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67 responses to “#Syria roundtable”

  1. Ronson Dalby

    Why am I getting the feeling Australia is following the US into another Iraq war?

    Was it just coincidence that I read yesterday the US is moving warships closer to Syria and on the same day an Australian ship is heading to the same place supposedly on rotation?

  2. Paul Norton
  3. jungney

    Yep. Another attempt to bring peace, freedom and democracy to people who don’t have a shred of the skills necessary to sustain it. All at the barrel of a gun. Oh joy. Sometimes a dictatorship is the best choice on offer.

  4. Katz

    Kerry’s blather was long on descriptions of effects but devoid of snalysis of causes.

    If this gassing wasn’t a black flag conspiracy, the Obama administration (pseudo liberals dressed up in Bushie Hallowe’en costumes) are behaving as it it were one.

  5. paul burns

    We’re certainly following them into something. However, stopping poison gas attacks is a somewhat nobler aim than punishing Saddam Hussein because George Bush 2 was getting revenge for George Bush 1 being poisoned by Hussein and having to throw up on TV in front of the world.
    My biggest worry about Syria at the moment, apart from being horrified about the poison gas victims and the conflict there spreading to other states etc is that Abbott might be running things here. We already know the fool had no sense of proportion and is as mad as a meat axe, and will do what the US wants without question (a characteristic he shares with Gillard and Rudd), but do we really want him in command of our armed forces in time of war. I say NO!

  6. silkworm

    I’m with George Galloway:


  7. faustusnotes

    I think it would be hilarious if, presented with evidence of WMDs and a robust political opposition, the US refused to invade, having invaded Iraq 10 years earlier without a shred of evidence of either of those things.

    Also, can Rudd join a war when the govt is in care-taker mode? It’s an election winner if he can rustle something up in the next week …

  8. Paul Norton

    Silky, on the basis of what evidence are you with George Galloway?

  9. Chris

    I predict the US will get condemned no matter what they do. If they do nothing they’ll get condemned for letting women and children die, if they tighten sanctions they’ll get condemned for letting civilians starve, if they send arms condemned for supplying arms to terrorists, and if they invade then for killing civilians as part of the war.

    The US is probably better off letting the rest of the world work out what they want to do and let the EU lead and finance it. I can’t see the UN doing anything given Russia’s position and veto in the security council.

  10. Paul Norton

    Yesterday I had a look at the coverage of the Syrian crisis on the websites of some of the leading newspapers in Australia, the UK and the US, including the op-eds and the comments threads. What is striking is the near-complete absence of any kind of pro-intervention constituency in these fora. Of course they are by no means representative of the wider public, but if there were a significant pro-intervention constituency it would have registered some sort of presence. The main interest of the Murdoch press in Australia in the issue is as a stick with which to beat Rudd about his priorities for media appearances.

  11. David Irving (no relation)

    PN @ 10, it’s probably partly because they were so gullible last time.

  12. Moz of Yarramulla

    DInR, are you suggesting that the media have some ability to learn from experience? Can you provide any evidence for that? 🙂

    I suspect it’s simply because the major political parties don’t have a clear line, so the media are running with “it’s awful, lets wait and see”.

  13. alfred venison

    there is little oil in syria. syria borders israel. two reasons to not intervene. -a.v.

  14. silkworm

    Extract from George Galloway’s article at Information Clearinghouse:

    There is ample evidence that the Syrian rag-tag-and-bobtail insurgency, dominated by the most extreme fanatic franchises of Al Qaeda, has access to chemical weapons, indeed any weapons the rag-tag-and-bobtail coalition behind them can get to them.

    The US has a long history of using such weapons – and worse – and not just in SE Asia. In the destruction of Fallujah in next door Iraq they slaughtered thousands with the same kind of cocktails.

    Israel regularly shares its own chemical weapons stockpile with their neighbours in Gaza. Check the pictures of phosphorous gas raining down upon the UN schools and hospitals in Operation Cast Lead if you don’t believe me.

    Britain introduced chemical weapons to the middle east in the first place, dropping gas on the “uncivilised tribes” of Iraq in the 1920s and wondering in parliament “what all the fuss was about”.

    Does anyone believe that the foul dictatorships of the Gulf – like Saudi Arabia – wouldn’t give the Syrian rebels some of their chemical weapons? Especially if the purpose was to draw the big powers into the war?

    Does anyone believe that a Syrian rebel army whose vile atrocities abound on YouTube wouldn’t use them, for the same purpose?


