Friday, August 30, 2013

Self-serving posturing over Syria

By Melanie Phillips
The US, Britain and other western nations are about to make a bad mistake if they launch their threatened military strike at Syria. Far from displaying Western strength, the strike reportedly being planned may instead disastrously confirm the enemies of the civilised world in their view that the US and UK are a busted flush, reduced merely to self-promoting posturing as a substitute for principled purpose and toughness of resolve.For what is being proposed is no more than an empty gesture. It is that most vacuous, cynical and desperate of political knee-jerk reactions – the need to be seen to be ‘doing something’. Anything. As long as there is absolutely no cost to the political leaders urging such action. At least, no cost that can be unambiguously pinned on them.
The driving force behind this stirring call to arms is apparently Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron, who is so determined to be seen to be ‘doing something’ that he is urging a clearly reluctant President Obama to do it too.

Obama has reacted in predictable fashion by thoughtfully alerting the enemy in advance to what he is about to do to them, so that everyone involved has the chance to run away before they get hurt. His officials told the New York Times (which was promptly hacked, reportedly by the Syrian regime) that the action under consideration was
‘“limited,” perhaps lasting no more than one or two days. The attacks, which are expected to involve scores of Tomahawk cruise missiles launched from American destroyers in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, would not be focused on chemical weapons storage sites, which would risk an environmental and humanitarian catastrophe and could open up the sites to raids by militants, officials said.
‘The strikes would instead be aimed at military units that have carried out chemical attacks, the headquarters overseeing the effort and the rockets and artillery that have launched the attacks… the initial target lists included fewer than 50 sites, including air bases where Syria’s Russian-made attack helicopters are deployed. The list includes command and control centers as well as a variety of conventional military targets. Perhaps two to three missiles would be aimed at each site…’
and just to make things crystal clear, that it
‘would not accomplish Mr Obama’s repeated demand that Mr Assad step down’.
What kind of Commander-in-Chief publicly announces in advance details and targets of his proposed strike? A Commander-in-Chief who is going to war not to defeat an enemy but, cynically and opportunistically, to win plaudits at home.
Of course, this may all be a bluff to conceal a far deadlier military action against the Assad regime. But given Obama’s past form in leaking sensitive military information, it seems all too likely that this is indeed what is intended.
If so, this proposed strike would seem simply designed to advertise the moral virtue of David Cameron, Barack Obama and any other western leaders involved. It aims to show that, faced with the evidence of an appalling atrocity, these leaders reacted in a principled way. But in fact, their moral nausea is highly selective.
Faced with the chemical attack in Syria, says Cameron, ‘the world cannot stand by’.
Oh really? So why did he ‘stand by’ while the Copts of Egypt were subjected to savage pogroms by Muslim Brotherhood fanatics – who Cameron and Obama actually helped put into power in that country?
Why did he ‘stand by’ while Christians were burned alive in their churches, converted at gunpoint or ethnically cleansed by Islamic zealots week in, week out across Africa and the Third World?
Why did he ‘stand by’ while countless thousands were murdered in North Korea? And so on.
Every decent person will have been sickened and horrified by the terrible images from Syria. It is assumed that it was indeed Assad’s regime that was responsible.
The duty to take action to stop such atrocities is qualified by the duty to ensure that any such action does not make matters even worse, that there is a clear strategic goal in mind and that such action is most likely to be in the best interests of those undertaking it. But this proposed strike at Syria meets not one of these conditions for responsible military action.
The fact that these points are being made today by many who have previously shown themselves to be on the wrong side of history, who refuse to acknowledge the Islamist war against the west and who take the utterly ludicrous position that they will never believe any intelligence whatever that suggests western interests are in any danger from the Islamic world, does not mean that over Syria their arguments are wrong.  We have to look at the evidence on a case by case basis. And in this case, they are right.
A strike that is highly circumscribed in this way merely to eliminate any response that might conceivably hit any US or UK forces is an essentially cowardly and incoherent action which will achieve none of its declared purposes.
It is supposed to deter both Assad and other dictators from launching chemical attacks by showing that such atrocities will not go unpunished. But any such tyrant can see all too clearly the extreme nervousness, absence of strategic clarity and lack of courage by the west.
And what if, after a western strike, Assad launches another chemical attack? What if he avoids chemicals but launches even more savage atrocities on Syrian civilians? Will there be further attacks by the west, thus sucking it into a civil war in which it is not in its interest to support either side? If not, what price ‘we cannot stand by’?
