Know Your Limits: Syria 103

An important rule of good blogging is not to comment on matters which you do not understand. An important rule of my own life is not to try to understand everything, as no one man can. I have never tried to master the intricacies of Syrian internal politics, (or Lebanese for that matter). Assad senior perpetrated atrocities on a grand scale without ever getting much attention from the West. Hopes that Assad junior would make things much better seemed to come to nothing. If the revolutionary tide swept away the Assad crew, I should be pleased.

I do not know in depth why Homs is a hotbed of opposition, and what the tribal divisions are. I do know that Saudi Arabia – the apostle state of repression – is funding and arming the Free Syrian Army, which is anything but a good sign. I am very interested that the BBC reports bombings in Damascus as false flag bombings by the Assad regime, when I found that to note false flag bombings by UK/US ally Karimov in Tashkent was treated as crazed conspiracy theory.

But what I understand most is the diplomacy. On Libya, NATO took a UN Security Council Resolution authorising a no fly zone, and twisted it as cover to wage all out aerial warfare on one side in a civil war. Long after pro-Gadaffi sources lost any serious offensive capability, NATO were carpet-bombing Sirte, killing many times more people than Assad has killed in Homs to date.

If given an inch you take 500 miles, you should not be surprised when in future nobody will give you half an inch. That is the context of Russian and Chinese veto of any UNSCR authorising action against Syria. The total disregard for the spirit and precise wording of the resolutions on Libya to which Russia and China agreed, has stymied the chances of future united security council action, perhaps for many years. I actually predicted this, blogging on 5 October 2011

“Having absolutely abused UNSCR 1973, plainly NATO was seriously damaging the ability of the Security Council to work together in future, and making quite certain that China and Russia would not for many years agree to any SC Resolutions which might be open to similar abuse.”

All the sham indignation about a consequence the US, UK and France so directly brought upon themselves, and which was so obviously predictable, is pathetic.

It is fascinating the way this has been presented in the media, with graphics on all the major news channels showing the national flags of the thirteen countries who voted for the resolution, compared to the two against. There is some interest here – Azerbaijan is certainly a surprise and will be causing real heartache in the Kremlin. But the language from Clinton on the irresponsible use of the veto and on need for action outwith the United Nations, is completely out of order.

The United States has stymied UN action against Israeli aggression on numerous occasions, very often vetoing alone. I do not recall the BBC ever showing a graphic of all the national flags on one side versus just the stars and stripes on the other. Funny that. The threat of a veto is usually enough to stop a motion being tabled, but I am fairly confident in saying that the USA has exercised its veto to protect Israel on over thirty occasions. That US prevention of international action includes over Operation Cast Lead, not so long ago, where again the Israelis were killing far more civilians than are dying in the current – still deplorable – assault on Homs.

The drive for another war in the Middle East, from the same old suspects who profit from such wars, is relentless and pretty well any war of opportunity will do. What is happening in Syria is sad in its violence, and also hopeful insofar as some of it is motivated by a genuine spark of freedom. Those who purport to believe that internal conflict anywhere is best resolved by us bombing the hell out of a country and/or invading it, are a combination of cranks and cynical profiteers.

What worries me most is not the turmoil in Syria; it is the vultures circling over it.

103 thoughts on “Know Your Limits: Syria

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  • Guest

    “What worries me most is not the turmoil in Syria; it is the vultures circling over it.”
    Vultures that like to drink copious amounts of oil and copious amounts of blood.

  • Martin

    Assad is not bombing his own people. We are!!
    Seriously. I’ve been reading up on it all day. Heavily armed gangs of foreign mercenaries trained in Turkey. Unmarked NATO warplanes are arriving at Turkish military bases close to Iskenderum on the Syrian border, delivering weapons from the late Muammar Gaddafi’s arsenals as well as volunteers from the Libyan Transitional National Council who are experienced in pitting local volunteers against trained soldiers, a skill they acquired confronting Gaddafi’s army.
    The 165 Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) observers reported from on the ground. They’re not Syrian forces doing all the killing but heavily armed gangs of foreign mercenaries. The report was suppressed by the GCC. But it’s available here>

    A recent poll showed that about 55% will vote for Assad in March (i think) and the US will not be happy about that. A democratically elected leader who is not a US puppet.