    Last night on Lateline, Bob Carr was warning that we must be sure that this attack is not coming from Al Nusra or Al Qaeda. And as Kevin Rudd has said, we must ascertain the facts of the situation first before we contemplate any action. This is the opposite of what John Kerry is doing. Kerry is talking up the prospects of war with Syria by implying the Assad regime is responsible.

    Also check out the articles “Defeated NATO Dangerously Desperate in Syria” and ” ‘Doctors’ Behind Syrian Chemical Weapons Claims are Aiding Terrorists” by Tony Cartalucci at Land Destroyer.

  15. Paul Norton

    One of the things I was drawing attention to @10 is the virtual absence of commenters on comments threads (as well as op-ed commentators) voicing either a liberal idealist or a hawkish argument for Western intervention. This is in striking contrast to 2003 and 2001.

  16. BilB

    “Dear free world enjoy watching us burn”

    For starters the people of Syria are only enslaved by their religion. [redacted – this thread is not for discussion of views of other people’s religions ~ Mod]

    This is a peaceful religion they say, we have lived in harmony with other religions for hundreds of years. All evidence to the contrary in the present day. We have been the hub for science amthematics and literature. But it was all kept in the houses of the wealthy as a means to dominate and exploit.

    There is no solution for Syria until the people realise that government is for the body, religion is for the soul. A kind soul makes good government. A soul full of hatred will never be at peace, and cannot make good government. A religion that sees mutilation, decapitation, death for saying the wrong words or loving the wrong person, as being good justice, and is divided cannot create peace and harmony. Religion and Government have to be seperate, without that the divided religion will for ever divide the people.

    Without making this commitment to equal government for all people, democracy will not work in an Islamic country, and no amount of global intervention will resolve their crisis.

    Nobody “enjoys” watching them burn, or destroy each other.

  17. Moz of Yarramulla

    Paul, I think part of it is that most commentators who were in favour of previous wars have seen the consequences. Well, more so than before, hopefully. Hooray for modern media bringing it home! It’s pretty hard to argue that Iraq or Afganistan are better off now than they were before whichever invasion you might have supported. NoRightTurn makes the case that there’s not really a clear path to a useful intervention.

    I suspect that the “right wing realist” crowd are looking at Obama and thinking that they don’t really want him to get the “war bonus” should it eventuate, and being realists they’re aware that the US doesn’t have much spare military capacity right now. Or the cash to hire more mercenaries.

    The “modern media” aspect is important. It’s very hard today to play the “nothing to see here” card, especially when Syria is already trying to clamp down on coverage and failing. So any invasion will affect a lot of educated people with cellphones in a well-connected part of the world. Whatever happens there will be a lot of footage of the invasion available all over the world very quickly.

  18. faustusnotes

    oh look, the not-so-closet islam-haters have come out to play…

  19. David Irving (no relation)

    moz, I’ve heard people claim that Afghanistan and Iraq are, in fact, much better off than they were before the GWOT rolled over them. Not recently, I admit.

  20. Casey

    I’m not clear on what Bilb is saying. Is he saying that Islam dropped the chemical bombs on the Syrian people? If so, Bilb there is a job going in the electorate of Rankin which is not haraam as far as I know.

  21. FDB

    Aside from the lack of oil in Syria, the reason the hawks aren’t all singing loudly from the same hymn-sheet is that a large part of their public justification for Iraq and Afghanistan was the public reaction in the west (especially, dare I risk jpz’s ire by suggesting, in the US) to 9/11.

    Now that they’ve had two wars (purportedly) over that, and “got their man”, a HUGE amount of potential domestic support for intervention is gone in the US and allies.

    Pan-national organisations can’t be expected to intervene til they know what side their bread’s buttered on either. When it’s just oilless Arabs killing oilless Arabs, the moral line between goodies and baddies would need to be blindingly clear to see any intervention.

  22. FDB

    I should point out for anyone who doesn’t know my stance on these things that I’m not endorsing so much as describing the case for inaction.

  23. Katz

    What does the US propose to do?

    And to what effect?

    Can folks with the biggest hammer in the known universe see anything besides nails

    Putin must be splitting his sides chortling at the ineptitude of NATO.

  24. BilB

    It is not about Islam hating, FN, its about situation understanding. You cannot help resolve issues if you’re ignorant of the dynamics. Yes, you can be endlessly PC about this, but that does sfa for the people who are dying.

    Casey, please. One side of Islam dropped it on the other, or have you not been watching. Its Catholics and Protestants in Ireland, Budhists and Hindis somewhere else. In the US it is becoming the Religious Right against everyone else.

