Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: This time it's Syria

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  • Raymond A Francis,

    If there’s any good news, it’s that one will expect New Zealand to do anything in the foreseeable future. We ought to be glad of that.

    And that is how you would run our foreign policy if you were in control,
    sorry Russell I expect better from you than that
    Like support for people to make their own decisions, support the over throw of despots etc

    45' South • Since Nov 2006 • 577 posts Report Reply

  • Danyl Mclauchlan,

    If there’s any good news, it’s that one will expect New Zealand to do anything in the foreseeable future. We ought to be glad of that.

    I don't think that's quite right. The Defense force will want to do something because they always do, and the press gallery will want us to do something because its interesting and exciting to write about war. There's not much we can actually do, and no one else who wants us to do it, but those factors will press for our involvement.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 927 posts Report Reply

  • Kate Hannah,

    Trying to explain to the children last night that there will likely be some kind of "action" - Miss 9 kept asking if that meant war - brought the dilemma home. I think you've captured here the crux of that dilemma - that watching a regime conduct chemical strikes against its own people, against civilians - is unbearable. But watching the alternative is also unbearable. What to do? What to do?

    Auckland • Since Mar 2010 • 107 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Raymond A Francis,

    And that is how you would run our foreign policy if you were in control,
    sorry Russell I expect better from you than that

    For goodness sake Raymond, there's nothing we can do. We have no relevant military resources. There won't be any ground troops. I don't really support the Greens' tub-thumping for a statement of dissent either.

    Like support for people to make their own decisions, support the over throw of despots etc

    We've said all the right things about that. But would you have us bowl in even if it meant many more civilian deaths? How exactly would ground troops even know who they were supposed to be shooting at? How do you propose to distinguish a jihadi from a democrat?

    I'm resigned to the punitive strikes and hope that they impair the regime without killing many civilians. That's about it at the moment.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22830 posts Report Reply

  • Chris Waugh, in reply to Raymond A Francis,

    Like support for people to make their own decisions, support the over throw of despots etc

    Who's making the decisions in this case? Over throw Assad and replace him with who? As I believe that Packer Q&A Russell linked to at least implied, there's a hell of a lot more going on here than good Syrian people fighting for their freedom. What is the House of Saud's involvement and who are they backing? Do we really want them to win? Iran is in the mix too, as is Hezbollah. One could see the Syrian situation as a proxy war between the House of Saud and Iran. And what Russell said.

    Wellington • Since Jan 2007 • 2401 posts Report Reply

  • Euan Mason,

    “If there’s any good news, it’s that one will expect New Zealand to do anything in the foreseeable future. We ought to be glad of that.”

    I think you meant “nobody will expect…” and I agree with you.

    It’s a hell of a problem. The UN has been effective in so many ways, but when a member with veto power behaves badly then it goes off the rails.

    The implied view that gassing children is wrong but bombing children is OK is problematic as well.

    Canterbury • Since Jul 2008 • 259 posts Report Reply

  • Chris Waugh, in reply to Euan Mason,

    but when a member with veto power behaves badly then it goes off the rails.

    One reason I think nobody should have veto power, and if there are to be permanent members of the Security Council, they should be tiny countries like Kiribati and Tuvalu. That'd change things drastically.

    Wellington • Since Jan 2007 • 2401 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen,

    We went through Egypt Jordan and Syria a few years back, about a week in each country. Our guide through Syria was great, the people we met greeted us as guests and were enthusiastic about their country and about trying out their English on us. Even when we had no language in common people were happy to communicate as best we could. They were accepting of differences in culture in a way I never expected.

    We all vowed to go back to Syria if we could because it was beautiful and the people were great. It looked and felt like a country that was getting better.

    To see what has happened there now is heartbreaking. We drove through some of the towns that have now been devastated.

    But one thing I do remember is that Syria was more complicated than I knew. It was clearly a country that has had so many influences over the past several thousand years that generalising is really silly. It may be easy to say Assad is bad from NZ, but we know nothing about the factions fighting against him and we know almost nothing about the recent political history. In the same way as they knew nothing about NZ.

    I think it will be very hard to figure out which faction is "good", if any. We know the use of chemical weapons is abhorent and that pretty much sets the stamp on Assad as "bad". But removing him will leave a power gap that nobody really wants and nobody is certain that who fills that gap will be better.

    Personally I'd be really happy to see NZ out of it, rather than discover halfway through that the side we picked to support is as bad or worse than what they replaced.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4458 posts Report Reply

  • Euan Mason, in reply to Chris Waugh,

    One reason I think nobody should have veto power

    I agree. How do you get someone to give up such an advantage? I’d argue that vetoes from the others hurt each party with a veto, and so they should agree in their own interests to relinquish veto power. Pigs will fly, as well.

    A revolt from all countries without a veto might work, but there are enough people in the US who believe that the UN is evil for such a strategy to backfire.

    So for now we have to live with an imperfect setup, and it's better than nothing.

