Monday, November 28, 2011

Winding down, rather than escalating the violence in Syria

Some quotes and then some thoughts about the violence in Syria.

First, Helena Cobban who is one of the best English-language bloggers on the Middle East on the situation in Syria as of November 25:
Turkey's AK government has shifted into a position of much stronger support for the Syrian opposition, with PM Erdogan now openly calling for the resignation of Syria's President Asad, while leaders and members of the militarized, oppositionist 'Free Syrian Army' have been given considerable freedom to organize in the encampments of Syrian refugees in Turkey.

Attempts by western governments to win a UNSC resolution that would, as with Resolution 1970 in re Libya, have provided a basis for future military action against Syria were rebuffed when both Russia and China vetoed it.

The Arab League has launched its own strong-seeming diplomatic and political intervention that requires the Syrian government to end the use of repression and violence, engage in negotiations with the opposition, and allow the entry of Arab league monitors-- actually, the deadline for that latter step was November 25.

The Arab League-cum-NATO military action against Libya (which was also supported by NATO member Turkey) had been cited as a desired precedent by many in the Syrian opposition. That action was eventually successful in taking over the whole of Libya and killing President Qadhafi. But it took them seven months and a lot of bloody fighting to achieve that; and the outcome inside Libya has been very far from what most pro-democracy, pro-rights activists in the west had hoped for.
Then Eric Margolis, who uses his judgement as a source. His judgement agrees with mine, but without documentation, will not be persuasive to anyone inclined to disagree with him.
Syria’s conflict is confusing. It began a year ago when insurgent groups slipped in from neighboring Lebanon. They were armed, supplied and trained by the CIA, Britain’s MI6, and Israel’s Mossad. Their finances came from the US Congress, which voted in the 1980’s to fund overthrowing Syria’s Assad regime because of its antagonism to Israel and support for Palestinians, and from the Saudis.

In the 1920’s, a leading Zionist thinker, Vladimir Jabotinsky, proclaimed the Arab world was a brittle mosaic of tribes and clans. A few sharp raps, he predicted, would splinter the whole fragile mess and leave a new Jewish state as paramount power of the Mideast and its oil. He was thinking primarily of Syria, Lebanon and Iraq.

These armed Syrian groups of mercenaries, Assad-hating Lebanese fascists, and CIA-cultivated anti-Assad exiles lit the fuse in Syria. Their attacks, mainly along the Lebanese border, ignited resistance by long repressed Sunni Muslim conservatives, bitter foes of the Assad’s Alawi-dominated regime. Alawi – an offshoot of Iran’s Shia and Turkey’s Alevi –tend to be poor, clannish and disliked by mainstream Sunni as heretics.

Many of Syria’s smaller cities and towns have revolted, but not yet its large cities, Damascus, Latakia and Aleppo but their vital economies are collapsing.
The harshest sanctions ever imposed, those against Saddam Hussein's Iraq that killed more than half of a million people, mostly children and the elderly did not accomplish or even threaten regime change. The economy collapsing, especially when Syria will continue to have some supplies of basic foods would actually make regime survival easier.

More from Margolis:
Syria is a long-time ally of Iran. The Western powers and Israel are avid to tear apart Syria, thus dealing a severe blow to not only Iran, but Syria’s other allies, Lebanon’s Hezbullah and Palestine’s Hamas.

Equally important, if Syria collapses, its highly strategic Golan Heights, annexed by Israel since 1967, will remain unchallenged in Israel’s hands. Golan is Israel’s primary source of ground water.

