Saturday, January 10, 2015

Want To Go Inside Syria? No Need... Reese Erlich Did It For Us


If you've been reading DWT for a while you've had the opportunity to get intense behind-the-scenes insight into places in the news, from Egypt, Iran and Libya to Cuba, Palestine and Afghanistan from award winning foreign correspondent and author Reese Erlich. And now he has a new book out, Inside Syria: The Backstory of Their Civil War and What the World Can Expect and it's a chance to learn a lot more about what's going on in Syria now-- and why-- than by reading the mainstream media.

I had a chance to ask Reese a couple of questions yesterday as he was preparing for a long flight again. I started with a question that might be more relevant to DWT readers than to the general population: Under the Obama administration, the concept of "humanitarian intervention" has gained ground. In the current bombing of Iraq and Syria, we're told, the U.S. must intervene to prevent the Islamic State from slaughtering innocent civilians. What do you think of humanitarian intervention?
As practiced by the US and its western allies, the recipient country receives a lot of intervention and not much humanitarianism. Conservatives intervene in pursuit of "national interests" such as oil, military bases and regime change. Liberals use legitimate concerns about human rights abuse to further the same goals. Civilians on the receiving end of the bombs are dead either way.

In his introduction to my book, Noam Chomsky explains how western powers have changed the concept of UN sanctioned actions to justify unilateral military attacks. That's exactly what happened in Libya. People claimed 500,000 Libyans would be massacred by Khadafy if the west didn't start bombing immediately. In retrospect, it's clear the humanitarian crisis was exaggerated in order to justify overthrowing the Libyan government.

Now we're seeing the same scenario in northern Iraq. The Islamic State is so horrible, we must do something! Hundreds of thousands will be massacred! The people are helpless without US bombing raids. The IS is a horrific group of right-wing extremists using Islam as the excuse to seize economic and political power. But US intervention only helps IS gain popular support as a fighter against imperialism. It makes it harder for local people to eventually overthrow the IS and determine their own future.

The US can't defeat IS with airstrikes, and it has no allies in Arab Iraq or Syria who can fight and later govern IS held areas. The pressure will mount to send US combat troops to finish the job. It's the early stages of another quagmire.
I knew I had only time for one more question, so I went for the one you're never supposed too ask an author: Do you have any predictions of what will happen in the Syrian Civil war? He was ready for it.
At the moment Syria is a stalemate. No one force is strong enough to control the entire country. Assad controls perhaps 40% of the territory with rebels controlling the rest. But the rebels are divided into different factions and unable to overthrow Assad. I think this situation could continue for some time. I see three possible outcomes in the years ahead:

Assad leaves power but some of his regime without blood on their hands remain. These Baathists ally with non-extremist rebels to form a transition government. Progressive and civil society activists would be part of the coalition. This could provide much needed stability.

Extreme political Islamists ally with center right groups such as the Moslem Brotherhood to create a Sunni Islamic State. Many Christians, Shia and Alawites would flee the country and Kurds might seek separation.

Syria becomes a failed state in which no one power governs but local militias and warlords predominate.

None of the options are good, but the first-- however slim-- offers the best hope.
Andreas Stadler is a political scientist and a diplomat currently representing Austria in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). He also teaches as a guest professor at the Vienna University of Applied Arts, curates artistic programs and has published texts on international and cultural affairs. He sent us this review after he read the book android it would be ok to share it here:
Reese Erlich's book Inside Syria is a valuable and insightful account of an experienced journalist who has written about the Middle East for decades. It looks at contemporary history beyond the typical mainstream US-American or Israeli point-of-view and stays away from stereotypical simplification. It is a relief to readers who are suspicious of orientalism and who appreciate intellectual self-reflection. However, it is also at times repetitive and messy, but still a worthwhile read for historical facts and independent assessments by an American liberal Jew.

What is particularly interesting is how he blends the story of Syria with the Western cultural understanding of the region through literature and movies such as the seminal movie Lawrence of Arabia of 1962. Erlich's judgment of colonialism is as acerbic as his distance to the contemporary politics of the US and Israel: “Prime Minister Netanyahu is ultra right wing” and a bit later “...maybe Israel's policy is the problem, not the people of the world.”

Erlich does not hide his clear views of what the US should do and-- maybe more so-- not do: “I oppose all outside interference… the US should stop all military support to the rebels.” On the contrary, it should work with other nations to help refugees and provide honest input for a diplomatic solution.

-- Andreas Stadler, January 2015
By the way, you can check out Reese's home page here, friend Reese Erlich Foreign Correspondent on Facebook, or follow him on Twitter @ReeseErlich.

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