    Canterbury • Since Jul 2008 • 259 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to Euan Mason,

    a member with veto power behaves badly then it goes off the rails

    You are referring to Russia I presume. I guess my only comment is that Russia has had a long standing political and economic relationship with Syria. There's a chance they know more about the intricacies of the situation than folks in the Western world are giving them credit for.

    Or they could simply be supporting a regime that is of benefit to them for purely selfish reasons.

    I'm not sure I know the answer.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4458 posts Report Reply

  • Euan Mason, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    You are referring to Russia I presume. I guess my only comment is that Russia has had a long standing political and economic relationship with Syria. There’s a chance they know more about the intricacies of the situation than folks in the Western world are giving them credit for.

    This implies that the intricacies of the situation justify gassing people. The world needs to make some kind of response. So we should ask the Russians what they propose. If they say, "nothing", then let's see their justification.

    Canterbury • Since Jul 2008 • 259 posts Report Reply

  • Tim Michie,

    I saw a very strong case for US to offer enforcing a Iraq no fly zone preventing transport of weapons from Iran to Syria that the local commentator thought was having a large influence on Al Jazeera, especially as the US already have a prescence there and are partially respnsible for Iraq not being able to control their own air space. It might be a good first step.

    Auckward • Since Nov 2006 • 614 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to Euan Mason,

    This implies that the intricacies of the situation justify gassing people.

    No it implies that Russia might just know enough about the situation to realise that a) UN peacekeepers might be about as much use as ...
    and b) that simply removing Assad might do more harm than good - and yes it is possible to do more harm than gassing people.

    But most importantly I don't know and I'm unwilling to be as black and white about the situation after seeing what such an approach has done in other similar countries.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4458 posts Report Reply

  • Idiot Savant,

    Palmerston North • Since Nov 2006 • 1716 posts Report Reply

  • Stuart Coats,

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 192 posts Report Reply

  • bob daktari,

    I always get very uncomfortable when a nation (far too often the USA) is willing to use military force against another sovereign nation because they disagree with what that sovereign nation is doing

    Unfortunately I don't have a better solution... nor it seems does the UN due to the Veto in the Security Council and its own complicated and often seemingly useless self

    It hurts to be a bystander of such violence and inhumanity... yet that still doesn't give one the moral nor legal right to military retaliation

    auckland • Since Dec 2006 • 540 posts Report Reply

  • Simon Grigg, in reply to Russell Brown,

    I'm resigned to the punitive strikes and hope that they impair the regime without killing many civilians.

    The awful problem is that it probably isn't where it ends though. There is also the fact that Assad has substantially more advanced weaponry than any opponent the US faced in Iraq, Libya, and Afghanistan, and none of those ended well for the nations being 'freed'. This gets bigger and nastier quickly as it always has done, partially because air strikes will achieve little aside from making the West feel like it's done its bit. They're very unlikely to make a military, tactical or political impact in Assad's world.

    Doing nothing is horrible too but when your own military experts (both past and present) are warning against the adventure it's hard to see a positive outcome.

    Tony Blair's imperialist words yesterday also make my stomach churn:

    Western policy is at a crossroads: commentary or action; shaping events or reacting to them ... It is time we took a side: the side of the people who want what we want; who see our societies for all their faults as something to admire

    Just another klong... • Since Nov 2006 • 3283 posts Report Reply

  • Ian Dalziel,

    But the regime’s use of chemical weapons on its people....

    Has it definitely, irrefutably moved from the 'regime's "alleged" use' status...?
    Culprits caught, fingers pointed, boxes ticked, et al...

    Because I still can't stomach John Kerry's high-horsed hypocrisy, quibbling over the method of despatch of innocent civilians, his inner ordnance-salesman seemed mostly outraged by their 'untouched bodies' - the US cannot claim any superiority in the 'killing innocent civilians' outrage, and all their posturing just makes them even less believable or trustworthy...
    IMHO...

    Christchurch • Since Dec 2006 • 7943 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz,

    It'd be much better if we (as in the 'western' states) disengaged:
    - stop playing sides off against each other - Assad is largely entrenched because the US gave him support as a bulwark against whatever - see also Saddam and the Taliban

    - reduce usage of oil, which is the only thing that gives neanderthal zealots like the Saudis any influence

    - stop funding and encouraging Israel, who give every Arab and Muslim a justifiable excuse for extremism. I strongly suspect they also tacitly encourage chaotic dictatorships amongst their neighbouring states as preferable to strong democratic states that would stand up to them

    About all NZ can do is avoid any active engagement and reduce our fossil fuel usage. Maybe scrap those motorways and build some more wind farms?

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 5550 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    New statements from the government:

    UN needs to address Syrian crisis - McCully

    Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully says the New Zealand Government still wants the United Nations Security Council to be the place where action on the Syrian crisis is resolved.

    “The grisly pictures and reports of chemical weapons attacks in recent days have prompted consideration of a range of options in various parts of the world. The New Zealand Government remains committed to the Security Council as the appropriate vehicle to address this crisis. It has a clear legal basis for taking action and a clear responsibility to show leadership,” Mr McCully says.