Despite the declared intention to avoid hitting the chemical weapons stores, what if in the chaos of bombing raids these materials fall into the hands of al Qaeda who will use them against the west?
Do Cameron and Obama want to loosen Assad’s grip on his chemical weapons stockpiles – and come to that, his biological weapons arsenal? If so, they must be out of their minds. If not, they are going a very strange way about ensuring he retains control of them. Have they thought any of this through? Has it even occurred to them at all?
The US is apparently clinging to a previous suggestion by a military analyst, Chris Harmer, that Assad’s military capacity could be swiftly and cleanly degraded by strikes on Syrian airfields.  But Harmer himself has stressed that unless this is done in the context of clear strategic objectives it could rebound very badly.
So what is Cameron and Obama’s strategic goal in Syria? No-one knows. Do they? Do they want to remove Assad? Apparently not; they just want to make him stop being a murderous psychopath. And they are going to do that, it seems, by strikes which they assure him will leave him in power.
The point of this strike, therefore, is not military but political. The aim of military action is to defeat the other guy. The aim of this proposed action, however, is not to defeat Assad. It is merely a rap over the knuckles. It is a gesture.
Assad has murdered something like 100,000 of his own citizens, reportedly gassing untold numbers of them. The idea that such a man will respond to a rap over the knuckles with anything other than irritated contempt is beyond risible. For Obama and Cameron seriously to be suggesting that they will deter Assad in this way is the political equivalent of King Lear impotently howling revenge upon his daughters.
So who do Cameron and Obama actually want to see in power in Syria?
From the noises made by both administrations, they seem to support ‘the rebels’ (having backed Assad for years, turning a blind eye to his sinister role as Iran’s proxy and his terrifying arsenal of not just chemical but biological weapons).
But these rebels include the Islamist fanatics of the Muslim Brotherhood and al Qaeda. Appalling as is Assad, these forces would be as bad if not worse for the Syrians themselves, and certainly even worse for the west – since Assad is at least a rational actor governed by self-interest, which the Islamists are not.
The most important argument used to support attacking Assad’s regime is that, by bringing it down, the west would deal a grievous blow to Iran, Syria’s puppet-master, which itself poses such a terrible threat to the region and the world.
But this is yet anther incoherent and essentially weaselly proposition. The intention, don’t forget, is not to get rid of Assad but merely to deter him. Weakening him, however, will not hit Iran. It may well merely drive Assad further into Iran’s embrace, and in the process strengthen the influence of Russia over the region – already increasing exponentially as the Middle East and Muslim world gaze at the wreckage of American influence and cosy up instead to the toughest guy on the block.
There is only one way to hit Iran – and that is to hit Iran. Attempting to weaken Iran by striking at Assad is to look at the problem the wrong way round. To neutralise the puppet Assad, the west has to strike the puppeteer, Iran.
The overwhelming moral imperative for the US, the UK and the west not to ‘stand by’ is to stop the Iranian bomb. Striking a few Syrian targets not only will not achieve that end. It will be yet another displacement exercise deployed by the US and UK to avoid facing up to the overwhelming threat to the west posed by Iran.
Other such Iran-displacement exercises include meddling in the Arab war against Israel and thus empowering the enemies of civilisation there; meddling in Libya, ditto; and meddling in Egypt, ditto and with multiple knobs on. Some accomplishment; and now Cameron and Obama intend to add an incoherent, ineffective and potentially disastrously counter-productive strike on Syria to their bone-headed record.
Iran is the major threat to the world right now. While Cameron proclaims ‘the world cannot stand by’ – only afterthe corpses of gassed Syrian children were so shockingly laid out for the world to witness – his government is not just choosing to ‘stand by’ but look the other way as the Iranian regime approaches its goal of nuclear capability in order to carry out its repeated threat of genocide against the Jews and the subjugation of the west.
How many Israelis will need to die at the hands of Iran before Cameron and Obama decide to stop bullying Israel to surrender to the Arabs in what is patently not the hinge issue in the Middle East, and declare instead, posthumously and lamely, that ‘the world cannot stand by’?
By insisting on the spurious tactic of negotiating with those for whom there can be no negotiation over what is for them a holy imperative to wipe out the Jews and conquer the west, Obama has given a regime which is the mortal enemy of America time to build the nuclear weapon to achieve its infernal purposes, and allowed it to cement and hugely extend its power in the region.
If any doubt remained that Obama will ‘stand by’ until Iran goes nuclear, we only have to look at the way he has pre-emptively neutered the prospective highly limited Syrian strike to see what the Iranian regime sees – a castrated America.
As for Cameron, his lethal shallowness is beyond contempt. Parliament has been recalled from holiday to vote on the Syria strike tomorrow. It should change the conversation, and hold Cameron’s feet to the fire not over Syria but Iran.
Thanks Ted Belman

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