Posts Tagged ‘Assad’

Trump’s air strike took out domestic targets as well

07/04/2017, 03:08:23 PM

by Kevin Meagher

It’s not often an international leader gets to achieve their domestic political goals while making a bold foreign policy move.

But this is what Donald Trump has just managed.

In bombing the Syrian airstrip that was used to launch what seems to have been a chemical attack by Assad’s forces on the town of Khan Sheikhoun, earlier this week, killing at least 80 people, Trump has achieved three things.

First, he compares favourably with Barrack Obama, who dithered and backed down from a response to Assad’s sarin attack on east Damascus in 2013, outplayed at the time by Putin who offered to broker a deal whereby the regime would surrender its chemical and biological weapons.

Trump, the inveterate dealmaker, is clearly not prepared to give Assad wiggle-room. Especially as he plainly lied about dismantling his arsenal.

Second, he has immediately wrong-footed his home-grown critics who question his elliptical relationship with Vladimir Putin.

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The West must now tread very carefully in Syria

31/01/2017, 01:27:03 PM

by Julian Glassford

Rebel forces have just lost their last toehold in Aleppo. Now residents displaced by conflict may begin to return to (what’s left of) Syria’s historic second city. Whilst we should of course recognise the horrific devastation wrought, mourn the casualties, and put pressure on all sides to cease their use of indiscriminate/inhumane tactics, surely this is cause for relief? Downing Street and the Foreign Office don’t seem convinced.

Having openly criticised Saudi Arabian and Iranian involvement in regional “proxy wars” recently, alas, within days naughty boy Boris Johnson had rowed back on this bout of intellectual honesty. The British Foreign Secretary was back on-message in time to deliver a hastily reworked speech at the Manama Dialogue Summit, where he spoke of a need to engage and work with such countries to encourage and support reform. Emerging from a meeting of foreign ministers in Paris, a day later, he added: “there can be no military solution in Syria”. Notably among attendees at said event was the school-masterly US secretary of state, John Kerry.

Whether Mr. Johnson appreciates that a peaceful, diplomatic resolution to the Syrian civil war remains a prospect every bit as distant as meaningful, progressive reform across the Arabian Peninsula is unknown. Whatever the case, and however one feels about the UK’s idiosyncratic top ambassador, he certainly seems to be spending a lot of time on the road, actively seeking out foreign counterparts, stimulating debate, and occasionally shifting it significantly. All of a sudden the Yemeni  civil war has been back in the news, for example.

The Syrian conflict has now been raging for almost as long as the entire duration of the Second World War. So far, no attempt at a mediated civil settlement has gained any real traction, despite several attempts, with ceasefires having lasted no more than a few months. Scholars of international relations, ethnography, and conflict and security will tell you that there is a reason for this: the battle President Bashar al-Assad and his supporters are fighting is an existential one.

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Of course we need to support those 3,000 Syrian children looking for a home. We helped put them there

27/04/2016, 06:05:27 PM

by Rob Marchant

There are some times when Labour and the Tories divide on party lines, not because merely they are whipped differently – or that they have dark and evil hearts, see Uncuts passim – but simply because they have fundamentally different ways of looking at the world.

What might seem a no-brainer to ordinary folk – the desperate plight of children alone in the world and bearing no responsibility whatsoever for their fate – becomes a point of immovable principle to a pig-headed Tory party caught in a moment of blind, anti-immigration frenzy. And it is sadly difficult to think this is unconnected to the current turbulence within the party over its perennial, navel-gazing obsession, the EU. Along with Labour MPs, a few noble souls defied the Tory whip, but mostly the vote was a shabby affair on the part of the governing party; the parliamentary equivalent of a mumbled excuse.

No, if you need an example of why this country needs a Labour government, it was given to you on Monday night without too much fuss.

The Parliamentary Labour Party, having suffered a rather difficult few months, largely paralysed over how to respond to its politically disastrous new leadership, finally showed what it was made of and supported Lord Alf Dubs’* amendment. An amendment requiring the government to accept the 3,000 homeless, stateless and unaccompanied Syrian children into the country.

Bravo, PLP. Bravo. It was a good thing you did on Monday night, even if it ended in honourable defeat. We should, however, just remember one, painfully ironic thing.

