Syria: myths and omissions (with personal postscript)
How quickly the English commentariat forgets the recent past and glosses over inconvenient aspects of the present! The Guardian of 10 April 2017 published a slightly edited version of a letter from me of which the original text as submitted read as follows:
Two myths and an omission infest much of the commentariat’s coverage of the Syrian government’s Sarin gas attack on Khan Sheikhoun on Tuesday andPresident Trump’s knee-jerk response (A world defined by Trump’s impulses cannot be a safe one, editorial, 8 April). The omission is the blatant illegality of the US airstrikes, done neither in self-defence nor with UN authority. That Assad’s use of chemical weapons was a shocking war crime can’t justify such a breach of international law, another war crime, in response. The first myth is that in 2013 the UK parliament voted against UK participation in a military response to Assad’s chemical weapon attack on Syrian rebels and that this influenced Obama against a US military attack. In fact parliament merely rejected both Labour’s and the government’s proposed lists of criteria for a justified air strike against Syria, but Mr Cameron chose to interpret the votes as a rejection of military action, period. Myth no. 2: that in the face of Assad’s 2013 chemical weapons attack, Obama weakly preferred inaction to a military response. In reality he chose diplomacy over the use of more violence, activating a long gestated agreement with Putin, imposed on a reluctant Assad by Russia, under which UN weapons inspectors would identify and destroy Assad’s chemical weapons capability. Clearly that operation was incomplete or else chemical weapons have been reintroduced since the UN operation, with or without Russia’s knowledge. But that doesn’t affect the fact that Obama’s response – collaborating with Russia in a limited international peaceful solution – far from being weak or inactive, was infinitely preferable to Trump’s, which killed a few more people but otherwise seems likely to achieve nothing. For once Mr Corbyn is absolutely right.
9 April 2017
To which I might have added, if space had allowed (which it didn’t), an expression of bemusement that our Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, is disappointed by his fellow G7 foreign ministers’ rejection of his extraordinary demand for yet more sanctions against Russia, an utterly predictable reaction that should have deterred him from making it: and that he has apparently collected more support for his ludicrous demand that President Putin should now abandon his support for President Assad, while repeating his self-defeating insistence that Assad cannot be part of any eventual settlement in Syria. Much more realistically, the US Secretary of State Mr Rex Tillerson, speaking before his visit to Moscow for talks with Mr Lavrov, his Russian opposite number, expressed the hope that the Syrian people would be able to determine their own long-term future, and his own “hope” that Assad would not be a part of it — a significantly different formulation from that of Mr Johnson and some of the G7 foreign ministers, who forget a lot and learn nothing.
Postscript: I apologise for the long period of silence here. As some readers of Ephems already know, this blog has been experiencing a slow and arduous recovery from a radical operation for cancer in mid-February, and embarked yesterday (11 April) on a six-month round of chemotherapy and probably some radiotherapy in an effort to head off an early recurrence. Despite adverse odds, the writer is obstinately optimistic. But with severely reduced energy levels in the coming months, new blog posts may be few and far between compared with pre-operational frequencies. Please no messages, no flowers — yet!