PLUS CA CHANGE, PLUS C'EST LA MEME CHOSE: RUSSIA FOREIGN POLICY IN 1903 AND TO-DAY
"He [Isvolsky] said that England was not understood in Russia and that he legend of perfide Albion still held good---and that public opinion was against England. I [Sir Edward Goschen] asked whether public opinion had much influence in Russia---and he answered 'enormous' and that it was very difficult to control. I asked how 'public opinion' penetrated to the powers that be---certainly not thro' the Press and that there was an iron circle of Tchinovniks (sic) which acted as a wall. He admitted this rather but said 'it filters through somehow---God knows how---but it does---and not only does it have great influence but he mere fact
of its having no legitimate or legal channel to flow through---like Parliament and Press in England, rendered it very difficult to control'".
Sir Edward Goschen. The Diary of Edward Goschen, 1900-1914
. Edited Christopher H. D. Howard. (1980), p. 82. Conversation quoted on the 3 October 1903, between Goschen (British Minister in Copenhagen) and Alexander Isvolsky (Russan Minister in Copenhagen and future Foreign Minister, 1905-1910).
"Here we must recognize that foreign policy is an instrument of Putin’s domestic agenda. The domestic priority for the Kremlin is to preserve a status quo supported by three pillars: personalized power, its legitimation by superpower aspirations (or at least their imitation), and the attempts to consolidate society by seeking out an enemy and using that enemy to turn Russia into a besieged fortress. This is a traditional Russian Matrix. The more Putin’s regime is confronted with problems at home (and since last December, it has been challenged more than at any other time after 1999), the more actively it looks for foreign policy means to support the Russian Matrix.
This translates in concrete terms to blocking the United States whenever and wherever possible. Thus, the Kremlin switches to vocal anti-Americanism and seeks to block the U.S. at the UN Security Council or in other fora. This switch has been most vividly on display in the endless harassment of U.S. Ambassador to Moscow Michael McFaul. Neither random nor a reflection of Putin’s personal likes or dislikes or phobias, this behavior is simply how the Kremlin survival mechanism works. To reproduce personalized power with global aspirations, the Kremlin has to contain America and undermine the American order wherever possible—in Russia’s own neighborhood or in other parts of the world. This is how Russian authoritarianism differs from other regimes of this type: In order to preserve and reproduce itself, the Russian personalized power system needs to demonstrate global reach. If the Russian ruling team can’t force or persuade the world to endorse its stance, it tries to at least undermine the American and Western positions. Accordingly, the Kremlin’s last client state in the Middle East became an arena of conflict geared toward bolstering the Kremlin’s survival strategy, and toward demonstrating that Russia can still impose limits on the West. Sadly, in the process of doing these things, the Kremlin has shown utter indifference to the suffering of the Syrian people, for it is more focused on its own future than it is on the welfare of others".
David Kramer and Lilia Shevtsova, "Why Russia Doesn't Hold the Keys to Syria: The West may be using the Kremlin's intransigence as an excuse to do nothing." The American Interest
. 11 July 2012, in http://www.the-american-interest.com/article.cfm?piece=1284
The similarities of the two above quotes as an explanatory mechanism to make sense of the underlying dynamics of Russian foreign policy in 1903 and 2013 are too uncanny for comfort. Plus ca change indeed. If nothing else, what continuity of how decision-making
is arrived at in Russian foreign policy in the two eras in question, make short work of the comforting notion, propounded by the bient-pensant
, Financial Times
, among others, that Moskva will suddenly give-in and agree to Western military intervention in the conflict in Syria 1. Whether or not the regime of Assad Fils has used Chemical weaspons or not. Certainly, based simply upon the Primat der Innenpolitik
aspects of current Russian foreign policy, it is almost impossible to imagine that sans
an almost complete collapse of the regime of Assad Fils, that President Putin will agree to give blanket approval of any policy of military intervention by the Western Powers in Syria.
1. Geoff Dyer & James Blitz, "Obama Syria warning adds pressure on Moscow." The Financial Times
. 27 April 2013, in www.ft.com.
