Sunday, August 25, 2013

Airstrikes on Syria

Let's get one thing clear. Nobody is coming to help Syrians because they are getting killed. They are coming to help Syrians because nobody wants chemical warfare to become a norm and especially for countries like North Korea and Iran to start using them "because somebody else did it too". In essence the behaviour of states in the international system is primitive and infantile, however thick the books on international relations may get. The basic rules of international relations are about as complex as the politics of siblings fighting over their toys. Possession is nine-tenths of ownership, what happens when the parents aren't looking never happened, and the strongest will get to impose their will on the weakest unless they meet somebody stronger.

If we use this model to understand the behaviour of actors like the Syrian regime, we start to make much more sense of how they are reacting to the international community. Russia is not an innocent arbiter in this conflict, but the estranged parent who lets the errant brat do what they want to annoy the other parent. One parent cannot overstep the mark without risking an all out escalation with the other, and so a state of limbo lets the spoilt brat, Assad, throw his toys out of the cot and break everything. Yes it is probably too simplistic an analogy, but we need something, anything, to make sense of the stupid drama that has been unfolding in front of our eyes for the past two and a half years.

The Kosovo model for intervention is not perfect, but it stopped the bloodshed and today Kosovo is limping along and people are rebuilding their lives at least. Of course it is still not a recognised state thanks to Russia blocking its recognition, but the important thing is that militias are not slaughtering whole families and villages. The same thing needs to happen in Syria and the country must be given as much support as possible to get back on its own two feet. This is not because Syrians need the world's charity, but because if that does not happen then Syria will become a Somalia on the Mediterranean and bordering Europe. It is in the world's interest to stop this wound from festering, and it is in Syria's neighbour's interests - all of them - that this country not implode. Because when it implodes all of Assad's toys are going to end up in the wrong hands, however "careful" the West is and however pervasive Israel's intelligence tries to be. A poisoned atmosphere and water table is not something anybody in the region can afford. Syria is a big puddle that can splash a lot of people, Assad knows this and he has been using this to stay in power, but it does not mean he cannot be toppled.

This regime is powerful not inherently but in the positions it controls, like a spider in a web, and by hitting it strategically and in the places where it is most vulnerable, the various remnants of the Free Syrian Army might just be able to shred what's left of it. I say might because at this stage there are only probabilities and worst case scenarios. It is not, for example, a question anymore of how many people might be killed accidentally in strikes against Assad but how many deaths can be avoided by crippling his ability to wage war. This kind of intervention should have happened a long time ago, and many more people would still be alive today if Assad was made to understand that mass murder is not acceptable, with chemical weapons or not. This is the real precedent that should have been set for all other tinpot dictators around the world.

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