Monday 9 April 2018

The Grim Reality of Making Peace in Syria

There is a sickness at the heart of British politics. As readers know, there was an apparent mass casualty chemical weapons attack on Douma in Syria - another grim episode in a civil war showing few signs of petering out any time soon. Surely most political people spared a thought for the victims, before thinking about what to do next. According to Boris Johnson, reports of the attack should be investigated and on the basis of said investigation the perpetrators be held to account. Labour's statement says exactly the same thing, sans the ritual denunciation of Russia but holds out for concrete steps to be taken to restart peace talks. That seems quite sensible to me, but that's only if you're, you know, interested in finding a way out of this appalling conflict. Unfortunately, not everyone is of the same view.

Take the always ridiculous Sajid Javid, for example. He sees dying children, he sees Labour's press release, and he says it "could have been written by the Kremlin". Likewise, the media have taken the same tack - this HuffPo article chimes in, claiming Labour's position - which is the same as the government's position has been "widely condemned". The proof of the breadth of this condemnation was, um, Javid's tweet. It's almost as if "get Jeremy" has become the overriding cause of British politics, and no matter what the issue is it has to be spun to blame Corbyn. I bet even Johnson's congratulating the anti-immigrant and, yes, anti-semitic Viktor Orban, the re-elected Prime Minister of Hungary, is somehow Corbyn's fault. Absurd normally, but in Syria's case, to reduce a vile atrocity in a brutal civil war to Westminster knockabout is despicable.

Nevertheless, while not for one moment conceding ground to Tories and Labour's own B52 Bevanites, it's not difficult to understand the frustrations many people have about Syria. The country is a charnal house on the doorstep of Europe, periodically commanding the news with grisly war crimes and constantly, consistently supplying endless stories of misery that don't capture headlines and attention, but is nevertheless there. Every now and then up pops someone to remind us that not intervening in wars is not without costs, as if they're the only ones to have had this epiphany. Of course, Britain is not not involved already in Syria. Special forces are in the field, the UK set about bombing IS targets in Syria and Iraq with alacrity, and British drone attacks have been made against regime targets. There are also the arms it has sent to various opponents of Assad, not all of whom are secularists, let alone democracy-loving liberals. And it has not used its good offices to rein in Erdogan's Turkey, for whom the Syrian civil war is an opportunity to continue its filthy war against the Kurds. What then is the balance sheet of Britain's intervention so far? Has it made peace more likely, or exacerbated the conflict?

But let's take the interventionist objection head on. Yes, not engaging in full-on intervention has its costs. We see it everyday in the news reports. Yet what is the alternative? Had the West intervened Libya-style before the Russians got involved, Assad would not likely have lasted five minutes. But the long occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq cast their shadows over Western military action. And besides, had America, Britain and France bombed the regime into a richly deserved grave, the Islamist militias - including the black reaction of Islamic State would have benefited. Rather than having eastern parts of Syria under its control, it could have encompassed much more - including Damascus. Getting them out of Mosul and Raqqa wasn't an easy task, and having to deal with them in this scenario would have cost greater quantities of blood and treasure.

That was then, but now "punishing" the Assad regime means going up against its backers in Moscow who, for domestic political reasons, cannot be seen to back down. War with Russia is unlikely, but not impossible. The potential is there for a wider conflagration and the prospect of even more destruction and death. Though it is worth noting how despite repeated atrocities covered for by Russia, the British government remains strangely reticent about pursuing sanctions that would really bite the Putin government hard. Russia may be a vast country, have a large population, and a powerful military backed by nuclear weapons, but in economic terms it is roughly the size of Italy. That the Tories hardly countenance the damage this could cause and therefore the pressure it would exert, especially in conjunction with others, and their recent skirting around sanctions with regards to the Skripal affair, this begs the necessity for some very serious questions.