NORTH KOREA'S SABER RATTLING: A COMMENT
"Well, if North Korea decides to fire the Musudan missile, which they have threatened to, and which people have been following, it would really be one more unnecessary, unfortunate, unwanted contribution to an already volatile, potentially dangerous situation. And so it would indicate, really, who is being provocative with an exclamation point yet again.
Our preference would be to get to talks. Our preference would be, through these Six-Party or through bilateral means, get to a place where we are talking about the real future, which is the future of denuclearizing and ultimately, hopefully, depending on the choices that President Park and Republic of Korea make, ultimately, the reunification of the peninsula as a peaceful, nonnuclear entity.
So it’s up to Kim Jong-un what he decides to do. It’s not going to change our current position, which is very, very clear. We will defend our allies. We will stand with South Korea, Japan, and others against these threats. And we will defend ourselves. And Kim Jong-un needs to understand, as I think he probably does, what the outcome of the conflict would be. Our hope is that we can get back to talks. Now, you ask, what would the conditions of those talks be? Very simple: They simply have to be prepared to live up to the international obligations and standards which they have accepted, and make it clear they will move to denuclearization as part of the talks, and those talks could begin.
But they have to be really serious. No one is going to talk for the sake of talking, and no one is going to continue to play this round-robin game that gets repeated every few years, which is both unnecessary and dangerous. I will be taking some of the comments from President Park that we had in our conversation to me with me to China tomorrow, and I will obviously raise this issue and these considerations with the Chinese leaders. And I think it’s clear to everybody in the world that no country in the world has as close a relationship or as significant an impact on the DPRK than China.
China has an enormous ability to help make a difference here, and I hope that in our conversations, when I get there tomorrow, we’ll be able to lay out a path ahead that can defuse this tension, that can allow the people of the North and the South and other people in the world to recognize that people are moving this in the right direction, which is towards negotiations and towards a reduction in the current level of tension. And that’s our hope.
But those are the conditions of talks. We are prepared, providing the North is prepared, to do what it knows it has to do, which is live up to international obligations, and move towards a serious negotiation about denuclearizing the peninsula".
American Secretary of State John Forbes Kerry, "Remarks With Republic of Korea Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se After Their Meeting."
Department of State
. 12 April 2013, in http://www.state.gov/secretary/remarks/2013/04/207427.htm
'“What makes this different from past 'normal crises' is our lack of insight into…Kim's mind and the uncertainty regarding how firmly he and his regime sit in the saddle,” Shlapak said. He added that the threat to South Korea is significant, even if North Korea lacks the ability to deliver nuclear payloads via missile.
“Even without nuclear weapons…North Korea could, if it desired, do enormous damage to South Korea with conventional arms. Seoul is one of the most densely populated cities on the planet, and it sits in the cross-hairs of literally thousands of large-caliber artillery and rocket weapons that could be employed at pretty much a moment's notice,” Shlapak said.
Bennett said the situation could easily spiral out of control if South Korea were to respond forcefully to Pyongyang's provocations.
“North Korea's bluster suggests that it would meet South Korean escalation with even more escalation. The community worries that the result could be a spiral of escalation that leads to an unintended major war,” he said.
Bennett noted that North Korea has some 800 ballistic missiles capable of reaching South Korea, Japan and further into the Pacific, though probably none that could reach the United States.. He added that its recent nuclear weapon tests show advances in the explosive power of its arsenal.
“We don't know if North Korea can mount nuclear weapons on ballistic missiles, but there is a reasonable chance that they can, on at least their shorter range missiles. It is very unlikely that North Korea has intercontinental ballistic missiles that could deliver a nuclear weapon to U.S. territory,” he said.
Scobell, meanwhile, focused on reaction from China, which he said has been reluctant to exercise its considerable influence in North Korea, even though Beijing is basically “fed up” with the provocative posturing of its neighbor and ally.
Although China recognizes that North Korea is not blameless, Scobell said China believes that the United States shoulders the lion's share of the blame and could help ease tensions by adopting a more conciliatory policy toward North Korea. Beijing views Pyongyang's bad behavior as a reaction to an extremely hostile U.S. policy. China, he added, is unlikely to put substantial pressure on North Korea and this is bound to produce disappointment in Washington.
“There's a limit to what China is ready to do vis-à-vis North Korea,” Scobell said."
