Tag Archives: violence

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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Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) Forced To Leave Somalia

A malnourished child in an MSF treatment tent in Dolo Ado, Ethiopia

Médecins Sans Frontières, a French secular humanitarian-aid non-governmental organization, has been forced to close all of its operations in war-torn Somalia after 22 years, citing the increase of violence and abuse against its staff as the reason:

“This is the most difficult announcement that I’ve had to make as MSF president,” Dr. Unni Karunakara said at a press conference from Kenya. “Respect for humanitarian principles no longer exists in Somalia today.”

Over the past 22 years, the nonprofit has provided basic and emergency health care to millions in the country through chronic wars and famines.

“Armed groups and civilians are increasingly supporting, tolerating and condoning the killing, assaulting and abuse of humanitarian aid workers,” Karunakara said. “We have reached our limits.”

In the last 22 years, 16 people working for the group have been killed. Dozens have been attacked.

The exodus, while understandable, does leave many Somalians without hope of care, as MSF was, in many cases, the only group offering such services in the country. Just last year, MSF delivered more than 7,000 babies, treated more than 30,000 malnourished kids and vaccinated 60,000.

(Photo: from DFID)

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Rep. Steve King (R-IA) Says Immigration Reform Will “Bring People From A Violent Civilization Into A Less-Violent Civilization”

Rep. Steve King speaking

If Republicans have any hope of winning the Latino vote (they don’t), having a bonafide racist as one of their members is surely doing some damage to the cause. But if you’re Representative Steve King, and you’ve already likened Hispanic immigrants to drug mules, you may as well keep digging:

“Now think what that is,” King said to the 60 or so attendees at the rally. “If you bring people from a violent civilization into a less-violent civilization, you’re going to have more violence right? It’s like pouring hot water into cold water, does it raise the temperature or not?”

The rest of his party is justifiably horrified, even if some of them agree with the sentiment. Like it or not, Steve King has emerged as the voice of the right on immigration reform, and he’s doing his very best to make sure it dies.

(Photo: flickr user Mark Taylor)

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Leaving Afghanistan’s Future Up To The Afghans


The New York Times reports that the relationship between the United States and Afghanistan has soured so badly that President Obama is strongly considering a “zero option” withdrawal, which would leave no American troops there after next year:

A videoconference between Mr. Obama and Mr. Karzai designed to defuse the tensions ended badly, according to both American and Afghan officials with knowledge of it. Mr. Karzai, according to those sources, accused the United States of trying to negotiate a separate peace with both the Taliban and their backers in Pakistan, leaving Afghanistan’s fragile government exposed to its enemies.

Mr. Karzai had made similar accusations in the past. But those comments were delivered to Afghans — not to Mr. Obama, who responded by pointing out the American lives that have been lost propping up Mr. Karzai’s government, the officials said.

The option of leaving no troops in Afghanistan after 2014 was gaining momentum before the June 27 video conference, according to the officials. But since then, the idea of a complete military exit similar to the American military pullout from Iraq has gone from being considered the worst-case scenario — and a useful negotiating tool with Mr. Karzai — to an alternative under serious consideration in Washington and Kabul.

I don’t know if this is welcome news, but it’s hardly unexpected at this point. We’ve been in Afghanistan for nearly 12 years now, and the Taliban still remains a vital ingredient in that state’s politics and identity. If Karzai and the Afghans can’t stand on their own after more than a decade of military and financial support, a small residual force of American soldiers will hardly improve things once the withdrawal is complete next year. Adding to that is the plain and distressing fact that Afghanistan is likely to implode once more in the near future; better to not have American soldiers there when it happens.

Photo by flickr user isafmedia)

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Syria is not our fight, ctd…

Salaheddin, AleppoSalaheddin, Aleppo (cc photo by Freedom House)

Daniel Larison competently argues that despite the neo-con base clamoring for military intervention into the bloody sectarian Syrian conflict, there is no good reason for the US to do so:

Like the Iraq War, a U.S. war in Syria would be unauthorized and illegal under international law, and America would have even fewer allies than it had in Iraq. Like Iraq, the costs and duration of a Syrian war have been minimized to make it appear to be a quick, easy, and cheap intervention. Unlike Iraq, there wouldn’t even be the pretense that the U.S. was acting to eliminate a potential threat to our security. Instead, the U.S. would be fighting solely for the purpose of overthrowing another government. While the Iraq War was mostly limited to that country, U.S. intervention in Syria would draw us directly into a proxy war with Assad’s patrons that would likely not remain confined to Syria. Finally, a Syrian war would be waged with the knowledge of all the things that went so horribly wrong in Iraq, which makes the impulse to intervene in Syria both inexcusable and inexplicable.

Larison goes on to thoroughly refute Bill Keller’s ridiculous case for intervention:

No two countries and no two conflicts are ever going to be identical, and some of the things that made the Iraq War a debacle may not be relevant to the Syrian case. However, military intervention in Syria would suffer from many of the same flaws as the Iraq War, and it would also have its own set of complications and unintended consequences that might prove to be just as bad or even worse than the Iraq War’s.

Fareed Zakaria, always the sanest voice in these matters, relays the potential consequences of an American intervention:

Would U.S. intervention–no-fly zones, arms, aid to the opposition forces–make things better? It depends on what one means by better. It would certainly intensify the civil war. It would also make the regime of Bashar Assad more desperate. Perhaps Assad has already used chemical weapons; with his back against the wall, he might use them on a larger scale. As for external instability, Landis points out that if U.S. intervention tipped the balance against the Alawites, they might flee Syria into Lebanon, destabilizing that country for decades. Again, this pattern is not unprecedented. Large numbers on the losing side have fled wars in the Middle East, from Palestinians in 1948 to Iraq’s Sunnis in the past decade.

It’s a shame – though not an unexpected one – that fervent supporters of the Iraq war are now willfully ignoring the lessons that should have been gleaned from that horrendous disaster. The Syrian civil war is an intensely complex conflict in one of the more fractured and splintered regions of the Middle East, and while we’d like to believe we can codify conflicts like this in such a way where the enemy is clear, the objective sound and the outcome guaranteed, the basic truth is that there are no good options when it comes to Syria. Furthermore, one need only watch this callous video of animalistic brutality perpetuated by one of the rebel leaders – who apparently Keller and McCain the rest of their cohorts would have us arm – to realize that both sides are descending into equal parts madness and barbarism. That’s the unfortunate truth about how regional, sectarian conflicts that have been brewing for more than a decade work. It’s painstakingly difficult to watch from the sidelines as countless are murdered and displaced, but I’ve said it before: in a situation where no good options exist, non-intervention is clearly the best, bad choice.

Previous posts on this issue here, here, here, and here.

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