Archive for the ‘Sharmine Narwani’ Category

Syria – conflict understanding and a little optimism

By Sharmine Narwani

An interview with the Iranian Fars News Agency of December 8, 2013 in which the TFF Associate pulls the Western media image of what happens in Syria – and why – apart. She also tells you why she feels a bit more optimistic than most and how foreign fighters must leave Syria to enable the Syrians to pursue an all-inclusive process towards a settlement.

Why Western media frames civilian areas as “Hezbollah strongholds”

By Sharmine Narwani

Beirut was thrown into turmoil on Thursday evening as a terrorist attack against residents of Dahiyeh – a southern suburb of the Lebanese capital and a predominantly Shia neighborhood – threatened to draw the country into a region wide crisis.

As conflicting news reports began to eke out in the immediate aftermath of the city’s deadliest car bombing in eight years, there was a disconcerting congruity in headlines beaming out from western capitals – and it had nothing to do with facts.

In lock-step, western media was calling the scene of the crime a “Hezbollah stronghold” – Continue reading here.

The U.S.’s Afghan exit depend on a Syrian one

By Sharmine Narwani

Washington’s options in Syria are dwindling – and dwindling fast.

Trumped up chemical weapons charges against the Syrian government this month failed to produce evidence to convince a skeptical global community of any direct linkage. And the US’s follow-up pledge to arm rebels served only to immediately underline the difficulty of such a task, given the fungibility of weapons-flow among increasingly extremist militias.

Yes, for a brief few days, Syrian oppositionists congratulated themselves on this long-awaited American entry into Syria’s bloodied waters. They spoke about “game-changing” weapons that would reverse Syrian army gains and the establishment of a no-fly zone on Syria’s Jordanian border – a la Libya. Eight thousand troops from 19 countries flashed their military hardware in a joint exercise on that border, dangling F-16s and Patriot missiles and “superb cooperation” in a made-for-TV show of force.

But it took only days to realize that Washington’s announcement didn’t really have any legs.

Forget the arguments now slowly dribbling out about why the US won’t/can’t get involved directly. Yes, they all have merit – from the difficulties in selecting militia recipients for their weapons, to the illegalities involved in establishing a no-fly zone, to the fact that more than 70% of Americans don’t support an intervention.

The single most critical reason for why Washington will not risk entering the Syrian military theater – almost entirely ignored by DC policy wonks – may be this: the 2014 US military withdrawal from Afghanistan.

“Help, we can’t get out” Read the rest of this entry »

Why Arabs need Iran

By Sharmine Narwani

In 2011, when Arab revolts began to sweep the Middle East and North Africa, the view from Washington and its closest allies was one of concern. How would the removal of mostly pro-Western dictatorships affect the balance of power in the region? More importantly – how to prevent these events from boosting Iran’s influence?

Two years on, the regional competition for influence is in full throttle. In its sights – among many other developments – are recent efforts by Iran and Egypt to upgrade their relationship.

The spoilers will have none of it. Said Steven A. Cook last week on the website of that most prestigious of US institutions, the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR): “Other than some quick cash and subsidized energy, there is nothing that Tehran can offer Cairo that will, in the long run, be to Egypt’s benefit.”

He has it entirely wrong. “Quick cash and subsidized energy” can only be used to describe the superficial offerings of countries like Saudi Arabia and Qatar, both vying for influence in this new Egypt.

There is no contest whatsoever between that kind of assistance and what Iran can bring to the table. Iran has achieved its economic independence the hardest way imaginable…

Continue

Yara Abbas in her own words

By Sharmine Narwani

Today I try to honor a young woman who made an impact on me in one meeting long ago. Syrian journalist Yara Abbas’ love for her country and the soldiers who protected her in combat zones humanized these young men for me, when it was altogether so easy to write them off with the rest of the media as killing machines.

I felt during our interview that she was out in the field protecting these boys as much as they were protecting her. And so she made me give them a second look. RIP.

Last week Yara Abbas was killed by a sniper. Here is Sharmine Narwani’s interview with her from last year. Yara was the 38th media casualty in the Syrian conflict…

Midest backlashes yet to come

By Sharmine Narwani

The Middle East is treading water these days. Two years of rhetoric about ousting dictators, revolution, freedom, honor, dignity, and democracy – without result – has people on edge, their disillusionment now demanding an outlet.

There are no outlets though. Sensing the fast-growing disenchantment with undelivered promises, even the “bright new leaders” are tightening the reins and demanding compliance.

