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If intervention is the chosen solution, what is the most suitable course of action in Syria?

The Arab Spring; one of the most inspiring and hard-hitting epochs in modern world history. At its dawning it was difficult to turn on a television or pick up a newspaper and not be confronted with the awesome sight of 200,000 saturating Tahrir Square in Cairo or the brutal images of protester after protester bloodied having fought tenaciously with those they deemed to be their oppressors or the image of yet another despot smouldering. It is 32 months since catalyst Mohamed Bouazizi’s self-immunisation in Tunisia; still the fire burns, his legacy burns on. During this time the West has had little reason for intervention; despite America and its school-yard friends holding the self-appointed position of World Police, it has never been in Western interest to attempt to influence any conflict; many would concur that in most cases the outbreaks have been justified, totalitarianism snapping under the weight of its own people. Yet now the West as an entity finds itself in a precarious position, would it be rational to come to the aid of a country where liberation has descended into civil war? The situation is particular; the tyrant in this case has held his ground and many see him on the winning side of a merciless scrimmage. With this decision seeming to have already been made, how should we go about taking on the Assad regime?

In August 2012, exactly 12 months ago, Barack Obama issued the following statement:

“We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized, that would change my calculus. That would change my equation.”

Of course many would agree that this in itself is somewhat clear, any sign of the mobilisation of chemical weapons and America will see that as a viable reason for direct action. The debate as to why Obama would have issued such a loose statement regarding the conflict is a whole other argument in itself but focusing on the simple fact that the red line set by the States has been crossed, action will undoubtedly take place. Why? Mainly vis-a-vis Iran, America needs to show strength against a country where anti-American chants are often bellowed by politicians in its own national parliament and as much as we hate it, Iran is a lot stronger than many will be aware of. A highly patriotic population in combination with an advanced, well managed nuclear program provides the West with -in a nutshell- a headache and not much else.

An entity going to war without knowing quite what it wants to achieve could prove to be more dangerous than many have acknowledged in the past few weeks. Despite Obama stating that no decisions have been formally made, the evidence points strongly to intervention. If so, most crucially, any intervention must be with a beginning, middle and an end as without this, the West could be left wandering around aimlessly like a lost sheep in a part of the world where famished wolves lurk menacingly. It is apparent that the best way to approach such a situation is not with the gargantuan might that was seen in Afghanistan and Iraq but with tact and patience, something often the coalition lacks. Of course time is of the essence and lives are at risk but a lack of the aforementioned qualities could put further civilians in the line of fire. We must make an attempt to tilt power in the favour of the rebels, in particular on the southern front as that appears to be where gains could be most crucial and concentrate efforts on the capturing of major cities. Over the past few months, these forces have made various significant breakthroughs that with Western support could become pivotal: a key example being FSA forces gaining control of the Aleppo suburb of Khan Al-Assal, important as it controls one of the major routes in and out of the city. Without question Aleppo and Demascus are crucial and their acquisition must be at the top of any Western agenda yet the capturing of military positions must remain of equal importance. Demascus in particular has been somewhat of stumbling block for rebel forces with conflict only really taking place in the suburbs, a significant military presence has made breaking these lines near impossible; any gains here could influence the tilt Western forces need. Furthermore, political infrastructure must be attacked from the air to disjoint national army forces and buy time for further advances. In addition to this it is a given that the Assad family must be targeted as their influence is crucial, not only in a directional but also motivational capacity for national combatants.

It is only once rebels have control of major strongholds, the Assad family are dead and chemical weapons stores are destroyed that Western entities can throw full weight behind the rebels; any other form of intervention will show coalition forces as invaders rather than liberators, not only damaging an already disjointed global reputation but  risking angering rebel forces themselves. All in all, it must be said that any intervention is a careful one, for Obama is walking a flaming tightrope and many in the East are praying for a fall.


Further reading/points of interest:

What are the concequences of military intervention in Syria?

Following a chemical attack in Syria, US President Barack Obama has released a statement stating that allegations of chemical warfare represent a “big event of grave concern” for the United States – something echoed by Prime Minister David Cameron. But when military intervention is being considered on both sides of the Atlantic and threats of a “serious response” are being issued, what are the potential repercussions in doing so?

