(Photo credit: TRT World)
Since a 7.7 magnitude earthquake hit Turkiye and Syria on 6 February, killing over 40,000 thousand people and leaving millions homeless, western media has placed a disproportionate emphasis on how the government in Damascus will presumably use the crisis to “rehabilitate” its image on the international stage.
With headlines ranging from “Syria’s Assad Uses Disaster Diplomacy to Inch Back Onto World Stage” to “Bashar al-Assad does not want to let a calamity go to waste,” western media outlets have joined hands in making claims that the devastating quake is somehow beneficial for the Syrian government.
“A powerful earthquake last week catapulted Syria’s authoritarian president, Bashar al-Assad, into the global spotlight, creating an opportunity for him to inch further back onto the international stage through disaster diplomacy,” writes Declan Walsh for the New York Times (NYT), before lamenting how the Syrian leader “received a steady flow of sympathy, aid, and attention from other countries.”
“A tragedy for Syrians is a boon for Assad because nobody else wants to manage this mess,” an analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London told the NYT.
Similarly, Washington Post writer Ishaan Tharoor warns that “natural sympathy for the Syrian plight may lead to a regime once ostracized by much of the international community coming out of the cold” before citing members of US and UK-based think tanks who claim Bashar al-Assad is “exploiting” the catastrophe to “rehabilitate his image.”
The Economist posits that the choice between helping Syrians or leaving them to continue suffering from the effects of western sanctions is a “horrible dilemma.”
“Western governments are loth to channel money to Mr. Assad to help him rebuild; they are also anxious to avoid blocking that rebuilding entirely. In working out how to help the people living amid the devastation of Syria while not rehabilitating a blood-soaked regime, there are no easy answers,” the historically pro-war outlet concludes.
The editorial line adopted by these and several other western outlets is indistinguishable from the official stance of the US government.
When asked last week why the White House wasn’t contacting Damascus or considering lifting sanctions, State Department spokesman Ned Price brushed off the suggestions and said that “it would be quite ironic, if not even counterproductive, for us to reach out to a government that has brutalized its people.”
But days later, Washington had to relent and offer a 180-day sanctions waiver to allow humanitarian assistance to enter Syria. Despite being forced to do this, US officials continue to allege crushing sanctions have had “no effect” on the civilian population of Syria.
“As you saw, we did execute a general license a week ago that will allow even more humanitarian assistance to flow, not that the humanitarian assistance wasn’t flowing already, even with the sanctions in place. When people are dying, and when people are in need, the United States will answer that need,” National Security Council coordinator John Kirby said on 16 February.
Despite these claims, countless reports have shown that sanctions negatively affect all vital sectors of Syria’s economy, from medicine to education, energy, communications, agriculture, and industry. On top of this, Washington’s military occupation of Syria has crippled the nation’s economy and undermined its ability to respond to major natural disasters.