There is an alternative to squaring up against Russia or doing nothing. It's difficult, it would probably see some pretty loathsome people go unpunished, and will in all likelihood keep a murderous dictator in power. And that is the suggestion made at the end of Labour's press release, that instead of throwing our hands up or indulging sweaty 1980s Cold War fantasies the West starts thinking about what it can do to promote a peaceful, negotiated end. Not a temporary ceasefire here or there, but one recognising the realities of the conflict on the ground and the significant bar against escalated Western intervention. Like I said, it might taste like ashes in the mouth, but in the absence of any viable alternative course of action, what else can be done?


Strategist said...

Come on Phil. The security & foreign policy establishment of 'The West' does not want the Syrian civil war to end. That's why every time it is close to an end, something happens - something that kills innocent children. It's depraved - the behaviour of utter desperadoes. Our side. Our desperadoes. Time to call it out.

Anonymous said...

A peacefull negotiated end means dividing up Syria and creating jihadi statelets. Beter to let Assad and co. finish them off.

Anonymous said...

«War with Russia is unlikely, but not impossible.»

Quite amusingly so far the election of D Trump delayed that: one of the campaign commitments that Hillary Clinton made more enthusiastically was that as president she would immediately order the shooting down of any russian aircraft invading syrian airspace.
Compared to that the promise of D Trump to start the design of a wall with Mexico looks a lot better.

Blissex said...

«Special forces are in the field, ... and British drone attacks have been made»

According to Gavin Williamson, the MoD secretary of state, they have also been assassinating hundreds of UK citizens whom he (and his predecessor) have sentenced to death for being potential future criminals.

Blissex said...

«It's almost as if "get Jeremy" has become the overriding cause of British politics»

A wildly speculative conspiracy theory!
On such a moderate, respectable blog as this!
About the "legitimate concerns" of many unconnected people!

Blissex said...

«thinking about what it can do to promote a peaceful, negotiated end»

That's pure corbynista idealism: I can't imagine the neocons, likud, saudis giving permission to do that. For them the Syrian regime is a shia enemy/heresy and a russian ally to extirpate. Remember the invasion and bombing of Yugoslavia as the starting point.
For all its murderousness against political opponents however the baathist mafia has had however an important good side: being dominated by people from a minority shia sect (and being nominally secular) it has not persecuted in general religious minorities, only political opponents. Without the fanatical support of christian and other non-sunni communities it would have folded long ago, and they support the regime not because they love being ruled by a murderous baathist mafia, but because the alternative is being massacred like the yazidis.

Blissex said...

«but in economic terms it is roughly the size of Italy. [ ... ] this begs the necessity for some very serious questions.»

Domestic and especially foreign politics are usually about pretty simple, fundamental issues, even if the public debate is about endless red herrings.
In the russian case the key-words are Nordstream 2, "Trimarium" (including the persistent polish dream of the return of a Grand Duchy from the Baltic to the Black Sea) and all that is related to those key-words.
While Russia cannot afford to "project force", it has developed for decades formidable defensive forces that make a "humanitarian intervention" impossible, and it has a ruling class that like China's cannot be bought because it has a centuries old tradition of self-rule.
So "solutions" like the yugoslav one in the 1990s or installing a russian version of Poroshenko are not so easy, so the overall strategy seems to be encirclement and attrition, as with the USSR.

Blissex said...

«support of christian and other non-sunni communities»

This image found on the web, I dunno how typical or authentic it is, might suggest something about that (the details of who fights whom in the middle east are "it's complicated"...):

Blissex said...

«make a "humanitarian intervention"»

There is good precedent for that: the large english and allied armies that intervened in Russia and fought along the "white" forces post-1917.

«the overall strategy seems to be encirclement and attrition, as with the USSR.»

Which was the same strategy used by the english empire with the tsarist empire. Geopolitics and the "world island" strategic thinking are not recent inventions :-).

JGiftmacher said...

No one seems to specifically ask whether Syria is simply the vanguard for a return to proxy wars. As the diplomats ramp up the rhetoric it feels as though the outlet will be a return to cold war-like battles at arms length.

Nuking eachother feels far fetched, by using other nations to fight out ideological clashes feels quite possible. The challenge is to make a constructive case for peace now before we make all the same old mistakes all over again.

Anonymous said...

Syria isn't Shia!

George Carty said...

The Syrian regime is dominated by Alawites though, who are quasi-Shia.

