Enemy intelligence: our occasional look at what thoughtful ruling class commentators are saying.
With no ‘good’ side to support, Michael Walzer says Washington should increase humanitarian aid rather than intervene militarily
By ELHANAN MILLER (The Times of Israel)
As President Barack Obama and other Western leaders mull arming rebels fighting the regime of Bashar Assad in Syria, a leading American expert said the United States should avoid military intervention in a country where its ability to identify positive elements for the future is extremely limited.
Speaking to The Times of Israel on the sidelines of the Middle East in Transition conference at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University on Wednesday, Michael Walzer, a professor emeritus of political theory at Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study and author of “Just and Unjust Wars” — perhaps the most authoritative book on the subject — said that his position on Syria gradually shifted from skepticism about US military intervention in the early days of the uprising to staunch opposition to it today.
“Now you have jihadi fighters on the one hand and Hezbollah on the other, and it really doesn’t look like there’s much to choose between,” Walzer said. “It’s almost impossible to describe a desirable outcome in this civil war, and if you don’t have a desirable outcome — you can’t intervene.”
Walzer’s comments come amid mounting Republican pressure on the administration of Barack Obama to arm the waning rebel groups in Syria, and Democratic indecision on the matter. Following a recent visit with rebels near Syria’s border with Jordan, Senator John McCain (R-Az) expressed confidence that the US could ensure that heavy weaponry reached “the right hands.”
But Walzer argued that it has become virtually impossible to identify “right hands” in today’s Syria.
From the early days of the Syrian uprising, Walzer argued that three conditions must be met for the US to intervene militarily, conditions that were sorely disregarded when it engaged the Qaddafi regime in Libya in 2011. Firstly, the US must “pick a winner” and make sure he is capable of governing Syria; secondly, the US must secure Assad’s weapons arsenal and prevent it from leaking into neighboring countries; and finally the new (presumably) Sunni government must guarantee the physical safety of the country’s minorities: Alawites, Druze, Christians and Kurds.
“The only way to achieve these goals is with troops on the ground,” Walzer argued, adding that no one in the American political system is willing to pay that price.
Walzer is by no means a non-interventionist. He supported American military action in places like Kosovo and Rwanda in the 1990s and in Darfur, Sudan, over the past decade. Nor does he believe that a democratic outcome is a prerequisite for military intervention where “systematic massacres” are perpetrated. For him, the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia in November 1978 and the Tanzanian invasion of Uganda that same year serve as models of justified military interventions, though neither were authorized by the UN and both were motivated more by geopolitical considerations than by humanitarian ones. ”But they stopped the killing,” he said.
The Syrian case is different, however.
“In Syria, there isn’t a deliberate systematic massacre of hundreds of thousands of people. There’s a war going on, and it’s being fought with great brutality on both sides, though there’s probably a greater capacity for brutality on the government side.”
As the official death toll in Syria reached 93,000 on Thursday according to UN figures, the lack of a military option does not mean the US must stand idly by, Walzer said. Humanitarian assistance to Syrian refugees could be dramatically increased, he argued, and together with the Russians the US should explore the possibility of forming a transitional government.
“There are now generals from the Syrian army fighting on both sides. Maybe we could get them together and form a military junta that could stop the killing.”
Syria’s first government could not be created by elections, Walzer said, but only through negotiations between political and military forces.
“You can’t have elections where there are people whose goal is to to kill their enemies. A system of power sharing cannot be imagined if you don’t first have an end to violence, the beginning of civil society.”
Even if military intervention does eventually become justified, for instance if the government begins systematically using chemical weapons against civilians — “not experimentally, which seems to be what has happened so far” — the obligation to intervene lies primarily with Syria’s immediate neighbors and not with distant superpowers, “who are likely to do it less well.”
“The difficulty is that the Arab world is divided,” he concluded.
H/t: Prof Norm
Above: Charles Lindbergh puts the Stop The War case for non-intervention in WW2
BBC Radio 4′s ‘Any Questions’ is a pretty reliable barometer of middle-England, middle class opinion. These days, anyone on the panel who denounces intervention of any kind in overseas conflicts, can be guaranteed a big round of applause, regardless of whether the speaker is from the isolationist right or the ‘anti-imperialist’ left.
