So the UN Security Council resolution on Syria has been vetoed by Russia and China. Despite various amendments intended to mitigate Russian anxieties that the resolution would be used as an eventual trigger for direct external intervention in the ongoing Syrian conflict, the Russian envoy to the UN Vitaly Churkin insists that
‘Some influential members of the international community unfortunately… have been undermining the opportunity for political settlement, calling for a regime change, pushing the oppositionists to power.’
Western diplomats and their Arab allies are predictably incandescent. The US ambassador to the UN Susan Rice has condemned what she regards as a Russian/Chinese attempt to to ‘sell out the Syrian people and shield a craven tyrant’ and claimed that ‘any further bloodshed that flows will be on their hands’.
William Hague says that the resolution ‘lets the Syrian people down, and will only encourage President Assad’s brutal regime to increase the killing’. All the other players are engaging in the same sanctimonious headshaking.
I’m not a fan of Putin or Assad, but it seems to me that Russia is right on this one, even if its reasons aren’t exactly pristine. As is often the case, the Western media is presenting the veto as another example of the contrast between the cynicism and geopolitical self-interest of Russia and China, and the altruistic and humanitarian idealism of the Security Council members that drafted the resolution.
But the resolution was no less cynical, and no less driven by geostrategic motives, and the idea that it was motivated by any concern for ‘the Syrian people’ is utterly hypocritical and dishonest. Russia knows this perfectly well, even if much of the Western media has chosen to ignore it. As Nir Rosen writes at The Angry Arab, ‘ I have never seen a conflict covered as poorly as this one, with less interest in empirically collected data and more reliance on hysteria and manipulation and rumor.’
Rosen is right. Much of the coverage of the conflict taking place in Syria has been quite stunningly vacuous and devoid of any analysis or context. Why do some Syrians support the Assad regime and others oppose it? What are the politics of the Free Syria Army or the Syrian National Council? Is it true, as the former CIA officer Philip Giraldi claimed last December, that ‘NATO is already clandestinely engaged in the Syrian conflict’ and if so why?
Where does the Free Syria Army get its weapons from? Why has Saudi Arabia declared that it will recognize the Syria National Council as the ‘official representative’ of the Syrian people and what are its motives for doing so? Will such intervention make things worse or better?
For the most part these questions aren’t even asked, let alone answered. Western media coverage of Syria – that I’ve seen at least – has been largely devoid of any analysis at all and has overwhelmingly echoed the ‘evil tyrant killing his own people’ narratives propagated by Western governments and their Arab allies.
Such coverage has often woven fragmentary, inconclusive and sometimes imaginary reports of atrocities to whip support for intervention, without even considering the motives behind such intervention or what its consequences might be. This is not to say that atrocities are not taking place, but as the leaked Arab League observer mission report makes clear, not all of them are due to the regime.
But you would never know any of this from the chorus of interventionists who are now lining up to call for bombers, no fly zones and special forces. Thus we have Joan Smith in the Independent today, in full-on ‘we cannot stand idly by’ mode, arguing that the West should provide the opposition with special forces training of the kind that was provided in Libya. According to Smith:
In Libya, with the Nato bombardment of Gaddafi’s military installations went a less-publicised project to instil discipline into the militias which had sprung up to oppose the regime. In Syria, a mixture of recklessly brave civilians and army defectors faces well-armed forces whose leaders remain loyal to the Assads. It’s unlikely they can overthrow the dictator on their own. The moral and practical case for giving them the assistance they need is becoming unanswerable.
Actually it isn’t, and Smith doesn’t even begin to make such a case – nor does she seem to be aware that ‘discipline’ amongst the Libyan militias was and is conspicuously absent. In fact there is no indication that a) she knows anything about the opposition or b) that she has even considered whether such actions would make things better or worse. Smith, like Nick Cohen, is probably the classic kind of liberal ‘useful idiot’ that can always be relied on such occasions, for whom even the most reckless wars seem more designed to assuage their own lifestyle guilt and discomfort and show that they are ‘doing something’ – regardless of whether their kneejerk solutions end up killing even more people.
Charles Krauthammer is a very different animal. The Washington Post uber-hawk has a less emotional and resolutely unsentimental argument for regime change in Syria and external intervention to bring down Assad:
His fall would deprive Iran of an intra-Arab staging area and sever its corridor to the Mediterranean. Syria would return to the Sunni fold. Hezbollah, Tehran’s agent in Lebanon, could be next, withering on the vine without Syrian support and Iranian materiel. And Hamas would revert to Egyptian patronage. At the end of this causal chain, Iran, shorn of key allies and already reeling from economic sanctions over its nuclear program, would be thrown back on its heels.
Therefore, Krauthammer argues:
Force the issue. Draw bright lines. Make clear American solidarity with the Arab League against a hegemonic Iran and its tottering Syrian client. In diplomacy, one often has to choose between human rights and strategic advantage. This is a rare case where we can advance both — so long as we do not compromise with Russia or relent until Assad falls.
You’re not going to get much handwringing about the ‘Syrian people’ from a ruthless militarist and proponent of American/Israeli domination in the Middle East who could not give a rat’s ass about human rights in Syria or anywhere else in the region. But Krauthammer’s aspirations, not Smith’s, are the real motives behind the resolution, and that is why I’m glad that it wasn’t passed.