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Sunday, October 4, 2015

Patrick Cockburn: Let's welcome Russian bombs into this war

When you don't count the dead, it can really warp your perception of war. That is the main conclusion I came to after reading Patrick Cockburn's latest treatment of the Syrian civil war in The Independent, 3 October 2015, and titled Syria crisis: Let's welcome Russia's entry into this war

Well, in the first place, Cockburn's suggestion, such as it is, is about four years too late. Putin has been bank-rolling Assad from the beginning, and not just with money, but with weapons, with bombs and shells, military advisers and diplomatic cover since the start of his brutal crackdown on pro-democracy protesters. Iranian and Hezbollah support also come with his approval and backing. Patrick Cockburn is suppose to be the big Middle East expert. I'm just a guy who fixes Linux computers for a living. Why do I have to school him on Russian support for Assad? Has he forgotten that Russian special forces were sent to Syria as early as March 2012? Did he forget that the Free Syrian Army killed a Russian General in Syria in August 2012? That Russia sent a naval flotilla to Syria in July 2012? That the British stopped Russian ships carrying attack helicopters to Syria in June 2012? I could go on, but I think you get the picture. Apparently Patrick Cockburn doesn't, because here we are in the final quarter of 2015, and he wants to "welcome" Russia to the Syrian Civil War! If this guy ran a college, he'd probably want to schedule freshman orientation for the senior class! Is he not aware of the fact that without massive financial, military and political support from Russia, Bashar al-Assad would have been overthrown long ago?

This is a very old cartoon but it news to Cockburn
The very first sentence of this pro-war essay makes it clear Cockburn regards "Russia’s military intervention in Syria,.." as something new, like he is talking about current events and not history. News Flash Patrick: Those have been Russian supplied helicopters dropping barrel-bombs on Syrian hospitals, schools and breadlines. It has been Russian made warplanes delivering the "Death from Above" that has forced so many Syrians to flee the country and a virtually endless supply of Russian ordinances that have fueled the Assad Death Machine. It has been the Russian veto that has protected Assad from ICC prosecution for war crimes and forced the United Nations to settle for harsh language as their strongest weapon in the struggle for peace.

Its almost obligatory to include some description of the Syrian calamity in the first paragraph of one of these Russia does Syria articles. This is how Cockburn words it:
There are no simple solutions to this terrible war which has destroyed Syria. Out of a population of 22 million, four million Syrians are refugees abroad and seven million have been displaced inside the country.
Usually, the headline of any such description is the number of Syrians killed, but not with Cockburn. That might lead to the sticky question of how they died and there are some simple solutions to the terrible problem of barrel-bombs dropping on civilians, and Cockburn knows what they are. As we shall see, he regards those ordinary people as disposable chips in a big Geo-political game. His road to world peace is through superpower domination and he longs for the good ole days of the Cold War:
But the US-Soviet Cold War, and the global competition that went with it, had benefits for much of the world. Both superpowers sought to support their own allies and prevent political vacuums from developing which its opposite number might exploit. Crises did not fester in the way they do today, and Russians and Americans could see the dangers of them slipping wholly out of control and provoking an international crisis.
Of course, the whole world did live under daily threat of nuclear holocaust. There was the Korean War, the Iran-Iraq War, the Soviet Afghan War. In the "American War" the Vietnamese lost 3.4 million people, by McNamara's reckoning, but at least it wasn't an "international crisis." The bodycount would have been higher had not the Russians and the Chineses provided the Vietnamese insurgents with what was then the most advanced air defense weapons because the United States was using B52s to do to Vietnam what Cockburn is welcoming Russia to do to Syria. He thinks massive military power can end this quickly because "Russia is at least a heavy hitter, capable of shaping events by its own actions." Did Cockburn say that when the French escalated the Vietnam "problem" to the United States? I'm sure a lot of people did. The US bankrolled the French effort from 1948 on and had US pilots flying air support over the battle Dien Bien Phu in 1954, but I'll bet Cockburn didn't "welcome" the US entry into that war until US Marines landed at Da Nang in 1964.