This week’s programme, inevitably, included a question about Syria, and the panel was unanimous in opposing the idea of arming the opposition, to the obvious approval of the audience. Right wing Tory isolationist Daniel Hannan put the non-intervention case most succinctly when he said “It’s not our business… in Syria we have no connections …we have no particular interest.”
Smug, shallow leftist commentator Mehdi Hasan (New Statesman and Huffington Post) chimed in with his familiar, sanctimonious riff along the lines of one sides’s as bad as the other … both sides have been accused of using chemical weapons … sending the rebels weapons or imposing a no-fly zone will just make matters worse…etc. etc…
Hannon, who made it clear that he agreed with Hasan’s isolationist conclusions, was honest enough to chip in with the following:
“A one-sided arms embargo is a form of intervention, as it was in Bosnia, as it was in the Spanish Civil War. If you’re allowing one side free access to global weaponry and denying the other [weapons] then you are in practice intervening.”
An important point, that the isolationist movement of both left and right rarely acknowledge. The assumption, all too often, is that only military intervention costs lives, while staying out of it saves lives. Patent nonsense, once you think about it, but that’s the presumption upon which people like the so-called Stop The War Coalition and their media stooges, expect us to accept their case.
Hopi Sen puts the contrary view very well in a recent piece on the cost of non-intervention in Syria:
The last decade has been a steady retreat from intervention.
We know why. We saw the terrible costs of intervention first hand, while the deaths of the Marsh Arabs, the repression of the Kurds, the brutality of Saddam’s regime (and yes, our real-politik driven complicity in that regime) were somehow forgotten. We even managed to forget that the cost of containment was a society trapped by sanctions, a price worth paying for the containment of a regime we did not wish to overthrow.
Yet now, in Syria, we also see the price of inaction.
I make the following comparison not to compare the loss, or the war, or the justice of either, but to compare our reaction to each.
The rate of violent death in Syria is already more than double that in the bloodiest year of the Iraq war. Around 170,000 have died in Iraq in the decade since the war. More than half that are dead in Syria already, and the violent deaths are increasing rapidly. Where is the outrage of the humanitarian left? Where are the marches and the vigils? The petitions and the disbelief? Where are the Anti-War Marches?
Further, doing nothing has increased regional instability. Already Hizbollah are killing Syrian rebels, with who knows what consequences for Lebanon. Israel is both nervous of Islamism and of an unstable Syrian government. Turkey, Iraqi Kurdistan and Jordan are having to cope with some one and a half million refugees.
These are the results of the policy we chose.
Would things have been better if we had intervened directly? Would the slaughter have been less with a No Fly zone, or airstrikes on Syrian forces mounting aggression, or if we had supported secular, moderate rebels early? Would things have been better if we had even made it clear to Russia that there was some action that we would not tolerate?
That I can’t know, just as I cannot know what would have happened in Iraq this past decade if Saddam had been left to imprison and murder his people under a sanctions regime that killed innocent civilians in order to constrain their torturers.
No-one can really know “what if“.
The awful truth is that inaction and intervention both have terrible costs, and those who decide between them cannot ever truly know what will result. Some forgot that in the last decade, choosing to believe that only intervention could have a terrible price. I don’t forget the reverse now.
Just because the policy we have pursued has become a catastrophe does not mean the policy was undoubtedly and obviously wrong.
But by God, I wish we felt more shame for what we have not done for the people of Syria.
(Read the full article here)
Howie’s Corner has already covered this bizarre story, in which the maxim ”my enemy’s enemy is my friend” is taken to its logical conclusion.
Above: this may help explain Griffin’s enthusiasm for the Assad regime and Hezbollah
Yesterday’s Times (June 12 2013) went into further detail:
BNP leader praises Assad during trip to bomb-hit Syria
Nick Griffin, the BNP leader, said that Syria was “under attack” as he embarked on a surprise visit yesterday sponsored by the Assad Government.
The arrival of the far-right MEP in Damascus, apparently to challenge David Cameron’s support for arming the Syrian opposition, coincided with a double suicide bombing in the capital.
The attack on a police station in the centre of the city reportedly killed at least 14 people, but Mr Griffin insisted that all was well. “Occasional explosions in distance but life in capital normal” he wrote on Twitter. “Traffic busy, shops full of goods, Families out in sun.” Later he visited the site of the explosion, which he said smelt like an “abattoir”.
