Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Syria's bloodshed is the legacy of anti-Western isolationists

Children shot dead by snipers.

The stories out of Syria has resulted in growing pressure and concern from many countries, anxious that the "international community" is sitting by whilst Syria's government kills its own citizens, who simply want to be free.

None of this is a surprise to Syria watchers.  Hafez Assad established a brutal dictatorship when he took power, and showed little hesitancy in engaging in torture, summary executions and massacres of civilians to maintain his personality cult driven regime.  The Ba'athist regime established a feared secret police force and knew how quickly it could bully thousands of Syrians to turn out to maniacal rallies to boost the ego of this mediocre bullying pilot.  Like North Korea, he passed it on to his son, so Bashar Assad today has the dubious honour of leading one of the world's two hereditary non-monarchical dictatorships.

The Assad regime has always had warm relations with Russia and the Soviet Union before it.  Even today, Russia maintains a naval base in Syria (at Tartus) - the only non-CIS country to still have one.  Syria's armed forces are Soviet/Russian supplied overwhelmingly.   There is evidence of Syria having both chemical and biological weapons.

You'll notice a deafening silence about Syria from one usual set of protestors - the so-called "peace" movement, "anti-war" protestors and the usual group of anti-American, anti-Western supporters of any victims of Western military action.   You don't see them protesting outside Syrian embassies, you don't see rallies outside Russian embassies, or burning Russian flags.  You see no marches organised for the people of Syria.  Some of them may say that there is no "war".  I bet a few Syrians would disagree.

You see there is a war, it is worse than a trans-border war, because then there is someone to fight for you. This is a state turning on its citizens, turning on the people it exists to protect.  However, the so-called "peace movement" has never really cared about how states treat citizens, having had significant support from the Soviet Union.

You see for them Syria doesn't have the usual list of bogeymen behind it.  It was never supported by the US or any Western powers.  It hasn't had any military intervention from the West either.  It is led by a dictator who has a Marxist pedigree.  All awfully inconvenient when you want to pursue your world view that so much that is evil in the world emanates from foreign policy in Washington, London, Tel Aviv or Brussels (NATO).  

Of course the Assad clan have always been murdering their citizens.  It's not new.  Its willingness to invade Lebanon and run it as a client state has rarely achieved the opprobrium layered at Israel.  Syria, you see, has always been off the radar as it hasn't been led by anyone that has ever been supported by the West.  Not worth the effort protesting about from the point of view of the anti-Western protest movement.

Since the end of the Cold War, there have been interventions, for humanitarian purposes, in Bosnia, Kosovo, Somalia, Sierra Leone, Haiti and Libya.  The interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan had humanitarian outcomes, but were primarily motivated by the desire to remove aggressive dictatorships.

However, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have been costly, in money and lives, to those who participated.  It is inconceivable that any such actions would be repeated today.  The Libyan intervention only occurred because of determination by British and French governments to use air power alone to support the fall of Gaddafi, in part due to past guilt about the brief period of rapprochement that saw some appalling capitulations to that regime.

So "doing nothing" and certainly doing nothing unilaterally is consistent with the view of the leftwing so-called "peace movement".

President Obama opposed the war on Iraq and is keen to extricate the US from Afghanistan.  He is keen not to intervene in other countries, and indeed foreign policy has largely been left to the State Department.   European leaders gained little glory from Libya, and are far too solipsistic about their economic crisis to feel able to extend their power to Syria.   So attempts are made to use the UN Security Council to get consensus over sanctions - which of course will fail because Russia regards Syria, a country it taught to murder, monitor and maim, as an ally.

So anyone who sits by and gets angry and upset at why nobody does anything to protect Syrian civilians should take comfort - it is exactly the foreign policy of the radical left.  The Green parties in various countries, the backbone of the "Occupy" movement, the hard left of the Democratic Party of the USA, the so-called "peace" movement all support this strategy, as indeed does Republican Presidential contender, Ron Paul.  Governments should sit by and do nothing.

Does it mean that nothing should be done?  No.  Russia's support for the Assad regime is reprehensible and there should be loud and vocal protests against Russia and against Syria's government representatives elsewhere.  It should be legal for mercenaries to go to Syria and fight against the regime, but anti-mercenary legislation in New Zealand banned that.  You can thank the Greens and Labour for that.  The action against Syria should be privately led, by those who are willing to pay, supply or fight on behalf of opponents of the regime.

However, as despicable as the Assad regime is, I would not agree on an intervention by NATO or other forces without a clear strategy to replace his regime.  There is no appetite to do that.

Regardless, the conflict in Syria today has many dimensions.  It is Shi'ite vs Shi'a, Islamists vs secularists and Christians, it is a potential mess.  It is difficult to see how any intervention beyond economic sanctions and supporting any secularist opposition, and supporting broadcasts towards the country, could be useful without exacerbating the situation.

So while you witness the Assad hereditary dictatorship mow down men, women and children, and get upset about it, remember those who remained silent throughout the life of this murderous family's rule of Syria.  Note those who loudly proclaimed for the people of Iraq, after US intervention, but remain silent today.  Note those same people supported stopping you or anyone being mercenaries to fight for the opposition in Syria.  Note that they would, if consistent, loudly reject any measures by foreign governments to stop the Syrian government.

As Syrians fight to be free, note those supporting the government that oppresses them.  For they are based in Moscow and Tehran.  Given governments wont act without a UN Security Council resolution (which wont come because Moscow will veto it), you will see what happens when a state turns on its citizens and nobody provides those citizens with a means to retaliate.

The only moral response is for those, who know what they are doing, to conscientiously support forces of freedom, secularism and who oppose sectarianism in Syria against Assad.

There is no simple solution to Syria.  It might be that the previously inert Arab League may be able to exercise extraordinary pressure on Assad to step down and establish a transition to a new regime.   However, in the meantime more lives will be lost.    That is the price paid by people who face down a 40 year old Marxist personality cult laden dictatorship in an environment where no government dare try or even know how to use force to protect them.

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