These new heads of state simply can’t deliver the goods for one main reason: they are just as caught up in global and regional power contests as were their predecessors. Nothing has changed with these uprisings. Nothing! Read the rest of this entry »

The Chemical Weapons Charade in Syria

By Sharmine Narwani

Let us be clear. The United States can verify absolutely nothing about the use of chemical weapons (CWs) in Syria. Any suggestion to the contrary is entirely false.

Don’t take it from me – here is what US officials have to say about the subject:

A mere 24 hours after Washington heavyweights from the White House, Pentagon, and State Department brushed aside Israeli allegations of chemical weapons use in Syria, US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and the White House changed their minds. They now believe “with varying degrees of confidence” that CWs have been used “on a small scale” inside Syria.

For the uninitiated, “varying degrees of confidence” can mean anything from “no confidence whatsoever” to “the Israelis told us” – which, translated, also means “no confidence whatsoever.”

Too cavalier? I don’t think so. The White House introduced another important caveat in its detailed briefing on Thursday:

“This assessment is based in part on physiological samples. Our standard of evidence must build on these intelligence assessments as we seek to establish credible and corroborated facts. For example the chain of custody is not clear so we cannot confirm how the exposure occurred and under what conditions.”

“The chain of custody is not clear.” That is the single most important phrase in this whole exercise. It is the only phrase that journalists need consider – everything else is conjecture of WMDs-in-Iraq proportions.

I asked a State Department spokesperson the following: “Does it mean you don’t know who has had access to the sample before it reached you? Or that the sample has not been contaminated along the way?”

He responded: “It could mean both.” Read the rest of this entry »

Shipping death and destruction to Syria

By Sharmine Narwani

“The weapons of choice in (today’s) new conflicts are not big-ticket items like long-range missiles, tanks, and fighter planes, but small and frighteningly accessible weapons ranging from handguns, carbines, and assault rifles on up to machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades, and shoulder-fired missiles,” explained William Hartung more than a decade ago in an article entitled The New Business of War.

“Because they are cheap, accessible, durable, and lightweight, small arms have been a primary factor in the transformation of warfare from a series of relatively well- defined battles between ‘two opposing forces wearing uniforms’ to a much more volatile, anarchic form of violence,” says Hartung, now director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy in Washington DC. “More often than not, today’s wars are multisided affairs in which militias, gangs, and self-anointed “rebels” engage in campaigns of calculated terror, civilian targets are fair game, and the laws of war are routinely ignored.”

“The ready availability of small arms makes these conflicts far more likely to occur, far more deadly once they start, and far more difficult to resolve once the death tolls mount and the urge for revenge takes hold.”

Hartung could have been describing Syria today. And no – the anarchic, violent rebels he describes in his article do not appear everywhere else in the world except in Syria. They are the Syrian prototype. Read the rest of this entry »

BRICS – impossible to ignore – draws clear red lines on Syria and Iran

By Sharmine Narwani

The BRICS just became impossible to ignore. At the close of the Fifth annual BRICS Summit in Durban, South Africa last week, there was little question that this group of five fast-growing economies was underwriting an overhaul of the global economic and political order.

The eThekwini Declaration issued at summit’s end was couched in non-confrontational language, but it was manifestly clear that western hegemony and unipolarity were being targeted at this meeting.

The BRICS hit some major western sore spots by announcing the formation of a $50 billion jointly-funded development bank to rival the IMF and World Bank. Deals were signed to increase inter-BRICS trade in their own currencies, further eroding the US dollar’s status as the world’s reserve currency.

A series of unmistakable challenges were dealt to old world leaders: reform your institutions and economies – or we’ll do it ourselves.

Intent on filling a leadership void in global economic and financial affairs, the BRICS also began to draw some firm political lines in the sand. Read the rest of this entry »

What the Syrian death tolls really tell us

By Sharmine Narwani


Unreliable data can incite and escalate a conflict – the latest UN-sponsored figure of 60,000 should not be reported as fact.

Less than two months after the UN announced “shocking” new casualty figures in Syria, its high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay estimates that deaths are “probably now approaching 70,000″. But two years into a Syrian conflict marked by daily death tolls, the question arises as to whether these kinds of statistics are helpful in any way? Have they helped save Syrian lives? Have they shamed intransigent foes into seeking a political solution? Or might they have they contributed to the escalation of the crisis by pointing fingers and deepening divisions?

Continue reading in The Guardian, February 15, 2013

 

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