From my cubbyhole at the Ottawa Citizen:
As Syria descends ever deeper into an abyss of barbarism and savagery, just what is it that distinguishes the North Atlantic Treaty Organization from, say, Jabhat al-Nusra or the Omar al-Farouq brigades or any of the faith-based desperadoes rampaging around the Syrian nightmarelands at the moment? By what moral right can Canada or any other NATO country make a claim upon the allegiances of anyone engaged in the Syrian struggle, after what the NATO capitals have done to allow this gory bedlam to emerge in the first place?
I've taken a crack at some answers in my Ottawa Citizen column today
, but the question I pay closest attention to is the one a conveniently unnamed senior White House official asked last month for the rhetorical purpose of extricating President Obama from having had his bluff called on Syrian madman Bashar al-Assad's deployment of poison gas as an instrument of state repression.
“If he (Assad) drops sarin on his own people, what’s that got to do with us?”
I try to give that question a fair hearing, but I can't help but notice the Kissingerian depravity that underpins it. In Syria, the cool and swaggering Obama doctrine has made an apocalyptic horror show out of what began as the most non-violent, pluralistic, democratic and paradoxically pro-American of the all the Arab Spring uprisings. That Syria is now so rotten with the gangrene of jihadism, proxy murder-gangs and revenge killings is a testament to the catastrophic imbecility of Obama's abstentionism, and everybody in NATO has had to go along with it.
Jihadist whackjobbery is exactly what should have been expected to happen, because it is what always happens. Leave the wounds to fester and the jihadist gangrene sets in. It is what happened in Afghanistan, Iraq, Bosnia, Chechnya, and Libya. "The longer these things tend to go on," as the author and analyst Michael Totten puts it, "these crazy people from all over the region just descend on the place and they tear it to pieces."
Meanwhile, Canada distinguishes itself among the NATO countries by abstaining even from a recognition of the Syrian National Coalition as Syria's government in waiting (the SNC now holds Syria's seat at the Arab League). Foreign Minister John Baird insists the SNC is insufficiently representative of minorities and women. Curiously, this puts Canada with the Saudis in the same small faction, but even Riyadh is willing to fund the SNC. The Saudis don't even mind that the SNC’s second vice-president is the secular feminist and human rights activist Suheir Atassi.
“There is this talk of minorities, but we do not see this problem. We are Syrians," Faisal Alazem of the Syrian Canadian Council told me. "We are students and women, we are left and right, we are Sunni and Shia and Alawites and Kurds and Druze and Christian. Human rights, democracy, these are the things we have been demanding from the beginning.”
Of course there are sinister jihadist in the fray now. What do you expect? "When you leave things like that, it is bound to happen,” says Alazem. "The Assad regime knows exactly what it’s doing. It is making Syria a magnet for jihadists and Salafists."
Perhaps one third of the the maniacal Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah's Lebanese Hezbollah are now fighting alongside pro-government militias. The Kremlin is arming Assad with everything from handguns to advanced Yakhont cruise missiles. Iran's interventions on Assad's behalf are just as scary as the Kremlin's. And then there's Qatar and freelance oil billionaires from the United Arab Emirates, arming a variety of anti-Assad militias.
“And now the Americans want us to negotiate," Alazem said. "How do you negotiate with a Scud missile? War crimes are being committed every day. How do you negotiate when there are MiG jet fighters bombing our neighbourhoods? It would be like asking the Jews to negotiate with Hitler during the Second World War."
If Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenny comes off looking a little out of sorts in my column I will be fairer here and point out that it's not like he doesn't try. He was the only Canadian minister to have visited Syria in a decade, before the whole place went up, and Kenny has never gotten proper credit for the underground railroad of refugees he's been running out of the region.
But Canada's place in all this has been a bit awkward from the beginning. Initially, Foreign Minister John Baird was one of the Syrian revolution's most fervent friends, but his department got off to a fumbling start
, the thing went sideways and it's never been properly sorted out. It isn't as though Baird hasn't tried to figure things out, however.
"The Minister has always welcomed meeting with the Syrian community here in Canada and abroad," Rick Roth, Baird's press secretary, told me last week. And indeed Baird has attended dozens of meetings with Syrian-Canadians in Ottawa and Toronto, and with Syrian opposition leaders in Paris, Doha, Istanbul, Marrakech and Tunis.
"Although there may be some difference of opinion as to how Canada can help the Syrian people, we all remain of the mind that President Assad has lost all credibility. Canada has been a leading contributor to help those Syrians most in need, fleeing Assad's violence," Roth said. "We will continue to listen to Syrians and Syrian-Canadians to determine how Canada can assist in the future."
One can only hope so.
How lucky Bashar al-Assad is with his friends," Alazem said. "How unluckly we are with our friends.”