28 April 2013

And, in somewhat related news...

Peter Hitchens writes, in praise of the Guardian:
A word of praise here for ‘The Guardian’ which has once again shown the value of a diverse and adversarial press. Earlier this week ‘The Times’ carried reports which suggested that there was now credible evidence that the Syrian government is using chemical weapons against the Syrian rebels. This view is pretty much shared by the BBC (which has in my view been running a disgraceful and unbalanced campaign for intervention in Syria for many months, way beyond the remit of its Charter obligations) and by many newspapers and politicians. Regular readers here will know that it’s not shared by me, but forget that for a moment and examine the matter for yourselves.

This is important because if such an action could be proven, the USA, Britain and France could get round the difficulty that the UN Security Council will not currently permit intervention in Syria, thanks to the vetoes of Russia and China. Moscow and Peking both feel their goodwill was abused in Libya, where an operation said to be aimed at protecting civilians ended in the overthrow of the Gadaffi state (and its replacement, as it happens, with a lawless chaos, which nobody mentions).

Also, Russia’s Vladimir Putin, as I have pointed out before, has a shrewd feeling that the trend towards over-riding national sovereignty could one day soon be used to overthrow him and his government. Russia is unique in the modern world in not being a global superpower, but in having enough military, economic and diplomatic power to continue to behave as a sovereign nation. This was Britain’s position till the unhinged Suez episode of 1956. After that, we became a sycophantic client of the USA, which showed its gratitude for our loyalty by ushering us brusquely into EU servitude, and backing Irish nationalist revolts against our internal national authority. What a terrible tangle this gets us into, especially when EU and US interests don’t coincide.

I don’t know if Mr Putin cares about what would probably happen to Syria if the rebels won, though if he doesn’t, he should. I fear for the Christian and Alawi minorities if Sunni Muslim radicals, backed by Sunni Saudi Arabia and Sunni Turkey, take over. And who knows what would then happen in precarious Lebanon, where the Shia Muslim Hizbollah would then be in a very sensitive position, deprived of a major ally, presumably next on the Saudi target list, yet still powerfully armed and well-trained?

And then there is Shia Iran - Syria’s principal ally and Saudi Arabia’s principal hate-object ( and probably the real target of all this fuss) . Much could follow from an Assad defeat, and much of it could involve violence and danger. It is time people realised that the Sunni-Shia split, in which Syria is embroiled whether she likes it or not, is now a more dangerous fault-line in the Middle East than the stalemated Arab-Israeli conflict.


[A]nyone reporting on such things is entitled to his feelings. More, we should be glad that [Antony Loyd, reporter for The Times] is engaged, and ready to risk himself in the general cause of revealing the true face of the world.

But his editors at home need to be cooler and more dispassionate, especially when so much is at stake.


[I]t strikes me that President Assad would need to be exceptionally stupid to use chemical weapons. They are tricky things to use anyway, unstable, hard to transport, apt to decay in storage, unsafe for their users as well as for their victims. That, rather than international convention, is the reason why they have been used so rarely since they were introduced in the 1914-18 war. Mainly designed to be used on battlefields (where by forcing the use of cumbersome and hot protective clothing they can gravely hold up an advancing army) they would provide him with little advantage in the sort of urban war he is fighting. He knows perfectly well that their use would be the pretext for a Western intervention.

On the other hand, the rebels, many of whom aren’t much nicer than Mr Assad, would see many advantages in suggesting to outside observers that such weapons had been used.

I have no idea of the truth, but I would examine the evidence on that basis, and informed by the knowledge we all gained during the Iraq war run-up, that governments don’t always tell the truth.

The entire article is worth reading. I myself feel none too sanguine, to say the very least, about entrusting the fate of the Christians of Syria and the Christians of Iraq who ended up in that country - not to mention the Alawites - to the government of Turkey, which less than a hundred years ago on the selfsame ground so cavalierly butchered a million and a half Christians from elsewhere in their own territory, and then has consistently and continuously lied about it upon the world stage. Much, much less am I comfortable with entrusting their fate to the Saudis, though they are somewhat further off geographically. And Mr Hitchens is perfectly right, of course, that the Shia-Sunni split in the region is potentially far more important to understand than the Arab-Israeli one, especially since Israel and the Salafist or Salafist-sympathising states are finding common ground on this issue in particular.

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