There is not much doubt that some sort of chemical weapons have been used in an attack on the Ghouta region of the suburbs of Damascus. Most observers seem united in the view that the footage of the victims of the attack are not ‘faking it’. They incline to this view because it would be too difficult to coordinate so many people at one time to act as if they have been poisoned. An interesting note of caution was raised by Prof Alexander Kekule, of the Institute for Medical Microbiology at Halle University in Germany. He opined that because there was no sign of blistering or other typical signs of Sarin then some other chemical agent had to have been used but he couldn’t rule out the possibility that the whole thing had been staged. A comment from Helsinki which I am not able to provide a link to at the moment pointed out that in the video footage those assisting the victims were not wearing any form of protective clothing or respiration devices. Because of this they would also be effected by any nerve agent and they show no signs of this. In some ways this is a naive comment because would one expect the local medical services available to help to have such specialised equipment? Personally I think not, or at least it’s unlikely.
Frank Gardiner of the BBC also raises a couple of interesting questions. Given that the Syrian Government forces have been enjoying some measure of success against the Opposition forces recently and the fact that there is a UN inspection team in Syria right now investigating the use of chemical weapons, why now, of all times, would the Assad dictatorship choose to use chemical weapons?The Syrian opposition has claimed 1,000 casualties and it must be said that the opposition is not a united body. Some elements of it would undoubtedly not scruple to use a chemical agent against innocent victims.America, the UK and EU are huffing and puffing about this. From the same BBC report UK Foreign Secretary William Hague has said QUOTE a shocking escalation in the use of chemical weapons in Syria UNQUOTE. He was careful to add the rider, ‘if confirmed’. What he has actually confirmed is that one of Obama’s ‘red lines’ has been crossed some time ago, everybody knows it and nothing has been done about it.So much for American red lines then and others around the World will have taken note. An object lesson in the wisdom of silence perhaps?
I doubt if Assad has ever watched the Monty Python film ‘The Quest for the Holy Grail’ but he might be inadvertently echoing John Cleese’s character who tells King Arthur ‘I pick my nose in your general direction’. Assad has clearly calculated that in reality there is no appetite in the West to become involved in the Syrian civil war no matter what justification can be found, that he is going to win in the long run and he doesn’t give a toss about being branded a war criminal and wanted for crimes against humanity. Predictably, his pals and ever-faithful supporters the Russians have opined that perhaps this is a premeditated provocation given the presence of the UN team in Syria. Presumably they mean provocation by the Opposition although they don’t specifically say so.
So which is it?
Assad terrorizing supporters of the opposition and giving an object lesson in the result of giving such support. At the same time he is raising two fingers to most of the rest of the World.
Elements of the Syrian Government forces out of control.
Elements of the opposition carrying out the attack.
I cautiously incline to the first but it’s a high-risk strategy, perhaps higher risk than Assad’s supporters Russia and Iran are happy with. However from his perspective he may feel that he has everything to gain and virtually nothing to lose. I’ve said it before but his bottom-line, fall-back position will be an Alawite state, supported by Russia which entirely coincidentally will see the Mediterranean port of Tartus still available to the Russian navy.
Oh dear oh dear, the west has got this wrong as well. There are predictable howls out outrage about the Egyptian army cracking down on the Muslim Brotherhood. Now I know that the Muslim Brotherhood are Obama’s new best friends because they won an election but let’s just think about this for a moment. Their President Morsi, having won an election then proceeded to ignore the democratic process and awarded himself dictatorial powers. The West, in particular the Western media, turned a bit of a blind eye to this but the Egyptian voters didn’t and neither did the Egyptian army. The Egyptians who had helped oust Mubarak had become disenchanted with Morsi’s attempts to impose an Islamist State on them. Note, Islamist not Islamic, there is a difference. Things reached boiling point and the army was basically asked by elements of the Egyptian population to step in and restore a true democracy. Whether the army is interested in democracy may be a moot point but interests coincided and Morsi was out, or rather inside to be more accurate. There was a predictable wailing and gnashing of teeth in the West.
The Muslim Brotherhood fought back, literally.Morsi had already lost control of the country before being ousted, the situation in Sinai being indicative of the problems he was failing to confront. It’s worth remembering that for over thirty years the Muslim Brotherhood was a banned organization throughout most of the Arab World. Banned not only because of their opposition to undemocratic Arab Governments but also because of what they represented. That last point is the important one and worth remembering in the present circumstances. The Muslim Brotherhood’s political agenda is not one of democracy, equal rights for women and tolerance of religious minorities, no matter what the American State Department fondly imagines.
You want to know who’s going to be running Egypt for the foreseeable future? General Abd al-Fatah al-Sisi. That’s who.
America, the EU and William Hague (Dave is wisely keeping shtumm about all this) had better get used to it because having put one foot over the abyss the Egyptian people somehow kept their balance and stepped back. He probably isn’t a democrat at heart although he may introduce some form of elected house of representatives. I’m sure there will be a democracy in Egypt but it won’t be tomorrow and it won’t happen in one fell swoop. Where successful these changes have always been gradual and political systems have evolved to meet the aspirations of the general populace. Eastern Europe and the fall of communism you ask? Well post WW! democracy did exist in Eastern Europe. They simply reverted to a previous form of government of which they had some experience within living memory.
The general needs to be encouraged and engaged by the West. Not only because of realpolitik but because that way they can subtly influence him. The question is, does the West ‘do subtle’ anymore or are we just a collection of meaningless soundbites?