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Labour’s foreign policy is a debased joke

02/11/2015, 10:17:50 PM

by Atul Hatwal

Another milestone has been passed. Labour’s Corbynite journey on foreign policy has exited tragedy and entered the realms of farce.

This evening, the BBC’s Ross Hawkins reports that the shadow minister for foreign affairs, Catherine West, addressed the Stop The War coalition meeting in parliament, saying,

“Obviously in the summer before Russia was involved we were thinking the government might bring forward a proposal and we were preparing mentally for that. However since 30 September I think that’s more remote and obviously if that proposal does come forward then we will need to speak to you and talk to you about what your view is on that.”

There it is. in black and white. A commitment that Labour would consult with Stop the War before deciding its Syria policy.

How dare she.

Here’s Stop the War’s John Rees from 2006 indulging in paroxysms of Orwellian doublethink by backing Saddam Hussein as a champion of the oppressed that he was oppressing,

“Socialists should unconditionally stand with the oppressed against the oppressor, even if the people who run the oppressed country are undemocratic and persecute minorities, like Saddam Hussein.”

This is the Stop the War coalition that is allied to the Solidarity with the Anti-Fascist Resistance in Ukraine, Stalinist apologists who support Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Putin’s invasion of eastern Ukraine and oppose the democratically elected government in Ukraine.

And it is the same Stop the War coalition that invited the infamous Mother Superior Agnes Mariam de la Croix to speak at one of their rallies. She’s a nun living in Damascus trotted out by the Syrian government to deny that Assad’s forces had used chemical weapons on rebel held areas.

Her explanation of scenes of dead children in Ghouta was that they were “sleeping” while images of men and women dying from inhaling sarin gas were discounted as “stage-managed.”

She even had the temerity to suggest that rebels were responsible for gassing civilians and then claiming it was Assad.

This is the organisation that Labour’s shadow minister says the party “will need [emphasis added] to speak to.”

Labour’s problem is clearly no longer far left entryism.

When the party’s shadow ministers go on bended knee to conspiracy-mad, Stalinist front organisations like Stop the War, it’s evident that the leadership’s representatives are engaged in the reverse journey.

They are the entryists, seeking comfort, approval and acceptance from yesterday’s infiltrators.

Needless to say, if a Conservative minister or politician spoke at a meeting of a comparable group to the right of the Tory party there would be outrage.

But this where Labour is now.

A place where almost any political madness is possible and foreign policy has become a debased joke.

Atul Hatwal is editor of Uncut

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2015 is going to be a dangerous year

31/12/2014, 11:15:28 AM

by Rob Marchant

No, not because there is a general election coming and, given how balanced on a knife-edge the whole thing is, the stakes are unusually high and any false move will likely be enough to do for Labour’s hopes. Although that, too, is true.

At our year-end stocktaking, perhaps it behoves us to climb into the helicopter and look at where we are in time and place.

And if there were a year to bring home to European and US citizens that their current leaders do not really seem up the job of world statesmanship, 2014 was it. In terms of foreign events, it has been a fairly astonishing year.

First in the list of astonishing feats has been that the bullying leader of a major military power – and the world’s sixth largest economy – could take two sizeable bites out of a neighbour’s territory, with scant response from the developed world, other than an outbreak of gratuitous harrumphing and some fairly limited sanctions.

An action and reaction that reminded anyone with a sense of history of nothing so much as the gradual nibbling away of Czechoslovakia in 1938 by Germany, one of the main preludes to the Second World War. And of Chamberlain’s memorable response, that it was “a quarrel in a far-away country between people of whom we know nothing”.

Second, that the US should delude itself that there was a realistic hope of sensible negotiations with Iran over nuclear weapons, with the US negotiating hopefully that the country might see fit to give up something that international law said they were not supposed to have in the first place. The Iranians, surely, cannot believe their luck that it has gone this far.

Third, that the West’s abject failure to act in Syria three years ago has, predictably, come back to bite it in the horrific form of Islamic State, happy to assassinate the innocent merely to send us all a crazed message.

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Labour must rise to the challenge of Iraq and Syria

26/08/2014, 09:34:01 AM

by Jonathan Todd

A monopoly on violence is a pithy definition of statehood derived from Max Weber. On these terms, thugs in the Middle East have recently achieved this standard. There was a gang in the East End of London, the Krays, who did the same in the 1960s. The People’s Republic wasn’t then declared. This waited for Lutfur Rahman.

