The recent violence in Syria is a terrible thing, of that there is no doubt, such senseless killing anywhere is a tragedy.  We have become used to civil wars in what are classified as Arab countries of late, first the relatively bloodless regime change in Tunisia followed by a more rancourous one in Egypt.  At this point all seemed to be going swimmingly, dictators who had ruled with iron fists were toppled by the will and action of the people who were prepared to be cowed no more.  It gave us all a sense of hope, a sense that if such things were possible in these repressive states then we too might rid ourselves of our oppressors.  The crucial point was that these seemed quite clear popular uprisings, the only resistance came from the regimes themselves and that was only to be expected.

The situation began to get more complicated when the ‘Arab Spring’ spread to Libya.  The prevailing opinion here was not one of surprise, why would it have been the Colonel had been portrayed as a bogeyman for years in the West and was the great bugbear until being usurped by Saddam Hussein.  I knew little of the nascent opposition in Libya, as I suspect most watching and listening to the unfolding news, but I do remember early on hearing about the humiliating withdrawal of British Special Forces agents (SAS & MI6) who had been captured by farm workers in the opposition-held area near Benghazi.  They had not made contact with the opposition forces, as was claimed their mission was, they were in the country with multiple passports and weaponry and appeared somewhat inept.  This was not just an embarrassment to the British government this showed something else, it showed the West was wanted to get involved, or was already in the process of doing so, to hasten things, to topple those whom they had tried to topple from outside for many years.  It didn’t sit well.  It made me wonder what was next.  That it was Syria right after Libya was no surprise at all.

I remember when Bashar-al-Assad came to power in Syria in 2000 following his father’s death.  He was not supposed to be president, he was an ophthalmologist and but for the death of his older brother would have remained so.  He was however touted as a moderate, someone who would loosen the grip on the authoritarian state over which his father had presided.  Indeed for the last 11 years Syria has been one of the quieter of the Middle Eastern nations one that has been something of a diplomatic bridgehead for many of the parties, close enough to the Arab world not to be regarded as a Western puppet as well as maintaining support from China and Russia whilst at the same time seeming to most of the Western world as moderate enough to be a useful broker along with Turkey with whom they also continued to have close ties.

However at the time of the Stop The War actions against the war in Iraq in 2003 I remember hearing it said more than once that whilst we had not stopped the Western forces going into Iraq we had stopped them thinking they could continue on into Syria which would certainly have been their next plan.  As Syria remained unmolested the interest in it appeared to have waned but it came back to my mind late last year.  I know that Syria is also an instrumental piece in the intifada against Israel, not a vocal opponent of Israel per se it gives clear support to the Palestinians from the reasoned position of supporting a dispossessed people.  This sort of intelligent criticism is annoying to the Zionists who must paint all opposition as vehemently anti-semite.

Barbara Walters conducted the first interview from a Western news agency, ABC on 7th Dec 2011 in Damascus and stressed she had been free to ask any questions she wished.  President Assad states quite openly that Syria is not a democratic country and that it is a dictatorship, which is an autocratic form of government where the power of rule is held by one person, (think of a monarchy and you’re on the right lines).  He draws an interesting distinction between dictatorship as a form of government and a dictator as a person and makes it clear that he feels he needs popular legitimacy to continue his role and that Syria is on the path to democratic elections before 2013.  In contrast to what I have heard of his father’s reign this seems no mean achievement or ambition.

The interview is not at all like later ones of Gadaffi who rants and rages and regales against those plotting his downfall with invective and hyperbole.  Perhaps this is merely the contrast in styles between a despot who has been so surrounded by sycophants for so long that he has gone quite mad and a civilised university graduate with an excellent command of English who seems quite at home with intelligent discourse and unflustered by an interviewer so clearly looking for a chink in the armour with which to make an exclusive..

President Assad claims that he retains the support of the majority in Syria, in response it is interesting that Walters refers to the demonstrations against him by people as evidence that he does not have popular support.  Were this to be sole evidence then many of the Western governments should have fallen during the height of the Stop the War campaign due to the mass actions on a scale not seen ever before in some countries.  Where were the UN resolutions for us, where the peacekeeping troops to help us transition to a new government?  I don’t know about the former but we know where the latter were, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan etc. etc.

