Wednesday 2 September 2015

Could Bombing Have Averted the Syrian Refugee Crisis?

Just a few of points by way of counterfactual theorising in response to James Bloodworth's piece in the International Business Times about Syria and the decision not to go to war.

James's chief contention is that had the Commons voted to bomb Assad and his regime this time two years ago, the appalling refugee crisis and the tidal wave of suffering it unleashed might well have been averted. It very might well have not, either. As it happens, I think opposing the war was the right thing and adds to Ed Miliband's credentials as one of the most effective opposition leaders never to have won an election. But that was no triumph. Not intervening against Assad didn't mean endorsing his crimes and utter disregard for the devastation the regime is prepared to wreak to prevent its toppling, but one cannot simply sweep wash one's hands of it. It was clear back then that 'doing nothing' had consequences, and those were likely to be many more tens of thousands of deaths. The heartrending scenes from the Mediterranean today were always foreseeable.

While some opposition to bombing Syria might have been motivated by callous disregard for the fates of others and/or little Englandism - which has always been UKIP's position, incidentally - the only really credible defence for those opposed was the supposition that the consequences of bombing and overthrowing the Assad regime would have been even worse. Yes, Assad has killed a great many more than his opponents. The prisons and torture chambers at his disposal remain busy as the civil war grinds on. However, had US and UK warplanes attacked his regime, crippled its military capability, and seen it swept aside by the ground forces of its enemies, in all likelihood the vacuum would have been filled by Islamic State. The chemical and biological arms Assad has would have become their chemical and biological weapons. With the Syrian regime gone, there's little doubt a new wave of terror would have swept the land. The other factions in the civil war - the other Islamists, what ever is left of the FSA, the Kurds in the North, IS will have had a freer hand to deal with them. Its invasion of Iraq could have reached further. Lebanon might well have been threatened. In a weird turn of fate, Hezbollah and Israel might have shared a common enemy. And thanks to the "prestige" of its victory and larger, more porous borders; even more foreign fighters may have made their way to IS territory via Jordan.

It's very difficult to see how this scenario could not have come to pass. The injection of large numbers of US and UK troops might have brought about an Afghanistan/Iraq-style "solution" with all the anti-insurgency actions and casualties that would have entailed, but IS would have been locked out. However, as we know neither the public nor for that matter the political and military elites were taken with such a scenario. Perhaps timing could have made a difference. Had the bombs fallen on Damascus earlier today's crisis might have been avoided. Possibly, but as the last foray into Libya showed early intervention is no guarantee of success. If the bombs had landed in support of the 2011 uprisings, what has befallen Tripoli, Benghazi, etc. could be a window into the road not taken in Syria. That, however, was never on the table.

One cannot never know for certain, but thinking through counterfactuals has to weigh up possibilities. In this case, looking at the factors on the ground now, the balance of forces in play two years ago, and on the basis of past histories of Western intervention and its consequences, what we have now - as appalling as it is - is likely to be the lesser evil of all possible horrendous worlds. The thorny question is what can be done about it now and, apart from taking the refugees, the answer is not a lot.


kellie said...

More killed in three years in Syria than ten in Iraq – that’s your lesser evil.

The FSA fighting both Assad and ISIS while Assad’s air force actively enables the advance of ISIS by bombing the FSA and leaving ISIS alone – that’s your lesser evil.

Libya, with all the disasters that it has suffered, finds dead Syrian children on its beaches, not Libyan ones – that’s your lesser evil.

Phil said...

Do you really think the situation would have been better in the scenario most likely had the bombs fallen? You think the civil war would have ended? The people would have stayed at home? That Lebanon, Israel, and Jordan not have been threatened by IS? Think it through properly for a moment, and then come back to me if you think being IS's airforce would have been a good idea.

Anonymous said...

The bombing of the Alawites would have been the end game of Western attempts at regime change in Syria. The West wanted the FSA to take over but shortly after they began to get cold feet about Isil/IS. The problem is the West won't accept responsibility for this mess.

kellie said...

I have been thinking it through for a very long time Phil.
I have been following it closely, much more closely than you, obviously.

Assad backed the precursor of ISIS, Al Qaeda in Iraq when they were bombing Iraqi marketplaces.
Assad released jihadists as he rounded up civil society activists.
And you think Syria is better off with Assad.

Assad has not been actively fighting ISIS for most of the conflict.
The FSA has fought and beaten ISIS repeatedly despite facing Assad at the same time.
And you think Syria is better off with Assad.

Phil, you can’t intelligently speculate about an alternative outcome when you don’t even understand the basic facts of the actually existing one.
You don’t even know the basics.

I’m stopping now.

BCFG said...

Aside from the economic factors, the conflict in Syria is a spill over from the conflict in Iraq, brought about by the illegal war in Iraq. This war created ethnic and sectarian division and created the conditions for the current crisis in that part of the world. The bombing of Libya then compounded the problem. The only principled position here is one of anti imperialism. It was, after all, the anti imperialists who said the Iraq war would not only set the region on fire but would also come back to bite Europe, in that when you go to war abroad you create racism at home.

So the very aptly named James Bloodworth’s war mongering is the very basis of the problem now affecting the Middle East. James forgets that there has also been a huge increase in refugees crossing from Libya and Iraq! James Bloodworth is indulging in the worst kind of war mongering, I would call it about as war mongering extremis, i.e. war mongering in the name of saving refugees.

Bloodworth is also imaging that if we had bombed Assad peace would have bloomed in Syria, what is the basis of this belief? If we had got rid of the Assad regime who would have filled the vacuum? Why would that have stopped the slaughter? The likelihood is that the carnage would have been even worse than we are seeing now!