The RAND Corporation, "Korea Tensions Different from Previous 'Normal Crises,' RAND Experts Tell Media." The RAND Corporation
April 9, 2013, in www.rand.org.
The above referenced reports, give the reader the impression that there is a certain method
in the seeming madness of the North Korean leadership, both past and present. Simply put, the North Korean regime
behaves in the manner of armed gangsters and terrorists. With the whole of North-east Asia as its hostage. As the American State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research
noted back in September 1994:
"Brinkmanship is a mainstay of the North's negotiating repertoire. Pyongyang may calculate that the MPAF statement will create a crisis with the United States that will ultimately force a better deal." 1
The best nay the only manner of dealing with this regime is to ignore the threats, face down the aggressive language and continue
current policy of sanctions as agreed to by the United Nation’s Security Council. Including, nota bene
: the PRC itself.
North Korea’s chief, perhaps only ally. Per contra
to some commentators `a la
the RAND Corporation, the only means of arriving at a decent solution to the quandary of North Korea is to increase slowly but surely the economic pressure on the regime, until it snaps and collapses. Resulting in the re-unification of the entire peninsula under South Korea. Which from the vantage point of the Western Powers is the ideal solution to the persistent problem of North Korea, going back twenty plus years now.
To imagine that offering up concessions unilaterally will result in anything better is (in the words of Neville Chamberlain) ‘the very mid-summer of madness’.
1.Bureau of Intelligence and Research. "The Secretary's Morning Intelligence Summary." American Department of State
. 28 September 1994, in http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/
THE NUCLEAR NEGOTIATIONS WITH PERSIA: AN UPDATE
"Iran’s nuclear negotiations with world powers now resemble the Middle East peace process – often heavy on process, never successful on peace. Given the high stakes involved, both Tehran and those negotiating with it have an interest in continuing to talk, even if they know that a breakthrough is impossible.
This became increasingly apparent after last weekend’s failure of negotiations in Almaty, where Iran rebuffed a new international proposal on curbing parts of its programme and put forward ideas of its own.
Western officials said the Almaty talks had underlined the deep gap between Iran’s expectations and world powers’ demands, though that should not have come as a surprise. Yet they also insisted that there was no breakdown and, even if an agreement remains elusive, some analysts argue the cost of not having a process is too high to contemplate.
While the threat of Israeli military action still looms large and the US insists that all options remain on the table, officials and experts say diplomacy has not run its course. It will continue, in some form, until at least the autumn, when a new Iranian president will be in place after the June election.
Even when Iran’s internal house is in better order, however, the prospects of what is seen as a “small” negotiated deal, in which limits on Iran’s stockpile of 20 per cent enriched uranium, the most pressing concern, are traded for modest relief from sanctions, will still be remote....
Iran has indicated that it is willing to negotiate over the 20 per cent enrichment but needs to see some of the sanctions that are crippling the economy – on banking and oil – peeled off.
For western powers, however, giving up the main tools of pressure constrains the ability to force Iran into other crucial concessions. Indeed, it is possible that even as contacts between Iran and world powers continue, sanctions will be tightened. US legislators are already drafting a Senate bill to punish foreign companies that do business with any government-controlled Iranian entity....
Are there ways to break the deadlock? Some experts suggest making clear to Iran that after a comprehensive nuclear deal it would be able to have some enrichment capacity, although tightly supervised, might give Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader, sufficient comfort to move forward with the negotiations....
“In many ways the more pressure, the more Iran feels the need to resist,” argues Mr Fitzpatrick. “It’s a very resistance-oriented society.”
Roula Khalaf, "Iran talks hold some hope despite deadlock." The Financial Times
. 11 April 2013. In www.ft.com
"It is apparent that Iran [Persia]'s determined drive to become the superpower of the Persian Gulf hinges, at least in the short term, on two unpredictable variables: Khomeini's health and the outcome of the war with Iraq...Khomeini and those around him have gambled everything on the war---the economy, the nation's influence in international affairs, the legitimacy of th leadership, possibly the fate of the revolution itself. Each of these factors rises and falls as Iran [Persia] seems to be winning or losing. If Iran [Persia] is ultimately forced to accept an outcome approximating the status quo ante, it will be more likely to turn inward and focus on its enormous internal problems."