More than 80,000 people have been killed in Syria over the past two years. What began as a peaceful uprising morphed into a civil war after President Assad tried to quash it by force.
But the BNP leader praised President Assad’s secularism and tolerance and insisted that the country was under attack from “tens of thousands” of foreign fighters.
His visit came as President Putin of Russia said that Mr Assad could have prevented civil war if he had compromised with his opponents. However, Mr Putin also repeated accusations made by Sergei Lavrov, his Foreign Minister, of the West’s “double standards” in foreign affairs, suggesting that then US and other nations “pick and choose” which terrorists they were happy to work with.
Mr Cameron hopes to sign up the Russian leader to making strong condemnation of the Assad regime at next week’s G8 summit in Northern Ireland.
William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, will travel to Washington today to discuss tactics with John Kerry, the Secretary of State. The pair will talk about a possible transitional government.
In recent days Mr Griffin has voiced support for Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shia group allied to Mr Assad. He said that Hezbollah’s militant wing, which the British Government believes should be designated a terrorist organisation, had done “a better job than the Met dealing with ‘British’ jihadi cut-throats in Syria”.
In the 1980s, while in the National Front, Mr Griffin sought to build bridges with Colonel Gaddafi of Libya. He also supported Ayatollah Khomeini, the leader of Iran’s Islamic revolution.
Will the likes of Socialist Unity (well, John Wight, anyway), the Morning Star and ‘Stop The War’ be concerned about finding themselves in the same camp as Nick Griffin – and, indeed, using many of the same arguments? Somehow, I doubt it.
Below: from the Guardian‘s MIDDLEEASTLIVE roundup:
Here’s a summary of the main developments today:
• The Syrian border town of Qusair has fallen to Hezbollah forces after a three-week siege that pitched the powerful Lebanese Shia militia against several thousand Sunni rebels in what had been billed as a breakthrough for the Assad regime. Rebel groups released a statement early on Wednesday confirming that they had pulled out of the strategic town in the early hours. Rebel fighters are believed to have taken refuge in hamlets near Syria‘s third city, Homs, around 20 miles (30km) to the north.
• Analysts said the fall of the town marked a significant blow for the rebels, but said it was too early to describe the battle as a turning point. Michael Hanna, senior fellow at the Century Foundation, said there were rebel-held areas of Syria that Assad would never reclaim.
• The Red Cross is still being prevented from reaching hundreds of wounded people in Qusair, despite a promise from the Syrian government to grant humanitarian access once the military operation was completed. A spokesman for the ICRC said: “We’re still in dialogue with the Syrian authorities on reaching Qusair, particularly with a view to getting in medical supplies.”
We await with baited breath the Stop The War Coalition’s protest at this destruction by non-Syrian forces of an entire town with mass civilian casualties, and their demand that Assad begins immediate peace negotiations.
By Mark Osborn (Solidarity paper and AWL website)
Above: Assad stooge and Stop The War favourite Issa Chaer on Press TV
The latest campaign by the Stop the War campaign, the remnant of the group which ten years ago organised big marches against the invasion of Iraq, is to prevent Western intervention in Syria.
An attempt at a major public meeting on the issue, held in London on 21 May, attracted only 50 people. This was a meeting organised by leftists (Counterfire and Socialist Action) to oppose Western intervention in Syria at which no platform speaker was willing to criticise the disgusting Syrian regime. They say: “our duty is to build a movement against Western intervention.” But, even if such an initiative made sense as an immediate priority, what makes combining opposition to intervention with championing freedom and democracy problematic?
Only that Counterfire has made a political choice not to criticise Assad’s filthy regime. Why? Because in this war Counterfire and Socialist Action are effectively siding with the regime.
Stop the War’s organisers are seriously politically disorientated. And that leaves them sharing platforms with a ridiculous Stalinist, Kamal Majid, and a Syrian academic, Issa Chaer, who when interviewed by the Iranian state’s propaganda outlet, Press TV, said, “I see President Assad as the person who is now uniting the country from all its backgrounds, all factions and all political backgrounds… anybody who calls for President Assad to step down at this stage; would be causing Syria an irreversible destruction.”
Majid’s reasons to oppose Western intervention in Syria are, from a genuinely left wing perspective, senseless.