We must consider at this point that the West is in this regard also not really in a position of strength when it comes to arguments of popular opinion.  The Bush-Gore election is one of the many chequered US examples and in Britain 64% of the population who voted in 2010 did not vote for the current administration.  Why then are we immune from countries meeting to discuss how they will liberate us?  Is it because we have multiple men in suits rather than being countries that only have one?  Or is it because we the people are more cowed by the yoke than the Middle Eastern citizens and our staying at home comfortably numb is our biggest ball and chain?  If indeed Syria’s protesters are a vocal violent minority then Assad has as much right to put them down as Western governments do the G8/G20 protests, or the Occupy movements, one can condemn but only if condemning all state violence not merely someone else’s.

When Walters goes on to push for when presidential elections will take place she is forceful in her point that 2014 is not soon enough but Assad quite correctly says that they will have the parliamentary elections first which will determine the majority opinion and subsequent actions relating to the presidency.  This is perfectly acceptable, after all the anger and frustration in Britain was palpable when Tony Blair handed over the British premiership to Gordon Brown without a popular mandate or ballot.  Assad says clearly that if the parliamentary elections leave him with no mandate then he will not be taking any part in the subsequent presidential elections as he will have lost public support.  You could make noises about the chances of free elections etc. but like the freedom of the press argument the West is decidedly hypocritical in this.

What I remember of many of the dictators over the last years is how they met their ends, Saddam Hussein was killed following trial, very few seemed especially upset about this, certainly not his former masters in the US. Col. Gadaffi was killed very rapidly in the latter stages of the fighting in Libya in a hasty way that was I’m sure for many people rather convenient.  The trouble with toppled dictators is that they have at their disposal a large amount of information as to the affairs of their own state and the actions of those who would negotiate with it, much that might tarnish the images of certain states around them.  This is likely to be enhanced considerably in the case of nations with oil with whom many administrations will stop at nearly nothing in their efforts.  Of course this is nearly all conjecture, the truth may be nothing like this, it is therefore odd that it is all too frequent that those who might be able to divulge such information meet such speedy sticky ends.

I am not the only one articulating the slight raising of a quizzical eyebrow, neither Russia nor China have taken part in the calls for regime change in Syria and have openly stated that they fear that at the root of these calls is the attempt to replace the current administration with a more favourable one for the West.  The West certainly has form.

I do not wish to claim that I know what is going on in Syria, I cannot state that the opposition does not have a public mandate any more than I can state that Bashar-al-Assad does not.  I do not wish to underestimate the troubles in Syria or cheapen the loss of life that has already been too high. Without question there are many innocent civilians caught up in troubles not of their own making, the city of Homs is in crisis and is besieged such that those who might wish to leave cannot do so.  It is akin to the American policy in Helmand, Guantanamo Bay in Cuba and on local issues right down to the police kettling protestors in riots and demonstrations, it isn’t right but where is the indignation there?  To hear Hilary Clinton question today why other Syrian cities are not doing the same as Homs if chastising them for their indolence leaves a very bitter taste in my mouth indeed.  The first reason is that if you sit in a safe city with your family secure and going about their business it takes an almost superhuman strength to wish to change this and even more so when you see the potential consequences of such actions.  The second is that it is grossly presumptuous that all Syrian cities should feel the same as Homs, do we know the ethnic makeup of Syria, is there a sectarian issue anywhere?  For a wealthy, comfortable woman to stand up thousands of miles from any conflict and pontificate about whose responsibility such matters are is at best crass insensitivity and political posturing.

I am presuming that my mistrust of the situation is down to my own propensity to believe in the evil doings of the West because I know more about them than I do the doings of a person who has always come across as mild-mannered and erudite.  It is the smoke and mirrors and the media whitewash that makes me deeply uneasy, it is by no means the first time we have heard it, the West preaching all the laudable tenets of representative electoral systems whilst themselves having some of the least democratic of all is nothing new and will continue for as long as the public in those countries remains anaesthetised by the right-wing press that props them up.  I cannot state that the West is directly involved in the Syrian opposition as it appeared to be pushing for in Libya, all I can say is that in the West there will be many people who stand to gain much from the deposing of President Assad. They cannot therefore be considered neutral parties and the idea of them not encouraging, if not in fact actively orchestrating the removal of the Syrian leader seems a little-more far-fetched than them doing so.  The speed with which they have established diplomatic relations with the opposition is in contrast to the reactions to Tunisia and Egypt which were much more hands-off and observational.

It just makes me wonder…

Song Of The Day ~ Gerry Rafferty – One Drink Down

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