A splintering Syria will be a catastrophe for the central Mideast. But the US, France, Israel and Britain are so blinded by their anti-Iran passion, they are ready to destroy Syria to get at Great Satan Iranian. That’s like burning down your house to get rid of mice.
And Neelabh Mishra from an Indian publication, Outlook India:
The so-called uprising in Syria lies largely along an arc of towns near the borders—with Lebanon, Iraq or Turkey—indicating a degree of backing from across the borders. Non-western diplomats talk of four strands of opposition: a) Peasants uncomfortable with the recent market-driven policies of the Assad government. It’s an ‘economic resentment’, articulated in the terminology of popular non-fundamentalist Islam. b) Progressive sections of the middle classes, who genuinely want democratic reforms. c) Wahabi hardline Islamists backed by fundamentalist Arab elements, largely from Saudi Arabia. d) People who resented the secularist, Arab socialist Ba’ath party takeover and left Syria for western pastures. They have made their money in the West, live there and want to refashion Syria with western support, in the western image, and allied to western interests.

Government leaders like Bouthaina and foreign minister Walid al-Moallem differentiate between what they call the opposition rooted in the country and the violent armed bands, backed by foreign powers, which infiltrate their peaceful demonstrations. Certain Syria-based opposition groups responded to the government’s negotiation initiative, opened through the offices of the Grand Mufti Ahmad Badreddin Hassoun. He told us his son was recently assassinated by fundamentalist Islamists. About democratic reforms, Bouthaina sounds quite candid: “We are serious in recognising that reforms are Syria’s need of the hour.” Hence, she says, the government has lifted the emergency enforced for decades in Syria and announced a timeline for multi-party parliamentary elections in February next year, governorate elections, also in November 2012, and presidential elections in 2014. Therefore the government accepted the Arab League’s proposal for widened talks with the opposition, but it is adamant in not compromising with Syria’s secular ethos.
My position on Syria has not changed much over the last few weeks. The plan presented by Assad according to Outlook India is much more democratic than that presented by Egypt's pro-US military dictatorship. Given that Assad is able to rally large demonstrations of support, it is more likely than not that despite the funds that I (agreeing with Eric Margolis) am sure Saudi Arabia and Turkey are making available to rebels, the Syrian protests will fade out in a manner similar to the eventual fade of Iran's Green protests.

The same basic reason holds. In Iran, there was no compelling argument that the central claim, of electoral fraud, was true, so there was no fuel to sustain increases unrest in the face of government efforts to stifle that unrest. In Syria, in the end I expect to see that support among the population of Syria for what we saw in Libya or Iraq instead of non-violent elections on dates already announced will not remain at high enough levels to sustain the uprising.

An opposition needs a compelling story. The votes were stolen would have been a compelling story in Iran if evidence to support it had emerged. Assad is not respecting the wishes of the majority of Syrians by remaining would have been a more compelling story if Assad had not announced election dates.

What I hope Assad does now is that in February, come what may, the polls remain open long enough that there is no question the regime made an effort to gauge the will of the people in the revolting towns. The central cities are very likely to be open, and enough of the population resides in those cities that if the opposition is able to hamper voting along the border, numerically the election results can still be persuasive.

I guess the US and Israel hope Turkey has invaded by then. An invasion would be a bad move. Turkey would not prove to be better at holding Syrian territory than Israel was at holding Lebanese territory. Hezbollah-style rather than tank-heavy armies are the way of the future in the Middle East. Turkey would be helping Syria revolutionize its armed forces if it tries to take territory. It would be a horrible move for Turkey and I would have been sure six months ago that Erdogan would not make a mistake like that, but am less certain today.

Saudi Arabia is leading the pro-US dictatorships into more active hostility with Syria but short of a war against Turkey, Assad's hold on power is not particularly threatened for the time it will take to reach elections, which will give us a lot of new information about the legitimacy of Assad's regime.

As has become usual from Barack Obama, US policy is squarely on the side of useless preventable loss of human life and a total disregard Arab or non-Jewish life in the Middle East. The US' current policy regarding Syria is as bad Obama's Middle East policies almost always are. Fortunately, Syria has a better than even chance of averting the fate the US has planned for it on Israel's behalf.


Lidia said...

