Democracy derived Rhetorical Entrapment

July 18, 2012 at 4:01 pm (tWP) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Bombing of Hiroshima

Western foreign policy suffers from a major flaw: rhetorical entrapment.

What are Western interests in Syria? The question is not often asked because it is not politically correct to mention interests when innocent people are being slaughtered. In these situations only values are of importance. Our values dictate that we strive to save as many lives as possible.

But what do our interests dictate?

Syria is a nuisance for the West. It fights the West’s strategic and economic interests in Lebanon, the Levant and the Mashreq in general. Unlike Iran it does not do so out of prejudice but rather out of pure self-interest. Syria being dependent on the Lebanese economy and strategic position does not have an interest in seeing any other power dominate Lebanon other than Syria. Damascus had no interest in allowing the US to dominate Iraq and thus becoming a major hegemon in the Middle East, and it was a balance of power reasoning that compelled the Assad regime to help jihadists and Iranians in subverting Coalition rule of occupied Iraq. Syria has kept an alliance with Iran for the same reason: because without sharing borders and conflicting spheres of interest, Tehran and Damascus could mutually cooperate to counter-balance Turkey, Iraq and to discuss the Kurd problem. In addition relying on each other also meant becoming more independent from international superpowers like the US or Russia.

Syria is thus a nuisance because it interferes frequently with Western interests. Syria is not however a major threat since unlike Iran, it does not have the capability to project power (soft or hard) in the region and limits itself to acting in its adjacent periphery. It also does not have energetic resources that might influence the behavior of world markets – like Iran.

The West has therefore only one interest in Syria: to alter its foreign policy paradigm. The best way to do this is to break its alliance with Iran so as to make it more dependent on international superpowers and co-opt it into becoming more acquiescent regionally to Western concerns. An extra benefit would be to see Iran’s isolation grow and sufficient barriers to its adventure in Lebanon, be created.

Taking this into account, should the West intervene in Syria? The answer is ‘no’. Syria is not important enough for a financially vulnerable West to spend resources on, especially when Iran is much higher in the list of priorities. That said, why not make a small contribution to the subversion of the regime?

Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright – Mme Albright demanded of Slobodan Milošević nothing short of a perfect human rights record in Kosovo but no such demands were ever made of the UÇK

Here is where American and European foreign policy incurs in an error: Washington and Europe should only try and replace the old regime if there were sufficient guarantees the new regime would be loyal. At this point in time there are none since much of the rebellion is carried out by jihadists and much of Syria’s Sunni majority is by default anti-Western.

The subversion of Syria should serve the one and only purpose of forcing Bashar al-Assad to negotiate. It is not his regime which matters replacing but merely his foreign policy.

Yet the West will not negotiate and the reason is simple rhetorical entrapment. Assad and his regime have by now been so vilified that any political compromise with it would be politically damaging to all the Western leaders who helpless and unwilling to intervene, chose to attack with words instead.

The pattern is not new: during the Second World War, Hitler outsmarted the Franco-British strategy of setting Germany and Russia against each other by securing a non-aggression pact with the USSR and by attacking the West first. Instead of learning from Hitler’s example, the West refused to make a separate peace with the Reich and paid a heavy price for it: eastern Europe under Soviet orbit for the next 40 years. With Japan too, in spite of the fact that the militarist regime was not as ideological as Nazi Germany, no dialogue was opened and unconditional surrender was the only exit offered to Tokyo. The result was the resort to atomic weapons, the cost was a quarter of a million lives.

Since, the tendency has endured with Western demands for humanitarian and democratic principles to be upheld to impossibly high standards and resulting in military interventions by the West in Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan, which were ultimately counter-productive for its interests. The unwillingness to compromise is recurrently a consequence of populism and demagoguery in justifying military expenditure and intervention, to Western citizens. Instead of justifying them with pragmatic interests, politicians with a 4/8 year policy-making horizon, prefer to justify them manicheistically, making use of a Western fundamental rights and liberties narrative which confronted with violations of those rights automatically confers merit to action (“we have to do something”) and finally warrants intervention. This is nothing but short-termism and is now standard operating procedure in spite of some honourable exceptions such as President George H. W. Bush.

Gulf War

Gulf War

This tendency is a disservice to Western interests which often reaches the absurd of empowering adversaries of the West against Western allies.