In March 2003, following a devastating salvo of Baghdad by US forces, a coalition core consisting of 148,000 from the US, 45,000 from the UK, 2,000 from Australia, 70,000 from Kurdistan and 194 from Poland crossed the border into Iraqi territory. Ten years on and 134,000 civilian deaths down, we are left to ponder, was it all worth it?

Essentially, in order to answer this question with any degree of certainty, we need to revert back to the initial reasons for the invasion in the first place – WMDs, an inherent threat to global (particularly Western) security.  We can now see such weapons were never present: the States knew it, the UK knew it yet we still went in  and prematurely at that; so the argument for alterior motives is a strong one. Now, from a US perspective, the financial rewards, despite the $1.7 trillion outlay (equating to $5000 per second) to date and the $7 trillion in interest payments until 2053, (as the war was funded with borrowed money) the US has positioned itself very well. Geographically, Iraq sits in the most oil-rich region of the world and in buying itself 10 years, the states has gifted the West a window of opportunity to set up shop in previously untapped lands. Prior to 2003, Iraq despite having the 5th largest oil reserves in the world, was unreachable, yet since then the likes of Exxonmobil, Shell and BP as well as interestingly Halliburton – the company Dick Cheney ran before becoming Bush’s running mate in 2000 – among various others have all set up shop in the country. Since 2003, Iraqi oil production is up some 40% and oil revenue is up a staggering 1600% from $5 billion in 2003 to $85 billion in 2011; despite the debt, the US has achieved a lot. They have breached a previously unreachable region and they now have a stronger influence than they did previously when it comes to OPEC (an entity that many in the world of finance and beyond deem to be untouchable and as close to an ‘Illuminati’ as is possible due to the power they wield).

With disengagement underway in both Iraq and Afghanistan, coalition nations have left themselves in a somewhat precarious position. In March 2005, 7 years ago and 5 years after the initial invasion of Iraq, CRB – commissioned by Channel 4 – conducted a poll asking Iraqi citizens what they would like to see happen to multinational forces within a year – a staggering 84% proposed they leave within a year with 78% of this group wanting them gone in 6 months or less. The initial attitude towards coalition forces was supposedly one of salvation – many remember the images of the toppling of the Hussein statue in Firdos square and the jubilation seen on the faces of the nationals present. What many do not know is that the crowds were not vast, they were in fact closer to the 100 figure as opposed to the many more speculated by western media outlets. Two years later, a protest against coalition occupation was staged at the same square; estimates suggest up to 100,000 may have attended. In Iraq, coalition forces invaded masked as liberators occupied as tyrants and are now leaving as barons; things may be somewhat different in Syria.

Syria, firstly does not gleam as brightly as Iraq did; oil reserves currently sit at around 2500 MMbbl in comparison to Iraq’s 147,000 MMbbl and the UK’s 2800 MMbbl, meaning intervention for monetary gain is simply not on the table. This therefore means that in comparison to Iraq, any military action taken will have to be with the view to liberate and any outlay will be pure with little or no financial re-imbursement, something we can be sure the Obama administration are very aware of given the fact that US debt currently sits at $16,915,499,580 at the time of writing. So as much as Obama may want to intervene, the national support may not be there to back him; having waged major wars in foreign fields for over 10 years now, the US consensus is something along the lines of  “bring our boys home”.

From a diplomatic perspective, it goes without saying that Obama and Cameron are running a very fine line. With Syria backed by Iran and Russia – two of the world’s most powerful and some would argue extremist countries- even the most humanitarian of us would forgive the coalition for treading carefully, the fallout could be unprecedented. Of course, it is within the States’ best interests to protect Israel as the weight it has in the Middle East is healthy, yet in extreme cases counter-intervention by either Iran, a country with nuclear capacity or Russia a global superpower would be even more of a threat to Western interest. Despite Russia’s unmistakable presence it is undoubtedly the former of the two that will be providing the coalition with the most worry, a war between nations is one thing but nuclear threat steps everything up a level. Of course, it is highly unlikely that any conflict would result in that and to say anything different would be pure sensationalisation but to discount it as a possibility would be naive at the very least.

