Monday, October 21, 2013

Nobel winners

The peace process swings into action. Talks may or may not begin in Geneva as Assad and Putin become partners for peace. The chemical weapons inspectors are doing sterling work in dismantling Syria's stockpile of weaponry. We can relax, sit back with our copy of the Guardian and feel satisfied that we have stopped any precipitate forceful intervention now that progress is being made towards a settlement.

And the people of Ghouta must be so relieved that the threat of chemical attack has been lifted and that, instead, they are merely being slowly, systematically and deliberately starved to death.

It is always the children who die first, with protruding ribs and swollen bellies, their eyes seemingly too large for their skulls. If you can bear to read them, there are distressing reports here and, even more passionately, here. There is a cogent condemnation of western inaction here.

What to do? Up to now the west has stood aside whilst grotesque crimes against humanity were committed, setting their non-intervention up against the active support for Assad from Russia and Iran. The lack of help for the opposition has made space for murderous jihadi loons recruited from international networks, much to the horror of ordinary Syrians. The chemical attack on Ghouta changed all that. Now there is a diplomatic process that has given Assad some respectability, bought him time and deprives him of his chemical arsenal whilst allowing him to use any other weapon at his disposal to continue the slaughter. And it is not just the killing, millions have been displaced into inadequate camps as winter sets in. This is a major humanitarian catastrophe. Which policy is the worse?

And Syrians are angry.  Razan Zaitouneh writes:
Syrians will not forget that the international community forced the regime to dismantle its chemical weapons, yet could not force it to break the siege on a city where children are dying out of hunger on a daily basis. “Could not” is not an accurate word for what has happened and what is happening; “did not want” or “did not have the interest” might be more accurate. The Syrians will not forget that.
Who knows what consequences will flow from such a policy failure?


George S said...

I suspect we are seeing a period of intervention fatigue in Europe and the West generally. There have been two very difficult interventions. The public tends towards the view that these were wasted and would probably not support any action that involved military. There is also the distrust of drones and the current revelations about phone tapping and espionage which make the USA look bad.The Kenya shopping mall attack has come and gone, the way all bad news that is elsewhere and not on our doorstep comes and goes. I think it would take another major assault on Europe or the States by Islamist forces to rouse public opinion. Syria is a hornet's nest and people are averting their eyes. It's a craven time, but for understandable reasons.

The Plump said...

What really gets to me is not the absence of intervention, but the mental pretence that diplomatic moves are furthering the resolution of the conflict, rather than aiding one side - the side that is the main author of the crimes against humanity.

George S said...

Hasn't Russia taken control of this? Putin wants Assad to stay. Russia is, I think, the main arms supplier to Syria - as it was to Iraq. I don't think anyone really believes that diplomatic moves are any more than sweeping blood under the carpet, but if it is under the carpet at least you don't see it. The carpet is not the solution, of course, but the alternatives look very difficult, even more difficult than in Afghanistan and Iraq. So you get back to the issue of fatigue: 'if we couldn't sort that, how could we sort this?' Add to that the voices of those who didn't want either of those sorted in the first place. Add to that a recession, a cut in the size of the army, and an increased distrust in politicians generally (I know that's always a factor but it has risen in recent years.) Add to that the important fact that over the last ten years, through speed and ubiquity of communication, we have become inured - or simply less sensitive - to evidence of suffering in what used to be called 'far away places'.

I know these are clichés, Peter, but as you too know that doesn't mean they are not factors on the ground.

What could be done in practice? My best guess is the creation of a no-fly zone (as in Iraqi Kurdistan where John Major is still admired for it) and the destruction of a part of the Syrian army's hardware. Can that be done with Russia at the centre? Who knows. The Russians lost a major customer in Saddam and don't want to lose another. Put that together with feelings about 'the sphere of influence' and so on. It is hard. Not to mention the various Islamist factions now at work in Syria.

But maybe there is some hope in that. Not even Russia wants the Islamists to succeed, which is another reason that they would prefer to keep Assad. It may be that Assad, once assured of his survival, will, under Rusian pressure, feel the need to control his forces.

It is horrible in the meantime. Absolutely dreadful. I am trying to run through some possibilities. What do you think should be done? in the circumstances.

The Plump said...

In practice; presumably what the FSA are asking for. That is no commitment of ground troops, a no-fly zone, a humanitarian corridor and weapons.

The reality is that Russia has not taken control, it has been handed it at the critical time. The defeat from the jaws of victory cliché has never seemed more appropriate. And don't forget Iran, with Hizbollah propping up Assad and the role of China in support.

Any action is unpredictable. But if I was to bet on it scuppering East-West relations might appear less palatable to Russia than continuing to expensively prop up a brute. Show weakness, however, and anyone as ruthless as Putin will pounce.