EASTER MONDAY THOUGHTS ON SYRIA
"Syria is not Iraq. Yet what is happening – or rather not happening – in Syria is in part a reflection of what happened in Iraq. Once bitten, the US is twice shy. The pendulum has swung from interventionism to hard-headed realism. A US that not so long ago thought it could remake the Middle East in the image of democracy now takes a narrow view of its national interest. In 2003, the White House had an exaggerated sense of American power; now it overestimates the limits on its capacity to mould events.... In any event, the Arab uprisings have dispelled all the old cold war assumptions. The west can no longer rely on secular dictators, and regimes led by minorities can no longer hold permanent sway over subservient majorities. The shift towards pluralism is welcome and, Iraq or not, was probably inevitable. This does not make it easy for outsiders. For the west, yesterday’s friends are today’s toppled autocrats; today’s freedom fighters may be tomorrow’s jihadis. So far, the main beneficiaries of the upheaval have been Islamists with a distinctly ambiguous allegiance to democracy. The west cannot deploy its own forces in Syria. That would disinter all the demons of Iraq and invite Mr Assad’s Russian sponsor to step up its armed assistance to the regime. Slim though the chances now look, the focus of international action should first and foremost be on the search for a political settlement – not least to try to avoid a continuation of the civil war beyond Mr Assad’s eventual departure. The Syrian leader’s slaughter of his own people carries dangerous messages for the region and imperils a civilised international order. There comes a point where humanitarian imperatives must trump hard-headed calculations of narrow interests. The US and Britain are already providing military training for the Syrian National Coalition. Turkey is supplying intelligence and logistics. The Central Intelligence Agency may be giving direct help within Syria. And the EU looks set not to renew its arms embargo on the rebels when it expires in the summer. What is required now, however, is a display of the energetic US diplomacy that has been woefully absent during most of the fighting. Where was Hillary Clinton? Where is John Kerry? Or, indeed, where is Mr Obama? Where is the high-level demarche that tests to destruction Moscow’s declared desire to halt the bloodshed by backing a settlement? What about gathering support at the UN for humanitarian corridors? If Vladimir Putin needs to be flattered and bribed, so be it. And, yes, Mr Assad should be offered dirty guarantees of safe passage".Philip Stephens," After hubris in Iraq, hesitation in Syria." The Financial Times. 14 March 2013, in www.ft.com.
"This Jabhat al-Nusra shaikh gives a speech, while standing above the decapitated body of a Syrian officer. The slain officer commanded the 38th brigade, which was stationed at Saida very close to Deraa near the Jordanian border. Al-Nusra defeated the brigade a week ago. Here is the translation of the Shaikh’s triumphant speech warning all presidents, kings, amirs, security officials and military officers of the oppressive Arab regimes that they will be killed and abased in the same fashion. The free Arab and Muslim people are on the march and will not be satisfied until they have slain their oppressors. It gives interesting insight into Jabhat al Nusra rhetoric and stands as a warning to Arab politicians and security chieftains in generally. The shaikh reminds us that al-Nusra has far reaching plans for the region. It is not clear if the Shaikh is Syrian. He uses the word “Generalat” for generals, which is not Syrian. He also refers to a military rank as “musheer”. Syrians don’t use this rank much at all.""Jabhat al-Nusra Shaikh Pomises to Decapitate Every Oppressive Arab Leader." Syria Comment. 30 March 2013, in www.syriacomment.com On Easter Monday it is worthwhile to reflect the meaning of our actions and non-actions. Even states need to have au fond some degree of legitimacy to justify their policies or for that matter non-policies. In the case of the ongoing crisis in Syria the argument rages back and forth between those who contend that the only morally justifiable policy is one of support, up to a the enforcement by the Western powers of a 'no-fly zone', in addition of course to military assistance to the rebels. Or to be more specific, those elements of the rebels who are less overtly Islamist in their pronouncements. The comments above, by the classically bien-pensant Financial Times commentator Philip Stephens (and should we add, ex-enthusiast for the pro-Iraq War, ex-British Prime Minister, Anthony Charles Lynton Blair?) are of course par for the course as far as that goes. As opposed to those like myself, who have argued for the need to stay on the sidelines. What I would like to concentrate however to-day is that one fails to singularly observe in comments and opinions by those like the egregious Stephens, is the fact that already, it is obvious that the opposition to the current regime in Syria, has x number of Islamic extremists. As the chilling story from Syria Comment shows, already the face of Islamic extremism is present on the scene in Syria in full force. For those who argue that sans the hard fighting of the last two years, Syria would be a nest of tolerance and brotherhood among the different communities and religious groupings fail to notice that in both Tunisia and Libya, where the amount of fighting in the first was non-existent, and in the second relatively mild, have already seen an upsurge of Islamic extremism and violence 1. These occurring in societies which unlike Syria are (in religious terms) extremely homogenous and thus should be relatively immune to violent sectarianism `a la say Iraq since 2003 or Syria since 2011. Given the long-standing sectarian divisions which have plagued Syrian society these many years, it would be the very mid-summer of madness to expect that such tensions would not erupt once the hand of authoritarian rule were to be lifted. With that being said, where does that leave the quest for a plausible Western policy? I for one will admit hic et nunc, that in retrospect, if and only if the Western powers had intervened in full-force in Syria circa 2011, and stayed for the long-haul of recasting Syria society to recover from the trauma of Baathist rule, would to-day's fraught situation perhaps not be facing us. But of course the mere stating of this scenario should suffice to show how impossibly illusory would such a situation be. The Western powers had absolutely no stomach for any such military intervention in 2011 any more than they have to-day. Yet in the absence of such military intervention to expect a better state of affairs then what is currently on hand in Syria rings of Dr. Pangloss's gentle views of mankind. Were that it were true! Given the current omnium bellum contra omnies that we see playing out in Syria at the moment, it is best, I think that the Western powers avoid the moral dilemma of being responsible for the outcome of what will eventually result in Syria. I think in particular of the fate of the almost two-thousand year old, Christian community, which fears that an opposition victory will unleash the same exteme violence against them, that the toppling of the Baathist regime in Iraq, unleashed against the Iraqi Christian community of almost similar longevity. Perhaps we face another version of the Lebanese civil war of 1975-1990. In which after x number of years, all sides agree to a truce to stop the bloodletting. Unfortunately, I for one do not see Syria society at anywhere near that stage yet. The real question is when will that stage be finally reached? 1.Borzou Daragahi, "Fears rise of growing Tunisian militancy." The Financial Times. 31 March 2013, in www.ft.com.