The key word that I’ve missed from Weber’s definition is legitimate. The violence visited on James Foley is no more legitimate than that of the Krays. That’s why James Kirkup insists that Foley’s killing was a murder, a criminal act, not an execution, something states do to breakers of their most important rules.

Ken Livingstone, who has topped Labour’s NEC “constituency reps” ballot, helped Rahman to his current status. Livingstone’s victory indicates the strength of Labour’s left, which tends to be more suspicious than the Labour right of military intervention and the motives of the US, as well as quicker to explain Islamic extremism in terms of the perceived failings of the west.

If ISIS doesn’t prompt the Labour left to consider military intervention, will anything? If US bombing of ISIS, in an attempt to avert genocide, doesn’t justify support from the Labour left for US action, will they ever support such action? If the brutal murder of an American, a civilian only seeking to do his job as a journalist, can be explained in terms of supposed US failings, can’t everything?

The Labour left might now be questioning their presumptions. Or maybe not, maybe the Iraq war’s shadow remains too long. As David Miliband, often dismissed as a Blairite by the left, has recently conceded, the outcome of that war “induces a high degree of humility”. Therefore, if the Labour left are now reassessing, they are doing what the Labour right has done for the past decade.

I wrote recently that Labour needs new thinking on the Middle East. Atul Hatwal has provided some – arguing the case for a pragmatic approach to President Assad in Syria. And Lord Glasman has too – advocating that we be pro-Kurdish, pro-Iranian and pro-Christian.

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If the West is serious about defeating Isil, a deal with Assad is unavoidable

19/08/2014, 11:30:16 AM

by Atul Hatwal

I recall speaking to Syrian friend last summer about the impending parliamentary vote on military intervention.

He had been one of his country’s leading surgeons, and a classical musician, appearing regularly on national TV. Until his dissent against President Assad had become a little too public. Imprisonment and torture by Assad’s secret police were followed by a lucky escape, both from Assad’s jail and a country degenerating into civil war, to seek asylum in Britain.

I’d expected him to be supportive of action against the regime. After all, it had taken everything from him and his family.

But all I found was despondency and, on balance, opposition to military action.

By this time last year, the primary threat to Syria was no longer President Assad. It was the rise of the Islamist militias and the collapse of secular centre in the opposition. We could bomb Assad. We could send him a bouquet of flowers. Both would have been equally relevant to the suffering of the Syrian people.

In summer 2013, the reality of life in Syria was that it was more dangerous to live in territory controlled by the Islamist militias than Assad.

The discussion that my friend saw unfolding in this country was facile and pointless. The knee-jerk opposition of much of the left to any intervention that involved the Americans – who, by coincidence are also the only country that can mount any meaningful humanitarian or military intervention – was borderline offensive.

Yet the position of the interventionists, although motivated by good intentions, was barely better informed.

Targeting President Assad’s military infrastructure with some limited bombing might have made the hawks in London and Washington feel happier, but it wouldn’t have helped Syrians living under Isil, the Al Nusra Front, the Syrian Islamic Front or any one of the other dozen or so, hardcore jihadi groups.

And if this potential action had materially degraded the Syrian regime’s military capability, the threat of advances by the Islamist militias would have been all the greater.

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Ed gets it: the red line matters – but so does international legitimacy

29/08/2013, 08:34:51 AM

by Jonathan Todd

Daniel Finkelstein in the Times yesterday quoted Andrew Tabler, a Syrian expert, as saying: “What happens (in Syria) will not stay there.” Which makes it imperative that as large an international coalition as possible is built behind the evidence that the Assad regime used chemical weapons against its own people, constituting a violation of international law that must be punished.

This must not be Barack Obama “shooting an elephant” – the George Orwell analogy employed by Stephen Walt: the strong doing something only because it is expected. It must be the world coming together to protect the weak: those that have been gassed by Assad and those who may have WMD used against them by tyrants in future.

It is incontrovertible that an attack has occurred. It also seems highly likely that the Assad regime carried out this attack. Finkelstein is right that if this breach of the established red line passes without consequence, a green light is given to other evils. Iran and all world-be oppressors would note.