    Religion and Politics make ghastly bedfellows.

  25. philip travers

    I saw a pro-Syria video filmed by a young Syrian woman going with troops checking out matters.The video was full of compellingly decent human beings.Mainly Assad forces. That woman did the walking like the troops, the perspiration the caution.I honestly cannot understand any discussion that Syria is a Dictatorship.Soft, physically fit, healthy human beings showing their feelings,does not add up to dictated human body armor.Wilhelm Reich,sexologist and author of Listen!Little Man! Even as a prominent Jew would think the characterisation of Syrians CRAZY!

  26. zorronsky

    Do I believe the evidence is clear cut. No.
    Have the accusers got form with false accusations. Yes.
    When Saddam Hussein denied having weapons of mass destruction was he given sufficient opportunity to prove same. No.
    Was the pressure from the Coalition of the Willing genuinely concerned with WOMDs. No.
    Can proof of action and intent to use chemical weapons be sheeted home to the Syrian Government or any other group. Probably not.
    Would the Syrian Government benefit from the use of CWs and could they be unaware of the consequences of using them. No.
    Are there any other parties that would benefit from the accusation against the Syrian Government. Absolutely.
    Is Australia a supporter of the groups most likely to benefit from the general belief that the Syrian Government has used CWs. Yes, along with the same countries loudest in their intent to declare, illegally imo, war against Iraq.
    Does this whole horror stink to high heaven…..

  27. GregM

    Do I believe the evidence is clear cut. No.

    When would you believe the evidence is clear-cut?

  28. faustusnotes

    BilB, don’t be ridiculous. Assad is a dictator. Nobody Islamic got a choice about that. Can you try just once to get over your stupid Sunni/Shia rubbish and think about something a little more nuanced.

    For example: catholics and protestants. How come they get along just fine everywhere except Ireland. Hmm, I wonder if there’s some other reason for that?

  29. faustusnotes

    … and while you’re at it quit trying to cloak your racism in atheism. It’s boring and offensive.

  30. Conal

    Now that the war is running very much in favour of the Syrian government, the US needs to escalate its involvement to a bombing campaign, and hence a propaganda action is needed to finish softening up public opinion. The CW attack in Damascus is very timely. Almost certainly it’s a false flag operation by Saudi, Israeli, or US operatives. The propaganda campaign against the Baathist regime and Assad has had a good run already, and the Western public are sufficiently softened up that US aggression could now proceed without further notice, I would think. It will be ‘interesting’ to see what response ensues. I would expect the Syrian government will have greater retaliatory capability than the old Libyan regime did.

  31. Linda

    August 27, 2013 at 10:08 pm | Permalink
    … and while you’re at it quit trying to cloak your racism in atheism. It’s boring and offensive.

    But don’t you get what Bilb is trying to tell us, faustusnotes? Apparently there are people dying out there because of the chronic lack of racism. If only we would all wake up to ourselves.

  32. Su

    Not just a dictatorship but a dynastic dictatorship, Bashar’s father Hafez was a secularist and a modernizer but a dictator nonetheless.

  33. faustusnotes

    The propaganda campaign against the Baathist regime and Assad has had a good run already

    Yes, it turns out that slaughtering your own citizens en masse is good propaganda. Perhaps if Assad had thought about not doing that, people wouldn’t be so full of confidence that he would also gas them.

  34. Chris

    When would you believe the evidence is clear-cut?

    That is always going to be one of the core problems here. Its likely that both sides have access to chemical weapons. Not an unusual situation in a civil war where the country owns them. There never will be 100% proof and there will always be conspiracy theories.

    All options look pretty bad to me. Continuing ongoing deaths which could literally go on for years or an intervention which will lead to more deaths in the short term with no guarantee of stability in the long term. And the longer the civil war goes on the more the economy, infrastructure, education will deteriorate leading to a much higher chance of instability in the future. I’m glad I don’t have to make these sorts of decisions! But I’d guess for now the slow-boil option of doing nothing much is a lot easier for most countries to take.

  35. Paul Norton

    The situation is complex but at bottom the dilemma is summarised in the comment by FDB @21 and in the first two questions by Katz @23. Even if the US and other western powers are willing and able to intervene to the extent of tipping the scales in the civil war in favour of regime change, it is far from obvious that the West has more than limited ability to influence the shape of what would follow the Assad regime, especially given the interest that other significant regional and global players are taking in the situation, and it is reasonably clear that western publics have no appetite for the kind of sustained involvement necessary to shift the situation even a bit the way of the political forces that the West would prefer to see prevail.

