Thursday, 31 May 2012

My New Statesman 'Staggers' blog on Syria: We must plan for military action

The Staggers

The New Statesman’s rolling politics blog

We must plan for military action in Syria

Each time the Assad regime gets away with these despicable acts, the world becomes less stable.

Members of the Free Syrian Army
Members of the Free Syrian Army's Commandos Brigade near Qusayr, nine miles from Homs. Photograph: Getty Images.
Editor's note: The New Statesman's leader on Syria can be read here.
Following the appalling savagery at Houla, Kofi Annan declared: “we are at a tipping point”. We are not, we are already peering into the abyss, watching those suffering within it, and ignoring their calls for help as we pontificate on the niceties of international law and power-politics. Given his experience of the Rwanda genocide, Annan knows that there is no “tipping point” above which the number slaughtered either shocks the perpetrators into relending, or shames the international community into acting. The UN and international community have previously stood by as hundreds of thousands of innocents perished, and will do so again unless the moral case for the responsibility to protect is articulated more forcefully. To do this, we must listen to and then act on behalf of the victims, or else their human rights enshrined in ‘international law’ shall once again be shown to be worth little more than the paper on which they're written. Given the futility of diplomacy, robust military intervention must now be planned.  
In domestic politics, the rights of victims of crime are often forgotten amid our clamour to uphold those of defendants. This pattern, when transferred to the international stage, helps perpetuate an ‘aggressor’s charter’ prioritising the rights of criminal governments over those of civilian populations. It is time for a reversal so that in future the rights of ordinary human beings to life and liberty trump an illegitimate government’s right to protection from outside interference in its affairs, or the broader strategic interests of their allies. Only the superb reporting of journalists such as the late Marie Colvin, Tom Coghlan,  Martin Fletcher (£), and Alex Thomson (to name but a few) has given voice to these voiceless thousands, from which we should conclude that each time the Assad regime gets away with these despicable acts, the world becomes less stable and less safe for us all.
It is of course important to ponder whether an alternative naval base might be found for Russia in the Mediterranean or how they might keep their base in a post-Assad Syria; whether a Yemen-style top-level political solution can be found through which Assad goes but the regime clings on; whether the nature of Syria’s air defences render attack impossible; or whether Syria’s multi-ethnic composition and lack of unified opposition mean any intervention would merely provoke far greater human suffering in future. However, the geopolitical strategic calculations and debates about the practical implications all too often ignore the voices and interests of the civilians, the victims, who matter most.
At this stage of the crisis, three fundamental conclusions can be drawn. First, in its desperation to cling to power, this regime will countenance depravity up to and beyond the level of his father’s massacre of 20,000 civilians at Hama in 1982. Second, diplomatic pressure alone is no deterrent. The Annan Plan has failed because in seeking to end violence on both sides, it delegitimised the right of civilians to resist a dictator who is oppressing them, whilst simultaneously failing to afford them either the physical security or the democratic reforms they desire and deserve. Equally, like Milošević and Saddam Hussein, Assad is well-versed in Stalin's doctrine: 'how many divisions does the Pope have?' and will only desist when confronted by overwhelming military force. Third, Russia and China's diplomatic and military support for Assad, confirmed again on Wednesday, is likely to remain sufficiently robust as to prevent the Security Council sanctioning of any form of military intervention, thereby bolstering Assad's confidence that he acts with impunity.
What can be done to break this impasse? The most credible military option, the creation of militarily-protected safe zones in North West Syria, is now being mooted by, amongst others, serious and experienced people such as Anne-Marie Slaughter, former Director of Planning at the US State Department, and Ann Clwyd MP, Tony Blair’s former special envoy to Iraq and now a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee. Even this would probably fall foul of the Chinese and Russian veto. Therefore, the international community, and indeed each of us, must ask whether for the sake of not offending the sentiments and interests of these Security Council members, we are willing to allow the death-toll to rise from 18,000 towards the levels of Bosnia or Sudan?
International law should not be conflated with doing the right thing, and the victims of Houla and countless other places in Syria, require that for once, we protect them, rather than protecting a discredited, immoral international political system. The Arab Spring has shown that ordinary citizens rising up in pursuit of freedom and democracy can topple nefarious regimes. The ferocity of Assad's response indicates his deep fear of the unstoppable, eternal urge of people to govern their own destiny and live in dignity. Facing down cynical, brutal evil has never been easy and will not be this time. We owe the innocent civilians of Syria our support, for their sake, and in defence of the principle that the rights of ordinary people must prevail.
John Slinger is chair of Pragmatic Radicalism and blogs at Slingerblog. He was formerly researcher to Ann Clwyd MP (accompanying her to Baghdad in 2005 & 2006 when she was the Prime Minister's Special Envoy to Iraq on Human Rights).
Twitter: @JohnSlinger

Friday, 25 May 2012

The Guardian publishes my letter on why beneficiaries of privilege will not bring about social mobility

This letter can be viewed online in The Guardian.

