Ossie Makepeace writes from Beirut: So the new UN/Arab League special envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, is asked the obvious and obviously dumb question by the bunch of lurking hacks looking for a headline who obviously don’t give a damn about the sensitivities of the position in Syria: should President Bashar al Assad resign?
You can just imagine it. The headlines in every country in the world. New Peace Maker Says Al Assad Must Go. In other words: end of peace mission there and then.
It doesn’t stand much chance anyway. Peace deals don’t get done in public. Which is why the Chinese have the best chance of finding some face-saver, although that’s as slim as a cat-walker.
What does the excellent Mr Brahimi say? He says: ‘I am a mediator. I haven’t joined the Syrian party. I am a mediator and a mediator has to speak to anybody and everybody without influence or interest.’
So, first he has to go the UN in Washington and then to Cairo to talk to the Arab League. He’ll then know for sure his terms of reference. He may also get to know what the Chinese are doing, although that’s really unlikely at this stage. Of course, the hacking tribes of the world, especially the lay-abouts at the UN in New York, simply re-write what the UN press office hands out and have never been known to get an inside line on the truth. What they want is for the new man to repeat what the departing envoy, Kofi Annan, said. Having failed to get a deal (hardly his fault) he said that al Assad must go.
Brahimi is smarter than that. He says: I’ve just got the job, let me go and listen. Then I can tell you if anything stands a chance of bringing about the end to the Syrian civil war.
But for one moment, let’s turn this whole thing on its head. Let’s ask the question that none of the UN correspondents ask and none of the major political players at the UN would dare ask: why should al Assad go? It’s his country, isn’t it? A bunch of bloodthirsty guys with the help of outside agencies and governments are trying to bring about the overthrow of al Assad’s lot.
Let’s make it clear that we think that al Assad, his brother Maher and maybe every general still in town are a bunch of evil dictators. But that still does not mean that the West and some of the Gulf States have logic on their side when they demand al Assad’s head on a political platter.
Northern Ireland was nowhere on a related stage, but this was the scenario from 1969: an armed bunch of thugs called the Provisional Irish Republican Army and its variants bombed and shot their way into an uncompromising uprising against the civil power, the British Government. The British Government sent troops to reinforce the standing garrison and for thirty years fought to defend Northern Ireland against the rebels/terrorists.
In Syria, an armed bunch of thugs and their variants are bombing and shooting their way into an uncompromising uprising against the civil power. The Syrian government has deployed its troops to defend the al Assad regime and Syria against the rebels/terrorists.
We may not like the Al Assads, but they are the government – in their own way and reason – of the state of Syria. If the UK is allowed to defend its rule in Northern Ireland, why isn’t al Assad allowed to defend his hold over Syria?
Anyone who talks about the free Syrians as part of a democratic uprising, let them talk again. The Syrian National Council says Brahimi’s refusal at this stage to call for the departure of al Assad shows ‘disregard for the blood of the Syrian people and their right to self-determination.’
That statement is, of course, utter rubbish. Brahimi doesn’t reckon he has much of a chance of coming to any peace deal. But he’s not going to reduce those chances by making provocative statements. The Syrian National Council knows this. But the SNC, like most of the opposition, does not really offer peace and wonder for the people of Syria who must know that. You can smell the twitch of vengeance as far away as this capital.
So, the whole thing is the hand basket of hell’s journey. But if you want to get near to understanding how to stop the civil war, then remember that however sick-making it may be, Al Assad is President and by any norm should be allowed to defend his state – for whatever reason. The Saudi Arabs and the Qataris openly supporting the rebels, would do exactly the same. Dictatorships – as the Syrians and the Saudis have – would have troops out on the streets at the first hint of uprising.
The al Assads are nasty bastards. But look around the Middle East and especially the Gulf and you’ll know there are a lot of them in that region who would do exactly what the Al Assads are doing.
We may not support Syria’s right to put down a rebellion, but until we understand that they have that right to do that then we’ll not be on the right wavelength to get a peace deal.
Brahimi knows that. Give him space.