Syria: Who are the good guys again?

By Rodger Shanahan

The air is thick with the stench of hypocrisy over Syria.

For a country whose own politicians often refer to it as ‘The City Upon a Hill’ for its role as a moral exemplar, the US risks losing what remains of its moral authority in the Middle East through its hypocritical policy in Syria. Perhaps the most egregious example is the way the West has allied itself with Saudi Arabia and Qatar, two of the least democratic states in the world. As it seeks to establish freedom and democracy in Syria, it does nothing to encourage the same in Riyadh, Doha or the other Gulf capitals.

Secretary of State Clinton must have felt a delicious sense of irony as she declared after the most recent Friends of Syria meeting that she and her undemocratic allies ‘…all agreed to support Kofi Annan’s principles and guidelines for a Syrian-led transition, including the goal of a democratic, pluralistic Syria that upholds the rule of law and respects the universal rights of all people and all communities, regardless of ethnicity, sect, or gender…’

The yawning gap between the principles the West espouses over Syria and the company it keeps has not been lost on Syria’s supporters. As Saeed Jallili, the Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, observed during his recent trip to Damascus: ‘How can those who have never held an election in their country be advocates of democracy?’

The West should also be derided for its ‘half pregnant’ approach to providing aid to the opposition. Both the US and the UK have scored high on the hypocrisy scale when it comes to providing ‘non-lethal’ aid to the opposition. This may take the form intelligence, training, planning, communications and medical assistance but no weapons. That’s because the Saudis and Qataris supply the lethal weapons and the West just the non-lethal means by which to employ them.

Politicians should not pussy-foot around the issue. The aid they provide to the opposition will result in deaths, of Syrian military certainly and more than likely Syrian civilians also. It can only be described as non-lethal insofar as it is non-kinetic. But it enables killing so it is lethal aid.

Which takes me to the opposition. There are a worrying number of reports that they are far from the rule abiding, secular, freedom fighters many would have us believe. Even the UN has accused both the Syrian government and the opposition of carrying out war crimes, although the Syrian Government’s crimes have been on a grander scale.

The US State Department tried to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, boldly declaring that the US is supporting the (relatively) good guys, declaring that ‘the preponderance of the violence, the preponderance of the abuses, are on the side of the regime’. The State Department did concede that ‘there have been problems’ on the rebel side as well. We should be worried when the side the West is backing is criticised for carrying out the same type of human rights abuses as the Assad regime, only on a smaller scale.

One of the reasons the regime’s core has stayed solid is the fear of what an opposition victory will mean to the religious minorities that make up a quarter of the Syrian population. This Libyan-Irish fighter neatly sums up the fear many Syrians have about the aims of the opposition when he says that the conflict ‘…is about the Sunni Muslims of Syria taking back their country and pushing out the minority that have been oppressing them for generations’.

I have some sympathy for those having to deal with the mess that is Syria. The post-mandate political solutions that carved out much of the modern Middle East and made sense nearly nine decades ago simply set the conditions for ongoing conflict, interspersed with periods of stability largely imposed through autocratic regimes. Changing that dynamic is a difficult task, if its achievable at all.

But if we are to change it, then foreign policy informed by values at the possible expense of interests must be a feature. By calling for secular, democratic change in one country while aligning oneself with sectarian non-democracies to achieve it, and providing military support to groups accused of human rights abuses, the US and others risk trampling on the very values Western states seek to export. Syria is a difficult nut to crack, but the way the West is approaching it makes it appear as simply another transactional actor like Russia or China, rather than one whose policy is informed by a morality that it would like others aspire to.

The article was published on the site ‘the interpreter’.

Dr Rodger Shanahan is a former army officer and now a non-resident Fellow at the Lowy Institute.In the Army he had extensive regimental service within the Parachute Battalion Group. Operationally he served as a UN Military Observer in South Lebanon and Syria, as a battery commander in East Timor in 1999, as the Military Liaison Officer in Beirut during the 2006 war with Israel, and has deployed as an operational inquiry officer to Afghanistan several times since 2008. He has also served in the Australian Embassies in Riyadh and Abu Dhabi.Dr Shanahan has MAs in International Relations and Middle East Studies from the ANU and a PhD in Arab and Islamic Studies from the University of Sydney.