    “It is nearly a year since I used the opportunity of New Zealand’s address to the UN General Assembly to remind the Security Council of its responsibility to agree a course of action to resolve the Syria crisis, and criticised the use of the veto in such circumstances.

    “It is clear that international patience with Security Council inaction is wearing thin. We again urge the UNSC to show leadership and to take action against the reported use of chemical weapons.

    “The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is remaining engaged in the exchanges that are taking place. We have a very close interest in information verifying the use of chemical weapons in Syria and in evidence proving who was responsible.

    “We have no intention in engaging in speculation or commentary about the way forward. This is a time in which both words and prospective actions should be evaluated with great care.”

    And the Labour Opposition:

    Labour Demands Strong UN Action On Syria

    Labour has called for strong multilateral action through the United Nations to be taken against the regime in Syria for its use of chemical weapons.

    “The use of chemical weapons is totally abhorrent. They indiscriminately kill innocent victims, including children, and condemn them to suffer appalling deaths. Their use is banned by international humanitarian law and is a war crime,” says Labour’s Foreign Affairs spokesperson Phil Goff.

    “In the face of strong evidence that the Assad regime has used poison gas against its people no country on the UN Security Council with the power of veto should exercise that power to prevent effective action being taken. New Zealand has always opposed the use of the veto by the major powers.

    “Putting vested interests ahead of the urgent need for action against a regime which launches chemical weapons against its own civilians is unacceptable and Russia should think carefully about that. Stopping effective action would rightly draw condemnation from countries across the world.

    “A regime which brutalises its people cannot be allowed to do so with impunity.

    “Unilateral action involving missile strikes against Syrian military bases might be an understandable reaction. However it is a poor substitute for effective multilateral action to isolate the Assad regime, and implement steps to supervise its replacement and hold it to account for crimes against humanity.

    “Quick military fixes do not automatically result in lasting political solutions as recent experience in Iraq and Libya shows. The replacement of a brutal dictatorship with one no less authoritarian or with anarchy is not a solution.

    “New Zealand should undertake intense diplomatic efforts to press for a multilateral solution through the UN, however hard that may be,” says Phil Goff.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22830 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to Rich of Observationz,

    Assad is largely entrenched because the US

    The Assad regime is predominantly supported by Russia and the USSR before them NOT the US.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4458 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    In Syria, the “rebels” are a heterogenous rabble this includes people who may be almost as bad the Assad regime. George Packer outlined quite how shitty the choices are yesterday in an imaginary Q&A for the New Yorker.

    Well, I'm just shocked that the US punditocracy is getting the idea that Syria (and pretty much anywhere else you care to name) is no more easily divisible into white and black hats than America's own revolutionary roots.

    You are referring to Russia I presume. I guess my only comment is that Russia has had a long standing political and economic relationship with Syria. There's a chance they know more about the intricacies of the situation than folks in the Western world are giving them credit for.

    Then again, we're probably never going to know given the implacable hostility of Putin and his oligarch cronies to any uppity media types who ask politically (or financially) inconvenient questions.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • Finlay Macdonald,

    Has anyone posting here seen convincing proof that it was the "regime" that used chemical weapons? Why are you so keen to believe the usual suspects' affirmations? If fits the convenient morality tale version of the narrative, yes, but it might not be the truth.

    Since Apr 2013 • 10 posts Report Reply

  • Gary Young, in reply to Ian Dalziel,

    Because I still can't stomach John Kerry's high-horsed hypocrisy, quibbling over the method of despatch of innocent civilians, his inner ordnance-salesman seemed mostly outraged by their 'untouched bodies' - the US cannot claim any superiority in the 'killing innocent civilians' outrage, and all their posturing just makes them even less believable or trustworthy...

    Exactly, And in spades.

    Given the US attitude to civilians in Iraq during that sorry conflict you might hope they would show a little more circumspection in their declarations of outrage.

    I'm still not at all clear why the dropping of phosphorus bombs on the citizens of Fallujah did not constitute a chemical attack.

    Glenfield • Since Jun 2013 • 39 posts Report Reply

  • Stephen R, in reply to Ian Dalziel,

    Has it definitely, irrefutably moved from the 'regime's "alleged" use' status...?

    I haven't seen any evidence beyond the victims being on the rebel side.

    Earlier accusations have claimed use of poison gas by both sides. It could have been an accident (artillery hitting stored poison gas); it could have been the rebels trying to trigger US intervention (since the US has previously implied that they were staying out of it unless the regime used gas); or it could have been the Assad regime thinking that nobody found out/did anything the last time they used it so why not...

    As someone said on RadioNZ this morning, the regime was currently winning as long as the US stayed out of it, why would they do the one thing likely to trigger US intervention?

    I'm withholding judgement for the moment.

    Wellington • Since Jul 2009 • 259 posts Report Reply

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