Sunday, 25 August 2013

Talking about Syria

Yesterday, Saturday 24 August, which is still summer vacation time, in Europe most people are still at the beach, here in Canada people are also on vacation, thinking of other things and not looking at the ''hard'' news, we could read in the local paper that Stevie Harper was talking with Cameron of Britain and Hollande of France about Syria. I wonder what did the conversation sound like given that all 3 men have different agendas politically in 3 very different countries. Where they responding to the grumblings in the Obama White House? The US Government is itching for a fight with Russia after the Snowden affair, tempest in a tea pot perhaps?

Last week there were reports that a poison gas attack had taken place in Syria and that scores of people were dead and even more injured. Capitals were assessing if any of it was true. Suddenly French reporters started to present in their news stories detailed reports of poison gas attacks describing the symptoms of victims. None of these reporters where on site, no, they instead picked-up the detailed accounts from gossip heard on the Internet and pieced it all together. Allegations that 2 French reporters brought back samples, really? A bit like your Aunt Maud hanging the wash and hearing neighbourhood gossip over the clothes line.

Syria on Sunday agreed to having UN inspectors look at the alleged site of the attack, the White House says ''It is too late'', an almost Bush Era like response. So we will never know if there was or not a poison gas attack. Does it matter, the goal appears to be to get rid of Assad and give a blow to Hezbollah and Iran. I would counsel patience, let the UN team do its work and if it is demonstrated that poison gas was used then decide what to do. But before doing anything think of the consequences and what might happen next. Public Opinion is not pushing for a quick solution.

Again the media in general is more than happy to trumpet whatever the politicians will claim to be the reason for this attack. In the past 20 years the following reasons where given, #1 must eliminate weapons of mass destruction, #2 bring democracy to the region, #3 bring prosperity to the region, #4 educate girls (boys are never mentioned, they apparently do not deserve education), #5 Uphold human rights, #6 win minds and hearts, #7 Defending our National Interests.

I remember after the First Gulf War (1991) when Iraq under Saddam Hussein was forced to retreat and leave Kuwait, the Media announced that the USA had brought democracy to Kuwait because Kuwaitis loved Fast Food and Shopping malls, they were just like us, they want to breathe Freedom.

Of course Freedom, Democracy, Promotion of Western Feminist ideals and Education for girls are all good popular ideals to throw into the debate, the public can see that the goals are noble. We do not need to ask ourselves hard questions or understand that we are dealing with societies unlike ours and societies that are evolving under very different circumstances and a history very different from ours. In other words, we have little in common. What we want for them is not what they want, we did not ask them, we simply imposed our views on them. More and more it smacks of New Colonialism disguised under new words, slogans, colours and banners but is in fact the same old story. Colonialism did not die in 1960, it simply went into a slumber like Sleeping Beauty.

Intervention in Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan, Libya and now possibly Syria did not change anything to the lives of the people of those countries, it only made things worse, much worse.

Intervention in Syria is not to help Syrians, it is about getting back at Iran and it's proxy army Hezbollah. Many of whom are Canadian Citizens with families in the Greater Toronto Area, thanks to our blind and generous immigration policies. It is also to make a point with Russia's Putin, Syria has always been a pawn in Cold War Politics and it remains a pawn to this day. It's a cynical game between Russia and the USA. France also has a stake in the region as it sees Lebanon and Syria as old colonies. But France has been kept on the sidelines in the Middle-East by the USA and this creates a lot of friction between France and the USA.
The French are still trying to position themselves in this game. Let's not forget how in Iraq, France tried and failed to protect its Oil contracts with Saddam and how they sheltered for years in France the Ayatollah Khomeini going so far as to fly him on a special Air France flight to Iran in 1979. Britain also has an role or a hand in all this since Ottoman times. In such disputes the UK are the strong ally of the USA.

