Jim Sillars: As ever, truth is the first casualty

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Friends of Syria met, condemned Assad’s regime, went back to their capitals raging with indignation against Russia and China. Western politicians came home and talked about the Syrian people’s frustrated desire for freedom and democracy.

The UK recognised the Syrian National Council as the legitimate representatives of the Syrian population. Others said the SNC was a legitimate representative, but not the sole one.

The difference between “the” and “a” is not a finger-slip on the keyboard. Internal forces opposing Assad are anything but united. The Free Syrian Army does not come under the command of the SNC, and neither does the Muslim Brotherhood or for that matter al-Qaida, which has joined the fray.

The first victim of war is always truth. The Assad regime lies, and so do the groups opposed to it. We know of the violence unleashed on Homs, but there is no clear picture of the position inside all of Syria, nor are we able to judge whether Assad would fall to universal glee inside the country.

In the Middle East, things seldom are as they appear. It is doubtful if many Syrians, especially women who have enjoyed the personal freedoms of a secular society, would welcome being governed by the Muslim Brotherhood. They know that in Tunisia women who were among the most culturally and personally free in the Arab world, have found that “liberation” means religious thugs roaming the streets demanding Sharia law, and imposing restrictive dress codes. The Arab Spring is now overlaid with Islamist frost.

Christians in Syria don’t want Assad’s downfall. They fear if his secular regime collapses they will get no mercy from the Islamic fundamentalists likely to take over. They know what happened in Iraq after Saddam. Those two Bible-bashers Bush and Blair have been silent about the consequences for the Iraqi Christians when the jihadis were let loose on them. Churches bombed, priests killed, executions, kidnappings, businesses and homes destroyed. A Christian population of 1.4 million down to 600,000.

The US and UK know they do not have the military ability to stop the violence unleashed by Assad. With al- Qaida now among the rebels, it would be a mighty foolish West that decided to pour in arms.

So, what about the Arab League states? Qatar’s foreign minister, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani, proclaimed: “There is a need to create an Arab force and open humanitarian corridors to provide security to the Syrian people.” Qatar has only 8500 soldiers. Bursting a paper bag comes to mind.

Just how better-equipped others could open and keep open such corridors, without the total defeat of the Assad military, was not explained. It is an idiot idea, but served to make the Qataris sound good, without the danger of doing anything.

The foreign minister of Saudi Arabia supported “as an excellent idea” arming the Syrian opposition. As a great deal of money leaves Saudi Arabia each year to arm anti-Western Islamist forces in Afghanistan and Pakistan, it would be an excellent outcome for them if the Wahhabi version of Islam triumphed in Syria.

One thing is for sure, Saudi Arabia does not want to bring down the Assad government to promote democracy and freedom. Saudi, like Syria, is run by a family, the al-Sauds. They, like the Assads, run an authoritarian regime. A young journalist now rests (although I am sure “rests” is not the right word) in a Saudi prison, likely to have his head cut off for tweeting words about the Prophet Mohammed that were not adulatory. Saudi, you may remember, sent in its tanks to help put down the peaceful demonstrators in Bahrain who wanted free elections.

The US and the UK have been firing all rhetorical barrels against Russia and China over the veto of the UN Security Council resolution condemning Assad. But you will search in vain for the same kind of condemnation of Saudi’s intervention in Bahrain, where the US 5th Fleet has its base, just across the water from Iran.

Why is the US and EU applying sanctions on Syria? Assad’s human rights abuses provide, not the reason, but the cover. Syria is Iran’s close ally. The key members of Friends of Syria, the West and the Arab Gulf states, have one thing in common, a desire to stop Iran becoming a military nuclear power.

With Iraq now run by a Shia majority, the Sunni Arabs in the Gulf fear Iran becoming the unrestrained regional power. The US wants to stop it so it cannot threaten Israel. The UK, the docile lapdog of the special relationship, follows America. Take out the Assad regime from Syria, or put it into the sanctions soup along with its Iranian ally, and you seriously weaken the Iranian regime, and it might just topple or toe the line and abandon its nuclear ambitions.

There is more chance of finding a pinhead in the desert than finding a moral principle in the machinations of all concerned in the politics of the Middle East. It reeks of hypocrisy.