It’s just been made public that various leaders in the UK drew up plans to equip and train a force of up to 100,000 “rebels” to fight against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria. (That figure of 100,000 Syrian rebels is interesting: the Free Syrian Army only has around 40,000 fighters at present.)
It was primarily General Sir David Richards’ idea and it was first suggested in 2012. (Formerly, Lord Richards was a NATO commander in Afghanistan.) The plan even included a “shock and awe” operation similar to the one against the Iraqi army in 2003.
It has also been reported that the military plan was even considered by Prime Minister David Cameron, Dominic Grieve (the Attorney General) and the National Security Council. “Officials” in Washington, such as General Martin Dempsey, were also in on the plan. However, all these institutions and individuals deemed it to be too “radical” (or too “risky”).
Interestingly enough, though, only a week or so ago Barack Obama was demanding $500 million to train and fund the Syrian rebels.
Military interventions often make things worse (as can be said about the intervention in Iraq in 2003).
As Professor Michael Clarke, of the Royal United Services Institute, put it:
“There are no good options over Syria. It is a slow-motion road accident.”
In other words, there’s no way of predicting all the “unintended consequences” of military intervention simply because there are just so many variables involved. However, there are some unintended consequences which are predicted: it’s just that they aren’t intended. In other words, these predicted – though unintended – consequences are simply deemed to be the unfortunate by-products of military intervention; though they are still seen as being politically acceptable.
In addition, when you make the losers the winners (such as the Sunnis in Syria or, previously, the Shia in Iraq), then at the same time you’ll be making the winners the losers (such as the Shia/Alawites in Syria, or, previously, the Sunnis in Iraq).
Despite all that, some – or even many – of the people directly involved in conflicts are desperate for help; and understandably so. Indeed some peoples – or at least their leaders – who otherwise hated the West (or America) have sometimes come to beg for its help.
Monzer Akbik, a spokesman for the Syrian National Coalition, is directly involved in the conflict in Syria. That’s why his position is at odds with many of those who aren’t directly involved. He said:
“The international community did not intervene to prevent those crimes… A huge opportunity was missed and that opportunity could have saved tens of thousands of lives actually and could have saved also a huge humanitarian catastrophe.”
Has Monzer Akbik (as well as people like him) been active in campaigns for intervention in, say, Nigeria or the Congo? I doubt it. More relevantly, would Mr Akbik be in favour of action against an equally repressive Sunni regime or even against the (Sunni) jihadists of ISIS operating in Iraq and Syria itself? And historically, were the majority of Syrian Sunnis in favour of the intervention in Iraq to get rid of a Sunni leader – Saddam Hussein – who was far worse than Bashar Assad?
Why Syria and Not Nigeria or the Sudan?
So why Syria?
There have been very many equally bad – sometimes worse – conflicts in which Britain and America haven’t – even for one moment – contemplated the possibility of military intervention.
Take the genocidal Islamic campaign in the Sudan between, roughly, 1991 and 2005 in which over one and a half million Christians and animists were killed by the regime in Khartoum and the jihadists of Janjaweed. Over two million people also died due to the resultant starvation caused by the conflict; and over four million people were displaced. In addition, Sudanese Muslims captured over 200,000 southern Sudanese and Nuba to use as slaves.
I don’t recall many – or any – suggestions that we should have militarily intervened in the Sudan.
What about the 35,000 deaths as a result of Islamic terrorism in Pakistan between 2001 and 2011? (That 15,000 more deaths than those who have died as a result of “civil strife” in West Bank/Gaza between 1948 and 2014.) Should we also intervene in Pakistan – even if its President, Mamnoon Hussain, asked us to?
And finally: what about what’s happening with Boko Haram in Nigeria at the moment?
It’s often said that “we can’t intervene everywhere” so we may as well intervene in the case of X or Y. Yes it’s true that we can’t intervene everywhere. Yet that statement only raises exactly the same question again: Why Syria?
It can also be said that there are aspects of the conflict in Syria which weren’t the case in the Sudan and which aren’t the case in Nigeria. Then again, we can say that there are aspects of the case in Nigeria that aren’t the case in Syria. In other words, do those differences really make a difference? For example, it can be said that many Syrians are calling for intervention. Yes; though many – e.g., Shia, Christians, etc. – aren’t.
The many calls for intervention in Syria are partly a consequence of the fact that Sunni Muslims in the West, as well as Syrian exiles, are very good lobbyists. They are better than, say, Sudanese/Nigerian Christians or the Thai Buddhist victims of the jihadists.
Another relevant factor is that there are between three and five million Muslims in the UK: 90% of whom are Sunnis. And, of course, it is the Sunnis of Syria who are the victims of the Bashar Assad’s Shia (Alawite) regime. (This is not to say that Shia haven’t also been victims of Sunnis – they have.)
More Bad News From Gaza
Think also of the obsessive attention to detail we find in the case of almost every Israeli action – or “outrage” – against the Palestinians in the West Bank or Gaza. Again, why is this?There are far worse conflicts throughout the world.
As I said about intervention in Syria, it’s often said – mainly by Western Leftists – that “we can’t focus on all conflicts” so we may as well focus on Israel and the West Bank/Gaza. It’s true that we can’t focus on all conflicts. Yet that statement only raises the exact same question again: Why focus on what’s happening in Gaza and the West Bank and not on, say, Pakistan or southern Thailand?
Here again it’s not the intensity of the conflict or the scale of the suffering that’s the primary reason for the obsessional scrutiny of – and the monomania about – the West Bank and Gaza.
The Israel-Palestinian conflict has been one of the least bloodthirsty of all 20th and 21st century conflicts with a maximum of 15,000 deaths (1948-2009) due to “civil strife”; which, importantly, also includes much Palestinian-on-Palestinian violence. (In addition to that there’s the 48,900 deaths due to the various wars between Israel and its Arab neighbours.) Yet the fact is that more people have died (up to 120,000!) in what are called the Mexican Drug Wars than in the entire Israel-Palestinian conflict: and in far fewer years. (These Mexican drug wars are largely ignored by much of the European media; unlike what’s happening in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank.)
So, besides ideological/political bias, what other reasons are there for these discrepancies?
It’s also because there are far more American and European journalists in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza than in any other country outside Europe and America. (Though this too is partly a result of ideological/political bias.) On the other hand, other journalists (the non-Leftist ones) have called the Muslim and Arab world – outside Gaza and the West Bank! – “the arc of silence” (i.e., due to the governmental restrictions they face on their reporting).
As a consequence of all the above, it’s frequently the case that the decision to intervene in a foreign conflict isn’t determined by the number of deaths or the severity of the conflict.
Similarly, it’s often political and/or ideological bias that determines which political events become big news stories (as in the case of Israel, Gaza and the West Bank) and which ones are largely ignored (as in the case of indigenous Pakistani terrorism or the fate of Christians in Nigeria).
This isn’t to say that political bias is necessarily wrong or even that it’s something that can be overcome. How can it be? My writing on this very subject displays my own political bias. Indeed when someone says that Journalist X or Politician Y is “politically biased” that doesn’t automatically mean that what this politician or journalist says is false or wrong. It simply means that he’s politically biased and that his bias should be taken into account. (This is the case even – or especially – in the case of the journalists who work for such a venerable, objective and ancient institution as the BBC.)
All that’s being said here is that political and ideological bias exists and it is that bias which largely accounts for where we militarily intervene. Similarly, political and ideological bias also largely – or partly – explains why certain political events become major news stories whereas other equally – or more – serious political events do not.