Henry Forth writes from London: So last night the British announced that they recognise the Syrian rebels. William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, told the House of Commons that the National Coalition of the Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces is the ‘sole legitimate representative’ of the Syrian people.
That’s what he told the British lawmakers and they believed him. They believed a crock of rubbish. They believed that the rebels are the ‘sole representative of the Syrian people’. A fool with a twisted sense of people power and constitutional law would never have said that. So why did Hague say it? Possibly because he was told to by the hapless Prime Minister David Cameron and very probably because the French have already said it.
The rebels are no more the legitimate representatives of the people than is Al Assad. In fact they are even less representative. There is no peer-reviewed evidence that the majority of the people of Syria support the rebels. It is assumed they do.
There is no evidence to support that assumption. If that sounds unlikely, then consider why the whole country is not supporting the rebellion. Consider why the rebel commanders complain that the people don’t come to their side.
This is a rebellion by a scattering of self-interest groups and it will have vicious ambition to gain power and then it will fight to the death among itself to maintain power. It will be no better than the Al Assads. That is what Hague either ignores or has been told to ignore.
Worse still, he now hints strongly that the UK will send in troops. Hague said the UK does not rule out action to save lives. Save lives? More than 30,000 dead and suddenly Hague sees an urgency to save those not yet slaughtered by Al Assad’s army and air force.
Forget the freedom fighters-cum-rebels. They chose to pick up guns and take on Al Assad. If they get killed, tough but that’s today’s gun law that they partly invented. Hague is now out to protect the poor, benighted civilians who simply got in the way of the blood-letting stupidity of both sides. So, the British army is having to get a contingent for a ‘stabilisation response team’ into Syria. Euphemisms are sometimes crap euphemisms. This is one of those times. Hague is saying Yes to boots on the ground, which the UK has always – and most rightly – said No to.
So what’s Hague’s game plan? He says he expects the Coalition to present a clear plan for political transition in Syria. This of course ignores the fact that the different groups have different ambitions and will cut each other to shreds once they’re plundering the Al Assad palace.
Nor does Hague’s logic consider the large and powerful groups of Islamists and jihadists who will never sign up to a Coalition with anything more than tokenism.
But as a cheap bribe, Hague says the Syrian wild men will be asked to appoint an envoy, maybe even an ambassador who may be gracious enough to wipe his bloodied hands before shaking them with the Queen – although she’s used to being ordered by successive governments to press murderous flesh. Jomo Kenyatta was the first.
Walid al-Bunni, the shifty voice of the rebellion said Hague’s plan is ‘very important’ and will ‘encourage more Syrians to join the coalition and trust it and it will also encourage other European states to recognise it’. Oh dear. The UK should clearly take the US line. Recognise that the opposition has a case, but don’t sign it on as a national cause. No need to.
The UK and some of the smarter – and in the longer term, the more thoughtful and helpful to the people of Syria – should have been waiting to see if the Coalition can indeed hold the differing groups together and can, at last, stay out of the war crimes spotlight.
The irony, if one were needed, is that the future of the coalition and therefore Syria, depends entirely on how they can execute the war – and it certainly isn’t going all their way. Added to this is the test of the outside supporters (like the UK, France and Turkey) and the ability and willingness of those countries to continue to honour their political, diplomatic and physical support.
This does not suggest that the unified Coalition is not essential. Remember that was the demand in the Libyan revolution albeit under differing conditions but with the same ambition: to get rid of, by whatever means, a dictator.
In the centre of the spinning conundrum are the people of Syria who will be in an even worse condition shortly with the coming of winter and the inability of the Syrian government and certainly not the rebellion to keep them warm, fed and safe. Hence the emergency thinking of emergency groups and foundations including the charity feeders and healers.
The greatest test on the diplomatic front could come in a proposed international What-To-Do-About-Syria conference probably in Morocco.
It is then that the rebels hope that as many as 100 other nations will recognise them as the alternative to Al Assad.
But maybe Hague and his mates should hold their breath for a moment. All the grandstanding as bringers of an alternative government for Syria assumes that Al Assad will see sense and quit. Oh yes? Quit to go where? To go to his grizzly death as did the Libyan colonel gripped by the blood-lust common to most rebellions?
The only way that is likely to have half a chance is the Coalition establishing not a government in exile, but a government in Syria in, say, the ruins of Aleppo and to gradually take over the running of the country.
An unlikely hypothesis is to make Al Assad irrelevant in his own country. If that showed even signs of working, what could then happen?
The rebels could then go to the Chinese and Russians who have very wisely not supported the rebellion. They would tell Beijing and Moscow that they were the consensus authority and needed Chinese and Russian backing – from ground economic support to the more important, UN diplomatic recognition.
But there’s a long way to go: months away, probably many more than that before the Russians and Chinese are to be convinced that time and people have indeed moved on in Syria.
That leaves the bigger question: how have the rebels changed tack enough to get the approval of people like Hague? The answer is simple: they’ve done so because they want more money and more guns.
If the UK understood that one motive, then it would have had the courage to ignore France’s gun jumping. The UK would have, for the moment, stayed out of the Syrian Stupidity. But that’s what comes from having a foreign policy on the hoof mentality and abandoning wise counsel from those who really know. It is shabby intellect. But then under Hague, intellect is not something mentioned aloud in the Foreign Office.