'Disassociated from reality': BoJo takes flak from Syrian regime

'Disassociated from reality': BoJo takes flak from Syrian regime
Britain's foreign secretary has called for Assad's removal and Damascus has in turn called Johnson 'disassociated from reality' - are both right?
4 min read
09 Sep, 2016
Having previously praised Assad, Boris Johnson now wants the Syrian President out [Getty]

Being a murderous and morally bankrupt authoritarian regime doesn't always entail bad character judgement, it seems.

"An official source at the [Syrian] Foreign and Expatriates Ministry said on Thursday the statements of Britain's Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson affirms that his government is persisting in the aggression on Syria," read an article published by the SANA state media outlet on Thursday.

The statements in question were those made by Mr Johnson on Wednesday, when he called for President Bashar al-Assad's removal, saying that the Syrian leader bore "overwhelming responsibility" for his country's humanitarian crisis.

This of course, was not well received in Damascus.

"Johnson's statements show that he is completely disassociated from reality as he has not yet realised that the time of mandate and tutelage has gone beyond the point of no return," the SANA article, paraphrasing the Syrian foreign ministry source, continued.

"He [the ministry source] went on saying that the British government bears direct responsibility for the bloodshed in Syria and the aggravating danger of terrorism threatening the peace and security of the region and the world," it later added.

Regardless of Damascus' disapproval, many will have found Johnson's call for Assad to leave perfectly reasonable, given the regime's continued perpetration of horrific air raids, sieges, and chemical weapons attacks - among numerous other things - against his own people.

At the same time, "disassociated from reality" is among the least-strong criticisms that the foreign minister has faced in recent months and years.

Aside from the numerous gaffes, insults and indiscretions made by Johnson, there is more than meets the eye when it comes to Boris and Syria.

Am I backing the Assad regime...? You bet I am

Boris' U-turn on Assad

It was only in March this year that the then-London mayor praised Assad and the Syrian army for their victory over the Islamic State group in the ancient city of Palmyra.

Johnson wrote "bravo for Assad" for "saving" the UNESCO World Heritage site, days after Damascus announced that the city had been recaptured from the militants.

In another article, Johnson asked, "Am I backing the Assad regime, and the Russians, in their joint enterprise to recapture that amazing site [Palmyra]?" to which he affirmed "You bet I am".

He later said his remarks had often been taken out of context.

Boris Johnson stands before a replica of the Palmyra arch - London, April 2016 [Anadolu]

In the past, he also called for the UK to join Syria and Russia in the fight against IS, "to remove an evil death cult," with scant mention of the violations being committed by those two countries in same conflict.

Having recently come around to supporting Assad's ousting, however, it would perhaps be too heavy to continue to chastise Johnson for his previous advocacy of brash realpolitik.

It is elsewhere that the fledgling foreign secretary's Middle East policies prove more worrying.

What about Yemen?

While he has much to say about resolving the humanitarian disaster in Syria, Johnson has loyally touted his government's line on the intervention of Saudi Arabia (one of the UK's leading arms export customers) in Yemen - without recognition of the bloody aerial assault being led by the Saudis, or, indeed the violent outrages of the Iran-backed Houthi rebels.

The foreign secretary recently defended UK arms sales to Riyadh, saying Riyadh and its allies were "not in clear breach" of international humanitarian law - directly contradicting a draft UK parliamentary report which had stated that "the weight of evidence of violations of international humanitarian law by the Saudi-led coalition is now so great, that it is very difficult to support Saudi Arabia".

It was also under Johnson's watch that in July, the UK Foreign Office quietly corrected several ministerial statements that claimed that Saudi Arabia was not targeting civilians nor committing war crimes.

The site of an MSF Hospital bombed by
the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen [Getty]

During the first 12 months of the Saudi-led bombardment, Britain signed off £3.3 billion worth of weaponry to the kingdom.

In defending the controversial deals, Johnson based much of his assessment on the findings of a Saudi-led inquiry into eight disputed incidents.

"They have the best insight into their own procedures and will be able to conduct the most thorough and conclusive investigations," he said in defence of the report's credibility.

"It will also allow the coalition forces to work out what went wrong and apply the lessons learned in the best possible way. This is the standard we set ourselves and our allies."

Johnson effectively accepted the Saudis' playing of defendant, judge and jury in concluding that they had committed no wrongdoing. This is while ample evidence suggests otherwise - including a UN report that says 60 percent of the civilian deaths recorded in a one-year period were caused by Saudi coalition airstrikes on weddings, markets, schools and hospitals.

It remains unclear how green-lighting arms sales to fuel a war in one part of the Middle East, while calling for a peaceful transition to democracy in another is designed to produce a cohesive policy on returning stability to the region.

Follow Taufiq Wan on Twitter: @taufiq_wan