‘Western States’ Behaviour Towards Dictators is Defined by Strategy and Wealth’

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Britain and France have vetoed a renewal of the EU arms embargo on Syria, defying the 25 other EU members. From this Saturday, the embargo that has restricted Britain to officially sending ‘non-lethal’ support to rebels fighting Bashar al-Assad’s regime no longer exists. Neither Britain nor France have, they insist, made the final decision to directly send lethal arms but, they say, they want that option to be open – from August. Before that, they hope, they say, that a political solution will be reached at the proposed peace conference in Geneva, sponsored by the US and Russia.

In May, this year, the UN estimated at least 80,000 people to have died so far in the Syrian conflict, which started in 2011 as a largely peaceful protest against the Bashar al-Assad regime. The conflict has escalated into a running battle between the Assad regime and numerous rebel groups, amongst whom are Islamic extremists. Thousands continue to perish every month in ongoing brutality and abuse, committed by both sides. Assad is being supported by the Russians and Iranians, the rebel factions by a number of Arab states, the US and Britain. Alongside the training and ‘non-lethal’ support that Britain and the US are providing the rebels, there is suggestion that they have secretly helped funnel arms into the country, getting around the official embargo.

The Western backers of the rebels, including Britain, depict themselves as noble defenders of freedom and innocence against the evil tyranny of Assad. Which begs the question as to why they were backing Bashar al Assad only a few years ago? In 2002, a Sunday Herald investigation exposed that Britain was supplying chemical agents capable of being used in a chemical weapon to Syria.[1] In 2009-2010, Britian supplied £30,000 worth of small arms to the regime.[2]

The answer is, of course, that back then Assad was a ‘cooperative’ dictator. Now he is increasingly an ‘uncooperative’ one. The supply line of Western weapons and equipment shall stop flowing to him and, instead, go to his enemies. There is, however, concern about Russian resistance, Islamic extremism and general lawlessness filling an Assad void, hence, the absence, so far, of a gung-ho intervention as carried out in Afghanistan (2001), Iraq (2003),  and, in the form of an aerial bombing campaign, in Libya (2011).

The most cursory of glances at the historical record shows that British and other Western states’ behaviour towards dictators is defined primarily by strategy and wealth, not morality – despite the saintly rhetoric. This should make us highly sceptical about the intentions of those states that are bristling to intervene in Syria.

In a statement anticipating the EU vote on the arms embargo, Oxfam warned that: “Transfer of weapons to Syria (is) likely to spell further disaster for civilians caught in the crossfire, and fuel deadly arms race.” Sure enough, after Britain and France’s veto, Russia announced that it would supply Assad’s regime with anti-aircraft missiles – fulfilling, they say, an existing contract.

The EU has put in place rules to prevent members’ arms ending up in the hands of extremist groups amongst the Syrian rebels. However, Oxfam warned that such controls are in practice likely to be ineffective due to “the fractured nature of opposition groups and the near impossibility of monitoring whether transferred weapons would be used to commit violations, reports of abuses, the risks of diversion of arms and ammunition and the likely humanitarian knock on effects of increased transfers.” Besides, who is not an “extremist” two-years into fighting a brutal and seemingly endless civil war?

There is no simple solution to the Syrian conflict. If Britain, France and the US do start directly supplying weapons, it seems likely that the conflict will only be exacerbated, with Russia and Iran upping their contribution. Hope was raised by the proposed peace conference in Geneva next month but doubts remain whether the Assad regime or the opposition will be represented. Perhaps, these bitterest enemies will decide to sit it out in anticipation of fresh Western arms with which to complete the annihilation of the other and, in the process, Syrian society.



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  1. Apparently, Britain and the US are dead keen on ending the suffering of the Syrian people.

    But, when Bradley Manning leaked secret info. exposing the suffering our states were directly inflicting on others (in Iraq or Afghanistan) or indirectly, by propping up the Tunisian or Egyptian dictator, this is more than unacceptable. So unacceptable, in fact, that he faces life in imprisonment under the charge of aiding al-Qaida.

    As Gary Younge of The Guardian write, going after the guy who exposed criminal activity and not the criminals reveals the hypocrisy we live in: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/jun/02/hypocrisy-lies-at-heart-bradley-manning-trial

  2. The Independent’s Irish journalist Patrick Cockburn knows Syria as well as any of our journalists.

    He says, “the first priority should be for the US and Russia to compel the sides they back to cease fire. This would have to be policed on the ground by a UN observer force.”

    However, Cockburn suggests that what the West are actually doing (supporting the rebels indirectly and covertly, pushing for overt arms sales and setting a high bar for the possibility of negotiations) shows that what they want is a protracted civil war between govt and rebels, in order to suppress Syrian/Iranian/Hezbollah influence in the wider region and actuate eventual regime change.

    Cockburn admits that such a theory is cynical but is plausible given the way that US, Britain, Israel and their Middle Eastern client states are seeking to fan the flames of a war that is not, in likelihood, winnable for the rebels given the strength of the Assad govt. (Cockburn’s article: http://www.stopwar.org.uk/index.php/syria/2522-uk-and-france-playing-mischievous-role-in-ensuring-slaughter-in-syria-continues)

    That Western political and military elites are capable of being so cynical as to treat reality as a computer strategy game and innocent lives as mere numbers is beyond doubt. Just watch this statement by General Wesley Clark in which he describes the sheer callousness of his nation’s leaders. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9RC1Mepk_Sw

    (Incidentally, I suspect General Clark is editing himself – he cannot disclose classified info – so, the callous cynicism is, probably, even worse than what you hear in that statement).

  3. Nick Cohen, writing in the Observer, hails William Hague’s Foreign Office as enlightened in their proposal to arm rebels (with the French). Hague understands that we cannot sit and watch the massacre.http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/jun/09/william-hague-syria-policy

    Cohen’s presumption is that more arms could help the rebels win – which is a claim without much support, given the strength of the Assad regime. Moreover, he does not recognise that the West is already co-ordinating the supply of weapons into Syria via Qatar and other Middle Eastern states.

    And, of course, as is always the case with those who advocate noble humanitarian interventions, Cohen does not mention the fact that Hague’s government are licensing the sale of weapons to all manner of dictators, from Saudi Arabia to Kuwait.

  4. So, US are now going to directly send weapons to Syria after the ‘red line’ of banned chemical weapons use was allegedly passed by the Assad’s forces: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jun/13/syria-chemical-weapons-us-confirm

    Britain will, I think we can expect, going to follow suit having aggressively campaigned for this for some time. (And, because our Establishment is so pathetically subordinated to the US).

    What do the experts predict to happen? Journalists like Cockburn predict that the killings and abuse will intensify. Over 93,000 are already dead. An average of 5,000 died every month since last July. These figures will rise faster. Just think, at this rate, over 30,000 more people will have died by the this year’s end.

    But, the Assad forces, with their supporters, are strong and not likely to buckle. Hence, the predictable course is that sometime in the not so distant future, the US, Britain and France will intervene with aerial bombardment. Then, they will seek to implement a pro-Western regime sympathetic to our government’s economic, political and strategic needs. That is, according to Cockburn and others, our noble leaders’ end game in Syria.

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