  • Mary

    Hague sounds off.
    William Hague says UN veto a ‘betrayal’ of Syrian people
    UK Foreign Secretary William Hague says Syria’s president heads a “doomed regime as well as a murdering regime”
    UK Foreign Secretary William Hague has accused China and Russia of “betraying the Syrian people” by vetoing a UN resolution condemning violence there.
    The BBC have given the first seven minutes of the 6 pm news to a filmed piece from Paul Wood followed by a live piece. He did say he was reporting a very narrow view of the situation in Syria.

  • kingfelix


    That article is big on grand theory and thin on hard evidence. It could all be perfectly true, but for now it should be filed under ‘S’ for spurious.

  • Guest

    “thin on hard evidence”
    With all that is going on I don`t think that is so, there must be a reason!.
    “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth”.

  • MerkinOnParis

    Well, General Wesley Clark was telling us years ago what countries were on the hit list.
    We should not really be surprised about what is happening in the run-up to the big one – the planned attack on Iran.

  • Brian Barder

    Craig, I entirely agree with you about the gross abuse of the Security Council resolution on Libya by NATO, and the inevitable consequences that we are seeing now in regard to Syria. In fact I can’t imagine that any action which the Security Council would be prepared to authorise would resolve the problem of what looks increasingly like a civil war in Syria. It looks very much like gesture politics, which raises false hopes and achieves nothing.

  • Lloyd

    Weak, weak weak. Russia uses the veto because it fears the abuse of SCR or Russia uses its veto because Assad’s is a client regime and it wants instability to drive up the oil price. Don’t use your hatred about your treatment blind you to the realities of Russian power or the foul character of the sinister tortures.

  • Lloyd

    you people are the vultures. circling over the heads of the violence, using it, desperate to prove that all deaths are a prelude to something your pretend to fear but subconsciously will into reality, as there no feeling like feeling you are right, oppressed and ignored, then finally vindicated.

  • Kevin Boyle

    Western powers are in the business of regime change across the middle east and beyond.

    The Arab League report on Syria states CLEARLY that there was no organized, lethal repression by the Syrian government against peaceful protesters. Instead, the report points to shady armed gangs as responsible for hundreds of deaths among Syrian civilians.
    Webster Tarpley has reported from Syria that these gangs are Nicaragua-style death-squads armed and financed by the west.

    The Russians know that western ambition is limitless. After Syrian and Iran are dealt with, they will be next.

    We are, apparently, already financing Russian opponents of Putin.

    The Lies! The lies!

  • Andy

    ”Russia uses the veto because it fears the abuse of SCR or Russia uses its veto because Assad’s is a client regime and it wants instability to drive up the oil price.”
    It’s not the US and European threats of war against Iran and the sanctions that have pushed up oil prices. No. it’s those sneaky Russians.
    And of course western intervention in Syria would lead to regional stability with weeks of the first cruise missile attack.
    Look at Iraq! What could possibly go wrong?

  • TFS

    Lloyd its only Monday, can I have some of what you’re smoking?

    The only people pushing up the price of oil is that fabled ‘entity for good’…..Wall Street, or Al-Wall Street as they should be called

  • Iain Orr


    I remember you prediction that there would be a heavy cost to abusing the UNSC Resolution on Libya. It was foolish of the UK and USA to expect either Russia or China not to use their veto. The laws of political physics are that each action has an equal reaction; and an opposite one if the action was foolish.

  • conjunction

    Craig as usual attempts to be rigorous about the limits of his knowledge. Syria is a difficult case. For long I have admired the way they have been their own person, standing up to Russia, Israel, Egypt and onyone else if necessary. Although Assad senior was cruel he was a mature watcher of the internastional scene, and kowtowed to no-one, Kissinger included. i am not sure the son has the nous.

    Personally I don’t beleive there will be a war over Iran or Syria, I think its just bluster. All the main blusterers on both sides have reasons to be careful. As for Aserbaijan its a festering swamp, see Kleveman’s great book. To get depth on Syria the Observer journalist patrick Seale was a friend of Assad senior and wrote an informative biography.

    In a sense this is the new cold war and Saudi Arabia with their extensive Wajid political and financial base and Syria are the new Breznev. Their opposition to US hegemony is not without function.

  • writerman

    Well, Craig, you’re correct about Syria, it’s internal politics are fiendishly complex, contradictory, and not least potentially very violent, though one can argue that… but I’m getting ahead of myself.