Blissex said...

«Syria is simply the vanguard for a return to proxy wars»

Syria has been a proxy war for many years -- plus there are USA, UK, russian, iranian, israeli, turkish troops already within it.

«Syria isn't Shia!»

Syria has got minorities of pretty much every description, but its governing mafia is mostly alawite, which is considered heretical by many Shias, and considered Shia (and doubly heretical) by many Sunnis and by Likud and neocons, and allied to Shia Iran and Shia Hezbollah.
"It's complicated" in Syria even more than in the rest of the middle east (8 thousand years of invasions/migrations and prophets of every type can do that), but as far as neocon/likud/saudi are concerned the Syrian government is a piece of shia.

Blissex said...

«As the diplomats ramp up the rhetoric»

That too happened years ago. Perhaps it is easily forgotten, but a central promise made by Hillary Clinton was that as president she would order the USAF to shoot down all russian planes invading syrian airspace, and even Donald Trump called that crazy.

Blissex said...

«Nuking eachother feels far fetched»

Fortunately there are many sensible people in crucial places, but there are unfortunately a lot of nutters too, for example the USAF (including the missile forces) and the Republican Party have been reportedly infiltrated by "Dominionists", which is rather worrying.
Consider one of them, GW Bush, in this report:
«In 2003, Thomas Römer, a theology professor at the University of Lausanne [Switzerland], received a telephone call from the Elysée Palace [in Paris, home of the President of France]. Jacques Chirac’s advisers wanted to know more about Gog and Magog…. two mysterious names that had been spoken by George W. Bush as he was trying to persuade France to go to war at his side in Iraq.»
«Bush is said to have declared to Chirac that Gog and Magog were at work in the Middle East, and the Biblical Prophecies were being accomplished. It was a few weeks before the intervention in Iraq. The French president, to whom the names of Gog and Magog meant nothing, was stupefied.»

This is reported here directly by T Römer:

And was confirmed by J Chirac in a book-interview with JC Maurice:

Not everybody in the USA elites is as moderate and sensible as GW Bush, there are much weirder people.

Blissex said...

BTW as to "Dominionists" there are also Muslim dominionists, for example the ISIS nutters were very attached to the area of Dabiq, in Syria, and their party magazine was called "Dabiq". In the middle east "it's complicated" is the understatement not of century but of the myriad (past 10,000 years).

Blissex said...

OK guys too many comments already but we live in "interesting times" (about as "interesting" as before the turkish missile crisis in 196 2) and the "The Guardian" today published two amazing bits of news, the first is that the israeli Labour party have excommunicated J Corbyn (JEWDAS had already been excommunicated by the Board of Deputies for being anti-semitic "bundist" jews) because criticism not just of Israel but of the israeli government and in particular of Likud is anti-semitic:
«Gabbay said Corbyn had expressed "very public hatred of the policies of the government of the state of Israel, many of which regard the security of our citizens and actions of our soldiers - policies where the opposition and coalition in Israel are aligned"»

It is then official that any criticism of "mainstream" jewish policies is anti-semitic. The second is the claim that Likud and B Netanyahu have been dove-ish and left-ish corbynista peaceniks in their surrender to Russian and Iranian "aggression":
«The reality is that Israel - and Netanyahu in particular - has badly misread the trajectory of Russia's re-engagement in the Middle East, which has created in the very kindest interpretation the context for Iran's projection of its influence ever further west and ever closer to Israel's borders.»

Blissex said...

Things are really "amazing" as to the chemical "aggression" of Russia and Syria, I just saw on a blog a pointer to this:
«Early day motion 1071
Session: 2017-19
Date tabled: 14.03.2018
Primary sponsor: Woodcock, John
Sponsors: Streeting, Wes Creasy, Stella Doughty, Stephen Umunna, Chuka Coffey, Ann

That this House unequivocally accepts the Russian state's culpability for the poisoning of Yulia and Sergei Skripal in Salisbury using the illegal novichok nerve agent which has also led to the serious illness of Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey who went to their rescue, and to the possible poisoning of other members of the emergency services and public as yet unknown;»