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Vienna, 11 September 2013
CARTHAGO EST DELENDA
Sitting on an atmospheric red banquette in the warm womb-like comfort of the Biedermeier Café Diglas in the shadow of the mighty Cathedral of St Stephen – a religious foundation since 1147 – hemmed in on all sides by the ghosts of the Babenbergs and the Hapsburgs while the café’s honky-tonk pianist keys out the saccharine strains of Strauss’s Blue Danube waltz, one might perhaps be forgiven for taking a break from the routine butchery of global politics.
However, the burning question of the day – what to do about Syria – admits of no let-up.
We are writing, therefore, to make the stance of this blog crystal-clear.
For the past two years, Antigone1984 has argued consistently and, we think, cogently for humanitarian intervention by the western democracies to put an end to the daily carnage in Syria.
If that puts us, on this occasion, in the company of a motley band of western chauvinists – for instance, Harvard historian Niall Ferguson – that is just too bad. The ruthless pursuit, without fear or favour, of what, according to one’s lights, seems right and just cannot be abandoned simply because, from time to time, one ends up with strange bedfellows.
The driving force behind our white-hot anger as regards Syria is the relentless daily massacre of the innocents – men, women and tiny children- by the evil power-crazed butcher of Damascus, Bashar al-Assad. As far as Antigone1984 is concerned, this takes precedence over all other considerations of global polity.
This must stop. “Carthago est delenda,” as Censor Cato the Elder (234-149 BC) told the Roman Senate. For Carthage, read Damascus.
Or as King Abdullah Saudi Arabia – another strange bedfellow – said recently, referring to Syria, “We must cut off the head of the snake”.
Alas, the slaughter will not stop just yet.
The world’s chief political ditherer, the Muhammad Ali of procrastination, Barack Obama, is at it again. Today, another Senate, that of the United States, has postponed a vote on the proposal to take military reprisals against the damascene dictator in order to give the US President time to evaluate the smoke and mirrors that Moscow and Damascus have conjured up to prevent a US assault on Syria.
In a wily last-minute ploy, Russian tsar Vladimir Putin and his Syrian counterpart have suddenly proposed putting al-Assad’s arsenal of chemical weapons “under international control”.
Oh dear. This is just what the White House ditherer – the leader who cannot make up his mind – was looking for: an excuse, any excuse, to delay taking action.
Of course, Obama has form in this respect. A few years ago he vacillated for three months over whether to sanction a “surge” of intensified US occupation in Afghanistan – only to take the wrong decision (as subsequent facts on the ground have proven, to universal acknowledgement).
The proposal to put Syria’s chemical weapons under international control is the joker in the pack thought up at the eleventh hour in the bowels of the Kremlin to save the skin of Russia’s ally in Damascus.
Few can be unaware that, for the past two years, Syria has been in the throes of a vicious civil war in which over 100 000 people have died, six million people have been displaced or exiled, and many of the country’s historic cities have been reduced to rubble.
How many years – or even decades – do you think it would take to come up with internationally agreed internationally verifiable fool-proof mechanisms that would guarantee outside control of al-Assad’s well-concealed stock of chemical weapons?
They must be joking. That is the point. They are joking – the schemers in Moscow and Damascus.
And they will run rings round Obama. They know he has a weak hand – his innate and, it must be admitted, understandable reluctance to get bogged down in the Syrian quagmire – and they are determined to trump him.
Even as we write, Putin is saying that the proposal by French President François Hollande that the United Nations take a lead role in devising international controls for Syria’s chemical weapons’ stock “is not a good idea”.
That is as clear a signal as one could have that Moscow will put every obstacle it can think of in the way of actually reaching any accord on such controls.
For all that he is advised by the most hot-shot policy wonks that the United States can muster, the Harvard-educated Obama will be a babe in arms when it comes to tangling with the duplicitous former KGB agent who is head honcho in the Kremlin.
The United States has one strong card and one only – overwhelming military might. If it throws that card away, the game is up as far as Syria is concerned.
Think Hitler. Think appeasement.
Think of the worthless agreement between German Chancellor Adolf Hitler, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and French Prime Minister Édouard Daladier at Munich in 1938. This pact, allowing Hitler to annex Czechoslovakia’s Sudetenland, was touted by Chamberlain as guaranteeing “peace in our time”. In fact, by encouraging Hitler to think he could get whatever he wanted, it precipitated the Second World War.
Back then to Syria.
As the proposed negotiations on international control of Syria’s chemical weapons drag on till the Greek Kalends, one fact will not change: the civil war in Syria will continue unabated, with or without the use of chemical weapons, and Moscow will continue to supply its ally with all the armaments it needs to perpetuate the slaughter.
And the West will continue to turn a blind eye.
Or will it?
You might perhaps care to view some of our earlier posts. For instance:
1. Why? or How? That is the question (3 Jan 2012)
2. Partitocracy v. Democracy (20 July 2012)
3. The shoddiest possible goods at the highest possible prices (2 Feb 2012)
4. Capitalism in practice (4 July 2012)
5.Ladder (21 June 2012)
6. A tale of two cities (1) (6 June 2012)
7. A tale of two cities (2) (7 June 2012)
8. Where’s the beef? Ontology and tinned meat (31 Jan 2012)
Every so often we shall change this sample of previously published posts.