He says: the US wants to overthrow the regime of Bashar Assad. Don’t we all? Apparently not. Majid thinks this would be a bad thing.
The American dilemma is rational: they want Assad to go, and replaced by some sort of stability, but don’t know how to get it. They are worried that intervention might embroil them in an expensive, bloody war — like in Iraq or Afghanistan — and end with Syria falling to pieces in sectarian slaughter. They are alarmed by the rising Islamists. So they try to negotiate a new government. But that too is problematic because Assad hangs on, and the Russians and Iranians continue to back Assad.
Majid says: the US and Europe want to intervene to grab Syrian oil and gas. Yes, the EU was the biggest customer for Syrian oil before the civil war and sanctions. But if the US and EU simply wanted Syrian oil they could use the normal capitalist mechanism of buying the stuff with cash. Assad would be delighted to hand over oil for dollars.
Another argument is: US wants to get rid of Hezbollah in Lebanon? Invading Syria would not remove Hezbollah, the reactionary, militarised, Shia party from Lebanon. If the US wanted to remove Hezbollah from Lebanon it would have to invade Lebanon, not Syria! However, Lebanon is one of quite a few countries on the US’s list of “places we do not intend to invade anytime soon”.
Of course Hezbollah’s recent turn towards very significant fighting for Assad in the town of Qusair is very alarming. This might be the point at which the civil war spills over the border. An anti-war campaign worthy of the name would oppose Hezbollah, not seek to protect them. Counterfire won’t do that because Hezbollah oppose the US and Israel and so are to be considered “on our side”.
The final argument is: US wants to remove Assad because it intends to invade Iran. The cartoon used by Stop the War shows Uncle Sam vaulting from Libya to Syria to Iran, bringing democracy. Whatever else is wrong with US policy it is not that it wants democracy in Libya, Syria and Iran. Stop the War presents itself as the group which opposes democracy.
There are foreign troops in Syria already — Iranian troops. A genuinely anti-imperialist movement would also oppose Russian policy and demand the withdrawal of Hezbollah’s fighters and Iranian troops from Syria. For STW it is quite a come-down from a million people on the streets against the Iraq war to a couple of dozen cranky Stalinists and fragments from the SWP in the basement of a London college. The reason is that the premise of the meeting — that the US is about to invade or bomb Syria, and that the main issue for us in Syria is stopping the West — is nonsense.
Indeed, if the US is eagerly looking to use its troops and planes, it has a funny way of going about it. It is now over two years since the uprising in Syria began and — despite plenty of regime outrages that could act as a justification, and pressure from some on the American right — Obama has shown no appetite for a major intervention. He has applied diplomatic pressure favouring the opposition, but has also prevented advanced weaponry getting to the Syrian rebels.
In April US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told the Senate Armed Services Committee, “Military intervention at this point could … embroil the US in a significant, lengthy and uncertain military commitment.”
US policy has shifted a little recently towards efforts to engage the regime and find a diplomatic process which can end the war. The US is working with the Russians to organise a peace conference in Geneva in June.
Western advocates for lifting the EU arms embargo on weapons for the Syrian opposition see their efforts as strengthening the opposition during negotiations, rather than helping the rebels overrun the state. The BBC comments, British Foreign Minister William Hague, “has argued that partially lifting the EU arms embargo… would complement, rather than work against, the peace process because it would strengthen the opposition’s hand in negotiations with President Assad.”
Unions should stop funding STW’s nasty little rump of a campaign
This is from Amandla! magazine. Achcar is associated with the ‘Mandelite’ United Secretariat of the Fourth International, but tends to have saner views on ‘imperialism’ than the majority of that tendency. He didn’t, for instance, simply denounce the Libyan rebels for calling for and accepting western support. In this interview on Syria he’s good against conspiracy-style ‘anti-imperialism’ on the left, the difficulties of post-civil war state formation owing to the centrifugal nature of the uprisings, and the reactionary character of the Muslim Brotherhood. He seems to think that Islamism will have difficulty becoming hegemonic because of its lack of socio-economic solutions. Let’s hope he’s right about that.
H/t: Liam McN
Interview with Gilbert Achcar, academic, writer, and activist, Professor at the Development Studies Department at the School of African and Oriental Studies in London (SOAS).
