Tuesday September 2 2014

Syria is not Iraq or Libya; this war will take long

By Samuel Baligidde

I do not want to say I told you so, but what did I say in the Daily Monitor published on June 4, 2012? I said Syria was not Iraq or Libya and that the Kennedy, Bush or Sarkozy urge to save the world was no longer in vogue; but with the Western countries’ post-Houla massacre expulsion of Syrian diplomats from their capitals as the sabers of civil war rattled free from their sheaths and glittered in the mid-east sun, the Damascus countdown had begun with surgical precision. Never mind the metaphor; TV images from the region do not depart significantly from it nowadays.

Sadly, it seems the count will be a long one!
Suffice to reiterate that the reason for taking too long to save civilians, namely women, children and other vulnerable persons from being turned into cannon fodder; as well as handling the tragedy with culpable abandon is not because there is no oil to loot but because Syria is more complex than the other Middle-Eastern countries. Because the contagion of the example has ensnared the entire Middle-East, Russia-Syria relations vis-à-vis American economic interests in the region are still of curious importance to all those embroiled in the quagmire: Americans, Russians, EU, Islamists, spoilers, adventurists, as well as extremists!

Makerere’s Professor Langlands (RIP), who in his inaugural lecture described himself as an ‘armchair Dilettante of the disintegrated discipline of Geography’ characterised the Middle-East as a ‘Shatterbelt’.

What a prophesy from a professor who became one of those curious oddities of academia because apart from being eccentric, had a magna-cum-laude Bachelor’s degree only but wrote many excellent books used by PhD students!

If this leaves room for thought, it shows how the region, renowned for its massive imports of Russian armaments, fits into the global ‘balance of terror’. Because the saving of Syria and Iraq have taken long, the nightmare spectre of insurgencies and civil wars that unfortunately seem to be metamorphosing into full-scale regional war destined to consume the Middle-East is reality!

Syria and Iraq are not only countries in turmoil but in dire straits. The TV coverage of events exposes the brutality and lethal force being unleashed by all.

The violence against civilian non-combatants is of grave concern to the international community. As the regimes continue to struggle for their lives and tread up the path of delegitimisation, both countries’ opposition groups are expanding their ranks and becoming organised into conventional military formations; complete with battle tanks, medium range artillery pieces and modern missile systems coupled with pseudo-state structures.

Throughout their modern history, regional Arab politics have been characterised by conflict than cooperation, and previous Arab coalitions have been loose contrivances.

The failure to successfully institutionalise the Egyptian-Saudi-Syrian Alliance after the Gulf War contributed to Arab fragmentation and weakness.

An Arab solution may not be envisaged in the short term. George Packer, the author of The Assassin’s Gate asks: Could such a divided society ever have been expected to stay in one piece let alone find its way to democracy?

Iraq is so diametrically polarised that the current violence may be inevitable but since America’s fate now seems glued to Iraq’s, it will be many decades before the wisdom of the war America started and failed to end, is judged.

As is the case in Syria, daily survival in Iraq has become a nightmare and some Iraqis have expressed the view that they were better off under Saddam Hussein!

Without a doubt, considering the humanitarian catastrophe that has befallen them, one cannot hesitate but conclude that America should probably not have ever overthrown Saddam if the result was going to be so much chaos and bloodshed; one of those instances when the end never justifies the means.

Mr Baligidde, a former diplomat, teaches at Uganda Martyrs University.