War

Sorrow and bliss in Italy

Wednesday, 16 October, 2013 0 Comments

The recent spate of migrant deaths in the waters off the coast of Italy has highlighted the tragedy of Africa and its failed states. But the heartrending fate of Africans in Italy is not new, as Iris Origo noted in her diary 70 years ago:

16 October 1943: “Antonia goes down to Chianciano and returns with the news that at Magione a German captain, as he was driving through a wood, was shot and killed; he was buried yesterday at Chianciano.

In the evening a Moroccan soldier turns up here, an escaped prisoner from Laterina. He can speak only a few words of English and Italian and is very completely lost — travelling north, although he says he wants to get to Rome. We give him food and shelter for the night and point out the road to the south. ‘Me ship,’ he says, ‘Me not swim’. Very slight are his chances of getting home again.” Iris Origo

Iris Origo was an Anglo-Irish writer best known for works such as War in Val d’Orcia, The Merchant of Prato and The Vagabond Path. Following her birth in 1902, her parents travelled widely, particularly in Italy, where her father contracted tuberculosis and died in 1910. Her mother, Lady Sybil Cutting, then bought one of Florence’s most spectacular residences, the Villa Medici in Fiesole, which was built between 1451 and 1457. Iris Cutting married Antonio Origo, the illegitimate son of Marchese Clemente Origo, in 1924 and the couple devoted much of their lives to the improvement of their estate at La Foce, near Montepulciano. The Marchesa of Val d’Orcia, as Iris Origo was titled, died in her beloved Tuscany, with its cultivated hills, picturesque towns and magnificent Brunello di Montalcino in June 1988, aged 85.

Tuscany


Obama must strike now

Friday, 30 August, 2013 6 Comments

The spineless stance of the 285 British MPs who hid behind the tainted skirts of the UN last night does not change reality. To let the Syrian tyrant go unpunished now would assure him, and like-minded barbarians, that the proliferation and use of chemical weapons will be tolerated. And that cannot be. If the UK is unwilling to uphold this prohibition, it is even more important that the US does. In the words of The Economist:

The Economist “Because doing nothing carries risks that are even bigger. If the West tolerates such a blatant war crime, Mr Assad will feel even freer to use chemical weapons. He had after all stepped across Mr Obama’s ‘red line’ several times by using these weapons on a smaller scale — and found that Mr Obama and his allies blinked. An American threat, especially over WMD, must count for something: it is hard to see how Mr Obama can eat his words without the superpower losing credibility with the likes of Iran and North Korea.”

Obama must now proceed with a “punishment of such severity that Mr Assad is deterred from ever using WMD again. Hitting the chemical stockpiles themselves runs the risk both of poisoning more civilians and of the chemicals falling into the wrong hands. Far better for a week of missiles to rain down on the dictator’s ‘command-and-control’ centres, including his palaces. By doing this, Mr Obama would certainly help the rebels, though probably not enough to overturn the regime. With luck, well-calibrated strikes might scare Mr Assad towards the negotiating table.”

It’s time to hit Assad. Hard. Otherwise we can abandon civilization to the wolves. In his third year of wavering, two years after stating Assad had to go, one year after drawing — then redrawing — that red line, Barack Obama must act. Alone, if necessary.


Understanding Syria’s first family: like father, like son

Wednesday, 28 August, 2013 0 Comments

“To many people Syria is an object not just of suspicion but of mystery, and Asad’s moves are often seen as both malevolent and impenetrable. In the United States in particular, there is a certain incredulity that a small country with a population of under twelve million should have the effrontery to stand up for itself. Certainly, in defending Arab interests as he sees them, Asad has used skill, stealth and brute force to challenge the interests of others — Israel, its Western backers, and even those Arabs who do not endorse his strategy. Yet there is a poignancy about his story in that the task he assumed twenty years ago was larger than the means at his disposal. As the head of a relatively poor and underdeveloped country, he has had a basically weak hand, forcing him to play his cards close to his chest, a style which does not make comprehending Syria any simpler.”