It is a tendency also brought about by Western civilisational individualism, which sees the individual as the base of society (rather than family, clan or ethnicity), therefore requiring equal universal [individual] human rights which are reflected in foreign policy by an unreasonable demand for compliance with values endogenous only to the West.

A responsible and skillful politician would have negotiated a political solution to the conflict in Syria months ago. Populists in election year will stick to demands for unconditional surrender.

The West plays a dangerous game for not only does it force extreme outcomes – instead of middle of the road ones – but it also will be compelled to systematically trust the challengers of the regime: every regime has flaws in its ‘good society’ record – be these in democratic practices or humanitarian standards – whereas the challengers are by definition starting anew and are therefore as innocent as a newborn infant – a politically convenient tabula rasa…



  1. M. Silva said,

    Brzezinski: West “Recreating Sino-Soviet Bloc” in Syria

    Former American national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski warned on Friday that the United States and their allies are “unintentionally recreating the Sino-Soviet bloc against” them by vilifying these countries’ stance in the Syrian crisis.

    China and Russia on Thursday again used their veto power in the United Nations Security Council to block a resolution that threatened sanctions against the Ba’athist regime of Bashar al-Assad if it did not suspend its brutal suppression of a sectarian uprising in Syria. It was the third time that China and Russia vetoed a resolution from Western members that aimed to put pressure on Assad.

    Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations Vitaly Churkin said that his government could not accept a resolution that open the path to “external military involvement in Syrian domestic affairs.”

    Moscow abstained from a resolution that allowed member states to take “all necessary measures” to stop a similar crackdown in Libya last year. That document quickly paved the way for an Arab and NATO military intervention in the North Africa that deposed Libyan dictator Muammar al-Gaddafi. The Chinese and Russians would not like to see a repetition of foreign military action against a Middle Eastern dictator that is hostile to the West.

    The mistake that Western allies made, said Brzezinski on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, was that they “rushed the gun. We announced in advance what the outcome must be. Assad must go.” That left no room for negotiation and forced them into a standoff with the Chinese and Russians who are opposed to the notion that states have a right or even responsibility to protect civilians in other countries by toppling their government.

    Brzezinski argued that the United States should still seek an understanding with China and especially Russia, which is an ally of Assad’s, about the future of Syria. “But we are not going to do it if we abuse them in the UN.”

    Britain’s ambassador Mark Lyall Grant said on Thursday that he was “appalled” by the Sino-Russian veto. “The consequence of their decision is obvious,” he added. “Further bloodshed and the likelihood of descent into all out civil war.”

    Ambassador Susan Rice told reporters that history will judge the two vetoing members “harshly” and announced in the Security Council that instead of waiting for the United Nations to take action, the United States “will intensify [its] work with a diverse range of partners outside the Security Council to bring pressure to bear on the Assad regime and to deliver assistance to those in need.”

    What the Western allies are achieving with this sort of language is that they’re “pushing the Russians and the Chinese together,” said Brzezinski, “and that’s not good in a larger sense.”

  2. M. Silva said,

    Syria after Assad

    July’s stunning blows to the Assad regime—a bomb attack that killed several key members of his inner circle and a massive rebel offensive in areas across the country—have prompted redoubled efforts to plan for its collapse. Calls for intervention grow louder, and the United States reportedly has abandoned its diplomatic campaign against Assad in favor of preparing for, and hastening, his fall. The word “endgame” is spread liberally over editorial pages and magazine covers. However, as any chess player will tell you, sometimes the endgame is just the beginning—and sometimes the endgame doesn’t end with a win.

    Much outside thought about the Syrian conflict has relied upon a liberation narrative: Assad is the oppressor; the people are the oppressed; they are rising to overthrow him. The story is presumed to end with Assad’s fall. There is no doubt that Assad is a loathsome dictator, but the truth is messier.

