Scoop Election 08: edited by Gordon Campbell

On Syria, and the lessons of the British riots

August 19th, 2011

The call this morning by the Obama administration for Bashir al-Assad to leave office in Syria, and the US imposition of sanctions has been echoed by similar moves from the EU. On the surface, the human rights atrocities committed by the Syrian military have provided the rationale for these moves against Damascus – with the latest outrages including the Syrian Army attacks on the Palestinian refugee camp near Latakia.

(NB : Israeli military action against Palestinian refugee settlements tends not to inspire similar mainstream reporting in the West.)

While there is no prospect of military action by the West of the type that occurred in Libya – partly because there is no credible opposition on the ground for outsiders to support – some have turned to Turkey as the only available triggerman, covertly assisted by the Saudis:

Saudi Arabia, through its connections to insurgents and Sunni tribes in Iraq and to Sunni politicians in Lebanon, will likely provide additional financing for weapons smuggling operations into Syria.

Turkey is the only country with the military capability, national security interests and favourable geographic location that can intervene in Syria. Turkey is increasingly likely to receive international support, from Nato and the Arab League and possibly from the UN Security Council, to send troops into northern Syria. In its initial stages, this would likely involve the creation of a 10km-20km buffer zone in Hasaka, Raqqa, Idlib and Aleppo Provinces.

Turkey, having deftly established its diplomatic independence over the past 10 years, seems unlikely to be so obliging to the West. Still, via, its current co-ordination of diplomatic and economic sanctions, the Obama administration will be hoping and planning for a palace coup, led by forces friendly to the West.

So far there has been a striking lack of commentary in the Western press about the strategic interests (especially those of Washington and Tel Aviv ) driving the calls for regime change in Syria. The fall of the corrupt and vicious Assad dynasty would have unknown internal consequences for the bulk of its people, most of whom do not seem to support the rebels, either. More to the point, any pro-Western, Sunni-dominated regime that might emerge victorious in Damascus would have implications for the Shi-ites in Lebanon, for the Kurds in Syria, Iraq and Turkey, for the Iran vs Saudi Arabia regional power struggle, for Turkey’s ambitions as a major economic and diplomatic power, for Russia’s military presence in the region etc etc…

The neighbourhood media certainly seems to see the likely ripple effects of the Syrian unrest far more clearly than the Western press. Here, for instance is the Oriental Review’s columnist in the Ukraine heatedly summarising the situation, albeit in apocalyptic terms:

– In case riots in Syria end in Assad`s resignation, Syria will be controlled by the US

– Turkey, Russia and Iran will have its positions in the Middle East weakened

– Russia will be ousted from the Mediterranean [by losing access to the Syrian port of Tartus] and locked inside the Black Sea basin, where it will have to deal with Romania, Bulgaria and Georgia – US allies and anti-Russian foreign policies

– the Kurdish issue will become even a greater threat for Turkey, especially in view of the fact that a pro-American Assad`s successor won`t be opposing what Kurdish rebels are going to implement….

– If Assad steps down, Turkey will face huge economic losses (in 2010 bilateral trade between Syria and Turkey stood at $2.5billion, and the sides agreed to reach the $5bln level)

-If this all happens, Turkey will have no alternative but to abandon its ambitious plans to create a free trade zone with Syria, Jordan and Lebanon.

Well, not really. If Turkey is the force that finally tips the balance on the Assad regime, it will extract concessions for doing so from whatever government emerges in Damascus. For now, it is doubtful whether the people of Syria – much less the region –would be any better off if regime change does occur in Damascus. The lesson of 1979 is that whatever replaces a morally and economically discredited regime can always be as bad, or worse – and there are few grounds for optimism this time, either.
Beyond the Riots

As the riots in Britain recede into history, and attain some perspective – not as bad as Greece, nor as organised as in Spain, and nothing like the sacking of foreign stores in 2001 in Argentina – there has been some terrific reporting on the moral panics and lynch law responses in Britain. The Economist of all places, has strongly rebutted the notion that the riots marked an unprecedented stage in Britain’s social and moral decline.

Naomi Klein, in an excellent Nation piece (reprinted in the Guardian) didn’t regard the spending cuts as having caused the looting in Britain in any direct sense.

Yet, accurately, Klein treats the spending cuts and the global financial crisis that preceded them as a kind of moral parallel – much as the neo-liberal experiment (that had sacked Argentina’s economy) set the tone for the looting of foreign superstores in 2001:

Argentina’s mass looting was called El Saqueo—the sacking. That was politically significant because it was the very same word used to describe what that country’s elites had done by selling off the country’s national assets in flagrantly corrupt privatization deals, hiding their money offshore, then passing on the bill to the people with a brutal austerity package…

That was then though in Latin America, and this is now in Britain:

[Britain’s] riots are not political, or so we keep hearing. They are just about lawless kids taking advantage of a situation to take what isn’t theirs. And British society, Cameron tells us, abhors that kind of behavior.

