Nick Cohen's Deceptive Portrayal of Western Intentions in Call for Intervention in Syria
Nick Cohen, writing in the Observer on 10 June, demands that the 'guilt ridden' leaders of the Liberal West shake off the hangover of the Bush-Blair years and press reset, a reset on the facade of Barack Obama's mission to forge dialogue with Iran, with Russia, to offer a hand instead of a fist. Cohen is indignant at Russian intransigence in the face of the civil war in Syria, seeing Western failure to force peace as a result of the public relations fiasco Western 'benevolence' has experienced in recent times, the grand strategy of democracy promotion exposed for what it was: geo-strategic designs on securing open market access to the energy resources of the Middle East and Central Asia. It seems what the West is lacking is the messianic self-confidence of a Bush or a Blair, to bring Russia into line.
Cohen's nerve is remarkable given not only the near and distant past, but also the present. Russia has a specific strategic interest in Syria, and states – despite the fantasies of Cohen and his faux-left Blairite colleagues – act in their strategic interests. This is not controversial. The US also has substantial strategic interests that surround Syria (and Iran), including military installations in Bahrain, Iraq, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. All but one of these states have atrocious human rights records. The Uzbek state was reported by former UK ambassador Craig Murray to have boiled dissidents alive in the past.
In Iraq, governed by dictator Nouri Al Malaki, torture is widespread and after nearly a decade of often government sponsored atrocities at the hands of Shi'a death squads (the notorious Badr Brigades) none have been brought to justice. It is worth comparing the reporting on Syria with that on Iraq in the 2005-07 period, for there were massacres of a similar character on a regular basis at this time. In the press currently – even when it is increasingly obvious that not only is there very little reliable information emerging from Syria, but that even western Journalists are increasingly sceptical - there is still an editorial line that flies in the face of any basic standard of reporting.
Despite having had his faith in the black and white nature of the civil war in Syria shaken by the attempt of the Free Syrian Army (though such a label is probably arbitrary) to garner some international support in his death, Alex Thompson of Channel 4 News is still certain of the Assad regime's ultimate culpability in the throat slitting and executions of civilians at Houla, something that neither the UN observer mission nor European media outlets continue to maintain unanimously. There are reports that the victims at Houla were not all Sunni, it is possible many were Alawi, and that the motivation for their murder was more localized and personal. John Rosenthal quotes a FAZ (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung) report:
Over 90% of Houla's population are Sunnis. Several dozen members of a family were slaughtered, which had converted from Sunni to Shia Islam. Members of the Shomaliya, an Alawi family, were also killed, as was the family of a Sunni member of the Syrian parliament who is regarded as a collaborator.
This is not surprising, for all civil conflict brings out such a character in societies, as expertly discussed by Stathis Kalyvas in his extensive work on the subject. Kalyvas notes of the Algerian civil war in the 1990s that such massacres were carried out by the FIS (Armed Islamic Group) as a means to mobilize local communities against the regime. Much was the same in Iraq, where atrocity ranged from the highly personal to the ideological, to local power struggles or the enterprise of criminals.
There was very little definitive proclamation in Iraq at the time as to who was responsible for what. Despite the descent into chaos, there were far more journalists present to investigate – often with military protection – than there are currently in Syria, yet the arguments presented in the BBC, The Guardian and The Independent for the most part proclaim definitive proof, even if with later corrections and provisos.
There is little doubt that the Syrian government has killed many civilians, as there is also little doubt that the various factions of opposition have done the same. This is how destabilization and civil conflict works. In the early days of 2011 there was a degree of genuine grassroots support for change in Syria and the Assad regime was not interested in seriously initiating such change (when it comes to a fundamental questioning of any regime's authority there is always violence of one kind or another). There was repression, but groups who sought to sow further chaos and disorder – whatever their motivation – have been active from very early on. They have been armed and they have been more than willing to bring reprisals to the civilian population in order to achieve their aims. This is a common practice in some insurgencies. (The Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka were experts in this regard.) Yet in very similar circumstances (take the actions of the PLO in the Lebanese Civil war for example) the press have been more than willing to call out such deliberate drawing of state repression onto civilians when the agents in question were designated enemies (as were those in the Tigers and the PLO). In the case of the FSA, there seems little willingness as yet to treat them and the Assad regime with the same rhetorical force.
The FSA are being armed by Saudi Arabia and Qatar, whose near exclusive source of arms is the West, in particular the UK and US. Russia has armed and will no doubt continue to arm its Syrian ally, but the UK and the US continue to do the same in Bahrain. Private Eye notes that the Foreign Office okayed the export of such items of public order enforcement as: 'small arms ammunition, gun silencers and parts for pistols and sniper rifles'1. This rank hypocrisy is for the most part ignored. Russia is the designated diplomatic enemy, but it is acting just as the US and its allies always have and continue to today.
1. Private Eye No. 1314. 18-31 May 2012
|Categories in which this article appears: Syria | War | Middle East | The Guardian ||
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