    A unified Syrian people does not exist—the society is shot through with sectarian and ethnic divisions which would make stable governance difficult in any context, and the current conflict is making that all but impossible. Syria’s non-Sunni peoples have long feared that Sunni Islamists will overthrow the secular government and oppress them. This fear has led to crackdowns on Sunnis, the most famous being the destruction of the city of Hama in 1982. Alawites in the intelligence services and upper echelons of the military have overseen a campaign that began with mass arrests and torture but now has shells falling on cities and tanks in the streets. Alawite men of the Shabiha, common criminals in peacetime but militiamen in war, have committed truly unspeakable acts. Young men in cities the regime has conquered are often killed, regardless of their political affiliation. Their bodies are sometimes dismembered and burned. Captured opposition fighters face a similar grim fate.

    Despite protestations that they are inclusive and nonsectarian, it is difficult to imagine opposition fighters completely resisting the temptation to seek revenge for these horrendous acts to which they and their kinsmen have been subjected. There already have been reports of abuses by the opposition, including kidnappings, forced confessions and executions. This will feed the fears of Alawites and Christians. So will reports of Islamist fighters operating in parallel to the Free Army; some reportedly are better armed and better funded than the non-Islamist forces. We should not discount the danger of another situation such as the one in Mali’s breakaway Azawad region, where a similar imbalance between local rebels and internationally funded extremists has led to the formation of a terrorist haven.

    The Assad regime has stoked sectarian fears eagerly to challenge the liberation narrative, reportedly paying Alawite government employees to put up anti-Alawite and anti-Christian graffiti and depicting the entire rebellion as Islamist: rebels have complained that the state trumpets images of bearded fighters as proof of fundamentalism, even though for some fighters the beard is proof of the inconvenience of shaving in the field. One young guerilla joked to the L.A. Times, “We’re going to start fighting with a bottle of whiskey in our hand, just so the world sees we’re not Al Qaeda.” Extremist or not, rebels entering Alawite and Christian communities will be seen as harbingers of tyranny and massacre, not freedom.

    Because of these fears, the Assad regime is unlikely to vanish the moment Damascus falls. Instead, it will withdraw its forces and as many of its heavy weapons as possible to the Christian and Alawite homelands west of Hama and Homs. These homelands, centered on the cities of Tartous in the south and Latakia in the north, are a natural fortress separated from the rest of Syria by the rough terrain of the Jabal an Nusayriyah range, which forms a barrier three thousand to four thousand feet high backed by a labyrinth of ridges and valleys. Any FSA attempt to unify all of Syria would thus face the unenviable task of conquering this harsh terrain and then maintaining supply lines through it. Even if they were successful, their reward would be continuing urban combat and holding operations against Assad’s last “dead enders,” all amid an unfriendly population that sees them as conquerors, not liberators. This would be a difficult operation for any military, but the Free Army, with its imperfect organization, light armament and current focus on guerrilla fighting, would be unlikely to pull it off in the face of resistance.

    Even if the Free Army conquers the Syrian northwest, it then would have to rebuild the state’s institutions in a credible, nonsectarian manner. Reintegration of blood-smutched Alawi officers into the police and army would be a tough sell to the Sunnis. And the Alawis and Christians would be just as skeptical of any government effort to punish the worst offenders. Other solutions, like the amnesties and truth commissions used in places like Northern Ireland and South Africa, seem far too abstract to bind the gash that has opened within Syrian society.

    This gives a comic air to the renewed calls for Western involvement, which note the inescapable challenges facing Syria regardless of who is in power, yet quickly wave them away. Witness the Economist leader “Towards the Endgame”:

    Western governments should try to give the military effort against Mr. Assad a further push. The swiftest way of doing that would be to give aid—such as money and communications gear—to the main rebel force, the Free Syrian Army. It is already getting arms and cash from Qatar and Saudi Arabia with Turkish co-operation, but it needs more help. . . . The FSA is no band of angels. Some of its weapons will doubtless fall into the wrong hands, possibly including groups of jihadists. Flooding Syria with arms will make the country harder to govern once Mr. Assad has gone. But backing the FSA is probably the quickest way to prize Mr. Assad from power.

    This argument is rather sensible within the liberation narrative, for in that view Assad’s removal signals the end of major hostilities. Arming, equipping and funding the Free Army is indeed the quickest way short of direct intervention to remove Assad from Damascus, but this is not a Napoleonic-era conflict in which control of the capital is decisive. Damascus will fall, and perhaps Assad the man will fall with it—captured, killed or overthrown. But Assad the regime will pull back into the mountains. Liberation will not take place. The war will not be over. The balance will merely have shifted.

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