Friday, July 28, 2006


The definition of insanity...

One lesson you would think should now have been thoroughly learned after the fiasco of Iraq is that the Middle East is a region of deep political, religious and cultural complexities. Simple, simplistic and often simple-minded answers are usually signs that someone has just not understood the question. Or has chosen to ignore it because it does not play with the neat heroes vs villains story the folks at home should hear. The result is that sides and actions are taken which make things more, rather than less likely to end tragically and divisively. We should demand a lot more of our politicians and diplomats than this tablid politics. The fall-out, after all, is likely to affect all of us.

Syria is a case in point. It has now, by endless public repetition, become a received wisdom that Syria must be behind everything that goes wrong in the region, is hand in glove with its soul-mate Iran to foment anti-Israeli and anti-Western terror, and is an evil regime presided over by a despotic dictator. Syria, goes the convenient narrative, is trouble. Capital B Bad. The best thing for the War on Terror and the mission to bring democracy to the oppressed would be to oust President Assad and his government. A democratically elected government would then make peace with Israel, be a compliant partner to Western interests in the region, and give its people their proper rights. Until that happens, stringent sanctions will encourage the Syrian people to demand change from within.

If this all starts to sound word for word like the "successful" Iraq scenario all over again, that is because the same criminally simplistic black-and-white analysis is at work, and much the same appalling consequences would be likely. Right now, Syria can be a substantial part of the long-term solution for the region, and it would be reassuring to hear Bush, Blair, Rice and Bolton acknowledge this. Small chance. Instead, the West’s words and actions are already starting to increase the influence of the region's religious extremists and political hard-liners who between them would make Syria a very real problem indeed.

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