Where are the peace missiles for Syria?

12 Apr

The toxic-macho exchange of statements and tweets over the dead body of Syria is a dreadful indictment of the failure of global governance. What is particularly disappointing is that the threats of violence (on top of the violence already inflicted by Russia, the US, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Iran and particularly the Syrian regime) are not accompanied by a political or humanitarian campaign. Sometimes violence can be legitimised (if certain ‘just war’ criteria are met). But violence to simply punish or censure without the hope of betterment for the Syrian peoples (plural – there is no homogenous ‘Syrian people’) seems particularly pointless.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Trump and Putin exchanged competitive tweets and statements ahead of a peace campaign? Trump could boast of ‘smart’ peace. Putin could reply about ‘Russian peace’. Instead, they – and their many proxies – seem to offer nothing except violence. There is no point in blaming the United Nations – it is merely a vassal of state sovereignty and state vetoes.

Should the US, UK and France engage in attacks on Syria it will be worth reading the accompanying statements to see if they say anything about humanitarianism and political initiatives. We seem to be moving towards an era of post-legitimacy in which intervening states invest little energy into the public narration of their reasons for intervention beyond stability and security. Complain all we want about the 2003 invasion of Iraq, but Blair, Bush and their administrations did actually invest heavily in the public justification of their actions. These used the language of human rights and emancipation. Those days seem gone.

The other point worth making is that so successful have been the misinformation and propaganda campaigns by all sides that we – the far away public – have no idea what to believe. Waters have been well and truly muddied. The White Helmets seem either to be heroes or CIA stooges. Qatar seems to be a clever regional actor punching above its weight or the funder of jihadists. There seems to be little space for well-informed journalism that isn’t accused of being in the pocket of an interested party.

In all of this, it is striking that we hear very little from Syrian voices in Syria. My suspicion (and it has to be a suspicion given my comments on the news media) is that most Syrians still in Syria are utterly fatigued by the civil wars. Sustaining such a long series of linked civil wars is surely taking a massive toll and I suspect that most people want it to end. A relatively unexplored factor in the ending of many conflicts and civil wars (think of those in southern Africa and – to some extent – Northern Ireland) is the exhaustion of the participants. One generation feels so exhausted by the conflict that it thinks twice about the continuation of the war. The Russian intervention certainly re-energised the conflict, just at a time when a Mutually Hurting Stalemate (MHS) seemed to be in prospect. The threatened violent intervention by the US and its allies might similarly re-energise the conflict (in a best case scenario it might ‘re-balance’ the conflict, lead to a MHS and an mutual interest in peace but that seems unlikely).

There might – of course – be subterranean negotiations underway. Possibly away from the glare of the tweeting and bombast, calm international and national intermediaries are hashing out a plan that will bring some form of peace to Syria. If there are such initiatives I wish them luck. But I have seen nothing to encourage such optimism.

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