For good information on good intervention in Syria produced by Syrians, see http://www.syriauk.org/2015/10/statement-on-upcoming-stop-war-event-at.html , http://www.syriauk.org/p/a-no-fly-zone-for-syria.html , and especially http://www.rrsoc.org/node/313 (Syria Between ISIS and Dictatorship, policy proposals for the UK).
Time to protest against people and groups, whose actions support the survival of the Assad regime. In the UK, the Hard Left pro-Putin “Stop The War Coalition” and the left populist “Scottish National Party” get votes from being against any intervention (after invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, sold as humanitarian intervention). Both groups claim all intervention, must be like mis-sold right-wing intervention in Iraq. The people of Syria are trying to remove the Assad elite, while the Left in the West either shrugs or actively campaigns for the denial of the support they are screaming for. This is a betrayal of breath taking hypocrisy. BUT a growing number of socialists and others, are standing up against this. For good information see http://www.syriauk.org/2015/10/statement-on-upcoming-stop-war-event-at.html , http://www.syriauk.org/p/a-no-fly-zone-for-syria.html , and especially http://www.rrsoc.org/node/313 (Syria Between ISIS and Dictatorship, policy proposals for the UK).
Discussing “The Blindness Of The Western Commentariat On Syria”
Chris E: There is however a pretty large gap between recognizing the democratic impulses of a people and believing that ‘we’ have the ability to bring it about with careful and judicious application and supply of weapons – especially in the face of large popular movements which are fundamentally anti-democratic.
The track record on such things isn’t good at all – if any other area of policy was subject to the same rate of failure we’d seriously question the sanity of anyone who still supported it.
Lara K: Quick response for now, as short of time. 1. previous intervention not designed to promote representative government, that was the PR. 2. As article says good intervention is many things, one element empowering force if necessary. 3. Syrians want representative government, the people who get the weapons make the noise. Go see http://www.syriauk.org/p/about-us.html We need to get out of the box, and start talking good v bad intervention. Time to think, if want to survive.
Lara K: Time for a more considered reply. Need to make some necessary initial changes of emphasis to your question.
Living in a country where torture is meted out to anyone who seriously challenges the small clique who extort the vast majority of the economy, for over 45 years, has produced a strong desire for representative government in Syria and other countries in the region. Much more than a “democratic impulse”.
Empowering this demand involves the supply and use weapons in response to acts of barbarity by illegitimate governments and extremist groups. This is just one element of military intervention, which itself is a small part of the partnership needed to empower representative government.
So the question you pose, should be “Does the West have the means to work in partnership (with people in countries like Syria) to empower the strong demand for representative government, through a full range of different types of intervention, given the large gap that needs to be overcome?”
The major obstacle creating this “gap” you identify, are “large popular movements which are fundamentally anti-democratic”. They are in reality, powerful movements which due to lack of viable alternatives gather support. This is significantly different.
The problem that really causes the “gap” is that all the external powers are “anti-representative government”. At best they want a change of dictatorship, that favours the vested interests of their elites. In the case of Syria this is true of Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Gulf States…. It is also true of vested interests of elites in Europe and the United States, who have more to gain from cooperating with authoritarian governments, in joint enterprises to accumulate wealth. As a consequence authoritarian regimes, and only their opponents who are extremists, are supplied with adequate resources. People are then driven to join the least worst option.
The “gap” that has made recent interventions in the Middle East fail, is less to do with the religious or ethnic identities of the people of these countries, than the intentions of external powers. In the case of Western countries especially since 2011, the voters have been lied to about the intention of the intervention, and also deliberately misinformed that failure is due to the intrinsic attraction of Islamic extremism.
We are not advocating the same type of failed intervention. Progressives in the West have failed to adequately understand or explain why intervention has failed. They have failed to advocate for good intervention. They have failed to link this to struggles for progress in the West. This exposes a serious failure of moral and political judgement.
The Blindness Of The Western Commentariat On Syria. Countering the: “The Four Questions we need to answer before bombing ISIS or Assad” by Paul Mason in UK Guardian 21st September 2015 (http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/sep/20/the-four-questions-we-need-to-answer-before-bombing-isis-or-assad)
The basic problem with virtually all the debate in the West over Syria, is that no one is listening to Syrians. Paul Mason gives an example of this problem, in his recent article in the “comment” section of the UK Guardian newspaper.
The UK government is again considering direct military intervention in Syria. “The [UK] government is reportedly ‘nervous’ of any military action that might provoke an Iraq-style protest movement.” The Stop The War Coalition will be happy to read this, as they were the major organiser of these demonstrations in 2003.
The first question is understanding what is going on in Syria. Paul Mason summarises this as “A democratic uprising became a civil war, got hijacked by Islamists, was abandoned by the west, and became a bargaining piece in a standoff with Putin’s Russia.”
A critical missing element is this article, like most others, is that the Assad regime is one of the most oppressive in the Middle East. The Syrian security forces are the foundation of the state’s power, and the most feared in the region. This system of rule by threat of torture and murder has been going on since 1970, when Bashar’s father took power in a coup. Infamously in 1982 in response to an uprising, Hafez al-Assad levelled the old city of Hama, killing around 40,000 people.