    It’s this very complexity that should make one wary of becoming so deeply involved in something one has so little chance of fully understanding, one would imagine that caution would be fairly obvious position to adopt, though this certainly isn’t the West’s line when confronted with complex problems, we seem to just barge in all guns blazing, as in Iraq, Afghanistan, and very recently, Libya.

    Syria isn’t really ruled by a tyrant, more like a clan, a unified, religious minority, in a land full of disunited and waring tribes and ethnic groups. Syria is similar to Lebanon. But in Syria the army has always been the backbone of the very centralized state, which is about all that keeps the coutry together and the rival groups from tearing each other to pieces.

    Is this another ‘genuine, people’s revolution’ as in Libya? Or is it really a western financed, armed, and supported, revolt aimed at overthrowing the last secular regime in the region and empowering loyal Islamists, which seems to be why the Gulf States and the Saudis are pooring men and money into the ‘revolution’, but the idea that the Saudis would support a ‘genuine, people’s revolution’ which many on the left fantasize about seems a tad fanciful to me.

    It’s very difficult to know what’s happening inside Syria, but the propaganda in our ‘free’ media is reaching hysterical proportions, presenting rumours as facts, and stories from the rebels about ‘massacres’ without any scrutiny, as in Libya. In fact this whole affair is strikingly and frighteningly similar to the Libyan propaganda campaign which was such a resounding success.

    As in Libya special forces from western and the Arabian peninsular are already on the ground in Syria. Nato is supplying the rebels with weapons which are flooding in from every direction to fuel what ammounts to a civil war, as the Assad regime is not as unpopular with sections of the Syrian population as it is portrayed.

    The recent report from the Arab Leagues observers makes interesting reading, though for some unknown reason our ‘free’ press, even those bastions of ‘liberalism’ the Guardian and the Independent seem reluctant to publicize the report, which despite its faults, is a report by people who’ve seen what’s happening in Libya, sorry, Syria, and are hardly mouthpieces of the Syrian regime. It’s a good as we’ve got at the moment.

    There are so interesting points in the report, which, at the least, are worth considering, whether one treats it a gospel is another thing altogether.

    The regime isn’t deliberately attacking unarmed civilian demonstrators and mowing them down in huge numbers. There are casualties on both sides and killings too. Many civilians have been killed by the opposition, and soldiers, using methods that in another context would be considered as terrorist attacks, for example bombs in buses in busy streets. There is a heavily armed ‘entity’ that’s taking on the Syrian army in a virtual guerrilla war. The report seems to say that the ‘entity’ comes from outside Syria.

    That’s a bit about the report, which seems to have come to conclusions that weren’t the ‘right’ ones.

    In a still wider context, toppling the Syrian regime would be a substantial set-back for both Russia and Iran, and if one could impose the Saudi model, that is a weak regime that needs western protection as in old gangster movies, everything would be fine and we wouldn’t wet ourselves over abuses of human rights because Saudi is moving in the right direction and just needs a bit more time to morph into Switzerland.

    Topple Syria and one is closer to isolating a toppling the regime in Iran, which is the Big Prize. Also a destroyed Syria would be an obvious gain for Israel, and severely weaken the resistance groups in Lebanon and Gaza, who refuse to surrender on Israel’s terms, that is they accept that they’ve lost, and live quietly and peacefully on their reservations like the American Indians.

    Oh, and there are supposed to be hundreds of Islamist fighters fresh from Libya inside Syria, which is reassuring.

    Smash what we can’t contol, which is also a form of control, and drown these regimes, in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and now Syria, in rivers of blood, replacing totalitarian stability with religious chaos, what an appealing prospect, and then on towards Iran!

    This is only a detail, though perhaps telling, I wrote a similar piece in the Independent today before they realised their guard was down on the comments side, imagine my amusment when it vanished!

    This site is becoming my last refuge, as the ultra-liberal Guardian has ‘pre-moderated’ me to Siberia as well, for defending the human rights of Julian Assange too defiantly, as I know Sweden very well indeed, and find their coverage appalling, ignorant, and biased.

  • Jives

    “you people are the vultures. circling over the heads of the violence, using it, desperate to prove that all deaths are a prelude to something your pretend to fear but subconsciously will into reality, as there no feeling like feeling you are right, oppressed and ignored, then finally vindicated.2
    Come again dear boy??