Another key discussion point is the rebels themselves. In Iraq, the regime was quickly overthrown and fighting a state-controlled army soon turned to the unenviable task of warring with well organised, mountain based militias with a much better understanding of the local geography than the coalition forces. With many of these militias holding Jihadist based ideologies – Al-Qaeda being the most infamous, they were fighting an army of individuals willing to give their lives for their cause. In contrast, despite the acceptance that they may at some point die in the line of duty, it is debatable whether many coalition soldiers would have actively suicided for it. In Syria, it will be these militias, consisting of many individuals experienced in combat from training in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq, that the coalition would be siding with. A diplomatic nightmare, many would argue that lethal support on an official level (some have theorised as to the possibility that the West has already provided weapons) would be counter-productive, suggesting that arming Jihadists would come around to bite the West back – an argument that has logic. On top of this, a lack of real NATO intervention further back will have insensed many who feel that when Syria issued a cry for help the very force entrusted to keep the peace had simply turned its back. Baring in mind that NATO is a European controlled entity, this many prove a point of conflict for those who decide to liberate.

Something that can’t be overlooked is bloodshed, it is unavoidable. With 134,000 dead in Iraq and at the very least 20,000 dead in Afghanistan, it would be unfathomable to suggest anything otherwise, yet with Syrian civilian casualty estimates standing at between 106,000 and 120,000 (not including the reported 1,300 killed as a result of gassing) it brings some comfort that perhaps military intervention could help to curb the slaughter however only time will tell on this issue.

The protection of innocent civilians is paramount; the crux of any discussion must revolve around the cost of intervention in contrast to the cost of standing by. Any repercussions must be considered prior to any action from the West. The worrying thing is that the US, Britain, Germany, France and Turkey among others are all standing by ready to intervene; as usual the States are not willing to wait, using their default bully-boy “we’re going, and we’re not waiting for anyone else” stance. From a formal standpoint, any military intervention without approval from the UN Security Council would be deemed a breach of international law, the problem being that Russia is a veto-wielding member of the council and they have denounced any wrongdoing from Syria since the start of the conflict. So we sit and wait, with UN inspectors having come under sniper fire en-route to their inspection, it would be unlikely that coalition forces will dwell. Consequences are unavoidable, the longer we wait, the more Syrian blood is shed yet if we act too quickly without proper sanctions in place, then the resultant events could prove to be more memorable going forward than anyone would have wanted. At a time when the West is slowly gaining some ground in the Middle East, it will not come as a surprise to anybody that regardless of the outcome of this situation, it will only incite flag-burning of some form or another and further stoke the flame that burns in the east. The west once again is caught in a catch-22 scenario and this time it could prove tricky.

Further reading for those interested can be found here:

Is a potential boycott of the Sochi 2014 Winter Games not in itself a harbinger of further marginalisation?

Largely unsuccessful, the 1980 Summer Olympics boycott provided us with the blueprint for what could come next year; would an international boycott provide a sense of unity or further polarise Russia from a global community that is becoming ever more welcoming to those previously considered to be on the fringes of modern society?

On the 20th January 1980, US President Jimmy Carter issued a stern ultimatum stipulating that if the Soviet Union were not to withdraw troops from Afghanistan within one month then the United States would boycott the Olympic games due to be held in Moscow that summer. One month passed and with Soviet troops still very much on Afghan soil President Carter stuck to his word and announced that the United States would not be taking part in the games. Of course the logic behind Carter’s decision was rather direct; he would take the shine off of the games and divert attention to the pressing issue of the Soviet invasion of a country he claimed to be under attack. It was deemed by some to be an embarrassing admission by the States that Russia was advancing in its ploy to control trade routes around and across the Indian Ocean, something that America was very keen to halt and the Soviets were keen to package as an attempt to liberate Afghan communists. Much to the embarrassment of the Carter administration, many NATO countries – whatever their stance on the Soviet occupation – were not willing to follow in America’s very large footsteps. At one point Muhammed Ali was dispatched to visit Tanzania, Nigeria and Senegal in a bid to convince them to stand united with the States but even this proved unfruitful. All in all a total of 65 countries followed the call however despite sounding like a significant proportion of the Olympic contingent, many countries were certainly not considered sporting heavyweights with the likes of Qatar, Belize and Gabon among various others included in the final 65.