Amandla!: What would you say to those who argue that the Syrian uprising may be an opening for imperialist interests in the region?
GA: We have to distinguish between two aspects of the question. One aspect hints at the kind of conspiracy theory among those that call themselves anti-imperialist and tend to see the hand of imperialism behind everything. But believing that the United States is behind this massive uprising in the region is senseless. The fact is that the US has been confronted with a major dilemma: recent events came at a point when US influence in the region was at its lowest since the first war on Iraq in 1991, and at a time when it the US was preparing for its final withdrawal from Iraq without having accomplished any of the invasion’s goals. On top of that, uprisings overthrew faithful allies of Washington, including Egypt’s Mubarak, a key strategic partner in the region. To think Washington would have wished for this is ridiculous.
Actually, these events were so overwhelming that Washington rapidly understood it couldn’t oppose the tide; it had to pretend to welcome it in the name of the ‘democratic values’ to which it supposedly adheres. It had no choice but to renew the old alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood that existed until the 1990s, on which it now bets today, in the same way that it relies on the Emir of Qatar to play the go-between.
In Syria, we see Washington’s great quandary. As in Libya, it refuses to deliver weapons to the insurgency despite insistent requests (although it intervened directly in Libya, by bombing). The result is a total disproportion in weaponry and training between the regime’s forces and the insurgency, even though the insurgency encompasses a much larger section of the population. The truth is that the war has dragged on much longer than it might have had the insurgency received weapons. And the cost is terrible and tragic because of the loss of thousands and thousands of lives. The war is devastating Syria to the point that the insurgents are convinced – for good reason – that Washington and the western powers are happy with the conflict because ultimately it will create a weak, post-Assad Syria, which the US and Israel believe to be in their interests.
A!: What are the specific formations that are acting in Syria right now? Is there a class basis to the uprising?
GA: It’s not a class uprising in the sense that it has any form of clear-cut class consciousness. But the uprising started with a peripheral movement in poor rural towns, and the poorest, most downtrodden sections of the population were the insurgency’s initial force. The bourgeoisie as a whole is very afraid of the whole movement and the chaos that it creates. So there is no doubt that the uprising is a popular movement.
But because of the historical failure of the left in the region, we have a massive uprising without any capable left-wing leadership. It’s a very decentralised type of uprising with all sorts of groups waging a common fight against the regime. Read the rest of this entry »
A very well informed piece from a usually reliable source:
by Aron Lund, for Syria Comment
Is the FSA losing influence in Syria? How many people are in the FSA? Is the FSA receiving enough guns from the West, or too many? Will the FSA participate in elections after the fall of Bahar el-Assad? What is the ideology of the FSA? What’s the FSA’s view of Israel? Is Jabhat el-Nosra now bigger than the FSA? What does the FSA think about the Kurds? Who is the leader of the FSA? How much control does the central command of the FSA really have over their fighters?
All these and similar questions keep popping up in news articles and op-ed chinstrokers in the Western media, and in much of the Arabic media too.
They all deal with important issues, but they disregard an important fact: the FSA doesn’t really exist.
The original FSA: a branding operation
The FSA was created by Col. Riad el-Asaad and a few other Syrian military defectors in July 2011, in what may or may not have been a Turkish intelligence operation. To be clear, there’s no doubting the sincerity of the first batch of fighters, or suggest that they would have acted otherwise without foreign support. But these original FSA commanders were confined to the closely guarded Apaydın camp in Turkey, and kept separate from civilian Syrian refugees. Turkish authorities are known to have screened visitors and journalists before deciding whether they could talk to the officers. While this is not in itself evidence of a Turkish intelligence connection, it does suggest that this original FSA faction could not, how shall we say, operate with full autonomy from its political environment.
From summer onwards, new rebel factions started popping up in hundreds of little villages and city neighborhoods inside Syria, as an ever-growing number of local demonstrators were provoked into self-defense. The most important recruiting tool for this nascent insurgency was not the FSA and its trickle of videotaped communiqués on YouTube. Rather, it was Bashar el-Assad’s decision to send his army on a psychotic rampage through the Syrian Sunni Arab countryside. As the corpses piled up, more and more civilians started looking for guns and ammo, and the rebel movement took off with a vengeance.
