Syria

Analysis of political issues across the world

Syria

Postby Charlie » 26 Aug 2013, 15:11

So it seems that certain government members in the UK, the US and France want to take action against Syria.

However, as far as the public are concerned, underneath all the various articles, most of the comments from across the political spectrum seem pretty unanimous: stay away.

My view? Well, after reading Peter Hitchens's latest blogpost, I really can't find much to disagree with.

And as for Toby Young? There's something about him that smells off.
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Re: Syria

Postby Charlie » 27 Aug 2013, 07:28

Tony Blair has a column in The Times today. He's very clear about one thing: he wants intervention.
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Re: Syria

Postby Elliott » 27 Aug 2013, 21:23

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Re: Syria

Postby Caleb » 28 Aug 2013, 01:32

If the information in that article is correct and the Saudis are controlling Chechen terrorists in Russia, why shouldn't Russia bomb Saudi Arabia? America went into Afghanistan on a similar pretext and appears to have gone into Iraq on a lesser pretext.

How should Putin have reacted at an open provocation that someone else was funding terrorists in his country? I'm not quite of the position that my enemy's (Islam) enemy (Putin/Russia) is my friend, but at least Putin isn't a complete international beta. A guy cuts the head off a British soldier in the street and both onlookers and the government bend over backwards to accommodate such things. Massive collective beta move. Shouldn't Putin be standing up for his country?

As for Syria, bad move to go in there if only because you know that will mean more "humanitarian" refugees who specialise in bomb making. Whether it's in the blood or the culture, Middle Easterners killing Middle Easterners is what they do. Better for the rest of us not to get involved. We only end up getting blamed for it somehow anyway.
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Re: Syria

Postby Gavin » 28 Aug 2013, 13:47

I agree such a response is Putin indicating (again) he's not "beta". The Russians give it out, but they don't take it. Sometimes Putin personally takes this to absurd levels, of course, but still perhaps our lily-livered lot could learn a few lessons from him.

As for whether we should get involved in Syria, I almost say yes, because when you're dealing with Left you're damned if you do and damned if you don't. I have a fair bit of respect for Malcolm Rifkind and he thinks we should assist, but I would think not at the moment. We would indeed be blamed for anything except a 100% success (which it wouldn't be) and perhaps these countries just need to sort out their own civil disasters, bad though they are.

It does raise the question of "should we ever be involved", though. We're not an island except in the geological sense and arguably we do have an interest in seeing benign regimes installed in countries. I suppose on this they need to have a long hard look at how intervention would play out even if it went relatively well (something they apparently didn't do in the Iraq conflict).
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Re: Syria

Postby Mike » 28 Aug 2013, 23:31

I hardly think the Western powers should be in any sort of hurry to go into Syria after the catastrophic mistake of going into Iraq. This letter, if nothing else, is enough to suggest why.
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Re: Syria

Postby Elliott » 29 Aug 2013, 00:35

LOL, Mike, no wonder I've been struggling to understand it all! It's a bowl of spaghetti!
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Re: Syria

Postby Elliott » 29 Aug 2013, 22:56

Well it seems Britain isn't going to play any part in this strike on Syria. Daniel Hannan is pleased that democracy has prevailed. I wonder if Obama will proceed regardless.
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Re: Syria

Postby Charlie » 01 Sep 2013, 08:09

Once again, Peter Hitchens is correct.

I've got to admire his one-man mission to bring down the "Conservative" party. If Cameron goes, it will at least be a start...
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Re: Syria

Postby Jonathan » 02 Sep 2013, 07:30

There are two ways of looking at the Syrian horror, and until now both of them said - 'stay out!'.

The realpolitic approach says that since it's a shame both sides can't lose, as the status quo is probably best. So long as Assad has chemical weapons, it's best for him not to fall - otherwise, those weapons will be dispersed throughout the Middle East, like the Libyan arsenal after Ghaddafi's fall. But so long as Assad is fighting an insurgency, the attention and resources of both Hezbollah and Iran are diverted. It's kind of like the Iran-Iraq war - for eight years they kept each other busy; but once it was over, Iran started a Nuclear project, and Iraq invaded Kuwait.

