22 October, 2017

The Sinhalese Kings And Foreign Assistance: What Shall We Do About Syria?

By Kumar David

Prof Kumar David

Assad, Obama and the Citizens of the World: What shall we do about Syria?

First let me lay down my locus standi in addressing this topic. Those of us outside Syria, who seek to intervene physically, intellectually or as demonstrators on the streets, are entitled to do so as citizens of the world; we are our brother’s keepers, when Jesus said otherwise he blundered. I reject the notion of national sovereignty, fundamentally; it’s a deception used by rulers to crush people under a jackboot while thwarting outside intervention. Are we not familiar with GoSL playing the sovereignty card to hide war crimes? I said ‘fundamentally’, so what’s the caveat? Simply that a majority of people do take their national, ethnic or religious identity seriously (fools don’t see that “patriotism is merely the last refuge of the scoundrel”); hence I have to adjust for this unfortunate reality in practice. Not everybody is an internationalist; pretty darned few are!

Secondly, at this moment the most dramatic international concern is whether Obama will strike Syria. I am not an American, hence not a stakeholder, but it is of utmost concern to everyone because America’s actions will so change global dynamics (for better or for worse I will discuss anon) that it warrants apprehension. Every citizen of the world has as much right as any American to engage in the debate about US actions. Now let me state my frame of reference; Bashar al-Assad is a monster and I support the efforts of the Syrian people to overthrow him, though I am aware that the opposition consists of contradictory forces and there is no guarantee that once he is gone flourishing democracy will take his place. But if we wait for watertight guarantees no dictator will be removed; you have to take sensible risks. There were similar worries in Libya about the post-Gaddafi scene, but a after a period of chaos and turmoil, a new far from perfect but better than Gaddafi era, Libya is taking shape. Events have proved the risk was worth it.

I wish to make a few general remarks about foreign governmental interventions – previously I spoke on behalf of the citizens of the world, not governments. Now what about governments? States are motivated by their own interests, be it America in Iraq, Russia in Belarus or China in Lanka. Take that as given, then it is up to locals to choose allies and structure relationships wisely. Rebel leaders in Libya on the whole got the calculus right; maximise foreign support but retain leadership and decision making in your hands, that was their shrewd perspective. Get this equation wrong like the Sinhalese kings who played the Dutch against the Portuguese and the British against the Dutch and they end up vassals of their erstwhile allies. These are the guidelines revolutionary leaders and citizens of the world must use re foreign assistance, but also bear in mind that such assistance is a predicate without which struggles in modern times are fated to defeat. The Syrian opposition needs American, French and Arab help as desperately as Assad needs Russia and Iran.

This was a long but unavoidable ideological harangue about how revolutionary or rebellious movements, numerous these days, should think. In dealing with Rajapakse, Gaddafi, Assad or the Burmese regime of yesteryear, this frame of reference is basic. If we get this theoretical bit right it is easier to deal with particular cases and specific examples; in the present instance Syria.

Obama’s unintended game plan

The American game plan is the most crucial in the international scene today. Obama has two trivial concerns as well; covering up political inaction of two years and salvaging personal credibility after Assad defied his “thin red-line”. However, the prolonged inaction and red-line remark will soon be forgotten. The real stuff is the strategic Pandora’s Box that he has opened? The imperative for America (not me) now is how to keep the credibility of the United States as a super-power and a world leader in good repair. The objective of US foreign policy at this crucial moment is to retain American “world leadership”. Hence I expect Congress and President to rally together next week and work out a unity-consensus. Obama has in effect put aside his thin red line, Congress has become bipartisan, both are working towards a longer term strategy to keep US “world leadership” intact. Whether to attack, when to attack, what to attack etc. will be phased into a more carefully thought out and strategically oriented game plan – McCain type thinking. When America’s basic interests are at stake Republicans and Democrats, President and Congress come together. Hot-shot one-night stands are of passing relevance; any missiles Obama may or lob later this month are but the opening salvo in a wider drama. This is perfunctory Act-I; Act-II is the “political solution” (code for the overthrow of Assad, soon or after a while). But even this is peanuts; a much bigger game has commenced.

And that game is a re-evaluation of American foreign policy in the Middle East, just as the Obama-pivot signalled an overhaul of foreign and military policy in Asia. What Obama has kicked-off, unintentionally, is a major discussion to reposition US foreign policy in the Middle East. When he shifted the Syrian intervention question to Congress as a deft move to get himself out of hot water he unleashed a wholesale debate in the media, in Congress and among scholars about long-term policy and perspectives in respect of Syria and the whole Middle East. It is very likely Congress will give him authorisation to act, but it is no longer about popping off a few bombs. It is about what action and what continued policy orientation is appropriate on a big scale and a sustained period. The discourse is spilling over into the wider public domain.