Having a superpower settle a civil war with its military might sounds like a good solution if one has no sense of history or concern for the innocent people a military solution will grind up. That appears to be where Cockburn is coming from because he never mentions all those dead Syrians and wants to "welcome" Russia as a force for peace:
Overall, it is better to have Russia fully involved in Syria than on the sidelines so it has the opportunity to help regain control over a situation that long ago spun out of control. It can keep Assad in power in Damascus, but the power to do so means that it can also modify his behaviour and force movement towards reducing violence, local ceasefires and sharing power regionally.
The Syrian "situation" didn't just spin out of control, Assad and Putin have been the spin masters, unless what he means by that is that prior to 2011, Assad had Syria safely locked down and then the people got out of his control. That is the way Cockburn sees it. That's why he pays no-never-mind to Assad's brutal methods, that's why he wants to welcome another "heavy hitter" to the civil war. Those ordinary Syrians have to be brought back under control no matter how many lives it costs them.

The rest of that selection just makes my points for me. Russia has kept Assad in power in Damascus, and I agree, that does give it the power to modify his behavior and force movement towards reducing violence. But they have not done so, and there is no reason to believe they will do so just because Patrick Cockburn is rolling out the welcome mat.

Cockburn doesn't see an independent role for Syrians in shaping the future of their country. He sees them all as proxies or agents of the various foreign powers, so it is those foreign powers that should decide the future of Syria:
The Russians and Iranians should be integrated as far as possible into any talks about the future of Syria. But there should be an immediate price for this: such as insisting that if Assad is going to stay for the moment, then his forces must stop shelling and using barrel bombs against opposition-held civilian areas
I find this statement to be his most deplorable. He knows Assad is shelling and using barrel-bombs against civilian areas. He says it, and these are war crimes.  He sees these war crimes as chips to be used in the grand bargain. We'll need to work out "an immediate price for this." But if the Russians and Iranians have the power to stop Assad from shelling and barrel-bombing civilian areas, shouldn't their putting a stop to it be the immediate demand, even before the "price" of sparing these lives is worked out Cockburn style?

In many ways, I find Patrick Cockburn's support for Bashar al Assad even more depraved and morally bankrupted than that of the straight up Assadists. Both want to see Assad hang on to power. They have this in common. But most Assadists will deny that Assad is a war criminal, will deny that he shells and barrel-bombs civilian areas. They may even believe it. Cockburn knows Assad is guilty of war crimes, he knows what Assad has done and is doing and still he want to keep him in a position where he will still have the power to burn the country. I'm not sure if there is a worst position on the Syrian struggle, or a worst resolution. 


Damascus, October 2, 2015

For the second consecutive day, Russian aircraft have conducted attacks on Syrian soil. These air strikes, in cities and towns devoid of Islamic State (ISIS) combatants, have resulted in more than 40 civilian casualties, including women and children. These attacks expose Russian allegations that they are targeting ISIS, and confirm that Russia’s goal in directly intervening in the conflict is to assure the survival of the Assad regime.

Russian troops are now openly fighting alongside the army of the dictator. Despite international consensus that the attacks have not targeted ISIS positions, we have yet to see any forceful condemnations regarding the killing of civilians, and this leads us to believe that the international community is tacitly approving of these attacks. We believe that any partnership with Russia, which claims to target ISIS and which has the blessing of the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, will serve only to accelerate the pace of killing and widen the circle of devastation. These conditions will inevitably lead to even more extremism.

The Local Coordination Committees in Syria joins Syrians across the country in categorically condemning the Russian intervention in Syria. In our mourning and sadness, we share the pain of all those who have lost loved ones due to this barbaric aggression.

The LCC calls upon all revolutionary forces and factions to unite by any means and respond to the Russian aggression. We further call upon the international community to uphold its moral and legal responsibilities regarding the strategic direction of current events in Syria.

Mercy upon our martyrs. Long live our Revolution for a free and democratic Syria.

Click here for a list of my other blogs on Syria

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