Friday, 6 September 2013

Syria : Some Thoughts and Questions

Saying anything original about the Syrian crisis is difficult. So much has been said already, and the last word will not be said, unfortunately, for many years to come. The situation is developing (I wish I could say improving) even as I type, and my observations will be out of date in a very short space of time. Nevertheless, I do have some questions and thoughts on this evolving tragedy, and hope they remain relevant.
My first question relates to the recent horrific chemical attack in Damascus which, as we know, killed 1,400 people. We have witnessed a very rare rebellion on this issue in the House of Commons, which has put paid (supposedly) to any British military involvement in the promised US-led "punishment strikes" against the Assad regime. President Obama, who always said that proven use of chemical weapons would result in military action, has still not managed to put together enough international (or domestic) support to launch any punitive measures. This farcical state of affairs has given President Assad time to move his troops and weapons into civilian areas and, presumably, his chemical weapons into secret locations. Quite what any air or missile strike would hit now is anyone's guess. My question, though, is this: 100, 000 people have died in Syria so far, and no action has been taken. In which case, then, if the 1400 unfortunates slain by Sarin gas had been shot instead, would there still have been a House of Commons debate or any talk of action by the United States?
Next, I would like to know why we are not hearing more about the crimes of the supposed "good guys" - the Syrian rebels. Our media reports, accurately enough, that there is a strong Al-Qaeda presence among the rebels ("Al-Nusra"), but we hear very little about their victims. One of the main targets for this group, as has been seen in Iraq, is the Christian population, who are fleeing Syria in huge numbers. Both sides are committing war crimes, but the reporting of rebel misdeeds is somewhat subdued. I know that there is a difference between the violence of the oppressed and that of the oppressor, but that distinction becomes blurred as we look more closely at both sides in this conflict. The whole situation shows signs of becoming a Sunni versus Shia battle, with Rebels + Al-Nusra + Saudi Arabia on one side and Assad + Iran (our dear friends again, folks!) + Hezbollah on the other. In other words, this could become a religious war. Let's hope I'm wrong, as such a war would have a worldwide impact, and would not remain within Syria's borders.
Next, I'd like to make an observation on the supposed military inaction by western countries, especially the USA and Britain. This is of particular relevance in light of the recent House of Commons vote and the firm declaration of "no boots on the ground" by British and American politicians. If the USA and Britain were looking to launch air and missile strikes, they would need to have trained "spotters" on the ground in Syria itself. These spotters are necessary, in order to ensure accurate hits on chosen targets, and to avoid the disastrous mistakes made in the Balkans and Iraq by so-called "Smart" weapons. Now, these spotters could be trained rebel personnel, but are more likely to be experts from British, American and French special forces (serving or retired), who have a proven history of working covertly in the world's troublespots. In other words, there is probably a Western military presence already.
Lastly, I recently saw a photograph in "The Independent" of an elderly Syrian man, gazing on the ruins of his village after a government bombing raid. His face was a mask of utter despair, like that of so many Syrian victims in this obscene conflict. His story was typical of so many others as well; most of his family had been killed by one side or another. I wonder: would anyone like to explain to him (and all the others) why the rest of the world stood by and argued among themselves while his life was devastated?
Any volunteers?


  1. One of the worst reactions to a terrible situation is, "We must do something", when there is no obvious right thing to do. The emotional response that "anything is better than nothing" is clearly dangerous as it almost invariably leads to a headlong rush to do the wrong thing. Then, having become embroiled, we cannot disentangle ourselves until we can claim some kind of result. This is why we remain in Afghanistan despite there being no firm evidence that we are doing any good at all: to withdraw our troops without being able to claim some sort of victory will lead to accusations that all our servicemen and women who have died or been injured there were sacrificed for nothing. Of course, that is precisely what has happened, but no government can admit it, so we do the equivalent of throwing good money after bad, only with human lives.

    I'd have no idea what to say to your old man. I do hold the view that our interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya led the Syrian rebels to the erroneous conclusion that the West would support them too. If I'm right, then we are partly responsible for what is happening there now. You have pointed out the extreme complexities of the situation, but your final sentence seems to imply that we should have become involved. There is evidence that the rebels have committed atrocities and war crimes; are you suggesting we should support them regardless?

    I don't want British troops in Syria; if they do go in, there's a very good chance they'll still be there in 2023, with the situation not much improved, if at all.

    1. No, I wasn't advocating supporting the rebels, and, as I said, it's my belief that some British troops are there already. I was just feeling sorry for a sad old man who lives in "... a far-away country ... of whom we know nothing."