A new opportunity has opened before the American public, but it remains to be seen whether people will grab it. I can understand that a war weary public, disillusioned by Bush’s lies and the Iraq War, doesn’t want to be drawn in again. However, US Middle East policy has been in shambles since 9-11. Military intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan failed; the former a complete disaster. Worse than that, America is and has been backing all the wrong horses from the Shah of Iran to Hosni Mubarak. It failed to capitalise on the Arab Spring and Libya and made no progress on Palestine. Its friends still are dictators like the Saudi Monarchy and Gulf State autocrats. Above all, the vital issue which will shape the future is that the United States has still not worked out its modus vivendi with Islam. Unless it squares its relationship with 25% of the world’s population (1.7 billion people) the US will remain a stunted superpower.

The decisive readjustment that Americans can make with the Middle East is to grow people to people relationships. During the revolution in Egypt in 2011 there was a fragment of contact between young American IT-nerds and Egyptian youth. This was but fleeting; there is no people-to-people rapport of significance between Americans and Arabs. Consider the contrast with Britain; the special relationship is not government-to-government but a historically, culturally rooted intermingling of peoples. Of course collective roots, a common language and a shared ethos cannot be artificially recreated, but people-centric connections between Americans and Indians (and to a visible extent Chinese) is in stark contrast to the standoff with the people of the Arab world. Americans have to reengineer themselves in the Arab world, and for that the relationship with Islam must be recalibrated. These are not things governments can do, though they can help; people-to-people connections can.

The Syrian Opposition

The opposition consists of dozens of organisations which it has been difficult to bring under a common political structure. The situation is chaotic and fluid as alliances change, new movements emerge, old ones wind up. There are five entities to use as a frame of reference; the National Coalition Council (NCC), Supreme Joint Military Command (SJMC), Syrian Liberation Front (SLF), Syrian Islamic Front (SIF) and Jabat al-Nusra (JaN). The NCC is the political leadership to which most organisations except SIF and JaN owe allegiance; it is secular, in words democratic, and an umbrella liberation alliance but riddled by leadership conflicts.

The SJMC is the command structure of fighting units, including a large number of deserters from the Syrian Army. Technically the SJMC falls under the NCC; actually the SJMC is the source of power, not the other way round. This is not the CCP and Mao leading the forces of the Chinese Revolution (the forerunner of the PLA); in communist organisations the hegemony of the political leadership is absolute. The most important element in the SJMC is the Free Syrian Army, the largest force in the opposition, but it has neither the tight structure nor combat ability of the Islamists. The moderately Islamist SLF too is technically under the SJMC but since it is an aggregation of hundreds of units arranged in 20 loosely knit brigades there is not much control the SJMC can exert.

The two Islamist forces (SIF and JaN) stand outside the NCC and the SJMC, ideologically and militarily. The SIF consists of conservative Salafists who would like to see a religious content in a post-Assad state, but thankfully they are more Syrian nationalist than religious zealots calling for a global Islamic confederation or caliphate. The nigger in the woodpile is the JaN, an al-Qaeda affiliated secretive organisation, which despite its small size, is a formidable fighting force. There is tension between JaN and others who are under pressure to distance themselves from JaN in exchange for US support. It’s all very complicated, but welcome to the real world!

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Latest comments

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    I understand what the author wants to say, but he does not get across the main point clearly. As I said in my comment yesterday in CT about British PM Cameron’s Question Time:

    “The role of the world community, people and governments, in respect of the Syrian civil war, is to support the overthrow of a monstrous dictator. A one-shot strike, as Obama is said to be planning, serves little purpose. What is needed is for the world to help arm, train and supply Syrian revolutionaries, with the long term objective of assisting in the overthrow of Assad. (Obama has still not made explicit his immediate tactics or his long term strategy)”.

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      The Syrians are much more smarter to buy into the Media propaganda (Blair Bush Corporation) as much as the rest of the world have. Why is the diaspora so-called SNC bank rolled by the Zionists weapon industry through the regional/International community of Puppets? The Syrians have to choose between a Brutal Dictator and the Poisonous Snake. Perhaps they should choose the lesser of the two evils.

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    Following options for the world community

    1. Do nothing – Syria and syrians will bleed to death. Assad can remain a dictator untill he is finally caught and slaughtered by some unknown combatant or by his own bodyguard. Uncertain results like Iraq and Afghanistan.
    2. Effect a military and economic blockade – This should have been effected a long time back and would have had some effect on Assad. Only Russia, Iran and Hezbollah in Lebanon are backing the regime.
    3. Give arms to the free syrian army – Seems to be done but they need anti aircraft missiles and heavy artillery as in Lybia.
    4. Bomb a few selected targets – May have a sobering effect but the risks can outway the benefits.
    5. Use proxy Israel to solve the problem by taking out Assad – Least risky solution if approval is obtained from the Arab league.

