The price of regime change
There are millions of Christians in Syria, who probably have the Russians and Chinese to thank that they may live there a little longer. The Security Council vetoes, a fortnight ago, on a resolution calling upon Syria’s dictator to step down, and supporting an Arab-sponsored plan to “end the violence,” put paid to any immediate prospect of western intervention.
The outrage expressed by Hillary Clinton, William Hague, and other western foreign ministers, probably concealed a little relief, for the vetoes provided the excuse they needed to avoid the issue, while continuing to posture about “humanitarianism” and “democracy.”
Let me be clear: I carry no brief for Putin’s Russia, or the PRC, let alone the Assad family’s monstrous regime in Damascus. The obvious needs restating from time to time: that many, perhaps most of the world’s governments are in the hands of evil tyrants (if gentle reader will forgive the pleonasm). Thus it often happens that we must appear to support one evil, in order to obviate a worse. This necessarily involves taking heat from utopian slogan-chanters.
That the Russians have ulterior motives, in supporting Bashar al-Assad, could almost go without saying. They have a naval base at Tartus: an interesting relic of the Soviet evil empire. It was their last supply and maintenance facility in the Mediterranean. Over the last few years, this port has been dredged, renovated, and expanded to accommodate nuclear-armed warships, as Vladimir Putin revives Russia’s old imperial dreams. He inherited the Soviet special relationship with the Assad family, and Syria remains a major customer for Russian military hardware, too.
China’s covering veto was almost certainly a cynical quid-pro-quo, for Russian energy supplies.
Nor does the horrific violence in Syria please anyone who is sane.
Though here, it is important to grasp that we are getting the same stilted information that comes with all “Arab Spring” reporting. Media both East and West, for different reasons, have taken a partisan position, and assigned white and black hats to the respective contestants for power. The opposition to Assad is presented as if it were a unified “resistance movement,” of an “oppressed people.”
The truth is we do not know much about what is happening inside Syria – just as we knew and know little about Libya, where, now that Gadhafi is dead, “the show is over” for the western audience. Journalists who (courageously) enter Syria are seldom in a position to check the hearsay they must forward as breaking news to deadline. As an old editor, it distresses me to see things as specific as body counts reported, from places where there are no disinterested observers.
It should also be remembered that all governments, even the most angelic, try to maintain order. When rebels seize bastions in Homs or elsewhere, overpowering local authorities, of course the state’s soldiers will go in. To present the Syrian regime’s defensive efforts, as if it were shelling for the sheer gratuitous pleasure of demolishing old towns, is to overstate the case for the opposition.