Can world leaders learn from the Paris terror attacks?

Putin Obama G20

This photo of Presidents Obama and Putin in serious and intense discussion  at the current G20 meeting symbolises what could be a positive change in international politics. Perhaps the Friday 13th acts of terror in Paris precipitated this particular meeting – or perhaps it is a culmination of geopolitical changes since the 2014 G20 conference in Brisbane.

Or perhaps I am just being  far too optimistic. After all, the problems facing the world today are pretty intractable.

“What have you done?”

It seems to me that a key moment was September UN General Assembly meeting where President Putin warned about the consequences of geopolitical trends. His  question to world leaders – “Do you realise what you’ve done?” – proved tragically prophetic (see the full text of his speech at Putin’s UN address: “Do you realise what you’ve done?”). France is just the most recent country to suffer extreme acts of terrorism and we should not ignore the other recent acts most probably carried out by Islamic State in Turkey, Lebanon and the Sinai Peninsula.

However, Putin’s question was primarily directed at political leaders in France and Turkey, as well as Europe, NATO, the USA, UK and the Middle East. These leaders have pursued policies of regime change which have, at best, downplayed the problems of terrorism, or at worst actually used terrorist groups like Islamic State and its affiliates to carry out regime change.

Now, perhaps, they are starting to realise the consequences of those policies and are becoming  a little more willing to support the concept of an international alliance to counter terrorism.

But only a “little more willing,” and that is not enough.

What right have outsiders to impose “regime change?”

French president Francois Hollande said during the emergency meeting of the French parliament:

“In Syria, we’re looking for the political solution to the problem, which is not Bashar Assad. Our enemy in Syria is ISIL,”

Good – France now supports a political solution to the Syrian civil war – but surely that is a solution which must be put into effect by the Syrian people. What right does the leader of a foreign country have to demand that any particular Syrian politicians must or must not be part of that process?

Western and Middle Western political leaders need to realise that an imposed “regime change’ of the sort that took place in Iraq and Libya will only promote more terrorism – in fact, is the source of the current terrorism. Regime change should be in the hands of the Syrian people – not external countries.

But there is a glimmer of hope. Maybe recent changes were precipitated by the intervention of Russian forces in Syria to prevent an armed overthrow of the government. But the Syrian peace talks in Vienna seem to be making some progress. There is now more talk of a political settlement, a ceasefire negotiated between the Syrian government and selected opposition forces and a timetable for parliamentary and presidential elections. The Syrian leadership is open to this process and hopefully the more genuine opposition  forces can be encouraged to take part.

And, isn’t that a better way to change a political regime?

External political leaders should stop their talk of “Assad must go” – it is arrogant and disrespectful to the Syrian people. What the hell are these western and Middle Eastern leaders going to do if a political settlement leads to democratic and constitutional changes and Assad is re-elected? Are they going to refuse to accept the will of the Syrian people?

Who is backing Islamic State?

Meanwhile, reports from the G20 meeting show that president Putin has provided leaders with evidence of the support helping to maintain ISIS and similar terrorist groups. He told reporters:

“”I provided examples related to our data on the financing of Islamic State units by natural persons in various countries. The financing comes from 40 countries, as we established, including some G20 members.”

He also presented satellite images and aerial photos showing the true scale of the Islamic State oil trade:

“I’ve demonstrated the pictures from space to our colleagues, which clearly show the true size of the illegal trade of oil and petroleum products market. Car convoys stretching for dozens of kilometers, going beyond the horizon when seen from a height of four-five thousand meters.”

Now, it seems to me that NATO and the US have demonstrated great skills in targeting sanctions at individual business and political leaders in the Russian Federation, Ukraine and Crimea. Surely it is not beyond them to destroy the financial and economic support current shoring up Islamic State. They must know who these business leaders are – and they must surely know who is trading the oil Islamic State transports into Turkey.

Surely, all they need is the political will.

Coordinating the anti-terror struggle

Wouldn’t armed attacks on Islamic State be far more effective if they were coordinated. If participants shared intelligence and identified agreed targets? Again, that is surely realistic – if an anti-Nazi coalition was possible during the last world war surely an anti-terror coalition would be a lot easier now. The current US excuses for refusing cooperation seem petty and inappropriate given the seriousness of the situation.

But that requires abandoning a failed policy of “regime change.” That requires a fundamental change in international power – or at least the recognition that a single superpower should no longer be allowed to dictate the political and social arrangements of other countries.

Still, I look at that photo above and it does give me hope.

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