While the new groups almost invariably grew out of a local context, and organized entirely on their own, most of them also declared themselves to be part of the FSA. They adopted its logotype, and would often publicly pledge allegiance to Col. Riad el-Asaad. As a branding operation, the FSA was a extraordinary success – but in most cases, the new “FSA brigades” had no connection whatsoever to their purported supreme commander in Turkey. In reality, what was emerging was a sprawling leaderless resistance of local fighters who shared only some common goals and an assemblage of FSA-inspired symbols.
The heyday of the FSA was in early/mid 2012, when new factions were being declared at a rate of several per week. But by mid-2012, the brand seemed to have run its course, as people soured on Col. Asaad and his exiles. The FSA term slowly began to slip out of use. By the end of the year, most of the big armed groups in Syria had stopped using it altogether, and one by one, they dropped or redesigned the old FSA symbols from their websites, logotypes, shoulder patches and letterheads. Their symbolic connection to the FSA leaders in Turkey was broken – and since no connection at all had existed outside the world of symbols, that was the end of that story.
The FSA brand name today
Today, the FSA brand name remains in use within the Syrian opposition, but mostly as a term for the armed uprising in general. It’s quite similar to how a French person would have employed the term “La Résistance” during WW2 – not in reference to a specific organization fighting against Hitler, but as an umbrella term for them all. With time, many people inside and outside Syria have started to use the FSA term to distinguish mainstream non-ideological or soft-Islamist groups from salafi factions. The salafis themselves used to be divided on the issue, but they aren’t anymore. The more ideological ones (like Jabhat el-nosra and Ahrar el-Sham) never used it, but at the start of the uprising, others did (like Liwa el-Islam and Suqour el-Sham).
One can’t disregard the fact that many Syrian opposition fighters will casually refer to themselves as FSA members, or that some armed factions actually self-designate as “a brigade of the FSA”. But that does not mean that they belong to some Syria-wide FSA command hierarchy: it’s still just a label, typically intended to market these groups as part of the opposition mainstream.
With time, then, the generally understood definition of the FSA term has gradually narrowed from its original scope, which encompassed almost the entire insurgency. Today, it is understood to apply mostly to army defectors (ex-Baathists), non-ideological fighters, and more moderate Islamists. But the dividing line is not really a question of ideology or organization, it is political. The FSA label is increasingly being used in the media as shorthand for those factions which receive Gulf/Western support and are open to collaboration with the USA and other Western nations.
That still doesn’t describe an actual organization, but at least it’s closer to a working definition of what the “FSA” would mean in a Syrian opposition context – a definition that can’t really decide what it includes, but which clearly excludes most of the anti-Western salafis, all of the hardcore salafi-jihadis, and, for example, the Kurdish YPG militia. Read the rest of this entry »
Very occasionally (about once every five years of so), the Graun carries a sensible, balanced and thought-provoking article that I am able to unreservedly recommend. It happened on Saturday (print edition), when Jonathan Freedland asked “We condemn Israel. So why the silence on Syria?”
Freedland contrasts the protest, publicity and outrage over Israel’s Operation Cast Lead four years ago, with the general lack of interest over the Syrian government’s ongoing atrocities; here’s a flavour:
There is no such clamour now. The Stop the War Coalition is not summoning thousands to central London to demand an end to the fighting, as it did then. On the contrary, its statements are content simply to oppose western intervention – of which there is next to no prospect – while politely refusing to condemn Assad’s war on his own people. Caryl Churchill has not written a new play, Seven Syrian Children, exploring the curious mindset of the Alawite people that makes them capable of such horrors, the way she rushed to the stage to probe the Jewish psyche in 2009. The slaughter in Syria has similarly failed to move the poet Tom Paulin to pick up his pen. Apparently, these Syrian deaths are not worthy of artistic note. The contrast has struck Robert Fisk, no defender of Israel. He puts it baldly: “[T]he message that goes out is simple: we demand justice and the right to life for Arabs if they are butchered by the west and its Israeli allies, but not when they are being butchered by their fellow Arabs.”
Read the full article here.
