Never say never: Brit ex-spy defends Assad

By Robin Shepherd, April 14, 2011
Long live the tyrant: Assad has garnered favour from niche groups

Long live the tyrant: Assad has garnered favour from niche groups

Hundreds gunned down in the streets. Jails packed to overflowing. A ruthless dictatorship brutalising its own people in order to cling on to power. As a description of recent events in Bashar Assad's Syria, you'd be hard pushed to paint a clearer picture.

But let's be fair, there are always two sides to a story and we must not rush to judgment. Enter Alastair Crooke, the one time MI6 spymaster who, in distinctly un-Bond-like fashion, converted to Islamism and is now director of the pro-Hizbollah outfit called Conflicts Forum which proudly boasts that it is "Listening to political Islam, recognising resistance."

Crooke may well be listening to political Islam, but he's hardly recognising resistance. Here's how he characterised the recent protests in Syria in the web version of Foreign Policy magazine:

"The protest movement in Daraa so far has failed to take root in the cities. The number of anti-demonstrators that turned out in Damascus, Aleppo, and Hama, three of Syria's four largest cities, numbered in the hundreds and not the thousands, while the pro-demonstrations in those cities were massive."

Er, yes. And that would be because if you turn up to demonstrate in favour of Bashir Assad you get rewarded with a pay rise. If you turn up to demonstrate against him, you're greeted by machine guns.

Crooke: convert to Islamism

Crooke: convert to Islamism

Crooke cannot actually deny that people are being massacred in Syria. So he says that Assad has nothing to do with it: "Most Syrians do believe that the President did not order the security forces to use live fire, but forbade it," he glowed.

Why, after all, would such a popular president need to open fire on a people that loves him? Indeed, why would people be demonstrating at all, when Assad is so committed to reform? As Crooke tells us in comments about a Wall Street Journal interview and a recently televised speech: "Very plainly, Assad was committing himself to reform. In his recent address, he repeated it: 'Without reform we are on the path of destruction.'"

Oh dear. I'm afraid that this is what happens when you throw in your lot with anyone and everyone committed to the destruction of the "Zionist entity" - or as Crooke calls his comrades in arms, "the axis of resistance".

Still, we must be grateful for small mercies. At least he's no longer in the front line of the struggle against terrorism as an agent of the British government. What a state to be in…

Robin Shepherd is the owner-publisher of The Commentator, the new online news and comment service

Last updated: 12:12pm, April 14 2011