Allan Massie: Cry freedom and seek a saner political solution
THE stampede to deliver more practical support to the Free Syrian Army will not protect innocent civilians, writes Allan Massie
THE Free Syrian Army sounds good. Which of us is against freedom and in favour of a dictatorship like Bashar al-Assad’s? Nobody denies it is brutal. Nobody denies that its attempt to suppress the rebellion which developed out of peaceful protest has been ruthless. But that, as I have remarked before, is what governments do when challenged by armed rebels. They hit back as hard as they can. Our Nato ally Turkey has not been exactly gentle with Kurdish rebels over the years.
Now the British Government is stepping up the aid it is giving the Free Syrian Army. So too is the American. We are told that British and American intelligence officers are advising them; special forces may be in place already. Our decision to intervene, albeit cautiously so far, has nothing to do with Syria as such. It certainly has nothing to do with the Syrian people. It’s part of the geopolitical game. The Assad regime is backed by Iran, Russia and China, the FSA has been backed and equipped by that beacon of democracy Saudi Arabia, by Qatar and Turkey. Apart from this, we know little about the FSA; early reports that it had been infiltrated by al-Qa’eda operatives have been neither confirmed nor disproved. It is however quite likely that it has been; this is after all a Sunni rebellion.
We know one other thing about the FSA however. It has no more democratic legitimacy than president Assad. Nobody elected him; he inherited power from his father. But nobody elected the FSA either, and nobody knows just what its aims are. What we do know is that the many minorities that compose a large part of the Syrian population, notably the Christians and the Alawites (who dominate the regime) fear the Free Syrian Army. If it wins it will be freedom for some Syrians and persecution of other ones. This is widely acknowledged. Yet the British and American governments are trying to help it win. The Syrian National Council, which appears to be to the FSA what Sinn Fein was to the Provisional IRA, has asked the West for weapons to use against tanks and planes. It wants to rack up the conflict, and it seems that we edging towards obliging. In the last couple of months it has become clear that there is now civil war in Syria, and that we are prepared to back one side in this war, though we know little about it, against the other, principally because we dislike and fear the countries that support the Assad government - a government which we have recognized and with which both Britain and the USA have done business.
If Assad wins with the help of his Iranian, Russian and Chinese friends, he will take terrible revenge on his enemies and their supporters. If the Free Syrian Army wins, with our help, they will be no less brutal in their revenge on the supporters of the regime. And there is no reason to suppose that any regime dominated by the self-styled Syrian National Council and the FSA will be any more liberal and democratic than Assad’s. Freedom for the FSA means freedom to dominate.
There is another way. Three weeks ago members of ten opposition groups met in Rome and issued a statement which concluded: “We cannot accept Syria being transformed into a theatre of regional and international conflict. We believe that the international community has the strength and the necessary ability to find a consensus that would be the basis of a political solution to the current dramatic crisis, based on the imposition of a ceasefire, the withdrawal of the military, the release of detainees and the kidnapped, the return of refugees, emergency assistance for the victims, a real global negotiation that excludes no one and a process that would be completed with national reconciliation based on justice.”
Among the signatories of this statement were two men who have done time in Assad’s prisons, Michel Kilo, a writer and spokesman for the Democratic Forum, and Riad Draar of the Islamic Democratic Current. They believe that the war does not offer any solution “capable of responding to the people’s deepest aspirations.
These are the voices of moderation and reason. So governments, whether for Assad or for the Free Syrian Army, pay no heed to them. They are quite happy to see Syria “transformed into a theatre of regional and international conflict”. This should surprise nobody. None of the governments that have come out in support of one side or the other gives a damn for the Syrian people. Instead they are happy playing the old game of power politics. As long as we put one over Iran, Russia and China, everything is fine. As long as Iran, Russia and China keep Assad in power, they will score a victory over the USA and Saudi Arabia. That’s all that counts. Civilians are being killed by both government troops and the FSA, but the Powers are happy to engage in their ritual dance.
It is shameful that the British Government is apparently ignoring the Syrian opposition groups and is backing the FSA which is as careless of the welfare of the mass of uncommitted Syrians as Assad himself.
If we were to accept that Syria should remain within the Russian and Iranian sphere of influence, then we might persuade Russia to force Assad to step aside in order to open the way to a negotiated settlement. Compromise would be better for Syrians than a prolongation of the war – a war which, in any case, may well end in Assad‘s victory with terrible retribution to follow. His forces have driven the FSA out of Damascus and may be on the point of driving them out of Aleppo too. But if he loses, the retribution will be just as nasty.
In London the other day, David Cameron met Vladimir Putin. They discussed Syria of course. Then they shrugged their shoulders and went off to watch the Olympic judo. Then the Foreign Secretary William Hague announced that we were stepping up our supply of “non-lethal” aid to the FSA. Who can doubt that “mission creep” is advancing? And who can really believe that we are doing anything but making a bad situation worse?
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Edinburgh
Monday 20 May 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 20 C
Wind Speed: 7 mph
Wind direction: West
Temperature: 8 C to 18 C
Wind Speed: 10 mph
Wind direction: North west