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Tuesday, December 02, 2014 

Syria: morals, and the lack thereof.

It's testament both to the scale of the disaster that has befallen Syria and the perseverance of the rebels' supporters in the West that even now, when by (conservative) estimate over 100,000 people have been killed and 2 million have fled, we're still getting fed stylised propaganda about the heroism of those on the ground.  Martin Chulov's piece in the Graun on Umm Abdu, the doctor who has a "steel pistol she holsters to her back", and who has used weapons and then "treated the people who were injured", is a great story, as the best propaganda always is.  It could be utter piffle, and it presents just the one side of the conflict, but that doesn't alter how compelling her bravery is, nor her determination to help those around her who are suffering.

Syria appears a unique case where all of the antagonists have failed in their aims, and where all bear some responsibility for the unending nightmare the civil war has cast so many into.  That is until you remember Iraq, where imperial hubris combined with the most base incompetence conspired to in part bring us here.  Had the Iraq war never taken place we can't say Syria would have been spared the full horror it has descended into, yet it's arguable there wouldn't have been quite so many on the rebel side completely opposed to any kind of accommodation with the Assad government, or indeed quite so brutal in their methods.  Ironically or more accurately, tragically, Assad for a long time played a role akin to Turkey's, allowing jihadis and foreign fighters to cross the border with impunity.  Some of those same muhajids have undoubtedly returned and made use of their acquired knowledge against their one time facilitator.

With the sole exception of Tunisia, where the Arab spring begun and was the most "free" society to begin with, all the various revolutions or uprisings have either been countered or collapsed into repression or worse.  Egypt has the worst of all worlds: the Mubarak state is back without the economic growth that underpinned it; Libya's own civil war continues while Benghazi, the city we sent the bombers in to "save" is under the control of a group allied with Islamic State; Bahrain's opposition movement has been comprehensively smashed without so much as a peep from ourselves; and when it comes to Syria, hell doesn't properly describe a country where beheadings, crucifixions and barrel bombings are the new normal.

Sadly, as has always been the case and will always remain, while money can be found to kill people whatever the circumstances, finding it to feed people never has quite the same priority.  You might have thought politicians would feel a certain sense of shame at how the UN reports it will have to suspend the voucher scheme it operates for Syrian refugees should the funding promised not materialise, considering how some of them have spent three years either providing "non-lethal" or very much lethal aid to the rebels, oddly in the case of ourselves and most of the coalition put together against Islamic State also without accepting our fair share of asylum seekers.  If they do, and some of them surely must have some compunction over how their policies on Syria have contributed to the situation, then so far they're hiding it.

Then again, to return to those still hankering after yet more war, the hypocrisy or sheer pigheadedness still has the power to shock.  For months the "moderate" rebels and some of the normally more credulous journalists have insisted there was either agreement between the Assad government and Islamic State or an unofficial pact whereby one side didn't attack the other.  It was always nonsense, Assad paying IS for oil as the Kurds also have aside.  When Assad does then bomb Islamic State targets, as the regime has over the past week in Raqqa, the exact same people cry over the "collateral damage", as the US would call it.  According to sources on the ground, we're meant to believe that while the US airstrikes against IS have been pinpoint, rarely killing civilians, the attacks by the regime have been anything but.  Indeed, last week State Department spokesman Jen Psaki declared the administration "horrified" at the "continued slaughter", in comments that frankly take the breath away.  Meanwhile over at Left Foot Forward, where anyone can seemingly get their bizarre opinions hosted so long as they're pro-bombing, Kellie Strom believes the failure to impose a no-fly zone at the same time as "degrading" IS is all down to appeasing Iran, and the potential deal on their nuclear programme.

This would of course be the same Iran it's rumoured the US is pressuring over the nuclear programme via Saudia Arabia and the collapse in the price of oil.  While some of the fall can be put down to the shale oil boom in the US, the continuing instability in the region would normally have the effect of pushing the price up, not down.  Equally strange is the other stated reason, that the US fears the Iranian-backed militias could attack US forces in Iraq, despite the numbers of US forces in the country remaining negligible and those militias keeping themselves busy wreaking much the same havoc IS has been.

Far more sensible is the explanation that, just as we've done from the beginning, ourselves and the Americans are still making it up as we go along.  This non-alliance with Assad is happening because of realpolitik: we spent the best part of 2 years sort-of and sort-of not arming the rebels, imagining they would quickly do away with the regime.  Instead what happened is the extremists quickly took over, thanks mainly to our pals in Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and a terrifyingly violent stalemate is the result.  As the "moderate" rebels either don't exist or are next to non-existent in the militarily capable sense, not doing anything to rile Assad when his forces will be the ones fighting IS on the ground is the best option; whether it is morally is a different question.  But then, as we've noted, morals have never exactly been at the forefront of our concerns for a very long time now.

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