    It is partly for this reason that I am highly sceptical about the sort of scenarios suggested by silkworm, zorronsky and Conal. Applying Occam’s Razor leads me to think that the chemical attack is most likely a crime by a regime that has form for massacring its own civilians (and, for the information of those who cry “Zionist!”, has form for massacring Palestinians) and is cynically aware of the weakness of the position of western powers.

  36. Paul Norton

    Here’s another view.

    If the author really knew his ancient history he would know that at the time of the Third Punic War Rome was still a long way from being the superpower that it was to become under Julius Caesar and his successors. He would also know that at the time Carthage was Rome’s immediate neighbour and had come close to defeating and conquering Rome in the Second Punic War, so the considerations exercising Roman policymakers were completely different from those currently facing Obama.

  37. Katz

    Assad may well be guilty of the gas attack. But no just act of war against Syria can occur until the US produces credible evidence of the culpability of the Assad regime.

    So far, the Obama regime has refused to produce any evidence at all.

    Lavrov’s description of Assad’s western antagonists as a monkey with a hand grenade is particularly apt.

  38. Paul Norton
  39. Paul Norton
  40. Conal

    The US destroyers (cruise missile platforms) in the Mediterranean are perfectly capable of inflicting major damage on Syrian government and military assets. They can blow up government and party offices, media and telecommunication centres, bridges, barracks, infrastructure of whatever kind … they have a huge range of targets to choose from. The US have had time to rebuild their stocks of cruise missiles since they destroyed the old Libyan regime, so they can afford to splash out. I don’t buy this line that the US will desist from attacking because they can’t see an attack producing an immediate satisfactory resolution. They will use their military because it’s the tool they have, and it’s how they roll. It doesn’t have to install ‘their man’ as leader by close of business next Wednesday; it just has to smash shit up.

  41. mindy

    I heard this morning that the US will release its intelligence on Syria. They didn’t say when, but widely expected to be the day after MLK speech 50th anniversary celebrations. Of course I’m sure our US correspondent will be along soon to show me the error of my ways.

  42. faustusnotes

    zero hedge was reporting the other day that there is a Russian fleet in Cyprus at the moment, apparently it’s the Pacific Fleet (?) and it’s the first time they’ve entered the mediterranean since WW2. They’re suggesting this is a warnign to the US and UK but I doubt it – a fleet of the size reported would be able to achieve nothing to defend Syria. I do wonder what the ramifications for the UK will be if they get involved in this though … doesn’t Russia basically control their gas supply?

  43. Chris

    fn @ 41 – The UK imports its gas from Norway and Qatar.

    I agree with Conal that the US response will probably be just to break a whole lot of stuff – maybe even target where they think chemical weapons could be stored simply as a disincentive for others never to use chemical weapons.

    Governments around the world will generally do very little if a country decides to kill thousands of its population through machetes, bullets or simply starving them to death. But they’ve drawn the line at using WMDs. In a way its a very odd inconsistency, but then its probably a policy not based on caring about what happens to the general population of a country but a fear that use of chemical weapons could spread to conflicts between countries, or the effect of biological weapons could spread beyond borders.

  44. faustusnotes


    I don’t get the impression there’s much left to break.

  45. alfred venison
  46. Chris

    av @ 44 – they have a DNS exploit and all they do is to bring down an online newspaper site!?!

  47. alfred venison

    yeah, i know, they must have it in for the times but bad. -a.v.

  48. Paul Norton
  49. alfred venison

    In the House, 98 Republicans and 18 Democrats have signed a letter to Obama demanding that he seek congressional authorization for any military action against Syria. The letter argues that intervention without a direct threat to the United States and without Congress’s approval would be unconstitutional.


  50. Paul Norton

    Some more views on Syria:

    Ivor Roberts at The Drum.

    Simon Jenkins and Hans Blix at The Guardian.

    Mark Osborn at Workers’ Liberty.

  51. Katz

    House of Commons votes down warmongering:


    Once bitten, twice shy.

    Putin wins another skirmish with the US and its enablers.

  52. alfred venison

    well, at least britain’s parliament gets to vote first on whether they go to war. nice touch, though, to the development of the drama. puts a hook in obama’s plan. they may have to go in with the french, quel horreur! -a.v.

  53. Katz

    The Americans and the French share so much military history.

    Success in Vietnam, for example.

