless embarrassment than by any more anger.

Don’t expect to hear anything about Islamic State during the election campaign

Granted, you don’t really expect foreign policy to feature much in an election campaign – we’re not saints – but it’s still shaming the way that the biggest foreign policy issue simply doesn’t register on the radar right now. I refer obviously to Islamic State, the group that just keeps on giving when it comes to reasons to want them wiped out. It’s a toss up really whether you go for the recently exhumed mass graves of the soldiers they massacred in Tikrit, the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp they seized control of, the images they obligingly posted of themselves smashing artefacts at Hatra or the blowing up an Assyrian church over