Tag Archives: peace

Even When The Chemical Weapons Are Gone, Violence And Despair Will Endure In Syria

A man bleeds in a northern Syria hospital after a ricochet bullet went through his foot. In a sense, he was lucky that the bullet did not stay in his body, which would have required surgery to remove. The hospital staff told us that until very recently th

Notwithstanding my remarkably horrendous coping with jet-lag, I have been following along — as best I can — with the developments in, around, and regarding Syria. From the hasty deal struck between Russia and the U.S. to account for Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles, to the draft resolution currently underway — and meant for an imminent Security Council resolution — involving diplomats from the U.S., Russia, China, France and Britain, it seems like the Obama Administration has been able to avert a war, save face, and reinforce everyone’s favourite international norm.

But while it’s a very good thing the international arena is acting in unison over Assad’s use of chemical weapons, it makes little difference to the everyday Syrian — either fighting in the streets, or fighting to stay alive at home. The sad truth is, we’re in the early stages of a bloodletting in Syria that began nearly 94 years ago when one Brit (Sir Mark Sykes) and one Frenchman (Francois George-Picot) divided the Arab provinces — once belonging to the Ottoman Empire — between their two respective colonial powers. The Sykes-Picot Agreement (also known as the Asia Minor Agreement) of 1920 created the modern state of Syria as we now know it. 20130918-110243.jpgNo one living in Syria ever got a say in how their “nation” was constructed — both in terms of territory, and control. Syria was purposefully devised to pit the Shiite Alawite minority against the Sunni Arab majority, with a side-show consisting of Christians, Druze and Kurds (who are also Sunnis). The same principle (divide-and-rule) applied to Iraq, except the minority Sunnis were used to control the majority Shiites. The reason colonial powers constructed these cynical divisions is simple: appeal to the minority, train them, arm them, and use them to control the majority out of fear, oppression, and obligation. It’s how empires are made, and how they endure.

It should come as no surprise, then, that from Syria and Iraq we had (and have) two of the most brutal, horrific dictators of all time: Saddam Hussein and Bashar al-Assad. They were (and are) manifestations of colonial manipulation; the products of two nations created under the weight of permanent warfare, oppression, and sectarian strife.

“Why do we have a brutal civil war in Syria?” is not the question we should be asking. We know why it’s happening. It’s the same reason we still have one raging in Iraq. The brutal and callous decades long oppression of the majority groups in both states broke free, at long last, with the Arab Spring. For better or worse, and due in large part to the disastrous invasion of Iraq in 2003, the bloodletting in Syria has only just begun. It won’t stop if and when the chemical weapons stockpiles are accounted for. Nor will it stop if and when Bashar al-Assad is removed from power. Notice for example how when the United States argues that it’s justified in arming the opposition, they make it plain that they intend to only support “moderate” rebels. What about the not-so-moderate rebels? What role will they play in a post-Assad Syria? The quixotic idea that any two sides in this conflict could reach a political agreement, untainted by blood and terror, is as likely as it was in Iraq — where a decade of occupation and trillions of dollars could not prevent 100,000+ deaths.

Innocent men, women and children are being murdered at staggering rates. Some have been gassed, but 99% have lost their lives to the real “weapons of mass destruction”: small munitions. The images of dead children, and the videos of crying mothers holding their lost loved ones are unbearably heartbreaking. But for every image of an innocent life lost, there’s a video of a rebel, or one of Assad’s soldiers, reminding the world through barbaric savagery that this is a sectarian fight to the death.

And no UN Resolution is going to change that.

(Photo: Freedom House)


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Chart(s) Of The Day: Peace On The Horizon?


No, we aren’t going to live in a world without war, but the chart above and the corresponding work attributed to it show that as a global society, we’re devoting a smaller percentage of manpower and income to the military industry:

The black line is the average across countries of military spending as a percentage of GDP, using the Correlates of War (COW) estimate of total spending divided by World Bank GDP figures (which only start in 1960). The red line is the average across countries of armed forces per 1,000 population, again using COW estimates.

