Friday, 12 July 2013

On the Danger of Arming the Syrian Opposition

On the possibility of the US and UK arming the Sunni insurgents in Syria fighting against President Assad's regime, Ahmad Samih Khalidi in the Guardian has written,
'The Syrian crisis is transforming the entire Arab Mashriq, encompassing Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan and potentially Israel/Palestine into one vast arena for what is now a sectarian conflict between Sunni and Shia Islam. Any external intervention bears the risk of an open-ended engagement'.
True, but the problem from the British perspective is that William Hague is arguing that intervention is necessary to support 'moderate' Sunni insurgents in order to prevent them joining Al Qaida and so maintain an opposition to Assad's Shia regime. The reasons for this are twofold.

Firstly, the shoddy realpolitik in which the lynchpin of Britain's strategic interests remains Saudi Arabia, a country with a large market for Britain's arms industry that supplies the West with oil and hosts US military bases. The KSA's main Gulf rival is Iran and so Britain effectively has to back Sunni militias in Syria against Shia.

The second is ideological. Hague is a messianic neoconservative with delusions of grandeur. He regards, as do most in Cameron's government, Iran as an 'existential enemy' and portray it in neo-Cold War terms. That can be seen in Michael Gove's propaganda tract Celsius 7/7 when he declares,
'The Iranian Revolution of 1979, like the French Revolution of 1789, was a moment that grew into a model. Islamist dreams of power before 1979 had been desert mirages; after 1979 Islamism had a mountain fortress....Iran's experience stands as a template for Islamist advance'. ( page 28).
Hague, like Gove, believes that Islamism consists of 'one seamless totalitarian threat', a convenient oversimplification that provides a rationale for any form of intervention. This is true whether, fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan, invading Iraq, or 'tilting the balance' against Assad in Syria by backing 'moderate' insurgents.

Khalidi is is correct to emphasise that,
'..the west, despite its long experience in the Middle East, remains profoundly alien to the region's most deep-rooted forces of religion, sect, ethnicity, tribe and clan, and seemingly incapable of grasping their complexity.'
But ultimately, the West has a 'lethal embrace' of Saudi Arabia, a dysfunctional regime that is far more responsible for funding terrorism and Islamism that Tehran and, unlike Iran, has no semblance of a democracy or even the chance of moving towards one.

Yet Britain and the US have as their ultimate New Great Game plan the aim of 'regime change' in Iran by whatever means they can. Iran is a problem because it has had an independent foreign policy that prevents Western control over the oil and gas both of the Middle East and Central Asia.

That is precisely why the obvious diplomatic need to negotiate with Iran at the Geneva Conference is simply not on the table. Britain's government, mirroring the more extreme neoconservative view of Iran shown by the belligerent John McCain, is at one with Obama on this: Iran is the enemy to be defeated and rolled back.

The danger now is that the US and Britain will push further for arming the 'right' Sunni insurgents against Assad to check Iranian influence and Hizbollah ( referred crudely to as 'terrorists' ). They will see Al Qaida's influence as a pretext to shore up Sunni opposition, especially as the Muslim Brotherhood is in disarray in Egypt.

William Hague and his "Diplomacy".

Historian Dominic Sandbrook wrote of William Hague and his readiness to arm the Syrian insurgents,,
'Given the country's combustible religious mix, as well as its strategic location, the war-torn Arab republic now represents the most dangerous fault line on the planet. ...What Mr Hague thinks he will achieve in Syria is beyond me.
Even so, the rebels' bloodthirsty tactics and links to Islamic extremism are a long way from the democratic Middle Eastern ideal that our Foreign Secretary claims to be promoting'.
Sandbrook even thinks that Hague harbour delusions of grandeur. But it is not surprising. Hague , in reality, is engaged less in real diplomacy. Britain has only the choice to advocate a policy that may be acceptable to Washington and works within that framework.

This is known as 'public diplomacy' . It depends on trying to present before the audience-i.e. the British people and the world-reasons why intervention by the US and UK is necessary from Assad is a brutal dictator to allegations of chemical weapons. And there are no real debates in Parliament

Foreign policy under Hague is thus a pretence. Essentially he is dreaming of being William Pitt as though he were in a position to make fine speeches about committing Britain to action abroad in a time when the decision about whether Britain is to engage in the world or not is largely obsolete.

Hague was pushing for lifting the EU arms embargo in order to make it look as though he was taking the initiative-as he was-on behalf of Britain. But Hague's job is anticipate any US foreign policy line, make it seem as an independent British one and justify it. Feeling that vicarious sense of global power can lead to delusion.

Yet the problem with Sandbrook's view is it underestimates the geopolitical factors and increasingly desperate strategies to ensure energy security that are drawing the Western powers into potential catastrophe in the Middle East. Sandbrook claims a form of imperialist thinking is still prevanent at the FO,
'The truth, I fear, is that Mr Hague - presumably in thrall to his officials - has gone native. Like so many foreign secretaries before him, he has fallen victim to the temptations of his office.'
Of course, as Sandbrook indicates,  Hague has not changed that much at all. He was a fervent supporter of the Iraq War, ' liberal intervention' and the notion of reordering the Middle East as if Britain really can determine events in Syria and instigate 'regime change'.

Yet it that foreign policy has been so risky depends on far more than just the culture of the FO.Unfortunately, the bleak fact is that Britain's unstable rentier and debt fuelled finance economy increasingly depends upon extending ever greater control the oil and gas of the Gulf region over and against any potential threat to it.

The US and Britain need stable or falling oil prices to boost up the economy when faced with the slowing rates of economic growth. Yet the competition of China and India ensures that peaking oil supplies and increased demand will challenge this. China now has the financial power to challenge the West in the Middle East.

The drive to intervene in Syria is part of the fallout from the Iraq War as the crisis has spiralled into a regional one because Iraq has now a Shia majority regime under Maliki that has leaned closer to Tehran. Iranian arms have flowed through Iraq en route to Hizbollah in Syria and as have Shia recruits to support them and Assad.

As a consequence, Saudi Arabia is now faced with a potential Shia axis of power stretching from Iran across to the Mediterranean where Iran would be able to pump gas out to via a pipeline should it be able to defeat the Sunni 'rebels'. So it is pouring money into Wahhabi militias in Syria. The Taliban is also a beneficiary.

The situation is incredibly dangerous. British 'statesmen' from Blair to Hague are either too mediocre to understand precisely how dangerous the crisis is or else, it has to be said, they know the geopolitical risks and their delusions are bordering on a form of insane recklessness.

1 comment:

  1. It most probably is a sweeping generalization, but I get a feeling that the current 'wars' that US, Britain (don't know about differentiating British Isles), France and others are fighting are like the 'crusades' that your kings had in the old times.