Not only was the lack of international cohesion the first stumbling block in a somewhat lacklustre attempt to stand united but it in itself further detracted from the reason for doing so in the first place. Of course regardless of one’s viewpoint as to the real reason for Carter’s desire to shine the spotlight on the situation in Afghanistan, many overlooked this as the issue of greatest importance and placed the greatest emphasis on the misrepresentation of China, East Germany and the United States within a sporting capacity. In addition to this, it was clear to many that with the world watching, the games were very much held tight within a Soviet stranglehold and whether they had to cheat their way there, they were very keen to assert their dominance and show the world that they were not only to be recognised as a military heavyweight but also that Soviet genetics were far better structured than those further afield.  The point here is that many knew that they were cheating – it was obvious –  the fact they could demonstrate to an international audience that they had the capacity to corrupt the world’s biggest sporting spectacle was almost sickening for many watching at home. From an athlete’s perspective not only did they have to compete with widespread corruption but also intense media awareness that both America and East Germany, two sporting heavyweights simply weren’t there meaning those who won gold were instantly placed under scrutiny as to the legitimacy of their very well deserved medal. The achievements of Steve Ovett and Sebastian Coe were still questioned by some despite both being clear favourites and by some distance at that. The games were ruined; illegitimate, poorly officiated and bit-part. Many, both those who represented their country and those who participated in the boycott had trained tirelessly for 4 years only to compete in a messy version of the games or in the worst case not have the opportunity to compete at all. The world was polarised. Many forgot about Afghanistan as world media attention was diverted to corruption and the mis-treatment of those who had devoted their lives to their respective sports.

In  6 months time we will be watching; how many we are watching remains to be seen. We are no longer living in 1980 and the world is a wickedly different place – even more so from a social standpoint, So would a boycott be the right thing to do? Many would argue that it would show Russia that the world will not tolerate their heavy-handed attitude to gay rights with various public figures such as Stephen Fry among others coming out to show their support for such a notion. Of course it goes without saying that the more coverage the better; there will always be someone else out there that can be further educated, there will always be individuals and groups that need to be brought into the 21st century and there will always be those who seek to oppress. However, when we live in a world where anything is just a click away it has been close to impossible for even the most ignorant of individuals to have not been made aware of the oppression the Russian government exerts upon the gay contingent of their population; whether it be Reuters, BBC or coverage from The Sun, we have all been made aware. In 1980 the games were plagued by a sense of inequality, of unfairness and of disappointment that those who had worked so tirelessly for the whole of their lives were being denied an opportunity to shine at their brightest. Similarly, the struggle for equality in Russia is an ongoing battle with many such as Pussy Riot for one devoting their lives for the right to free speech. This therefore means that if one is to further advance the gains these brave individuals have made then we must make the 2014 Winter Olympic Games the most exciting spectacle on earth. If we are to reduce the competing contingent and reduce the level of competition then one could be forgiven for feeling that the games would fall into ruin and phrase ‘what if’ would the most overused expression of February next year. Putin has sought to ban all form of protest at the games, something that has been well documented over the past week and many will know that oppression on the whole is not something that can be sustained. Like a coil ready to spring, Russia is prepared and it would be misinformed to suggest that the Olympic community (Russians included) won’t use this as a platform for expression and protest within the Olympic arena as well as outside of it. The scenes at the medal ceremony for the 4x400m relay victory ceremony where two Russian female athletes Kseniya Ryzhova and Tatyana Firova kissed, only goes to show that Russia is ready to come out of the cold and Russians are ready to come out too. With this as well as the boycott of the 1980 Moscow Summer Olympics in mind, it simply would not make sense to boycott the Olympic Games – arguably the largest show of international solidarity that exists today. It would be close to impossible to persuade a 100% boycott and with that notion of solidarity off the table, it is clear that we must stand united through full commitment to these games. The maintenance of a fair and level playing field for all regardless of race, gender or creed must be upheld in order to adhere to the core principal of the games and the concept of competition in general.

We must encourage the weight of the media coverage towards these issues to continue to further grow and we must bring Russia to account but what we must not do is interfere directly with the Russian Government themselves – something the IOC is very much aware of- for to do this would in itself undermine the very concept of freedom. In banging on the door of the Kremlin, the world’s media has the opportunity to strike a blow to the very heart of the anti-minority tact the Russian government has adopted.
It has to be said that we will not overcome this issue quickly, we will not overcome this next year nor probably will we in the next 5 or 10 years but it is this sustained condemnation that must be upheld. As the world moves more and more towards becoming a global community we must continue to educate and bring those guilty of prejudice to justice, we must praise the work of the brave few who are willing to come forward and we must remain cohesive. It is for that reason that a boycott of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi will not bring further cohesion but create further diffusion.  If we are to succeed then we must allow these games to blossom.

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