Notes From the Margins…

Democrats of the world unite!

  • February 17, 2012
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Yesterday’s General Assembly resolution against Syria was accompanied by some   quite stirring and lofty rhetoric from Western politicians.   There was U.S. Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice defending a tweet condemning Saturday’s veto of a similar resolution by Russia and China as ‘disgusting’ and ‘disgraceful’, on the grounds that:

The fact that Russia and China chose to align themselves with a dictator who is on his last legs rather than the people of Syria, rather than the people of the Middle East, rather than the principled views of the rest of the international community, was indeed disgusting and shameful and I think that over time it is a decision they’ll come to regret when there is a democratic Syria that won’t forget this action.

And William Hague, declaring

The message is unambiguous. The violence must stop immediately. President Assad and the Syrian regime must heed the call of the international community and allow a peaceful political transition to resolve the crisis.    President Assad and those around him should be under no doubt that we will continue to support the Syrian people in their aspiration for a peaceful political transition in Syria.

And Alain Juppé, the French foreign minister, was also insistent that

We must do everything so that the violence ends and that a lot of humanitarian aid is given to the Syrian people.    We are ready to work in New York on a draft resolution inspired by the Arab League to stop the violence and provide humanitarian aid.

Excuse me while I wipe away a tear.  Because it really is quite an emotional experience to hear this outpouring of moral passion and humanitarian concern from our diplomats, like listening to Beethoven or attending a Live Aid concert.   I mean just listen to that sonorous phraseology: ‘people of the Middle East, ‘Syrian people’, ‘ peaceful political transition’, ‘humanitarian aid’, ‘the violence must stop’.

Don’t tell me you aren’t moved by that.   And there you were thinking that the West’s concern for Syria was motivated by the sordid realpolitik of the bad old days, when Western states divided up the Middle East between them and supported Arab dictators and despots with endless flows of weapons and cash,  or flew terrorist suspects to be tortured by its allies in the Global War on Terror, like Morocco, Libya, Egypt…and Syria.

But a sudden excess of principle can be debilitating after such a long absence, like coming off medication too soon, so before you collapse in a blubbering heap, it’s worth keeping a few salient facts in mind that may keep you sober:

1) On the day the resolution was passed, Amnesty published a report on Libya accusing the NATO-backed militias during last year’s civil war  of ‘  committing widespread human rights abuses with impunity, fuelling insecurity and hindering the rebuilding of state institutions’ .

In addition to

‘  widespread and serious abuses, including war crimes, by a multitude of militias against suspected al-Gaddafi loyalists, with cases of people being unlawfully detained and tortured – sometimes to death’

The report also notes that

‘  African migrants and refugees have also been targeted, and revenge attacks have been carried out, forcibly displacing entire communities – while the authorities have done nothing to investigate the abuses and hold those responsible to account.’

2) Throughout the Libya war, there was no ‘humanitarian corridor’ of the kind that Juppe is now advocating in Syria.  In fact NATO rejected various calls to create  a corridor that would have provided humanitarian aid to the tens of thousands of migrants who were stranded in Libya – or ensure safe passage to the thousands who tried to reach Europe by sea, many of whom drowned in the attempt.

In June France explicitly rejected a proposal  for a ‘humanitarian suspension of hostilities ‘ from the Italian government, on the grounds that a ceasefire would weaken the pressure on Gaddafi and allow his regime ‘  to play for time and to reorganise’.  Yesterday however, the European Parliament called for the creation of ‘safe corridors’ that would act as a ‘shield for defectors and dissenters’ in Syria –  ‘corridors’ that will undoubtedly be used as tools to further militarise the conflict.

3)Two days ago, at least 70 people were arrested in Bahrain on the anniversary of last year’s protests, as police fired bird shot, tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters.  Last year dozens of unarmed protesters were shot dead.  Others were tortured to death by security forces, who also dragged wounded protesters from hospital beds.

Bahrain is a key ally of the U.S. and Britain, neither of whom expressed any concern about such repression.   Both countries are leading arms suppliers to the Bahraini government, and British arms sales include shotguns, teargas, stun grenades and other forms of ‘crowd control ammunition.’

4) Contrary to the narratives emanating from Western politicians and the mainstream media, the opposition to Assad’s regime is not ‘peaceful’ – or at least not all of it is.  Last month’s Arab League Observer Mission  refers to the  armed anti-Assad opposition on various occasions, such as its visits to  Homs, Idlib and Hama, where

…the Observer Mission witnessed acts of violence being committed against Government forces and civilians that resulted in several deaths and injuries. Examples of those acts include the bombing of a civilian bus, killing eight persons and injuring others, including women and children, and the bombing of a train carrying diesel oil. In another incident in Homs, a police bus was blown up, killing two  police officers. A fuel pipeline and some small bridges were also bombed.

Even the hapless stooge Ban ki-Moon insisted in his condemnation of the ‘crimes against humanity’ perpetrated by the Assad regime yesterday that ‘  This violence should stop from all sides, whether by national security forces or by opposition forces.’  This week,  U.S. intelligence officials reported  that al-Qaeda may have ‘infiltrated’  Syrian opposition groups and may have carried out last week’s bombings in Aleppo.

If the West were genuinely interested in bringing about a ‘ peaceful political transition in Syria’ it would make sense to pressure both the opposition and the Assad government to negotiate such a transition.   Instead Western states and Gulf Cooperation Council members are currently debating whether to arm the Syrian opposition.

The Arab League has just passed a resolution which will enable it to channel weapons to the opposition, and it is difficult to believe that such operations have not already begun.  The Obama administration has so far ruled out arming the opposition,  but it has also declared, as usual, that all options are on the table, including some form of foreign military intervention.

In the U.S. the ‘arm the Syrian opposition’  school of thought is summed up by former presidential candidate John McCain, and by Lt. Col. Tony Shaffer of the Center for Advanced Defense Studies, who told Fox News:

‘I’d look to engage/recruit proxies to run the arms into the Syrian resistance from member states of the Arab League…much like we did using the Pakistani Inter Services Intelligence agency and Army during the support of the Afghan resistance. Again, this is a known method of black ops the U.S. has done – we have folks around who could advise and put it together.’

You can bet they do.  Shaffer does not seem remotely concerned by the fact that the kind of intervention he is recommending for Syria turned Afghanistan into a Cold War battlefield that ripped Afghan society to shreds.   But such indifference is built into the  interventionist mindset.

What if intervention produced a similar outcome in Syria?  What if the democrats who are currently calling for intervention have not the slightest clue about the kind of government that would emerge in Syria and don’t really care?  Could it be that rather than ‘stopping the violence’, Europe, the United States and the GCC are actually interested in intensifying and increasing it, regardless of the consequences for Syrian society, as long as it enables them to destroy the Assad regime, isolate Iran, and further their wider geopolitical interests in the region?

So many questions.  And maybe it’s better not to ask them.  Maybe it’s better to  just close your eyes and let that humanitarian rhetoric wash all over you and fill you with a warm glowing feeling.   And if it wasn’t for the fact that the stench of lies and hypocrisy was so overwhelming, maybe I could.



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About Me

I’m a writer, campaigner and journalist.  My latest book is The Savage Frontier: The Pyrenees in History and the Imagination (New Press/Hurst, 2018).  The Infernal Machine is where I write on politics, history, cinema and other things that interest me.

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