Asad That’s an excerpt from Asad: The Struggle for the Middle East by Patrick Seale. Since it was first published in 1988, the population of Syria has grown to 21 million but the country is still ruled by the same family, although the favoured spelling is now “Assad”. It’s worth noting, incidentally, that a lot of what Patrick Seale wrote about Hafiz al-Asad a quarter of a century ago applies to his son, Bashar al-Assad. Consider this:

“Asad’s sense of limited resources and permanent siege have undoubtedly had an impact on the way he runs his country and conducts his diplomacy. His regime is a very personal one. He insists on controlling everything and in particular foreign affairs and information because, unlike more powerful leaders who walk away from their blunders, he can ill afford to make a mistake. At every stage he risks being knocked out of the game altogether, and that remains the main hope of his enemies.”

When the old butcher died in June 2000, control of Syria passed to his son, who has made some major mistakes of late and now risks being knocked out of the game altogether.

By the way, does anyone know what Patrick Seale is up to these days? His last column syndicated by Agence Global is dated 30 April. Since then, nothing. That April column is titled, typically, “How Israel Manipulates US Policy in the Middle East.” Like the elder Asad, Seale is obsessed by Israel and this fixation has deformed his writing on the Middle East. Still, he’s an expert on the region and, despite our differences, Rainy Day wishes him well and we hope that he’ll soon be adding his experienced voice to the Syria debate.


It’s time to take sides says Tony Blair

Tuesday, 27 August, 2013 3 Comments

Writing in the Times today, the former British Prime Minister Tony Blair says that we have reached a crossroads and he wants to know which direction the West will take. Is it going to be talk or action? Blair demands action. Snippet:

Tony Blair In Syria, we know what is happening. We know it is wrong to let it happen. But leave aside any moral argument and just think of our interests for a moment. Syria, disintegrated, divided in blood, the nations around it destabilised, waves of terrorism rolling over the population of the region; Assad in power in the richest part of the country; Iran, with Russia’s support, ascendant; a bitter sectarian fury running the Syrian eastern hinterland — and us, apparently impotent. I hear people talking as if there was nothing we could do: the Syrian defence systems are too powerful, the issues too complex, and in any event, why take sides since they’re all as bad as each other?

But others are taking sides. They’re not terrified of the prospect of intervention. They’re intervening. To support an assault on civilians not seen since the dark days of Saddam.

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; who know that they should not be faced with a choice between tyranny and theocracy. I detest the implicit notion behind so much of our commentary — that the Arabs or even worse, the people of Islam are unable to understand what a free society looks like, that they can’t be trusted with something so modern as a polity where religion is in its proper place. It isn’t true. What is true is that there is a life-and-death struggle going on about the future of Islam and the attempt by extreme ideologues to create a political Islam at odds both with the open-minded tradition of Islam and the modern world.

Blair is right. We cannot be neutral in this clash of civilizations. Which side are you on?


John Stuart Mill on Syria

Tuesday, 30 April, 2013 0 Comments

“When the contest is only with native rulers, and with such native strength as those rulers can enlist in their defence, the answer I should give to the question of the legitimacy of intervention is, as a general rule, No. The reason is that there can seldom be anything approaching to assurance that intervention, even if successful, would be for the good of the people themselves… The liberty which is bestowed on them by hands other than their own will have nothing real, nothing permanent.”

John Stuart Mill (20 May 1806 — 8 May 1873)

The essay, A Few Words On Non-Intervention, was published in 1859 and was written in the context of the construction of the Suez Canal and the recent Crimean War. It addresses the question of under what circumstances states should be allowed to intervene in the sovereign affairs of another country.


The Manchurian Candidate in London

Thursday, 4 April, 2013 0 Comments

“The escalating tension over North Korea, which has led to nuclear tests by the regime, is a product of a long term increase in sanctions and other measures against the North Korea, and a recent surge of US and South Korean military activity in the area.” So speaks Pyongyang, right? Wrong! That’s, actually, a London-based […]

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A performing Seale among the Syrian butchers

Wednesday, 25 July, 2012

“When the matter of human rights is raised with Syrian officials — particularly the jailing under harsh conditions of civil rights activists and political opponents — they point to far greater abuses by the United States and Israel. Western actions, they claim, have damaged the cause of democracy and human rights. Nevertheless, Syria’s record on […]

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The horror, the horror of Syria

Thursday, 31 May, 2012

There are images too graphic even for those who are confronted daily with examples of human barbarity. Most newspapers, magazines and TV outlets won’t publish photos from the Houla massacre in Syria, but Rainy Day will link to them. (WARNING: These photos are extremely distressing and poignant.) One could write thousands of words to condemn […]

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