There is ample evidence that shows the West have been fanning the flames in Syria, what Bloodworth should be arguing is that if the West hadn’t intervened this situation would never have got out of control in the way it did. US imperialism only knows one way, carnage and mayhem, this is the problem.

Bloodworth is using the plight of migrants not only to re-write history in a way that frees his war mongering of any guilt but also to carry on war mongering and to justify war mongering. It was the same tactic they used in Iraq and Libya.

We should be focussed on highlighting the wretched racism of this government and our total lack of taking responsibility for this crisis and our total lack of effort in helping these people. We should be pointing out how this wretched government pushed for a drowning strategy in the Med, a strategy that argued if we don’t save them from drowning they will stop coming!

The richest part of the world has proved to be barbaric and James Bloodworth is a spokesman for that barbarity. Some things never change!

We can illustrate how sick kellie is by reading the following articles reporting the deaths of Libyan refugees. The first article has quotes from Libyans explain how they were forced to flee Libya after the imperialist war

kellie says there are no dead Libyans! How sick is this person? It should be noted that there has not only been an explosion in refugees fleeing Libya but also other sub Saharan countries. Kellie doesn’t care about those dead refugees because they don’t fit the war mongering narrative he/she is pushing.

The more these war mongers speak the more they show their utter barbarity.

Robert said...

An army like the Syrian one does not fight for that long, and in such a brutal conflict unless it is fighting for far more than one man, dictator or not. And God knows what they think about Assad, the Baath Party, the regimes' various Mukhabarats or any other political issues. Just as the Russians fought the Nazis not out of any great love for Stalin (though some certainly did feel that too) but for their country. What began as a counter insurgency operation has turned into a war of national liberation against all the Wahabi/Salafi/Takfiri foreigners who are trying to destroy the Syrian society.

Unknown said...

You mention in the article about the camps and prisons of torture, I have asked my Syrian friends and they have been unable to confirm this assertion. Please provide link or further intelligence so that I can read for myself the reports. We would appreciate any supporting documentation. Many thanks in anticipation.

Unknown said...

The FSA are the al Qaeda and jihadists that have with the help of the wahabbist extremist IS been doing most of the killing of Syrian peoples. These were the terrorists the US backed. The FSA is also backed by the Chechnyan thugs that were also deployed to defeat the Syrian Arab Army. There are several independent news sources that are following events in Iraq and Syria - Al Jazeera is not one of them (independent) and hasn't been for some time. The Syrian Human Rights Organisation, similarly has been exposed for the propagandist organisation that it really was, leaving behind their weapons including toxins and illegal artillery/chemical weapons under their HQ.

Unknown said...

The US hope in destabilizing Assad's regime, was that they could grab some of the land after divvying it up among Israel and Saudi and stop the southern Russian pipeline after it left the Hungarian T-joint. It is also the reason why the US deployed their savage Chechen thugs to destabilize the corner of Serbia where it joins Hungary and why they bought up 15% of the Armenian cascade energy company. The US will not tolerate "spheres of influence" to quote Hillary Clinton's words when addressing the beleaguered Ossetians on her 5 Country tour of 2010, except their own. China and Russia with the aid of Iran will still try to complete the Silk Road vision as long as Recep Erdogan can get his sticky fingers on some of it. Needless to say, the US backed Erdogan's opposition in a bid to halt the pipelines southern march to China through Turkey, on the condition that they also oppose the pipeline. Certain trolls might offer other "facts" but they are to be taken with a pinch of salt.

Speedy said...

Sadly there is credence to the "pipeline" theory, hence why Putin has acknowledged direct Russian aid to Syria. I read an interview with him the other day in which his analysis was spot on re Western errors in the ME leading to the refugee crisis. It says much for how truly abysmal Western "leadership" has been when the Russian president, no friend to democracy, is the voice of reason.

It is not just a case of to bomb or not to bomb. Even without bombs Western aid has poured in covertly to assist "our" Islamists, while the Kurds have not received the help they merit so as not to piss off the Turks. The Turks and Gulf Arabs meanwhile have been massive
Y supporting "anyone but Assad" since the conflict began. While this might not mean directly backing IS, it has largely meant not getting in the way. And the U.S. Is little better: one of Asad's commanders complained that the U.S.must have known about the build up before Palmyra but did nothing - why? Because it was against Assad.

IS is here to stay because it serves so many interests: it is the vanguard for the Sunni-Shia war backed by the Sunni nations from Turkey to Saudi (which has taken no refugees, incidentally). It serves the interests of Assad, Iran and even the Israelis by showcasing Sunni atrocities. And IS suits itself, by which I mean, psycopathic though it may be, it wants to survive and will not launch decisive attacks on the West (by which I mean attacks that will oblige the West to decisively intervene).

It was not a mistake not to bomb, but it was a profound mistake being involved at all. The Syrian people on the whole were much happier under Assad, as all the independently conducted polls indicated. Iraq taught us nothing.

Igor Belanov said...

I might differ with Speedy on the issue of Corbyn, but I can't argue with his analysis of the Middle East there.

Dean said...

I think another disastrous aspect of Western policy is the complete side-lining of the United nations , itself an indication that Western policy has been designed specifically with Western interests in mind. Of course the apologists of Western policy will always present this policy as being in the interests of humanity. I doubt anyone listens to their tosh any more.

The side-lining of the UN has led to a wild West world, the US and the UK showed the rest of the world that gangsterism rather than the rule of law was the way forward.

We now live with the consequences.

We need a campaign for a stronger United Nations, let all nations give up their core armies and defence budgets to the UN. Let the UN charter be strengthened, let the UN be reformed and let the international criminal courts have teeth.

These demands will soon highlight who the rogue nations really are!