By Ashraf Jehangir Qazi
September 12, 2013
The irrationality of warmongeringThe Assad regime is primarily but not exclusively responsible for the extended and unspeakable brutality of the civil war in Syria which has killed over 100,000 Syrians and internally and externally displaced six million. It may also be responsible for the August 21 use of chemical weapons against civilians including children. We do not know for sure. The possibility of this crime being perpetrated by elements among the rebels cannot be ruled out. What we do know is the truth of I F Stone’s observation that all governments lie.
The findings of the UN investigation team are yet to be made public. They will only seek to confirm whether or not the use of chemical weapons against civilians took place. These findings will need to be discussed in the UN Security Council. Should the use of chemical weapons be confirmed, the assignment of specific responsibility for its use will also need to be credibly investigated and established.
Should a resolution of the UNSC, as a result, be adopted which identifies a responsible party and decides upon specific sanctions against it, including the possible use of force, it will become the collective responsibility of all UN members to cooperate in its implementation.
The US, however, wants none of this. It has been determined to use force against Syria without reference to the UN Security Council or the report of the UN investigation. It is ‘looking for an emotional trigger and not a smoking gun’. It insists that its intelligence assessment based on evidence it has not shared with the UN should be accepted, and the moral imperative of punishing the guilty party, which it has unilaterally determined to be the Assad regime, outweighs the procedures of the UN Charter and the requirements of international law.
This requires an acceptance of ‘American exceptionalism’ which assumes the unquestionable virtue of US decision-making, the unquestionable veracity of its intelligence assessments, and the unquestionable need for international law to be bent through tortured interpretation to these assumptions.
Neither does historical record bears out the validity of these assumptions nor can any stable international peace be built upon them. International law and the UN Charter would be rendered dysfunctional. Other countries could claim the right (or virtue) to emulate the US. The security of smaller countries could be put in jeopardy. Nuclear non-proliferation and restraint could collapse. The immediate consequences for the Syrian people could be catastrophic, as indeed for other peoples in the region.
None of this implies that Assad should be allowed to ‘get away’ with crimes against humanity. Those who suggest that opposing US military unilateralism implies this, gratuitously insult all those who argue that a credible case against the Assad regime based on incontrovertible evidence presented to the Security Council must precede any authorised action.
Moreover, even if such a case is made, only actions that do not exacerbate the plight of the Syrian people should be considered. The priority must be the protection of the devastated Syrian people and not the ‘credibility’ of a fumbling US president. Nothing should undermine the prospect of a political settlement – the only way to end the externally fuelled civil war.
The US and its allies have got away with regime change through military aggression in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. If Syria is added to the list a post-9/11 international norm will have been firmly established. International law and the UN Charter will need to be reinterpreted in the light of American exceptionalism. George Bush II will become the father of the new world order or disorder. The road will be open to similar action against Iran, which is probably the real object of the campaign against Syria. The nuclear argument against it is phony.
The easiest way to ‘de-nuclearise’ Iran is to support a Nuclear Weapons Free Zone (NWFZ) in the Middle East which Iran has long supported. The problem is that Israel, with US support, refuses to join any NWFZ because it is already the de facto sole nuclear weapons power in the region. Apparently, Iran’s non-existent nuclear weapons represent a greater threat than Israel’s significant arsenal of nuclear weapons, which are regularly upgraded with the direct or indirect assistance of its friends.
There is a reason for this apparent irrationality. Iran is indeed a greater threat to regional stability and security than Israel, depending on the meaning ascribed to ‘stability’ and ‘security’. There are similarly specific meanings ascribed by the ‘international community’ (the US and those who vote with it in international forums) to words like ‘democracy’, ‘responsibility’, ‘terrorism’, etc. Whatever one may think of Iran’s political system, it has refused to subject its perceived ideological, strategic and national interests to the requirements of foreign interests. It thereby sets a very bad example to other states of the region. The fall of the Assad regime through an ever-expanding ‘limited punitive military operation’ (a la Libya) could teach Iran a salutary lesson and set a sobering example for other irresponsible and unwise governments or movements in the region.
Similarly, the Arab spring – while overtly welcomed by the US and its allies – was seen as potentially a very bad thing since it might encourage Arab states to irresponsibly prioritise their peoples’ interests over the strategic concerns and requirements of responsible world capitals. It could not be opposed openly. But tags such as ‘inexperienced and vulnerable to Islamism’ and ‘potentially pro Al-Qaeda’ could be suggested in order to rapidly restore the ‘stability’ and ‘security’ of the status quo ante through the actions of ever dependable state institutions. This has been brilliantly, if temporarily, accomplished in Egypt.
However, Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas, etc remain outstanding threats to stability and security because they frighten regional regimes that are ‘responsible’ and ‘mature’ enough to know that the true meaning of ‘stability’ lies in privileging western strategic interests. Such ‘realistic’ regimes can be relied on to wordlessly endorse US military aggression against fellow Arabs and Muslims in order to uphold ‘regional stability’. They have a proven record in this regard. Their ‘legitimacy’ abroad is measured by their skill in the use of carrot and stick strategies to contain and divert their peoples. Their legitimacy or the lack of it at home is considered at best a potential nuisance that needs to be planned for.
Where does Pakistan fit in such a setting? We have an elected, realistic and responsible government. It now has to build its credibility in world capitals while diverting its people with as many ‘development projects’ as it can. Financing from international financial institutions (IFIs) should not be too difficult provided the government can establish its dependability and maturity in responsible circles. As for its campaign promises to the people, it can remain faithful to them within flexible time frames.
It may also be relied upon to accept wise counsel from its regional benefactors who have generously promoted sectarian harmony, enlightened moderation and education and legal models that transcend the needs of contemporary times. These benefactors have already established their own credentials in world capitals. They can be relied upon, with the cooperation of the new government, to rein in any immature or irresponsible impulses that may from time to time surface in Pakistan as a result of the protests and agitations of its devastated peoples.
With regard to project cooperation with Iran, the new government can be expected to proceed with due caution and display the necessary maturity in considering the impact of such cooperation in relevant regional and world capitals. Similarly, any concern with the legal consequences and political implications of a US military strike against Syria is expected to be wisely considered irrelevant and inimical to the government’s immediate priorities.
The media will also be encouraged to play a constructive role by ensuring no coherent view emerges that might seriously question the status quo. This would enhance the media’s democratic credentials, underscore its independence and freedom, and add to the entertainment of its viewers and readers. All in all, the new government can be relied upon not to disappoint relevant quarters in its exercise of realism and responsibility in the choice of its priorities. The ‘bewildered herd’ (i.e. the people) must not be allowed to trample mature policies.
Ashraf Jehangir Qazi is a former envoy tothe US and India.