The humanitarian approach says that the horror in Syria is so great that moral considerations must outweigh realpolitic ones. The problem is that every solution suggested will only make things worse. Bomb Syria as a warning? Assad will just double down, and his allies will increase their support. Topple Assad? Sunni Arabs will then go on a killing spree, butchering Alawites in revenge. Occupy the country? You will need to surround each Arab male with two soldiers to prevent them all from killing each other; and if you do this, they will start trying to kill the soldiers.

This question - whether intervention will make things better or worse - is a crucial one which is sometimes circumvented uncomfortably, since addressing it directly leads one perilously close to the borderes of political correctness. First, the Syrian civil war is not a mad dictator butchering his people - it is primarily an ethnic struggle between the Alawite minority who have been dominating the Sunni majority in Syria for the last 40 years. And second, deposing Assad will almost certainly make things worse because of certain aspects of Arab culture, that is, its notions of Honor, Vengeance, and collective guilt.

These aspects can be glimpsed in a particular segment of an excellent documentary on youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BHUKBaFetJY" at 29:35. An Arab man, distraught after having evacuated a dozen casualties in his car, turns to the camera and vows "I swear to God, I'm going to take my revenge on you Bashar, on Alawites and on civilians... We will go to their villages and kill them". It may sound like a forgivable exagerration, but it is not - if Assad's army disintegrates, this man will actually pick up an AK-47, travel to the nearest Alawite village and look for people to kill - and thousands like him will do the same. Back home they will boast of their courage and of the vengeance they exacted. Those who do not partake in such acts will find themselves mocked and belittled. The same women who weep for innocents in that video will drive their men into murdering other innocents. And if the neighboring village boasts that they not only sprayed Alawites with bullets, but also burned their houses, why then we'll just have to go back and do the job properly, won't we?

These truths are not politically correct. And the easiest way to avoid the question is simply to say "Why should we care if they butcher each other over there"? In a world where the Holocaust is still a living memory, such a blanket disavowal of any moral responsibility towards the lives of innocents - the day after chemical weapons have been used - seems almost sacreligious.

The civilized world, if it wishes to deserve that name, does have a duty to protect innocents, but it is not an unqualified duty. It must be balanced against the cost in lives of taking action, the likelihood that the innocents saved will then go on to commit their own atrocities, etc. Until now, I think, the answer was not to intervene, because the culture of the victims means that saving them as a group means that they will exact vengeance as a group. If there was a way to save individuals without saving the group, it might be the moral thing to do. In fact, there is such a way - accept them as refugees, scatter them in small groups, throughout the countries of the world, and disperse them (without benefits) within the countries. If Europe had not been busy accepting scroungers indiscriminately for the last 40 years, this solution might be acceptable.

The question is, does the use of chemical weapons change the equation? I think it affects not only the moral calculus but also the political one. Some people say that we've done nothing when 100,000 people were killed over 2.5 years, therefore we should do nothing when 1,000 people are killed in 5 minutes, but this implicitly treats the attack as a solitary one. If Assad starts gassing people every other week, it will have serious consequences. There will be new waves of refugees, more vicious revenge attacks, more chance of destabilizing Jordan and Lebanon. Worse, the Sunni militias (including Al-Qaeda affiliated ones) might start trying to synthesize their own chemical weapons. Every weapon in the Islamists' arsenal was developed and perfected in some battlefield or other - the IED, the airline hijacking, the suicide bomb, the kassam rocket. Eventually it gets exported to the west, at which point people bemoan the fact that nothing was done to stop it in its infancy.
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Re: Syria

Postby Elliott » 02 Sep 2013, 09:29

A very interesting post, Jonathan.

This might seem naive but... do you think it was the Assad regime that used the chemical weapons?
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Re: Syria

Postby Jonathan » 02 Sep 2013, 13:02

I think so, Elliott.

The first part of the question is - was there in fact a chemical weapons attack or not?