HC "the outcome inside Libya has been very far from what most pro-democracy, pro-rights activists in the west had hoped for". If those "activists" really "hoped" that NATO/Qatari aggression with the support of CIA-men and Al-Qaida would bring something else than it did, they should have their heads examined. But I suppose most of them are just like Achcar, who lamented not enough (!) NATO bombing and now has a gall to mention "voices denouncing attempts to subject the country to foreign  tutelage are growing louder. The Amazigh revolutionaries, who played a big part in liberating the country from the tyrant’s rule, have refused to recognise the new government, because it did not acknowledge their rights. Social demands are increasingly being raised, both in the regions that were most deprived under the former regime, and in the heart of the capital." and then adds " All this in the absence of an apparatus holding a monopoly of arms and capable of protecting those who accumulated wealth and privilege during Gaddafi’s protracted rule", yes, sure, now NATO's and Qatari forces and their armed puppets are not of any importance. Just to think that when being told of Libya turned into new NATO colony, Achcar claimed that it was not possible! Of course, he uses nice words (tutelage, by foot!) instead of calling colonial spade of his making a spade.

Arnold Evans said...

Libya was just an outrageous NATO action.  It is good to know that many more people in the recent Brookings poll of some Arab countries say it was a bad idea than say it was a good idea.

In Russia, according to some links Richard Hack found at raceforiran, the story is emerging that Libya was Medvedev's mistake and that Putin was against Russian acquiescence from the beginning, and now Russian opposition to NATO/Western measures against Syria are explicitly justified by NATO's behavior regarding Libya, but now, according to the story, Putin has decided to make sure it does not happen again.

Lidia said...

yes, it seems some people are able to their mistakes. On the other hand, for the supporters of Libya's rape it was not a mistake, but conscious decision. 

By the way, in not so great as a whole article A.Cockburn

virtually accused Cole of  single-handedly starting the canard of "Qaddafi air-bombing his own people" citing the sources that were not supporting his claims . I checked it up (Cole's posts 2.21.2011) and it seems probable that Cole is at least partially guilty as charged.

Arnold Evans said...

I'm going to do a writeup of that article.  It is really good from my first look.  You may be interested over at Informed Comment:

Cole was claiming that the Arab League is no longer a bunch of dictators because Kuwait and Morocco are "partly free"(!) according to Freedom House(!) And some other members have had protests that may transfer power to democratic bodies someday.

After I read Freedom House's methodology that has essentially nothing to do with how representative a government is he responded that "almost everything I asserted was incorrect".

Don't say "almost everything".  You're not going to be able to support that.  I shot this off and it is currently in moderation. I'm putting it here because we're close to his limit of tolerance for criticism.  As follows:

Almost everything?

1) 4 countries have had uprisings that may or may not later lead to transfer of power to popularly elected bodies

2) Syria has offered to transfer power to a popularly elected body

3) A full transfer of power to these bodes has not been complete

4) Iraq is currently occupied by the US

5) The US has an intense agenda regarding Middle East policies

6) The US has non-trivial leverage over Iraqi policies

7) Lebanon’s Shiites are under-represented relative to their number in population

8) Other than that Lebanon’s government is more or less representative

9) Kuwait and Morocco have Parliaments that can be and are often over-ruled on policy or are held otherwise not able to set national policy by unaccountable monarchs

10) Mubarak’s Egypt, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, Jordan and Saudi Arabia have nominally to one degree or another representive councils of sorts that could or can be over-ruled by unaccountable dictators or monarchs

11) Countries whose representative councils cannot make policy are not “partly free” in a democratic context.

12) The US has supported Egypt’s government while it delayed elections beyond its commitment and proposed limits on the accountability of its policy-makers to any elected body.

So I count 12 assertions. For most to be wrong, 7 have to be wrong. Almost all, typically would mean at least 9 are wrong.

I don’t think there are even three assertions that that are subject to reasonable debate, but please correct me – just point out the numbers you disagree with.

