Thursday, September 12, 2013

Charge of the fight brigade dissipates

My article Charge of the fight brigade dissipates appeared in The Pioneer today.

Here is the link...

The sabre-rattling by the US and France over Syria has, thankfully, receded after the Presidents of the two countries discovered they had to battle a groundswell of opposition to their desire for war

“On y va? On n’y va pas?” (“Shall we go? Shall we not go?) Where? To Syria, of course! Why? To avenge the victims of an alleged chemical weapons attack that caused the deaths of hundreds of people on August 21, near Damascus in Syria.
The Americans and the French immediately declared that they had proof that President Bashar al-Assad’s forces were behind the attack. Soon, French President François Hollande became ‘François , le justicier’ (the Dispenser of Justice). “C’est pas possible” (It’s not possible), Mr al-Assad has to pay, “the chemical killing cannot go unpunished”. The new crusader was so shocked that he was ready to go to Syria alone, (provided Washington, DC, followed Paris, of course). The belligerent French President realised nonetheless that Syria was not Mali and France did not have the means to go to the battlefield without a proper mandate.
On August 30, in an interview with the daily, Le Monde, the French President confirmed his position: “The chemical massacre of Damascus cannot and must not go unpunished. Otherwise, it would risk an escalation that would trivialise the use of these weapons and threaten other countries.... I think a halt must be brought to a regime that commits the irreparable on its people”. Mr Hollande was still not keen to seek an international mandate: “If the Security Council is unable to act, a coalition can be formed. It should be as broad as possible. It will rely on the Arab League which condemned the crime. It will have the support of the Europeans. But there are few countries that have the capacity to impose a sanction by appropriate means. France is one. She is ready.” Wishful dreaming, especially after the tide turned!
At first, the French President was not too much bothered by the refusal of the British Parliament to go for Mr al-Assad: “Each country is sovereign to participate or not in operation”, he said. Then on August 31, President Barack Obama decided to seek the green light from the US Congress. To say the least, this was a let-down for Mr Hollande. What should be France’s next steps if even its good European friends were not on board to Damascus? The Time commented: “France seems isolated in its desire to ‘punish’ the Syrian regime quickly... the French head of state has become the preferred partner to the White House since the surprise of the House of Commons vote on 29 August”.
In the meantime, public opinion in France was more and more against an intervention. An analyst in Le Monde hit hard at the presidential plans: “Is schizophrenia, with dissociation in the thought-process provoking contradictory actions, looming large for François Hollande? We have a President who is a tightrope walker in the French internal scene, and a trapeze artist in the international arena; when it comes to govern France, he is careful, though sometimes not too straight, but he is martial, even brutal, when it comes to intervene in foreign land; an adept of alternative medicine in France and shock therapy abroad,” he said.
After most of the European countries and the BRICS nations showed their lack of interest for the US-French project, Mr John Kerry, the US Secretary of State, tried to convince the French public. Appearing on French TV with his French counterpart Laurent Fabius, he made an impassioned plea in fluent French; Mr Kerry spoke of Western Europe’s past and its decision to go to war against Adolf Hitler. “This is our Munich moment”, he said, adding that, “This is not the time to be silent spectators to slaughter”. The Time commented: “Kerry’s words were intended to sway people in Paris, a city which suffered under Nazi occupation and which narrowly averted widespread destruction during Hitler’s final days.” But Mr Kerry’s appeal didn’t move the French.
According to a survey of the IFOP, the serious survey institute, published by Le Figaro, almost two-thirds of French (64 per cent) were opposed to an intervention, only, 36 per cent declared themselves in favour; in a survey conducted a week earlier, 55 per cent were against.
Mr Pierre Charasse, a former French Ambassador to Pakistan, now retired in Mexico, sent a satiric letter illustrating the public mood, to Mr Hollande. “Mr President, you have taken the lead of a large global movement on behalf of the ‘Duty to Protect’ …this was the vocation of France [which] does not fail in his duty. Your exemplary determination should quickly convince your trembling European partners and the cowards in the public opinion… of the merits of a surgical military intervention in Syria”.
The former Ambassador says that “we are confident that our weapons will not fall into the hands of jihadist fighters of the Al-Nusra Front, which are part of the rebel coalition” and that Al Qaeda should get your strong messages: “It is important… to reach out to those who want our destruction.” The letter continues on the same tone: “If Americans are struggling to identify targets, French intelligence services will be pleased to provide them all the information they have, so that the operation is short and scathing.”
Mr Charasse suggests next time sending forces to Mexico where 70,000 people died (with 26,000 missing) of violence during President Felipe Calderón’s tenure (2006-2012) alone: “Logically with figures like this, the Mexican civilian population should be eligible for benefits of the ‘Duty to Protect’.”  Mr Charasse may exaggerate when he writes: “World public opinion, the unemployed in Greece, Portugal, Spain, France and elsewhere would presumably appreciate surgical strikes on the IMF, the European Central Bank, the City of London or some ‘non-cooperative’ fiscal paradise”, but it is a fact that there could be several other possible targets on this planet.
There are indeed many injustices or wrong-doings the world over, whether it is in North Korea where Kim Jong-un regularly starves his own people, in China where the Communist Party mistreats its ‘minorities’ or elsewhere. Shall these countries also be bombed? Why is only ‘small’ Syria in question?
It is a positive sign if Mr Hollande’s and Mr Obama’s plan fails. War can’t bring a sustainable solution to complicated and intricate issues such as the Middle East is witnessing. Ultimately, the international community should be strong enough to impose a ‘punishment’, but individual nations can’t decide on their own whom to punish or exempt. Let us hope that the latest Russian proposal to ‘chemically’ disarm Syria will mark a step forward.
On the positive side (though not related), India and France have begun a joint military exercise called Shakti in Bourg Saint-Maurice in the French Alps. For 11 days, the Five Kumaon Regiment will practice with the French Chassseurs Alpins (13th Alpine Battalion). Their objective is to conduct joint counter insurgency platoon operations in a mountain environment… under the United Nations Charter!

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