Chomsky, Cockburn, and Blix on Syria

Given the recent US saber-rattling, I went looking for a second opinion, and was not disappointed by this July 2013 interview between Noam Chomsky and a Syrian playwright named Mohammed Attar.

My response would be not dissimilar to the answers given by other observers who are closely following the situation in Syria, such as Patrick Cockburn, who said that such a step [military aid] would only escalate the military confrontation while maintaining the same military balance, since the regime’s allies—Russia, Iran and Iraq—will continue to do what they have always done and supply the regime with more advanced weaponry.

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We all want to force Assad to the negotiating table and from there, to resign, but the question is how to achieve this? The first way to do this is to supply the opposition with arms. This step would most likely produce an escalation of the military conflict and open the door to further military upgrading and expansion on the part of the regime, leading to increased destruction and the regime staying in place for longer. The second approach is to go to Geneva with the cooperation of the major powers, including Russia, and force the regime to accept a truce. These are the options we have.

I had not read Cockburn on Syria, so I went looking. Yesterday he published a piece entitled Only a peace conference, not airstrikes, can stop further bloodshed. It’s a must-read.

While the world has been focusing on the horrors in Damascus over the past week, anti-government rebels have been carrying out a campaign of ethnic cleansing against Syrian Kurds in the north-east of the country, forcing 40,000 of them to flee across the Tigris into northern Iraq in less than a week.

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A ceasefire is the greatest need, in which  power-sharing would be geographical with each side holding the territory it controls. Such a truce should put in place and monitored by UN teams. It might not cover all the country and would no doubt be frequently breached, but it would be better than the present bloody anarchy.

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One of the dangers of the air strikes now being considered by the US is that, unless they are accompanied by a fresh drive towards a peace conference, the opposition thinks it is half way to getting the Western powers to win the war for it.

Edit: Also check out this interview with Hans Blix.

Gardels: But the Russians and Chinese will never agree to take military action against Syria, so why even try the UN route?

Blix: The Russians and Chinese have said they want “fair and professional inspections” in Syria. The Iranians have also agreed. In this matter they have a serious interest; the Iranians have suffered most in the world from the use of chemical weapons in their war with Iraq during Saddam’s time.

They are not condoning the use of chemical weapons by their friends in Damascus.

In my view, it is certainly a possibility that you can achieve world condemnation of Syria in the Security Council — including from Russia, China and Iran — if inspections prove the suspicions.

Gardels: But they will never go along with military action?

Blix: China and Russia will not accept military action. That is true. But let us ask:
“What kind of military action is really possible, and what will it really do?” A cruise missile attack on suspected weapons depots in Syria will mean little, and perhaps nothing.

Remember President Clinton’s punitive cruise missile attacks in 1998 on reputed terrorist training camps in Afghanistan and a supposed nerve agent factory in Khartoum in Sudan. The pinpricks in Afghanistan did nothing to stop Al Qaeda. Khartoum turned out to be a total error. It was a pharmaceutical plant.

If military action is all about “punishing” Assad to satisfy public and media opinion without even hearing the UN inspectors report, it will be a sad day for international legality.

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