The West must look at Syria differently

Photo credit: FreedomHouse2

Photo credit: FreedomHouse2

The way the debate on Syria is portrayed in the West is overly simplistic and thus unhelpful. Ignoring the concerns of other countries is dangerous because they are raising legitimate problems. Instead, the West must try and come to a more balanced viewpoint and re-connect with the other important players, if any progress is to be made in Syria.

This week Walid Muallem, Syria’s foreign minister, accused certain Western countries of backing the ‘terrorist organisations’ fighting against his government. Many of us in the West will instantly dismiss such accusations.

While the Syrian government call them ‘terrorists’ or ‘armed gangs’, our media prefers to use terminology such as ‘rebels’ or the ‘Free Syrian Army’ (FSA). Iranian, Russian and Chinese objections to our interference in Syria are characterised as the irresponsible acts of corrupt, dictatorial regimes.

But this outlook must change. We need to start looking at Syria in a more sensible and productive manner. Of course it is true that countries such as Iran are in many ways motivated by self-interest (an Alawite-run Syria gives Iran a valuable corridor through which to support groups such as Hizbollah).

However, we need to remove the constant undertone in our media that we are the ‘good guys’ whose only aim is to protect innocent people who are being persecuted. Similar unrest in states such as Bahrain have not led to Western moves to protect the lives of civilians. Moreover, the revolution in Egypt happened against a dictatorship that was funded with billions of dollars of US military aid. To say the West is always the hero is, unfortunately, wrong.

Indeed, the concerns of some non-Western countries on the Syrian issue are very pertinent.

Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian Prime Minister was recently interviewed by The Times. One key point he made was the realisation that Syria is an extremely complex country, specifically in an ethnic sense: “It’s much more complex than Egypt or Libya because of all the communities living there: Sunnis, Shia, Alawites, Druze and Christians. They will either find a way to get along or civil war and killings will go on indefinitely.”

The conflict in Syria cannot be solved simply by supporting the rebels until they win; which seems to be the extent of many Western countries’ strategies at the moment.

A military victory alone will not create a stable Syria, we would likely see reprisal attacks on Alawites and Shias by the Sunnis, who resent the oppression they suffered under Assad. We do not want to see a situation similar to Iraq where sectarian violence continues to thrive.

The second important point he raised was the ‘mission-creep’ problem as it happened in Libya, “But the question is – where is the line between resolutions and a military operation? We saw that with the resolution on Libya. It basically led to international intervention. This is a bad way.”

The UN resolution passed by the Security Council on Libya was designed to protect citizens in Benghazi from imminent destruction, and yet it was used to justify a full scale aerial bombardment of Gaddafi’s army which ultimately led to the overthrowing of his government. It must be questioned whether the rest of the world can trust any resolution the West submits to the UN with this level of obvious deceit.

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