Enforcing that red line is vital. But so is enforcing it in the right way. Transparently drawing upon robust evidence, UN process and established precedent, to build both a watertight legal case against Assad and one that motivates wide support for the actions that follow. Failing to do this would degrade international law and weaken the capacity of the UK and our allies to positively influence the future of Syria and the wider region.

Under a scenario where the US and her supporters retaliate against Assad before UN processes have run their course, they would do so without the support of Russia, China and Middle Eastern states that might otherwise be brought on side. Whatever strikes are executed would be unlikely to remove Assad from power – and may do relatively little to undermine his capacities, while fortifying the resolve of his supporters and backers to resist The Great Satan. Hezbollah may well attack Israel. Western interests would crash under the force of the Electronic Syrian Army. Assad would launch further attacks against his own people – whether using WMD or not.

What would the US then do?

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For the sake of Syria, tread lightly

27/08/2013, 03:39:39 PM

by Lee Butcher

In a sudden about turn Britain may well be heading into its second small Middle Eastern war since the Arab spring. It would appear that the use of chemical weapons is beyond the pale, a means of purveying death clearly far worse than the many others inflicted upon the Syrian people in the past two years.

What occurred in that attack in a Damascus suburb was an atrocity, indeed, perhaps even a crime against humanity? Our urge to help is a positive one, but it is an urge that needs to be controlled by sober analysis.

As in all cases of conflict and human rights violation the devil is in the detail. On Thursday the Government will have to detail to parliament what it feels we and our allies can do for the Syrians, and what our planning is for the ramifications of any actions that result. If that case cannot be made convincingly the breaks should be firmly applied to any march to war.

A number of reservations should be foremost in the mind of the parliamentarians. Firstly, what is the scale of our involvement? An Iraq style invasion is almost certainly out of the question, but will any involvement be limited to chemical weapons caches, or will it take the form of Libya and be a wide ranging operation against Syria’s air force, armour and artillery and will it include targeting communications and logistics infrastructure? If the latter than we can perhaps call it an enforcement measure against a certain form of warfare we disagree with, if it is the former the aim is clearly regime change.

That latter aim presents a number of problems, all of them already highlighted. If Assad goes who takes over? What contacts with and what confidence do we have in the rebels? In order to avenge one atrocity (the results of which no amount of military action can now remedy), and presumably in order to stop likewise happening again, we must consider any potential, and unintended, consequences.

Should the balance of power be tilted in favour of the rebels the international community needs to become concerned about those groups who remained largely in support of Assad, most notably the minority Alawite group. If by stopping one group being massacred we enable another group to be targeted the overall humanitarian impact will be neutral (that is to say, just as horrific as the present).

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A progressive case for intervention in Syria

20/06/2013, 10:38:05 AM

by Sam Fowles

Few enough things unite the left of British politics. Indeed, much of our internal debate makes the Gallagher brothers look positively fraternal. But you can’t get a cigarette paper between us on Syria: Keep out. In this we’re joined by the Lib Dems, Tory backbenchers and, of course, Boris. A motley coalition to be sure, but certainly a wide ranging one.

It’s with some trepidation then, that I’m going to say: they’re all wrong (and David Cameron is right – I’m currently bracing myself for the inevitable implications on the British summer as hell freezes over).

The left should back intervention in Syria, even if this only means arming the opposition, for both practical and moral reasons. Practically, it’s the best way to limit the influence of al-Qaeda and bring the sides to the negotiating table. Morally, the West, and more particularly the left, needs to decide what we stand for and, and then protect those who are oppressed for standing up for the same thing.

The practical case against intervention is founded on “what ifs”; “What if it escalates?” “What if al-Qaeda get hold of the weapons?” Good policy makers must always consider the repercussions. But they must also take into account the situation as it stands. The fact is that the conflict has already escalated, al-Qaeda are already gaining a foothold and this is because of our failure to intervene, not in spite of it.

The death toll in Syria is estimated at 93 000. It’s no longer a matter of keeping the lid on the powder keg, it’s about what we do now that lid has been quite dramatically blown off. Introducing more powerful weapons into the conflict initially may have caused escalation but that’s already happened. Russia and Iran have already given Assad’s forces powerful weapons and the conflict has escalated accordingly, mostly at the expense of innocent civilians or opposition fighters.

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