This is said in all seriousness. As if the massive bank bailouts never happened, followed by the defiant record bonuses. Followed by the emergency G-8 and G-20 meetings, when the leaders decided, collectively, not to do anything to punish the bankers for any of this, nor to do anything serious to prevent a similar crisis from happening again. Instead they would all go home to their respective countries and force sacrifices on the most vulnerable. They would do this by firing public sector workers, scapegoating teachers, closing libraries, upping tuitions, rolling back union contracts, creating rush privatizations of public assets and decreasing pensions—mix the cocktail for where you live. And who is on television lecturing about the need to give up these “entitlements”? The bankers and hedge-fund managers, of course.

Keep that in mind at election time, as you ponder who got the cream from last year’s tax cuts – and who is now lecturing us about the need for austerity.


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    1. 9 Responses to “On Syria, and the lessons of the British riots”

    2. By Sylvia Kaa on Aug 19, 2011 | Reply

      You’ll be interested in this seminar:
      Treasury Seminar: Dr Weshah Razzak – Predicting Instability – Tue 23 Aug, 1.30-3pm at the Treasury —
      Dr Weshah Razzak’s seminar ‘Predicting Instability’ will be presented at the Treasury on 23 August 2011.

    3. By Joe Blow on Aug 19, 2011 | Reply

      Just one question about this sentence Gordon:

      “The fall of the corrupt and vicious Assad dynasty would have unknown internal consequences for the bulk of its people, most of whom do not seem to support the rebels, either.”

      How are you gauging the support that the rebels (protesters?) have in Syria from “the bulk” of the people? What have you read that has helped you form this view?

    4. By uke on Aug 20, 2011 | Reply

      “The Economist of all places, has strongly rebutted the notion that the riots marked an unprecedented stage in Britain’s social and moral decline.”

      This article is completely based on Geoffrey’s Pearson’s amazing book “Hooligan: A History of Respectable Fears”.

      What Pearson concludes – and The Economist doesn’t go into – is that the social disorders that have regularly broken out in poor English neighbourhoods since the 17th century represent a tradition of working-class resistance to authority. This in turn has been accompanied by a tradition of Tory media and political interpretation of these disorders as “moral decline” (blamed over and over again on immigration, youth subcultures, welfarism, popular music) from some kind of golden age that existed 30 years previous. Put together, these two phenomena are evidence of an ongoing and unending class struggle in English society.

      Would recommend this article for a slightly different perspective:–a-short-history-of-the-london-riot

    5. By Leon Henderson on Aug 24, 2011 | Reply

    6. By Joe Blow on Aug 24, 2011 | Reply

      @ Leon

    7. By Leon Henderson on Aug 26, 2011 | Reply

      You seem to have an immense amount of time on your “hands” Joe Blow, because everywhere that anyone on Werewolf attacks capitalism you immediately materialise and obviously can afford Broadband which most New Zealanders because of Jewish-owned “Telecom/Vodafone” (bet you were astonished Joe Blow when the National Party handed to Jewish Telecom/Vodafone our new Fibreoptic Broadband Network along with nearly two billion dollars of New Zealand taxpayers money, as well as signing a “guarantee” to the Rothschilds World Bank, IMF, and WTO that no New Zealand Government can regulate Jew Telecom for TEN ENTIRE YEARS: “King Leon” guarantees that Joe Blow will be almost immediately “explaining” and “justifying” this horrendous act of treachery.

      But Joe Blow, it is now about time you had the guts to actually show your real “Face” because you are actually an extreme Right-Winger who I guarantee utterly loathes and detests the Mighty Fidel Castro.

      Explain to me Joe Blow, why you have such a visceral hatred of Fidel Castro (but watch out, Whale Oil, Margaret Barry, Christine Rankin, William Ralston, Paul Holmes,Barry Soper BLAH BLAH BLAH.

    8. By Joe Blow on Aug 26, 2011 | Reply

      @ Leon

      Yip, I’m sure of it now! You’re a National Party stooge planted to discredit the left before the general election. I’m not falling for your games anymore Leon. Time for me to do what everyone else does and pretend you’re not there…

    9. By Leon Henderson on Aug 27, 2011 | Reply

      You still have not explained “Whale-Oil”/Margaret Barry/Paul Holmes BLAH BLAH – er, mean “Joe Blow” (get mixed up!) why you hate Fidel Castro because I know that you do, just as you loathe the Glorious Hugo Chavez!

    10. By Joe Blow on Aug 28, 2011 | Reply

      The Baby and the Baath Water – Adam Curtis

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