“The hard heart of the world is no-longer my business”

Even though I remain opposed to a significant Western military intervention in the civil war in Syria, I think that last week’s decision by the House of Commons regarding that country was a seriously mistaken one. Fortunately, it will not prove as historic as Parliament’s appeasement of Hitler in the late 1930s, but it is all the less justifiable because inflicting limited punishment on the Assads was never going to cost much or drag Britain into any kind of war. Nor was it going to weaken that regime or strengthen its opponents significantly. The war will drag on – even after an expected missile strike by America – as long as Russia and Iran continue supplying Damascus with arms and money and ‘volunteer Hezbollah fighters’.

Conservative rebels, who feel their leader’s other policies have made their seats vulnerable to UKIP at the next election, decided to play to the gallery of their emotional constituents and, in the process, told the likes of Syria’s Assad, Sudan’s Bashir and Iran’s Khamenei that, “in those far-away countries we don’t know much about”, they can turn cheap nerve agents into routine instruments of war once more, that they can deal with their unhappy peoples or troublesome minorities with the poor man’s weapon.

As a man of Kurdish upbringing, I know that chemical arms are primarily a weapon of terror, causing more refugees than deaths. But who will eventually pick up the cost of even more refugees, in humanitarian aid and in asylum seekers and immigrants? Guess.

Last week’s diluted, tentative motion by the government was not primarily about Syria. In the words of Boris Pasternak, it was a new Britain saying: “The hard heart of the world is no-longer my business”. And so, a moderating voice in America’s ear has been removed and a well-meaning figure on the world’s stage that, in Douglas Hurd’s words, ‘punched above its weight’, has been diminished. It was a sad day. I was so terribly disappointed in the quality of reasoning of some of the opposing MPS, on both sides of the House. At least two of them wanted Britain to appeal to the mullahs in Tehran to intercede with Mr Assad to be nicer to his people, and earlier, on a BBC radio station, I had had to debate with a Labour MP who was convinced throwing a few missiles at the Ministry of Defence in Damascus would be the start of  “the Third World War”.

We must still push for a negotiated settlement in Syria. There is no acceptable military solution to the civil war there. If Assad and his minority sect, the Alawites, win, the tyranny over the majority Sunnis will continue. In addition, there will be several million more refugees in neighbouring countries that the West will have to feed, possibly for decades. On the other hand, if the uprising of the Sunnis triumphs, there will be huge massacres of the Alawites, causing many of the remainder to seek refuge elsewhere. In either case – because the war would continue for at least another two years – what has not already been destroyed, will be so. Many more irreplaceable ancient monuments will disappear.

For all these reasons, I hope that the American strikes will be more than a little painful for the Assads. We need the strikes to weaken the regime’s recent confidence that it can win on the battlefield. We need to force Damascus to come to negotiate seriously with the opposition. We need a transitional government to allow for passions to subside before a longer-term settlement might become feasible. At present I fear that President Obama, a dithering politician, will opt for a pin-prick retribution that will actually embolden the Assads. This is the mistake that President Clinton committed in the late 1990s when he used cruise missiles against an Al Qaedah training camp in Afghanistan in retaliation for the demolition of two American embassies in Africa. The result was 9/11.

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About Hazhir Teimourian, FRAS.

'Late love, if kindled, leads to scandal', says an old Persian proverb : Why bother 'to blog’ at 71? I find myself these days – August 2011 – one of the few grizzled old men of Middle East commentary still walking. Even though I was last on regular public view in 1996 – in the pages of The Times – broadcasters still remember. On some particularly hot days – and the past six months of the “Arab Spring” have seen many hot days – the BBC arrange for me to give up to 24 interviews to their innumerable national and local radio stations before breakfast: Every 8 minutes from 6 to 9, one of them is connected to my ISDN line – a miracle of modern technology that turns your desk into a radio studio – and that station gets about five minutes of reflection on the subject that’s making headlines. This is partly explained by their own correspondents being stretched in the field, and partly by the convenience of the high-quality sound that the ISDN line provides. At short notice, it may prove hard to get a younger, more attractive commentator to a studio. But it must also have something to do with the bonds of friendship that develop across the years between broadcasters and print journalists - even in the political class generally - across ideological lines. Until recently, I had on my noticeboard a fading piece of paper bearing an address in the City, in the Barbican. It was written by the late and beloved Brian Redhead – the John Humphries of his day – and it was his home address. One morning in 1990 in the Today office in Broadcasting House, he dragged me to his desk and wrote down the address and asked that I visit him and his wife at home. Unfortunately, I never did. In those days – remember the gassing of the Kurds of Halabja in 1988 by the accursed Saddam or the invasion of Kuwait in 1990? – it sometimes felt as if I lived at the BBC, to the annoyance of the Foreign Desk at The Times. (I was told that Simon Jenkins, at one of his first morning conferences as Editor, had asked: “Who is this man Teimourian who is everywhere described as of The Times”? Later, he told me – or threatened me – that he read every word I wrote, but was also gracious enough to ask me to have breakfast with him at the fabulous Connaught Hotel, where he lived.) Thus I have accumulated many ‘friends’ I have never met, from Sydney to Calgary, through Dublin, Glasgow, Cardiff, Belfast and New York. Sorry for the digression. Why am I starting what the young call a ‘blog’ in my 8th decade? Well, first of all, let’s see whether it lasts and whether anyone will read it. It’s probably a whim and one last attempt at weaving my way into the company of the glamorous young. I was once their darling and old longings die hard. As the Persians say: Eshqe piri, gar bejonbad / Sar be rosva’i zanad (Late love, if kindled / Leads to scandal.) But assuming it lasts, it won’t do any harm to hear the occasional reflections of a man who has watched the world from the privileged position of the British media superpower for over 40 years. If it becomes embarrassing, hopefully my family and friends will gently let me know that it’s time I spent the remainder of my time in the greenhouse talking to my aubergine plants. A glimpse of my career and some of my past writings can be found at www.HTeimourian.net or www.KhayyamByTeimourian.net . You may also be interested in www.MigrationWatchUK.com and www.BalancedMigration.com . I am on the Council of the former, under Andrew Green, and a non-parliamentary member of the latter. The Group is chaired jointly by Frank Field (Lab.) and Nicholas Soames (Con.) and includes such non-partisan figures as former Archbishop Lord Carey and the former Speaker of the House of Commons Betty Boothroyd. Update (April 2017): for more up-to-date information, please see www.ConsolationsOfAutumn.com or my Author Profile on Amazon.
Aside | This entry was posted in current affairs, Middle East, Syria, Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to

  1. Tony Fahy says:

    Thank you Hazhir…as always, enlightening. Tony

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