Watchers of the Middle East and North Africa would have seen two interesting news items. The first was the agreement between the two rival parliaments in Libya on a power sharing arrangement and the second was the US and Russian sponsored UN Security Council Resolution which proposed a roadmap for peace in Syria. We all hope that in these two countries, there will be great progress towards peace in the next year. However, I can’t help wondering how we got here in the first place, in Syria, Libya and many other countries.
I know that there was, in most cases, a certain degree of authoritarianism, even oppression. However, I believe that the situation was exacerbated by the interference of outside factors, and that in most cases, these outside powers were not as interested in the ultimate success, or even peaceful resolution of the situations they instigated. The other day, it occurred to me that the Taliban only ruled Afghanistan for about 5 years. During that time, there was undoubted oppression of women, and even muslims who did not hold to their fundamentalist position. However, with the news of fighting between the Taliban and Afghan government forces in Helmand province, the evidence is that they are still causing death and destruction, 14 years after they were deposed in 2001. In Iraq, Saddam Hussein was removed in 2003. I’m sure he executed several people, but if you remove the wars with Iran and Kuwait, which would have resulted in the deaths of soldiers, then I’m forced to ask the question, haven’t there been more deaths since he left power? And these have been caused by Iraqis killing Iraqis. Ok, I know that he used chemical weapons against innocent civilians, so perhaps things don’t run in two dimensional lines. Still, I’m not sure the number of civilians killed in those attacks comes close to those who have died in the past 12 years.
I don’t wish to underplay the real fears that people in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and other countries lived in. However, it does say in the Bible “For to him that is joined to all the living there is hope: for a living dog is better than a dead lion …” (Ecclesiastes chapter 9 v4, KJV). I hope nobody ever has to ask me which I’d prefer, to live in constant and deep fear or get killed as an innocent bystander in a roadside bombing incident.
The novel that’s currently on my bedside table )if a Braille book with six volumes, each the size of an encyclopaedia can fit on a bedside table) is David Baldacci’s novel, “The Whole Truth”. Its thesis is very troubling, that those who are determined to do so at any cost can cause or manipulate facts, events and circumstances to create a ‘truth’ in the minds of everyone else. I can’t say how original this is; certainly I’ve read of how we can use words to direct the thoughts of others to our perspective. The most famous example is “one man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter”. But this book goes much further than mere propaganda; events are fabricated, opponents killed and ‘leaks’ are created, while the propagators watch with satisfaction as the world gets ever closer to all-out war.
I can’t tell you how it ends, I’m still somewhere in the middle. Thankfully, it’s a work of fiction, which is probably why I’m still alive to write this blog right now. However, it made me think of how US officials claimed in the Security Council that Iraq was really close to developing a nuclear weapon and had large stocks of other weapons of mass destruction. As I was researching the subject at that time, I was really confused. Because all my readings had indicated that the International Atomic Energy Agency had signed Iraq off as not possessing any ability to produce a nuclear weapon. The UN agency responsible for inspecting the other weapons of mass destruction was also satisfied that it had carried out comprehensive work and was moving from inspection to monitoring, to ensure that Iraq would no longer be able to produce any chemical or biological weapons. So, where did the US get its facts? And what happened, when, after Saddam was deposed, it was discovered that all these ‘facts’ were not true? Nobody thought of apologising to the already executed dictator for getting him off his seat of power through deception.
Actually, the bigger question is, who cared? The US soon began to worry about the cost of maintaining high troop numbers in Iraq and Afghanistan and started to make plans for withdrawal. Those very much concerned with ensuring that Humpty Dumpty had a great fall now realised that it was impossible to put it back together again.
I’m still looking for evidence that regime change instigated by foreign military action can lead to peace. Despite all the calls for Western powers to remove the Assad regime, it still survives in Syria because of Russian and Iranian backing. However, if it were to fall, there’s no reason to believe that there would be peace in Syria; it didn’t happen in Iraq, Libya or Afghanistan, so why should Syria be different. Eventually, the Syrians would be left to fight each other because the powers that brought the downfall of the hated regime will have had enough; it would have become too expensive and their own soldiers would be dying.
Nor would the threat of IS go away so easily. In fact, the evidence is that it would probably prosper as it is doing in Iraq and Libya, if there is no force powerful enough to oppose it, operating within the country and with the commitment borne of having to defend your own land and means of livelihood.
IS and Al Qa-Eda do not operate within the rules of state conduct. They’re not in the UN, they’re not bound to behave themselves by the threats of sanctions or anything else short of war, that the international community can throw at them. The only people who can stop them are those with a real reason to. See for example how hard Assad is clinging to power. He has support and he can, if given the means, defeat IS in Syria. We may not like him, but do we prefer IS? Or would we rather have many more dead lions than a few living dogs, while we struggle to put Syria back together in our own image? Do we hate Assad so much that we are prepared to risk the consequences of removing him? Or can we look at the longterm effects and find a way to ‘contain’ him while achieving the more important objective of defeating IS? It’s too late to ask the question “what were we doing there in the first place? So we’d better just make the best of the situation.
The whole truth about Syria cannot be encapsulated in the simple maxim “Assad is bad, so he must go”. And if it can, then my advice to all future dictators, look for a backer who can keep humpty dumpty from falling. The evidence is that all powerful dictators destroy the opposition and so when they leave, there’s a power vacuum that can’t be filled because there’s nobody strong enough to take charge. As we can see, the greatest probability is disintegration and when that happens, all the king’s horses and all the king’s men cannot put humpty dumpty together again. It’s been happening as far back as Alexander the great. If there’s no succession planning, there’s no successful end to a powerful regime.