Lidia said...

FH is a bunch of right-wing imperialists. Not long before Cole, I suppose, would not be citing them as an authority, but now he seems desperate :) 

Arnold Evans said...

I don't think, still, Cole understands how much of a right-wing imperialist he is.  If this was 1811 instead of 2011 in the US Cole would be one of the more reasonable advocates for slavery. Maybe he'd consider himself liberal because he'd claim to oppose it spreading to new territories. 

The funny thing to me is that Barack Obama would have that position right with him.

Two days in a row, he claimed that Kuwait is not a dictatorship, but "partly free". Exactly the way Egypt was "partly free" in 1922, and he has very carefully not expressed any problem with the idea of Egypt becoming partly free that way again.

Seriously it's disgusting.

Lidia said...

I suppose it is telling that two other answers to your post choose to highlight USA/Europe not being too democratic - now of before. No one of them, though, pays attention to the trifle - that both USA/Europe were not and  are not under colonial/semi-colonial rule, on the contrary, they were and still are imperialist powers. Egypt, in short, is not simply on the place of Germany 100 years ago. It is on the place of Egypt 100 years ago, more or less, and if USA could not just repeat what UK would do then (at least I hope so), it is NOT because USA's goodwill.

Both S and YL see themselves as progressive, I am sure, and both support Cole regarding Libya and Syria. So, one not needs to be CIA payed consultant to say things like - so what if Egypt is not free, let them wait for 100 years, while NATO and Saudis aka AL will take care of liberation in the ME.

George Carty said...

What makes you say Cole is "right-wing"?

Karl Marx isn't usually regarded as right-wing, but he was scarcely less imperialist (or even racist) than other men of his time.  It was Lenin who made Communism an anti-imperialist ideology, not Marx...

Arnold Evans said...

Fair point.  Cole also is not on the right relative to his contemporaries, but on the left.

But the left and right are imperialist - Cole agrees with the right wing that Egypt, for example, should not be free to set its own foreign policy.

Cole will not say that, but he will both justify policies taken toward that end and refuse to speak against it.

So imperialist, yes. Right-wing imperialist, no.  But Cole and right-wing imperialists are similar in more important ways than they are different.

Arnold Evans said...

Cole shutting down the discussion means that he's aware, even if it is uncomfortable to admit to himself, that he is no longer able to defend his position by the terms of his own moral system.

A more honest and courageous person would under those circumstances, adopt a new position.  But Cole has for a while not been someone to describe as either particularly honest or courageous.

Lidia said...

So Marx was a racist, just like "other men"? Sure, so he was for slavery of Blacks ("like others") and for mass-murder of native Americans, right? 
The, Marx was "imperialist". Sure thing. he was an apologist of UK colonialism then? 

I get it that GC is obviously using second-hand (and not credible) sources - for his posts about USA and terrorism, for ex. But I still is not going to let him off hook. 

Sure, Marx was not as much anti-imperialist and antiracist as SOME Western people now. But he sure is still much more anti-racist then the bunch of modern day progressives cheering for imperialist wars.

I know that E. Said was offended by Marx supposition of UK rule in India bringing "progress" there. But
1) Marx wrote the same about capitalism being progressive in EVERY place, from England to India.
2) Marx NEVER whitewash the methods and price of capitalist progress.

If now Marxists (me including) do not agree with Marx' supposition about capitalism in colonies being progressive, we do it on the basis of Marx methodology.

In short, nice try to smear Marx in order to defend liberal imperialists. 

Lidia said...

Agree. The major difference between Obama imperialism and Bush imperialism is that Obama lets openly gay USA troops to do imperialist job. For some people, it is enough. Not so for the victims of such gay imperialist murder.

Lidia said...

Cole starts a found-riser. Does it meant that CIA's budget is getting cut as well? After all, the USA budget is tough now :(

Castellio said...

We can hope.