I've watched a few dozen videos on youtube, and I'm convinced that something unconventional happened. This video, in particular, is rather damning (warning: gruesome content)

There are dozens of casualties, collected but not covered up (except for the women). Age and gender distribution suggests an indiscriminate attack on civilians. I'm pretty sure they're all dead - I don't think you can get two dozen children to lie so still for so long. There are no wounds and there is no blood. This doesn't rule out some unlikely but conceivable scenario like carbon-monoxide poisoning in some bomb shelter, and it is also possible that chemical weapons would leave signs which are missing in this video (whose absence I lack the knowledge to recognize). But it is convincing enough that all those other videos with people alledgedly suffering from the effects of chemical weapons, which originally looked easy to fake, well, now they start to look more credible.

As for who is responsible for the attack: the excellent (British, btw) Brown Moses blog has devoted several posts to the munitions used and to the locations of the attacks (a good starting point is this one: http://brown-moses.blogspot.com/2013/08/finding-exact-location-of-alleged.html). These seem to suggest a barrage of rockets which did not contain explosives was fired at the area. This is hard to reconcile with the idea of an accident killing the people in the previous video. Brown Moses has shown due caution in the past when investigating allegations of chemical weapons' use - for example, concluding in one case that it was probably some sort of crowd-control tear-gas grenade.

The most convincing argument for me, however, is Obama's behavior. I take it for granted that the US has many intelligence resources constantly observing Assad's army, whose data will never be shown to the public, so as not to expose the sources. I'm not talking about human spies and agents who might lie to help their Cause. I also think that the last thing Obama wants is to be forced to act in Syria. If he acknowledged that Assad had used chemical weapons, it must be because the facts presented to him were convincing. This is a question in which facts predominate (were chemical weapons used by Assad's army on this-and-that date?) - not interpretations (Is so-and-so a threat to our national security? Does this militia hate America? etc). There is less scope for bias and prejudice to affect the analysis. In any case, the CIA is usually suspected of telling the President what he wants to hear, not its opposite.

I'm not saying that every intelligence assessment ought to be considered implicitly trustworthy - far from it - but in this case I don't see an obvious reason to disbelieve it. The cries of 'false flag' seem to me to be either paranoia (e.g. asserting that Obama always wanted to attack Syria and sorely wanted an excuse) or uncritically applying the criticism against Bush to Obama (e.g. the CIA lied to Bush because it is evil, therefore the CIA is lying to Obama because it is evil).
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Re: Syria

Postby Caleb » 03 Sep 2013, 01:36

The West absolutely should not accept refugees from this. The last thing it needs is to import more people from the third world who are quite likely to have been involved in some sort of terrorism at some point and who would almost certainly end up on welfare. Even if they haven't been involved in terrorism, they still come from a backward culture antithetical to that of the West. It's a really bad idea to import more of those people. It's been disastrous so far. I know you wrote not to give them benefits, but they would be given benefits, so it's a non-starter as far as I'm concerned. I also don't see how they would not start to congregate naturally even if initially scattered.
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Re: Syria

Postby Jonathan » 03 Sep 2013, 09:16

I agree wholeheartedly that in the current situation, the West needs to close its doors rather than open them further. My point was that this situation is not a law of nature, and has been brought about by the feckless immigration policy of the last few decades. If a saner policy had been followed, and the West now contained only 1% immigrants, and those were being rapidly assimilated, then you could easily find twenty countries willing to receive 50,000 each.

But it is as you said - in the current situation, an open door policy will just result in an endless flood of immigrants, as every economic migrant will claim to be a Syrian who has lost his passport.
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Re: Syria

Postby Gavin » 03 Sep 2013, 14:08

you could easily find twenty countries willing to receive 50,000 each.


I doubt if Japan (or Israel?) would be do this, though. Do you think that those people who are accepted as immigrants into a country ought to buy into the mainstream culture of that country and not form their own independent "communities"?

If they insist on doing the latter, then assuming they were accepted at all, perhaps they should be only ever be accepted temporarily and should be obliged to return to their countries of origin as and when it is deemed safe for them to do so.

In the UK, they simply come here, set up parallel societies, have a lot of children (often on welfare) and stay forever, while all of the time having no intention of mixing with the host any more than they absolutely have to. That's hardly good for integration, and a disintegrated country is not a strong one.
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