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      I think any military intervention is fraught with danger. UN should play the lead role and immediately

      1. Call for a cessation of hostilities by all parties on the ground.
      2. Withdrawal of foreign elements from Syria.
      3. Implement a complete military, financial and economic blockade including oil on all parties including the Govt of Syria.
      4. Implement a no fly zone policed by international force including Russia.
      3. Send in humanitarian organisations and peacekeeping troops to help the population.

      Above should be implemented with the full backing of the UN including Russia and China.

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        Safa,
        The whole point is that Russia and China will NOT, ever, support items 3 and 4 of your second list. Then, either the world relapses to item 1 of your previous list (“Do nothing”), or it acts without them. There is no getting away from this conundrum. So, what do you prefer between these two, only possible, options?

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          I think 3 and 4 can be implemented without China, Russia and Iran in a manner that it will have an impact on the Assad regime. While outlawing the regime it will also prevent arms flowing in to the rebels and escalating the conflict. No fly zone can be affected by all neighbouring countries preventing flights to and from Syria including civilian aircraft.

          Assad will definitely have to comply especially if oil flow is cut off. The civilians will also be affected but not more than the carnage that is happening now. UN is acting like a lame duck and must play a more assertive role. Above peaceful means must be used to force Assad to stop his dirty game and force all parties to come to the table.

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    Lets hope that the “Respected judge of the SC”Wingeswarn will realize your fancy dream.Hope hope hope!What else?In the meantime make $$$$.

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    The U.S. move is in their strategic interest and I am not convinced that the intentions are altruistic. Syria poses no threat to the U.S. the Syrian rebels are trained and armed by the U.S. through Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey. There are credible reports in the alternative media with evidence of chemical weapons supplied to the rebels by U.S. and Israel and unleashed by them whilst blaming Assad. Lebanon and Iran will be next. Kumar David in his article appear to be supportive of the imperialistic designs of the U.S. which is indeed shocking considering the thousands of innocent lives that will be lost with american bombing. I am totally opposed to this american action and condemn it totally.

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    Prof:

    What Shall We Do About Syria?

    Ask yourself the Question What should ( not shall) We Do About Syria?
    I would say not only punish Syria for what Assad has done to his people but also send a clear message to any future despots that this kind of atrocities will no be tolerated.
    America is not only the only super power but also the Leader of the Free World so America has to uphold Rule of Law in the World without fear or Favour.

    The Sinhalese Kings ( Dictators ) And Foreign Assistance

    As Sri Lankan Tamils the question that we all ask is where were you the Leader of The Free World when Chemical weapons were used by Sri Lankan forces ( no doubt supplied by Mother India) .
    The pictures that I saw the Morning After reminded me of the horrible pictures I saw in Halabja when Saddam gassed the Kurds.
    But the World chose to remain silent and when people talk about weapons of that nature falling in to the hands of Alqaeda and Rogue States one wonders why this double standard. May be because the rogue state was an emerging World Power.

    The American game plan is the most crucial in the international scene today

    And that game is a re-evaluation of American foreign policy in the Middle East, just as the Obama-pivot signalled an overhaul of foreign and military policy in Asia. What Obama has kicked-off, unintentionally, is a major discussion to reposition US foreign policy in the Middle East.

    America normally gets in to action in the Middle East only when

    1) Her economic interest is threatened ie any disruption to the oil supply. Why else would America support and Tolerate the Saudi Regime.
    2)When the existence of the State of Israel is threatened.

    This is evident from the scant disregard shown for the plight of the Palestinians and the lip service paid to emerging democracies in the middle east. But that is power politics.

    The decisive readjustment that Americans can make with the Middle East is to grow people to people relationships:

    This is much harder to achieve in the Middle East because the people of the Middle East have a natural dislike for anything western in respect of Democracy and also the language of Democracy is an alien language to them.

    The only two Muslim Democracies in the world are Turkey and Malaysia and even those two countries are autocracies ( May be Turkey not as much as Malaysia).

    So I take the view that the role for the outside World in Syria and in the Middle East is limited to giving a helping hand to those who are in danger of being killed but more importantly send a clear signal that large scale killings will not go unpunished otherwise we would have lost our Moral responsibility.

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    THERE IS NO MORAL JUSTIFICATION FOR ANY PRESIDENT TO RULE MORE THAN A DECADE.
    A GOOD FELLOW WILL STEP DOWN & SHARE.
    A DECISIVE WAR IS BETTER THAN ENDLESS SYRIAN DEATHS.

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      Kuveni,

      You are joking arent you. This is 2013 not 543 B.C when Vijaya landed with 700 followers and found your ancestor ( The Old Kuveni)engaged in Textile weaving. Wake Wake.

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