You see really striking long-run declines in the West, Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, and Asia. In these areas it almost looks as if demobilization from World War II has taken place gradually and over 60+ years. In Latin America and North Africa/Middle East, you see pretty striking declines since the end of the Cold War, and perhaps some decline in subSaharan Africa since around 2000.

One possible long-term explanation? Democracy:

On the domestic side of things, there is pretty good evidence that the spread of democracy has been a significant factor. Not worth getting into the details here, but if you look at the data country by country you find that on average, when countries transition to democracy their military spending and army sizes go down, quite substantially.* In fact they tend to go down when they transition from very autocratic to only somewhat autocratic (that is, to “anocracies”, or semi-democracies using the Polity data).

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Your Daily Quote

Roman Ondák

“I do not know how to teach philosophy without becoming a disturber of the peace.”

Baruch Spinoza

(Photo courtesy of Marc Watheiu)

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Poem of the Week

leap day rainbowLeap day rainbow (cc photo by Robert Couse-Baker)

My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began;
So is it now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old,
Or let me die!
The Child is father of the Man;
And I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.

William Wordsworth

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The Daily Roundup

“We all have a duty to do good. And this commandment for everyone to do good, I think, is a beautiful path towards peace. If we, each doing our own part, if we do good to others, if we meet there, doing good, and we go slowly, gently, little by little, we will make that culture of encounter: we need that so much. We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there.” – Pope Francis

thierry Ehrmann le 112 ème est Jorge Mario Bergoglio (Pope Francis), painted portrait DDC_7831Pope Francis (cc photo by Thierry Ehrmann)

Today on Left and Center, Publius ridiculed the hypocrisy of Oklahoma’s Senators voting against Hurricane Sandy aid then asking for tornado aid, embraced literary rejection as a way to improve a writer’s craft, applauded a wonderful message by Pope Francis on goodness and cooperation, visited Ben Bernanke’s critical testimony to Congress, considered the strategic politicization of gay rights in the immigration reform debate, lamented with horror and disgust at the Islamist motivated beheading of a British soldier in London in broad daylight, and shared another great photo by Paul Bica.

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“This is Water”

About 8 years ago, author David Foster Wallace was asked to give the commencement address to the 2005 graduating class of Kenyon College. What transpired was a commencement speech unlike most, where the author chose a tonal simplicity, and spoke about the difficulty of empathy, the importance of being well adjusted, and the essential lonesomeness of adult life.

The speech didn’t become widely known until 3 years later, and after his tragic suicide. It is, without a doubt, some of the best life advice I’ve ever come across – simple, elegant and engaging. Kudos to The Glossary for creating this wonderful video.

While David Foster Wallace did take his own life, none of the cloudlessly sane and true things he had to say about life in 2005 are any less sane or true today. The pain of Wallace’s defeat will stay with us, and nothing, not even “This is Water”, could lessen the blow of that loss. But what this video and the message of his speech does is remind us of the author’s essential goodness and human decency – something I believe we all share, and something that we can never allow to be taken from us.

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A Tale of Two Europes

I admit, I’ve written a hell of a lot about the Eurozone. It’s not cause I’m overly interested in Europe or that I have this weird fascination with economics – truthfully I write a lot about Europe and the Euro crisis because they’re more or less synonymous now. The Eurozone project is a disaster, and if you don’t believe me then take a look at this chart – and if you have time, the corresponding article from Gavyn Davies in the Financial Times.


What that graph effectively shows is that there exists two separate Europes. On the one hand, we have the “core” non-stressed countries like Germany, France, Austria, Finland and others whose unemployment rate remains relatively similar to what it was prior to the crisis in 08′. I mean it’s still relatively high unemployment coming in at just under 8 percent, but it’s hardly the worst of times.

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Your daily quote – April 8

“I do not know how to teach philosophy without becoming a disturber of the peace.”
― Baruch Spinoza

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