Friday, 11 March 2016

Libya, Syria

It is hypocritical of the leader of the free world to criticise the post-Qaddafi settlement, considering the poor fist the United States made of reconstruction in Afghanistan and, in particular, Iraq. However, President Obama does have a point. Not enough was done in the immediate aftermath of the toppling of the Libyan dictator to restore genuine self-sustaining democracy, even if this meant partition along tribal lines and even if we lent military support while the new government or governments established themselves. But David Cameron should not shoulder all the blame. We may have been the last occupying power and there may have been a special relationship between BP and Libya, but Italy also has historical connections with the country - and surely the EU as a whole should have involved itself? If nothing else, this would have reduced the trouble caused by boat people crossing to southern Europe.

Syria came up in a debate in the Lords last Tuesday. The Bishop of Coventry put down a question for short debate: "To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their current assessment of the prospects for a political solution to the civil war in Syria.". It is worth reading the debate in full because of the authoritative contributions made to it, but a few points stood out for me: the lord bishop's statement of the casualties of the conflict - 400,000 dead, at least 10 million displaced and more than 13.5 million in need of humanitarian aid, greater than the depredations in Iraq; Lord Desai's identification of the roots of the conflict in the break-up of the Ottoman empire and of the need, in an ideal world, for a regional conference on establishing peace in the Middle East; and Alison Suttie's experience in a political reform programme in neighbouring Jordan. Former ambassador to Syria, Lord Wright of Richmond questioned the Government’s regular and continuing calls for President Assad to go as not only mistaken but reflective of a false assessment of the extent of support which the Syrian regime, for all its faults, still enjoys - particularly, but not only, from the Christian and other minority communities living throughout Syria. This contradicted Eluned Morgan's assertion that "the uncomfortable reality that many Syrians are more content with ISIS and what they perceive as Sunni protection than they are with the idea of living under Iranian Shia influence and any form of continuation of the Assad regime." Tell that to the Christians, Syrian Kurds and the Yazidis.

There is no doubt that Assad put down civil unrest with undue force, pressed to do so by his formidable mother. (Now that this power behind the throne has passed on, there may be more chance of compromise along the lines suggested by Lords Desai and Wright.) However, this must be seen in the context of the Middle East as a whole and was not more excessive than actions carried out by our friends in Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Most telling of a society largely at ease with itself in my opinion are the capital punishment statistics. At a time when Iran and Saudi Arabia were judicially executing people in their hundreds per year,  Syria's toll did not exceed seventeen.

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