What I do not understand here is the involvement of Canadian PM Harper in this debate. A man who has repeatedly shown how little he understands in World Affairs, is he even interested beyond the photo-op? Canada has never had anything more than a small role in the Middle-East and in terms of Foreign Policy we have been fence sitters, refusing to take sides until recently when Prime Minister Harper decided that we would change course and put ourselves squarely behind Israël and support wholeheartedly Prime Minister Netenyahu, come Hell or High Water.

Again in what way does this enhance our Canadian National Interests is not clear. It does enhance the political profile of Mr. Harper and partisan politics is what he is all about. Canada did very well in Afghanistan and we did make an important contribution, what will be the lasting legacy of that intervention is uncertain at best. It is for the Afghani people to decide what they want for their future. It is clear though that we did not need to get involved, it was not a peace keeping mission as initially explained by Mr. Harper. We were not involved in Iraq our Prime Minister then, Jean Chretien refusing to go along with the USA.

In Libya, Canada was the master of the skies, our Air Force was stationed in Trapani, Sicily, again we did very well, though the final goal beyond getting rid of the troublesome Qaddafi and company was not clear. No one, who is knowledgeable about the ground situation in Libya expected democracy to blossom. The Libyans would be grateful we were told, really? The public had to be told that we were pursuing a peaceful and democratic solution in Libya. However politicians have used this excuse so often that very few still believe that our goals are noble, its all about power politics and influence, the public has become increasingly cynical of what politicians have to say.

I do not see Canadians in favour of our involvement in Syria, an involvement which would complicate our clouded Foreign Policy. Harper will have to explain how involving our armed forces or more likely our Air Force in Syria which is an expensive enterprise in difficult fiscal times as the Prime Minister likes to say, would be of any benefit. We are well on our way in 2013 in creating a new budget deficit larger than last year while our PM is trying to tell us that he is desperately trying to balance the books which he has not done in 8 years in power. What would we gain from such an intervention. I could see pandering to the Lebanese-Syrian Community in Canada and to the Iranian diaspora in a cynical political game for votes, beyond that not much.

We have to accept that trying to re-arrange the world order by massive military intervention is not a solution. Some conflicts no matter how horrible and devastating in far away lands are none of our business. The idea that we have an international obligation to intervene is bunk. Sometimes conflicts exist for reasons beyond our understanding and I would advocate in such case the Chinese approach, not to meddle in the internal affairs of other countries, especially when it does not threaten our Sovereignty and or our vital National Interests.



  1. I can't agree with everything you write here. Every avenue has been pursued for two years; Russia and China have blocked every diplomatic move. Is a line crossed with what is beyond dispute a chemical-weapons attack? Well, I still shudder to think of 'intervention' and the possible implications for a Third World War. But I don't think Obama and Cameron are being bullish on this. Damned either way.

    One thing's for sure: the BBC newsreading public cares much more about whether some pop star I've never heard of crossed the lewd line on telly or not.

    1. The situation in Syria is most complicated and very unlike any other we have see in the Arab World. Any strike is one against Iran and Hezbollah who are supporting the regime in Syria. I do not see what such strikes will achieve, in Damascus most military installations are in residential neighbourhoods, so a strike will kill even more civilians. Then what do we do afterwards, does the war go on? More atrocities and politicians saying that they did try to stop Assad. Strikes will also send Syrians streaming even more for the border, either Turkey, Iraq or Jordan with all the instability that will bring to those countries especially Jordan. We are still waiting to hear from the UN Team if there was a chemical attack, we do not know. If there was who is responsible? I simply do not believe that a massive show of force is THE solution to all conflicts. There is no real commitment from the West to help Syria, it's all talk. What if Russia uses this conflict to create a new Cold War? Syria is not Libya or Yemen or Afghanistan. So yes there needs to be a response but a diplomatic one over a military one. Sometimes there are limits to what we can do regardless of the horror of a situation. As for the public, Syria is very far from the public's mind. Sure the Press will agitate about the children, but that is so cynical. In the end the Pop Star will win out. Very sad.

  2. I admire how you keep up on the news, and have a keen eye and level head to get past the hype to sensible conclusions.

    1. It's a region I know well and have lived in for 8 years during my career.