Our political elites find the issue of social mobility to be both irresistible and intractable (Suzanne Moore, G2, 24 May). Irresistible because even rightwing politicians cannot ignore the fact that our unfair education system, through which parental wealth has a far more significant impact on life chances than ability, is neither fair nor meritocratic, and ensures that structures of power remain ossified throughout society. And intractable because in order to significantly increase social mobility, educational opportunities for less well-off children must be significantly boosted, which will necessarily lead to a diminution of the access presently enjoyed by privately educated children to the best universities and careers.

Michael Gove's speech on the "morally indefensible" dominance by privately educated people in British society, and Nick Clegg's 17 annual "trackers", are nothing more than fig leaves to cover the government's growing embarrassment at the huge chasm between the status quo of private school dominance and the equality of opportunity which any intelligent person must conclude is essential for a country like ours to be able to describe itself as "great".

I doubt this government of privately educated millionaires is up to the task.

John Slinger
Chair, Pragmatic Radicalism

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

My Independent letter - hypocrisy of eurosceptic Cameron lecturing another country on its internal affairs

See The Independent letters page here.

Cameron's lecture to the Greeks

One of the key tenets of euroscepticism, as practised down the years by Conservative politicians including David Cameron, has been abhorrence of interference in domestic politics by foreigners. Yet David Cameron, as leader of a predominantly eurosceptic party and Prime Minister of a country not even in the eurozone, sees fit to lecture the Greek government and people by saying at the Nato summit: "They can vote to stay in the eurozone and meet their commitments, or they can vote to give up on their commitments and effectively give up on the eurozone."

John Slinger

Monday, 14 May 2012

Death of my friend Michael McCarthy

Yesterday I received a bolt from the blue when I opened up what I thought would be a friendly email from an old friend whom I met at Durham University while studying my Master's. The email turned out to be news that my dear friend Michael (Mike) McCarthy passed away on 5 May following a heart attack.

There are moments in life when the world stops spinning. They usually involve either love, birth or death. This was one of those moments.

Mike was an American, whom I met when I went back to Durham to begin my MA in international studies. We became very good friends during that year and stayed in touch ever since. I traveled to his wedding in the States and we met several times, the last of which was in 2010. He was one of the best people I've had the privilege to know. He was compassionate, funny and devastatingly intelligent. A unique man, who I had always assumed would be my friend until we grew old. A transatlantic friendship of genuine warmth.

It seems unreal that I won't ever speak to him or see him again. I dare not let my mind start down memory lane, but I cannot avoid it. They are universally happy memories.

Taking a dip into the twittersphere yesterday, I noticed a deluge of white noise and chatter (which I have contributed to and do not condemn). It all seems so meaningless, fake even, when contemplating a human life lost too soon and the basis of friendship and love, which of course resides in real human contact.

Mike had so much to offer the world in so many ways and would have gone on to reach even greater heights had he lived. Last summer Mike wrote for a pamphlet I was editing. You can read it here. His essay stands as a testament to his incredible talent as a political writer (when in fact he was a lawyer by profession). The next Pragmatic Radicalism pamphlet shall be dedicated to his memory.

His death is a tragedy for him, for his wife and their son, for his family and for all his friends. We are all poorer without him and the world has lost a rare and lovely man who had every right to look forward to his life with his new family. Life is precious and life is fleeting. I hope that in my life, I am able to do him proud. My buddy is no longer around. I'll find ways to honour his memory in the coming months and years. He won't be forgotten and he will be sorely missed.

Rest In Peace Mike.

From your friend,


Wednesday, 9 May 2012

The Times publishes my letter on need for the people to control 'the markets' not vice versa

The people of both countries have voted — the rest of Europe must now wait and see what the effects on the economy is going to be

Sir, François Hollande’s victory and the chaos in Greece (report, May 8) illuminate a perverse and rotten feature of the current geopolitical settlement in Europe. In two countries the people, through democratic elections, have shown that they refuse to swallow the medicine prescribed by “the markets”. That markets do not like the political choices of millions of French and Greek people is immaterial. The people, through their representatives, should ensure that “the markets” operate for the benefit of the people, not vice versa.
John Slinger
Rugby, Warks

View here online (£)