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  • sturkman  On August 17, 2012 at 4:59 am

    Obama has gone crazy. He wants Democracy everywhere.
    1, USA has been caught by Egyptian Army helping Protestors against Hosni Mobarak and Egyptian Military. This is why it let Moslim Brotherhood win to have taste of her own Medicine.
    2. Press Statements of former CIA Man and present Adviser, Brenon here prove, USA was behind Uprising against Yemen’s President.
    3. USA succeeded fooling Russia and China in UN Security Council by use of tricky confusing language to get permission to bomb the hell out of Libya and that US Mission was also successfully accomplished.
    4. Now you can tell, Burmese Military had played smart and taken steps towards Democracy.
    5. Russia and China had become smarter, when USA had tried to get Security Council approval for NATO to bomb Syria also. They vetoed and NATO Countries had enough reason to reject USA proposal.
    Now USA has to stand up alone against Russia and China’s wish if Obama decides to use US Forces to bomb Syria. Instead, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, and Jordan are infiltrating Sneak Attack Terrorists and Weapons for USA now and USA is spending tens of millions on Syrian Mercenaries and Rebels.

    What Arab Monarchs do not know is, yesterday it was Qaddafi, Saleh and Hosni, now its Asad but tomorrow they would be hanging high also. Good bless America …?

  • shahbazthuthaal  On August 17, 2012 at 5:14 am

    Good Analysis spec last Paragraph

    Muhammad Shahbaz Thuthaal EME CHS Multan road,lahore. 0301-3667777

  • zubair zubair  On August 17, 2012 at 1:20 pm

    One has to be in a country to know what the reality is. Media can give you all bullshit and you have nowhere to go for truth. I have not stayed long enough in KSA to know about “democracy” there. While may not agree with their policy towards Syria and Libya before, I believe Qatar has more democracy than most countries including the great US of A. If we believe in the curse called Western democracy, yes they are not “democratic” since they don’t hold elections and have the shame called opposition but the Govt makes sure that every citizen get all his/needs almost on the house. anyone can see the Emir and get redress of grievance if any. In the tribal society the tribal elders keep a close watch over the governance of the Emir and his cabinet. That is more than what I can say for every other “democracy” I know in the world. I don’t know what we really mean by “democracy”. If it really is “for” the people, than this is it in Qatar. everything the country does or has is for the people—-this is ensured and that is what I have seen in the last 20 years here. Zubair

  • Omar Nasarullah  On August 17, 2012 at 10:42 pm

    Why did the regime of this opticians CRUELER dad [the father Assad] last so SOO long? My secret friend tells me that Israel is enjoying the SHOW

  • sturkman  On August 21, 2012 at 2:07 am

    Israel is shitting in her Pants, worried if JehaaDist came in power there would be more trouble brewing for her. Regime of Asads lasted so long because Syrians loved him, he was not corrupt and despite all the Economical Problems they did not let Syrians starve like our beloved Taliban.
    Don’t ask for Democracy between 30 and 39 Parallel. Only Police States can exist there because people are like Wolves. They worship every rising Sun and kick Ass of every Ruler, who becomes weak or who stops poking their Asses with his Long Stick.
    They are thankless ‘Nmak Hraam’ A** Holes and it doesn’t matter, how much good a government does for them, they would always revolt. Look at the Globe and keep turning around. All countries, who’s majority of population lives between 30 and 39 have same History.
    “LaaToN kay BHooT; naa maanaiN baaToN say”,

  • Farooq  On September 3, 2012 at 12:39 pm

    Dear Blog Owner, You can also Publish my article on the Same topic and is based on Sectarian divide and the false war on Syria.

    Sectarian divide, the modern warfare:

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