The big powers, ‘regime change’ and the Syrian crisis

September 16, 2015, 8:42 pm

by Lynn Ockersz

The involvement of external powers in a Southern country’s political crises would increase in magnitude and kind to the degree to which the crises in question aggravate and are seen as affecting these outside powers’ interests. In Sri Lanka’s case, since the political changes referred to were of an entirely democratic and ‘bloodless’ nature, conditions that could have prompted external military involvement, for example, were absent. But this is not the case in the conflict zones of the Middle East. In the case of Syria, for instance, the incumbent Bashar Al Assad regime is intent on keeping its hold on power despite facing some resistance forces advocating progressive political change.

‘Regime change’ has been the buzz phrase among sections critical of political developments in the Middle East and adjacent regions, over the past few years, which centred on the overthrowing of repressive governments by pro-democracy forces. A central viewpoint of these critics is that such ‘regime change’ was initiated and sustained by the prime powers of the West. In other words, the ‘pro-democracy’ revolution of the early decades of the 21st century is the handiwork, so to speak, of the major Western powers, who enjoy absolute power of manipulation over the forces seeking democratic change.

The irresponsible extremes to which this popular notion is taken are evident in its application, by some local counterparts of the ‘regime change’ proponents, to political developments in Sri Lanka. While it goes without saying that regional and extra-regional powers would be concerned over political developments in our part of the world, and it cannot be otherwise because power and who wields it, is, for example, at the heart of big power foreign relations perspectives on any region, one cannot argue, on this basis, that popular movements for progressive political change are initiated and guided by the big powers. Those sections adopting the latter point of view could be said to be guilty of being ignorant of historical political change and its internal dynamics.

Popular resistance, of a peaceful or non-peaceful nature, to repressive local conditions, is a spontaneous development and cannot be dictated entirely ‘from the outside’. However, once such resistance takes hold, regional and extra-regional powers may seek to influence these developments in keeping with what is seen as their foreign policy interest. It cannot be otherwise, for, politics, whether internal or external, devolve around power, and who takes and exercises power locally is of the utmost importance to external powers. But it does not follow from these premises that ‘regime change’ is initiated entirely by external quarters and that ‘pro-democracy movements’, for instance, follow a course which is meticulously and rigidly laid out by external powers.

The electoral verdicts of January 8 and August 17 in Sri Lanka, for example, grew out of popular disgust with the regime which existed in this country from 2005 until early January this year and one would be severely insulting the intelligence of the local voter by suggesting to him that he was a tool in the hands of external powers seeking ‘regime-change’ in this country. The well-springs of political change in Sri Lanka this year are rooted in popular disenchantment and the observer would be guilty of falsifying reality by seeking to argue otherwise.

The same goes for the popular political upheavals in Egypt, Libya and Syria, to consider just three such cases. It is now not disputed that youth disenchantment with existing regimes and the people’s powerlessness had a considerable bearing on these political developments. Youth unemployment had a lot to do with the resistance which arose against the repressive administrations in question. But there is no denying that the Western powers took a huge interest in the way these upheavals evolved and were subsequently supportive of the pro-democracy movements. However, there has been no tangible, divisive presence of regional or extra-regional powers in Sri Lanka’s recent political developments. It does not follow, though, that these powers are not supportive of this or that political party or force in Sri Lanka.

The involvement of external powers in a Southern country’s political crises would increase in magnitude and kind to the degree to which the crises in question aggravate and are seen as affecting these outside powers’ interests. In Sri Lanka’s case, since the political changes referred to were of an entirely democratic and ‘bloodless’ nature, conditions that could have prompted external military involvement, for example, were absent. But this is not the case in the conflict zones of the Middle East. In the case of Syria, for instance, the incumbent Bashar Al Assad regime is intent on keeping its hold on power despite facing some resistance forces advocating progressive political change. While forces, such as the IS, are obviously anti-democratic is nature, there are groups in the Syrian theatre which want to see an end to what is viewed as repression.

At present, the West is supportive of those groups in the Syrian situation which it sees as advocating democratic change and is simultaneously taking on the IS militarily, but this involvement has been instrumental in creating a humanitarian crisis of daunting proportions. The bourgeoning refugee crisis in the Middle East currently, lends increasing proof to the well founded view that it is civilians who suffer most in war and conflict.

While it is up to the international community, read the UN, to ensure the well being of the people displaced in the Syrian conflict and outside it, the Western powers are obliged to seek a political solution to the crisis in Syria. It should be plain that the military involvement of the West in these conflict zones is in no way promotive of their aims.

However, the forging of political solutions to the Syrian and other crises in West Asia would necessitate the involvement of the totality of interested parties in such searches. It just would not be sufficient to emphasize that the US and its allies only need to figure in these exercises, when the observer speaks in terms of the need for ‘Western’ involvement in the search for peace. The ‘West’ in this context should also mean Russia, which has reason to be concerned about developments in the Middle East. In fact, Russia is seen as militarily supporting the Assad regime in a substantial way. Accordingly, the concept of the ‘West’ needs to be broadly interpreted if managing these conflicts is to prove meaningful. The JVP, please take note.

What needs to be aimed at in the conflict areas under discussion is democratic development, which would ensure the dignity and empowerment of civilian publics. The latter should figure solidly in the search for political solutions which aim at democratic development. Indeed, it is primarily the people who should figure in ‘regime change’. Supporting repression would not serve this worthy aim.

http://www.island.lk/index.php?page_cat=article-details&page=article-details&code_title=131852

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