The torture and murder of peaceful protesters following the democratic uprising in Syria after March 2011, was typical of this regime. The torture, death and mutilation of 13 year old Hamza Ali Al-Khateeb that caught the foreign media’s attention in May 2011, was not an aberration but typical of this regime. The chemical attack by the regime in Ghouta in August 2013, that killed up to 500 civilians, was one of hundreds of uses of chemical weapons by the regime on it’s own people. It is no surprise that the Assad regime has killed 100,000s of Syrians, tortured 10,000s others to death, impoverished and displaced millions. 80% of these victims are the direct responsibility of the regime, only followed in terror by extreme jihadist groups like Islamic State.
The Assad regime forced the “democratic uprising” to become a “civil war”.
The West failed to provide adequate military support for the moderate Free Syrian Army, despite endless despairing requests for help. They struggled against the superior equipment of the Syrian Government Forces (well supplied by Russia and Iran in response to Israel). Paul Mason refers to “hijacking by Islamists” which ignores the large range of opinions across political Islam (“Islamists”) and that groups like the Muslim Brotherhood have been struggling against the regime since the 1970s. So “Islamists” are going to part of this struggle, whether the west likes it or not.
There is a more nuanced division between moderate secular and Islamist groups, versus the extreme jihadists. The extremists have done well only because they have been well supplied with arms. Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States do not want democracy in Syria or anywhere else in the Middle East. They have a direct interest in supporting groups opposed to democracy. Also it is difficult to know how many Syrians fighting with these extreme groups buy into the ideology or join for the weapons, when there is no other supply.
The Gulf States also naturally supply the minimum amount of support to displaced Syrian civilians, who have dared to demand a representative government.
Just as obviously Iran and their ally Russia, have a direct interest in supporting Assad’s Alawite (exoteric branch of Shia Islam) regime. The Iranian regime justifies its existence as a theological dictatorship (the unelected Supreme Leader chooses who can run for election) by claiming to be the defender of Shia Islam.
It is no surprise that this, according to Paul Mason, is a “four way civil war”. He later mentions the Kurds, who are using the chaos, and fearing the return of authoritarianism, to stake out more of their long awaited Kurdish state.
At a more elemental level this is actually a two way civil war, between ordinary Syrians and psychopaths supported by mutually dependent elites.
Bombing ISIS and Assad may not be the best military intervention. Clearly Assad’s air force needs to be grounded with a “no fly zone”, which will involve bombing. Forces fighting the psychopaths of ISIS, other extreme jihadist groups or Assad (and their Russian and Iranian allies) need adequate military supplies. So yes an adequate military response from the West will help.
According to Mason the “next question is: what is the desired end result”. The unquestionable and obvious answer to this, is “What Ordinary Syrians Want”. That is a Representative Government, Distribution of Resources, Stability and Security. The elites in Russia, Saudi Arabia, Gulf States, Iran, Europe, USA ….. none of these forces want this outcome. If left to diplomacy the most likely outcome is the kind agreement that ended the bloody and depraved Algerian Civil War of the 1990s, that left the dictatorship of the FLN elite unreformed. It was no surprise that the Algerian politician Lakhdar Brahimi spent two years as special UN envoy to Syria.
“The next question is legality …. proving there is an overwhelming humanitarian need; that there is no alternative; and the action is proportionate.” After 45+ years of tyranny and terror under Assad, and over four years of civil war, the humanitarian need is obvious, and the action proportionate. It is unlikely the Syrian people will accept a return to dictatorship, after the suffering they have endured. The problem with the international community is that representative government is seen as optional.
“The final question is geopolitical effectiveness …. Why does the British Government think bombing ISIS, or bombing Assad’s airbases at the same time, would bring Russia closer to a strategic deal.” Suppling moderate Syrian forces with adequate arms, including those needed to deal with Russian forces, as occurred in Afghanistan in the 1980s would quickly lead to a withdrawal. This would also lead to defections from the extreme jihadist groups.
He finishes with “Right now, the public mood in Britain is split between ‘something must be done’ and ‘nothing can be done’….. ISIS rules half of Iraq because the government the west installed failed. It rules large parts of Syria because that state fell apart, and the west balked at the chance to fight Assad in 2013 …… Logic therefore dictates that what can beat ISIS is not primarily bombs or drones but an effective regional strategy.”
The tragedy is that neither the commentators nor the public they inform, has yet to hear the scream from the democratic uprising of 2011 in the Middle East, “We Want Representative Government”. The West’s regional policy must be to support ordinary people in their demands for this. This ensures the support of the vast majority of the people in the region. To implement this policy these people need to be empowered, sometimes with arms.
Already the moderate opposition in Syria is exhausted, democracy in Egypt has been seized back by the Army who never really let it go, the Libyan revolution is being usurped by the Gulf States, and Tunisia is under severe economic strain while the foreign backed jihadists cut the last thread of the tourist industry.
If left to rot, the result will be a grand disillusionment with the West, a huge surge in extremist jihadism, an explosion of terrorism that will spill out of the Middle East, as foreign powers compete to support ever more repressive regimes. Our civil liberties, our believe in democracy, our power to curb elites, all this is under threat …. because we cannot grasp that we share the same hard struggle.