Gary Sick, "Iran [Persia]'s Quest for Superpower Status." Foreign Affairs
. (Spring 1987), p. 715.
The view annunciated by the Financial Times
Near Eastern correspondent about the state of the nuclear talks with Persia are very illuminating for a certain bien-pensant
point of view. The view that au fond
, Persia is bound eventually to obtain nuclear weapons and that there is not much that the Western powers can do to stop this process. Slow it perhaps, but stop it, no. I fundamentally disagree. I do of course gainsay the idea that military strikes, least of all by Israel is a proper means of remedying this problem. Far from it. Of course some type of military pressure is necessary to keep the mad Mullahs in Persia off their balance. But the actuality of missile strikes on Persia is almost as frightening as Persia' having nuclear weapons. Would say though that more rather than less economic pressure is needed on Tehran and in addition the possibility of a naval blockade of should seriously be considered. As per the argument that: 'In many ways the more pressure, the more Iran feels the need to resist',
overlooks the fact that in 1988-1989, under massive military and economic pressure, Persia capitulated and signed a peace treaty with Iraq, for terms which it had refused to consider for upwards of four years. So much for Persia being 'a very resistance-oriented society'.
It is a society, like any other society: it will inevitably bend if not collapse if enough weight is put on the scales against it. It is merely a matter of determining how much more weight needs to be added. Pur et simple
MARGARET HILDA THATCHER, 1925-2013: REQUIESCANT IN PACE
"Margaret Thatcher was the most important peacetime prime minister of the UK since the late 19th century. She transformed the Conservative party and British politics, overturning the ruling assumptions about the relationship between the state and the market.
Thatcher was also a towering figure on the global stage. Her close ideological connection with US President Ronald Reagan helped give her a global role unlikely ever again to be occupied by a British politician.
True believers view her as a Saint Joan of free markets, dedicated to rolling back the state in all its dimensions. In reality, however, Thatcher was a pragmatic politician who showed little interest in embarking on politically suicidal attempts to demolish pillars of the welfare state, such as the National Health Service. Under her governments, public spending never fell below 39 per cent of gross domestic product.
Nevertheless, hers was a transformational premiership. The legacies of Thatcher’s governments include liberalisation of exchange controls, a huge cut in top income tax rates, liberalisation of labour markets, transformation of the legal position of trade unions and defeat of militant organised labour, notably in the miners’ strike of 1984-85, sale of a large part of the council housing stock, privatisation of most nationalised industries and the liberalisation of finance, including the “Big Bang” of 1986, which transformed the City of London into the world’s biggest international financial entrepôt.
In macroeconomic policy, Thatcher’s governments started with monetarism and ended with a row over the role of exchange rates in monetary policy. But the rejection of Keynesian fiscal policy and the shift to relying on monetary policy, in its place, were cemented during her period in power. It was left to the incoming Labour government to take the logical step of making the Bank of England independent, in 1997.
Thatcher also played a large role in Europe, contributing to launching the single market programme and the concomitant Single European Act, in 1986. She saw this as an attempt to export liberal economics to the rest of the European Community".
Martin Wolf, "Thatcher: the great transformer." The Financial Times
. 9 April 2013, in www.ft.com
"Her impact while in office was less than only than that of Lloyd George and Churchill. Perhaps she was even their equal in this....'[she had] transformed the politics of Britain - indeed Britain itself - to an extent no other Government has achieved since the Attlee Government of 1945 to 1951....[which] set the political agenda for the next quarter century."
Peter Hennessey. The Prime Minister: the office and its holders since 1945
. (2000), pp. 435-436, 530.
Margaret Thatcher will no doubt go down in history as one of the greatest British and indeed European leaders of the post-bellum
years from 1945 to 1989. In that respect her true equals are not such ante-bellum
political leaders as Churchill and David Lloyd George as Adenauer and General de Gaulle. And yet, like all four of the men mentioned above, Thatcher left the political stage in November 1990, as if not a 'failure', then with a sensation of not having quite achieved a total victory on the political stage. In this respect, she fulfills completely the truism enunciated by the late, great Enoch Powell
in his biography of Joseph Chamberlain that:
"All political lives, unless they are cut off in midstream at a happy juncture, end in failure, because that is the nature of politics and of human affairs 1."