  • glenn_uk

    A couple of months back I was talking to a Syrian guy in a Lebanese restaurant. Asking him about this apparent attack by Assad, and what he thought would happen, he said the situation is the opposite of what you’d infer from watching the TV.
    He too thought the dictator was making a one-sided attack, and he had no great love for him either. But when he telephoned home to see how the family was doing, he learned that it’s far more a case of a civil war than a one sided suppression of popular sentiment. Whatever the real truth is, and he was uncertain himself, there’s a lot more to it than we’re led to believe.
    The hurry to get rid of Assad and get some compliant stooges installed in Syria is so that the most important part of the Great Game can be got underway – the invasion of Iran. Can’t have a full-out attack on Iran with a sympathetic Syria still in the picture.

  • Alexander Mercouris

    Dear Craig,

    I agree with every single comment you have made here.

    I would just add a few points:

    1. I have read the text of the draft Resolution. Though it makes a token reference to the need for the opposition to desist from violence the body of the Resolution consists of a list of demands expressed in the most vitriolic language directed exclusively at the Syrian government. Though the media is reporting that the Resolution’s sponsors dropped the demand that Assad resign, paragraph 7 refers to a transition arrangement in accordance with the timetable set out by the Arab League in its 22nd January 2012 peace plan, which of course demands just that. Moreover paragraph 15 threatens further measures if Syria does not comply with the Resolution within 21 days.

    2. In other words it seems to me that the concessions to the Russians and the Chinese we have been hearing so much about over the previous few days were largely cosmetic and that the substance of the Resolution was unchanged. If the Resolution had been passed what would surely have happened is that we would have had a further Security Council meeting in 21 days at which the western powers and their Arab allies would have proposed another Resolution in even stronger terms almost certainly including sanctions on the grounds that the Syrian government had not complied with the previous one Given the nature of the demands made of the Syrian government it is difficult for me to see how it could have complied with the Resolution without putting its own existence at risk and anyway I am sure that the media would have been reporting an increase in the violence regardless of whether it was increasing or not. Given that the Russians and the Chinese would have previously agreed to a Resolution that puts the blame for the violence overwhelmingly on the Syrian government and given the claims that the Syrian government had not complied with the demands in that Resolution I cannot see how in those circumstances the Russians and the Chinese could have resisted such a further Resolution when it was demanded.

    3. That surely was the gameplan of the authors. In other words despite everything we are hearing the purpose of the Resolution was to set the stage for a process that could only have ended with regime change. That surely is what its authors intended and is why Russia and China vetoed it.

    4. On the subject of the thirteen countries that voted for the Resolution, you can if you wish read on the UN website a summary of the debate. The comments of the Indian, Pakistani and South African ambassadors, who voted for the Resolution, were lukewarm to say the least. I wonder what sort of pressure was put on their governments to get them to support it. I read a few days ago a piece written by the Indian ambassador in which he complained bitterly that the abuse of Resolutions 1970 and 1973 to achieve regime change in Libya had poisoned the atmosphere in the Security Council and that he was a consistent advocate of the doctrine that Resolutions should mean exactly what they say, no more and no less. That of course is precisely the point you make in your wholly excellent article.

  • writerman

    I suppose I should add that I’m not a supporter of the Syrian regime, which is authoritarian, but then so’s virtually every regime in the Middle East. I do find it strange though that we’re happy to be allied with Saudi Arabia in Egypt, Libya, and now Syria. If anything the Saudi regime is the worst of the lot, yet we protect it, or maybe it’s the oil we’re protecting? Sorry, that sounded awfully like a conspiracy theory shoving it’s way through, and as we all know, those kind of base commerical considerations never cross the minds of our democratic leaders, who selflessly only consider the ‘good’ we can do, and the opportunities for progress present on a silver platter, as we send armies half-way around the world, on our ‘crusade for freedom.’

  • Iain Orr


    I remember you prediction that there would be a heavy cost to abusing the UNSC Resolution on Libya. It was foolish of the UK and USA to expect either Russia or China not to use their veto. The laws of political physics are that each action has an equal reaction; and an opposite one if the action was foolish. Mind you, they might have wanted the vetoes, the more easily to blacken Russia and China. With the USA’s record of obstructive vetoes, that’s not going to work.

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