Inevitably, Freedland’s argument provoked the usual response from the loons, conspiracy theorists, professional Israel-haters and outright antisemites who frequent Comment Is Free. It also resulted in a typically stupid letter from Baroness Jenny Tonge, the Lib Dem’s and House of Lords’ resident anti-Israel thicko and fanatic. The most charitable thing that can be said is that she seems to completely misunderstand Freedland’s central point:
Jonathan Freedland makes the usual plea “why condemn Israel?”. Israel claims to be a western-style democracy that respects human rights and international law. The US and the EU, as well as our own country, have social, academic, cultural and trade links with Israel, and many of us have friends or colleagues in Israel. To many UK citizens, it is their home too. Israel drove the Palestinians from their homeland and livelihoods in 1948 and for 45 years Israel has occupied the West Bank. The treatment of the Palestinians is brutal and humiliating, as I have witnessed. We are right to condemn Israel for its actions. We are right to demand a higher standard of behaviour from Israel than from Arab states that are only now struggling to achieve political change. I have been to Syria. Does Mr Freedland really want Israel to be judged by the same standards by which we judge Syria?
Prof Norm delivers a devastating riposte here.
But it’s not Tonge’s stupidity that I particularly want to draw to your attention, but this strange and (I would submit) sinister comment from Lindsey German of Stop the War (and the objectively pro-Assad ‘Counterfire’), quoted by Freedland:
Anxious for answers, I called Lindsey German of Stop the War, who told me the organisation was not active on Syria because that “isn’t Stop the War’s job”. Its focus is on what “Britain and the US are doing”. Why, then, was it so vocal on Gaza? Because the west “was very much in support of the Israelis, so it was very different”. (In fact, Britain did not support Operation Cast Lead but called for a ceasefire.) She adds that the Palestinian question “has its own dynamic, which isn’t true of any other country”.
Assuming that Freedland quoted her accurately, what on earth did German mean by the Palestinian question having “its own dynamic, which isn’t true of any other country”? After all, the Palestians do not have a “country” – which is, of course, the root cause of their tragedy. Can anyone suggest what German means by that particular statement?
PS: hidden away in the foul madness that is the Comment Is Free “discussion” that followed Freedland’s piece, is a reasonably sensible debate between one David Pavett and ‘Aloevera’ that drew my attention to this fascinating interview given by the late Fred Halliday in April 2010. Recommended.
I’ve just been listening to Jonathan Myerson‘s ‘Payback’ on BBC Radio 4. It has a superb cast (including Henry Goodman as Kissinger, Peter Marinker as Nixon, Sara Kestelman as Golda Meir and Kerry Shale as Al Haig and Simcha Dinitz) and demonstrates considerable historical and psychological insight. It’s about the October 1973 ‘Yom Kippur War’ when Egypt and Syria launched an attack to recover the territories occupied by Israel in 1967, and very nearly succeeded. The play concentrates on the interaction between the war and Richard Nixon’s increasingly desperate efforts to fend off an investigation into Watergate and the release of the tapes. The behind-the-scenes negotiations/shadow-boxing between Kissinger and the USSR (in the form of Soviet Ambassador Dobrynin) is also dealt with very convincingly.
Despite the deadly serious subject matter, there’s some grim humour in Myerson’s script, mainly provided by Nixon’s brilliantly scatalogical and scurrilous use of language, especially when describing enemies and fairweather friends.
The political repercussions of the Yom Kippur War were almost as vast as those of the 1967 War and are necessary for any informed understanding of the Middle East and, indeed, the world, today.
This is radio drama at its best. If you have an hour to spare (and if you haven’t – make one!), listen and learn. Or you can download it from here (Amazon, I’m afraid). Essential listening for anyone interested in recenty history and contemporary politics - or who just enjoys superb radio drama.
Critical friend of ‘Shiraz’, Roger, writes:
“IMO this article deserves a shout out and link to – even if (or, perhaps, especially because) it’s from a site that can say ‘people one would have expected to know better, such as Tariq Ali, George Galloway and John Rees‘ without any apparent irony, and does fawning interviews with the likes of Richard (Lenin’s Tomb) Seymour”:
Syria: Neither Riyadh nor Tehran but Popular Revolution
Is any of this true? The situation in Syria is both extremely violent and extremely complicated and difficult for even those within the country to grasp, let alone those outside of it. Nonetheless, information is available if one is ready to consult people within Syria or those who have reported from there recently—a step rarely taken by those proposing the anti-anti-Assad argument. Let us take the claims in turn…
Read the full article here.