Wednesday, 16 November 2016
It is time for a different approach with Russia
It would hardly be original to point out that everyone who has demanded the departure of Assad has departed. Even now, Ken Roth of Human Rights Watch is calling for his removal. He remarks that over 85% of civilian casualties are on Assad's hands and crushing ISIS while retaining Assad's brutal repression will only ensure another ISIS in some new form.
The immediate problem here is that Assad is very much Putin's boy and since we have no influence in Syria right now, it really is out of our hands unless we wish to further step up tensions with Russia or do something constructive like attempt diplomacy with Russia. Staffan de Mistura, the UN special envoy for Syria, has warned that a total military victory for Bashar al-Assad rather than a negotiated peace deal will leave Syria and Europe exposed to resurgent Sunni terrorism, as in Iraq. I imagine we do not want this.
In this it would appear that Mr Putin holds all of the cards and has done for some time. The West squandered much of its political capital there and at home and though we should have acted, politically that would not have been possible. We must now focus on what leverage we have when the conflict is brought to a decisive end. Presumably this would be an international agreement on rebuilding Syria.
In the meantime the main source of outrage is the conduct of Mr Putin's war. Deliberate targeting of civilians to a sadistic degree. This the left are incredibly squeamish about and that makes Putin the popular bogeyman. What we forget though is that every day this drags on we see millions of displaced people and thousands downing every single week in the sea. That is entirely our doing.
And if we are getting into the realms of whataboutery, then what about Turkey jailing journalists and academics and dismantling democracy and shelling Sirnak into dust? From the illustration above there is very little left to destroy. This, for reasons that escape me, has our very own Boris Johnson warning against pushing Turkey into a corner.
Clearly Turkeys human rights abuses are to be tolerated just so long as Erdogan is on behalf of the EU holding back a tidal wave of refugees. Meanwhile everybody is clamouring for a trade deal with China whose recent territorial aggression is considerably more alarming than Russia's, cyber threats are increasing and Chinese human rights abuses are about as bad as ever they were. Meanwhile, British built Typhoons are bombing Yemen. You know, the Saudis. Those bastions of human rights.
So please excuse me if I am being a bit thick here, but why does it trigger revulsion in polite society at the suggestion that an expensive and pointless cold war with Russia is something that we should on the whole seek to avoid and instead seek diplomatic alternatives? Trump is reputed to be the stupid one yet it's the Western establishment going along with this bovine ramping up of hostility.
The West for a very long time now has been systematically alienating Russia, expecting Russia not to react. Now that it has we see that not only is the West not prepared to take responsibility for its actions it has the nerve to play innocent. Now it is we who need Russian cooperation in this and many other things.
In this we have two choices. We can either play infantile games around the fringes in Syria, increasing the potential for an accident of history or we can recognise our own hypocrisy and start some kind of constructive conversation with Russia. It's all very well to be parading our virtues but risking a wider conflict when we're turning a blind eye to massive crimes against liberty in Turkey seems beyond all comprehension.
The notion that Russia is the greatest threat to the west right now seems to me to be an article of faith and the product of a left wing groupthink that has infected the centre-right. It elicits name-calling and accusations of being a Putin sympathiser - which is to be expected when populist parties like Ukip express their open admiration for Putin, but one thing I am not seeing is any consistent and reasoned arguments as to why a new cold war is worth it and how it can be justified in the face of such rank hypocrisy.
Britain and the USA may not have engaged in the kind of savagery that Russia is presently engaged in in Syria, but Russia is getting the job done in ending hostilities. The West on the other hand have managed to wreck half of the middle east to no effective resolution. If we wanted Assad gone then the window was several years ago. Now it seems to me that the most urgent business is to bring an end to this destruction, if not for Syria then for Europe's collective defence.
Whether it is an article of propaganda or not, Putin appears to be finishing what we couldn't. If we want a voice in what happens next, then it is the West that needs to come to the table. Ramping up to a new cold war on the back of the childish sentiment that "war is howwid" strikes me as the sort of infantile policy that has driven many of our interventions in recent years. After two decades of it, it is time to try something else. Rather a lot depends on it.