In the case of Thatcher, it is readily apparent that the very traits which made her an almost unstoppable force of nature in the realm of politics, by definition also made her completely unable to abide by certain restraints that would have enabled her to remain in office for perhaps another two to five years. Indeed, a British political commentator once defined the essence of 'Thatcherism' as a 'curious mixture of spirit, realism, tantrums and not infrequent errors of political judgment' 2. It was the fact that she was completely unable to respond to the concept of the via media
and some type of equilibrium which made her vulnerable to being toppled in what she later called (in a conversation with the Soviet Ambassador to the United Kingdom no less) a 'constitutional coup'
3. It could be reasonably asked if her failure to recognize and abide by the above limitations made her a less than successful political leader than she could have been? The question answers itself. All one can say, for good and for ill, is that she succeeded in 'breaking the mold of British politics' and ending the post-war political regime which was begun by the Attlee Government of 1945. As per the more difficult question of whether she arrested the 'decline of Britain', the answer would be that if she did so, then the medicine that she employed stopped working sometime between 2005 and 2008. And that the 'shrinkage' in almost every sense of both Britain's economic clout and its military machine follows immediately from the failures of economic management that Thatcher's Socialist heirs, Blair and Brown, in addition to the current Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron can all be blamed for. Once again in this respect she is rather similar to both Adenauer and General de Gaulle, insofar as for all of their great and indeed at times tremendous political gifts, none could bring back the time when Europe was the political pace setter in world politics. Thatcher for all of her political vision, energy and gifts was no more able to restore the United Kingdom to the Great Power that it was circa 1955, than General de Gaulle make France the Great Power that it was circa 1935 or Adenauer make Germany the power that it was circa 1928. The march of time has inexorably been moving against such a 'restoration', however splendid such a restoration might indeed be. Of course for a lot of the British intelligentsia there was much, much more to Mrs. Thatcher and 'Thatcherism', than these cold-blooded evaluations that a historian might make. For many of say those perusing the bien-pensant Guardian, Observer
or indeed the London Review of Books
, Thatcherism was the embodiment of the petit-bourgeoisie
in power. If not so much de facto
, much less de jure
, than stylistically and aesthetically. Indeed, notwithstanding his quite similar, grammar school, provincial, petit-bourgeois
background, there was a world of difference between the style of say an Edward Heath (yachtsman and classical music conductor, or even an Enoch Powell (Cambridge classicist, translator and ex-academic) to the completely philistine, non-humanist, indeed scientist Thatcher (the only
British Prime Minister to receive a degree in one of the sciences). And in all honesty many of the pronouncements made by the 'Iron-lady' during her years in power also left me cold if not worse. And there was much that was lost and kicked away in British life due to the triumph of 'Thatcherism'. For good or for ill. And personally, I infinitely would prefer as Prime Minister, someone with the Oxonian, high mandarin style of a Lord Salisbury, A. J. Balfour
or even a Harold Macmillan
to someone of Thatcher's ilk. However to make the historical essence of Thatcherism these more cultural aspects, would I believe be an erratum
At least when one looks upon the totality of both the era and the person from a historical perspective. As my old maitre
, the late Tony Judt
, no friend to many of the changes brought about by Mrs. Thatcher, best expressed it in his book, Postwar:
"It is sometimes suggested that Thatcher's role in this change has been exaggerated, that circumstances would have propelled
Britain in a 'Thatcherite' direction in any event: that the post-war social pact was already running out of steam. Perhaps.
But it is hard even in retrospect to see just who but Mrs. Thatcher could have performed the role of gravedigger. It is the sheer
scale [italicized in the original] of the transformation she wrought, for good and ill, that has to be acknowledged.
To anyone who had fallen asleep in England in 1978 and awoken twenty years later, their country would have seemed unfamiliar
indeed: quite unlike its old self 4."
1. Enoch Powell. Joseph Chamberlain
. (1977), p. 151.
2. Geoffrey Smith, "The British Scene." Foreign Affairs
(Summer 1986), p. 924.
3. Hennessy, op. cit., p. 398.
4. Tony Judt. Postwar: A history of Europe since 1945
. (2005), p. 547.
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.