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article imageOp-Ed: Why support anyone in Syria?

By Paul Wallis     Sep 6, 2013 in World
Sydney - The West may not like Assad, but there’s not much to like about the rebels, either. The Syrian rebels, like so many other Middle Eastern armed groups, are in full jihadi mode. Law has collapsed. Brutality is the working method of government.
The New York Times recently ran a video it received from a former Syrian rebel showing executions of government soldiers. The soldiers were beaten, shot, and then thrown down a well according to one report, or buried in a mass grave, according to CNN on the video. Consider the logic, in a desert country, of polluting a well.
The New York Times:
As the United States debates whether to support the Obama administration’s proposal that Syrian forces should be attacked for using chemical weapons against civilians, this video, shot in the spring of 2012, joins a growing body of evidence of an increasingly criminal environment populated by gangs of highwaymen, kidnappers and killers.
In the more than two years this civil war has carried on, a large part of the Syrian opposition has formed a loose command structure that has found support from several Arab nations, and, to a more limited degree, the West. Other elements of the opposition have assumed an extremist cast, and openly allied with Al Qaeda.
The “theory” here is that American military action could unintentionally provide support for Al Qaeda. Some evidence has emerged that America is at least considering aiding the rebels. This situation isn't made much more encouraging by a rather naive belief that some groups are moderates, and can "keep weapons out of the hands of extremists". Since when has that been possible? Where? Does anyone know of any occasion on which extremists haven't armed themselves and gone to war with moderates?
Added bitching about how many "extremists" are in Syria has figures of either 50 or 15 per cent, depending on who you believe. Senators McCain and Kerry quote the same source, but evidently checking facts isn't much in demand in terms of deciding US foreign policy. While the American desire to help is commendable, the words "half ass" are too close for comfort regarding details.
The Independent:
US officials are said to be studying a plan to increase support for rebels fighting to remove the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from power. The new plan would see the military send its own trainers to bolster the capabilities of the rebels, something they have resisted in the past.
The CIA has been training groups of rebels in Jordan. But the involvement of the military could see the number of rebels being trained spiral from dozens to hundreds or even thousands, according to the Associated Press.
This could be very much an own goal. Much the same way as American aid has historically been used by groups hostile to America for the last few generations, in fact. The Taliban was an “American ally” at one point, too.
More to the point, however, is the obvious fragmentation of opposition groups. They’re anything but representative of any sort of national interest. Typically, the average Middle Eastern bloodbath is configured according to a few known rules for taking sides:
• Sunni
• Shi’a
• Tribal
• Political
• Local
• Regional
• Ethnic
• Power groups like Hezbollah and Al Qaeda
This dainty configuration of “morals” is the basis for who’s killing who at any particular moment in the Middle East. Foreign fighters are also entering the mix, which is one of the reasons the death toll and brutality levels have been steadily rising. These are trained fighters, not naïve volunteers. Their contribution to the Middle East has been to make every regional conflict much more hideous. They were hated, even in Afghanistan, by people who’d already had nearly 30 years of civil war, and tend to behave like Al Qaeda’s Foreign Legion.
Their presence means all bets should be off for aid of any kind. These guys aren’t just terrorists. They’ve created an industry of violence across the Middle East. Any move that helps them has to be wrong both in theory and in practice.
The West should learn from experience. The Middle East is in the modern version of the Dark Ages. No good can come from helping groups whose main objectives are acquisition of power at gunpoint.
Nor is the political situation much better in terms of possible outcomes. Syria is a client state of Iran. The Iranian interest seems to be that this situation will continue, whoever’s in power. Hezbollah apparently has the same idea. Al Qaeda, a Sunni group which has effectively declared war on the Shi’a in Iraq and elsewhere, is trying to position itself by gaining influence, and perhaps actual government, in a dysfunctional state which ticks all the boxes for expanding their influence.
Syria is currently on track to become another Afghanistan or Somalia. A perfect base for Al Qaeda, in fact, with ocean views of the Mediterranean. There’s no good reason to do anything which would give leverage to any of the groups involved in Syria at the moment.
President Obama has said that there would be no boots on the ground in Syria but of course, any American action would be great publicity for the “freedom fighters”. It would also distract from their own crimes against their own citizens. In the past, anything American has been the excuse for ignoring all other issues and a lot of propaganda.
The Russian and Chinese equation in Syria
Exactly why Russia considers Syria to be much more than the mess it is, is debatable. Syria is by Russian standards a third class ticket. It’s not a particularly wealthy country. It’s not a nice place, and may never be again, at this rate. It’s not strategically much use for anything except being on the other side of the Turkish border.
Russia’s veto and Chinese support for the veto against UN action must have some other motive. Financial? Not all that likely, given the crashed state of the Syrian economy. Selling weapons only delivers so many benefits in return for a strategic liability. More likely, though, than other scenarios, which involve taking on the apparently thankless task of sponsoring an obviously failed, crippled state.
Both Russia and China could have taken the easy option, and simply washed their hands of the Syrian mess. While “annoying the Americans” is a well-known party game for international diplomacy, they may find it more diplomatic to merely be seen to oppose American initiatives. It’s cheaper than actual physical involvement, for one thing. Regionally, being anti-American is a cheap gimme, too, so that makes sense, however twisted.
The strategic options for US involvement are interesting, particularly if you’re prepared to use cynicism as your methodology:
Ditch the Middle East, citing its own dogmatic views on American involvement.
Leave the Saudis, Russians, and Chinese as the only source of regional aid. (This would save big money, and get the Middle East oil interests a lot more cooperative.) Lumbering Russia and China with the regional Rube Goldberg structures would be an interesting option to say the least.
“Selective isolationism.” If America were to say, “OK, you don’t want us here, so we’re out of here,” it would truly tangle the power structures in the Middle East. It would also tell certain parties in the region where they get off.
Disengagement has another benefit: The Middle East would have to try to manage its own messes.
America has plenty of excuses for not getting involved in the current situation. The UK torpedoed any military action on its part last week by Parliamentary vote. The French, former colonial rulers of Syria, are prepared to enter into joint action with the US on Syria, but it’s debatable whether it’s in France’s interest, either, to take on this collection of rabbles as a liability.
To make a good casserole, the juices have to blend. The Middle East seems to have nothing better to do with its time than create conflicts and reheat ancient feuds. It’s about time it got a taste of itself.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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