  54. Tim Macknay

    The chances of some kind of ill-advised military strike actually seem to be declining. Wonders will never cease. Of course, I could be (and probably am) speaking too soon…

  55. GregM

    The Americans and the French share so much military history.
    Success in Vietnam, for example.

    And the American War of Independence, WW1 and WW2, the 1st Gulf War and the overthrow of Gaddafi in Libya, also for example.

  56. alfred venison

    vietnam was like a relay race. you’ve got to cast your mind back to them standing shoulder to shoulder against les boches or les anglaise. with england out, australia in an election and canada sitting on the fence, obama could well end up with the french who presently are speaking suitable words of outrage and seem to be ready to go as soon as its “discrete” to go. “operation lafayette” ou “operation freedom fries”? -a.v.

  57. Graham Bell

    I think that the United States government is showing restraint – up to now, at least – because:
    (a) The uncertain and unrewarding outcomes of their involvement in Libya, in Shaitanistan and in Iraq – and perhaps a bit of forethought before rushing in to do whatever the friends of Israel in the US want done yesterday.
    (b) Unlike the failed Emperor George II The Fool and his accomplices, the current administration in the US realizes that wars cost money, money that nowadays would have to be diverted from repairing the dangerous chasms that have developed in American society. George II’s follies and blunders cost them dominance in Space and a heck of a lot more.
    (c) Relations with Russia are difficult enough without provoking them into hostility – and having the Chinese rush to the side of the Russians.
    (d) Russian support for the current regime in Syria is a real mystery to me – but probably not to all the American intelligence organizations that advise the US President. So maybe Obama is heeding wise advice that we won’t get to hear about until everyone writes their memoirs.
    (e) The Opposition is not homogenous – sorting out who is really who might take a little time and a lot of care. No sense in arming or giving advantages to those who are plotting to destroy you.

    Overall, I think conflicts in the Middle East will continue to plague the world until a United Araby emerges that is not a threat to Israel, Turkey or Iran. (A United Araby ruled by King Abdullah II of Jordan with his imperial capital in Damascus perhaps?)

  58. Chris

    Russian support for the current regime in Syria is a real mystery to me – but probably not to all the American intelligence organizations that advise the US President.

    Russia sells a lot of arms to Syria.

    av @ 52 – its cases like this (eg not critically time urgent) where the Australian parliament should also have to vote before we get involved.

  59. alfred venison

    vote vote in parliament before war war is a reform the greens propose, isn’t it? -a.v.

  60. alfred venison

    i agree, Chris, vote vote in parliament before war war is a greens reform proposal, isn’t it? -a.v.

  61. Tim Macknay

    John Quiggin wrote an interesting piece in The National Interest last year in which he argued that the USA no longer has a significant strategic interest in the Middle East, and much of its thinking is based on outdated assumptions. Perhaps the fact that the frequently not-even-wrong Thomas Friedman seems to agree with him is a sign that the US is starting to update its thinking…

  62. GregM

    Russian support for the current regime in Syria is a real mystery to me – but probably not to all the American intelligence organizations that advise the US President.

    Russia’s interest in the Middle East goes back the Czarist times, where they saw it as an area of influence to keep the Ottoman Empire off balance, as well as the connection, through the Russian Orthodox Church with the “Holy Land”.

    The Soviets courted Egypt and Syria in the 1950s and 60’s to keep their hand in the Middle East and to counter Western/Capitalist influence there.

    Syria offers port facilities to the Russian Navy at Tartus, which must be of some considerable strategic significance given that to get to the Medierranean its Black Sea fleet must go through the Bosporus Strait, which can be easily blocked at any time.

    Russia has very good reasons for wanting to keep Syria as a client state and therefore to keep the Assad regime in power.

  63. alfred venison

    we only need one of my comments up there, moderator, you could can (can can) the one awaiting moderation. -a.v.

  64. Katz

    Syria plugs another Outlet of Central Asian oil to Europe while bypassing Russia.

  65. Graham Bell

    GregM @ 62 + Katz @ 64:
    Thanks. That sounds quite likely.

    Chris @ 58:
    There’s more going on than protecting a market for weaponry.

  66. zorronsky

    Beware of a rush to judgement on chemical weapons and who’s got what.
    American officials said Wednesday there was no “smoking gun” that directly links President Bashar al-Assad to the attack, and they tried to lower expectations about the public intelligence presentation. They said it will not contain specific electronic intercepts of communications between Syrian commanders or detailed reporting from spies and sources on the ground.

  67. Paul Norton