Q+A: Panel Response to Robert Fisk Interview
HOSTED BY PAUL HOLMES
In response to ROBERT FISK
On the panel today, Dr Claire Robinson, Bernard Hickey and Keith Locke. So, Syria - it is a festering boil in the Middle East. It is a dismal-looking place when you see the pictures and so forth. Why don’t we care more, Keith?
KEITH LOCKE - Former Green Party
Well, I think it is, as Robert Fisk pointed out, quite a confusing situation. It doesn’t fit the model of Egypt, for example, where you had the people as a whole, really, against the Mubarak regime.
PAUL In the famous square.
KEITH And here, as he pointed out, you’ve got both the regime and the opposition both with a substantial measure of public support, and you’ve got on Assad’s side the Alawites and, to an extent, the Christians and some of the other minorities - Kurdish, etc - worried about the predominance of Sunni extremists and the opposition, and so there isn’t really a military solution. And one of the tragedies, really, is the big, peaceful demonstrations that occurred in the early phases of the uprising - that seems to have been overtaken by a military fight in which the people are pushed to one side.
PAUL Well, that’s right. A military civil war. That is right. But both Hillary Clinton and Leon Panetta have said the difficulty we’ve got is there’s no particular one group, like Libya, who has put their hands up and said, ‘We are the credible opposition.’
BERNARD HICKEY -
And also Syria has much tougher support from Russia and also in the United Nations from China, but more importantly from Iran.
PAUL And there’s a great bogey, there’s an elephant in the room called Iran. They sent two warships to that Syrian port a couple of weeks back.
BERNARD And everyone’s sort of forgetting around the edges of this is a huge effort to try and stop Iran from building a bomb and the risk that Israel will attack Iran at some stage, which I think is complicating some of the-
PAUL While the West gets involved in Syria. That’s right. Claire.
CLAIRE ROBINSON - Political
Well, the other thing is that Assad, he’s not like a Gaddafi. He’s not as mad or crazy as some of those leaders that have been overthrown. He is surrounded by an establishment, a very wealthy establishment of people in Syria who are working together to make sure that this works. They’re not going to turn on him in a hurry like they’ve turned on the other leaders. It’s very difficult.
PAUL That’s right. The Assad family and indeed the political establishment in Syria control the military, control the money, control everything, don’t they?
BERNARD And there is a history of using the military in force against their own population.
PAUL 10,000 people dead in what was the name of the place?
PAUL Hama. And Uncle Rifaat Assad, old Hafez Assad’s brother, now lives in Mayfair.
CLAIRE Yes, that’s right.
KEITH I think a key complicating problem here that Robert Fisk talked to was that the international agendas are playing out. The Shiite alliance of Iran, the Assad regime, Hezbollah sort of against the Sunni alliance, particularly in the Gulf states, and the Gulf states are really pushing for a military solution. Arming the opposition.
PAUL He said Qatar’s running it.
KEITH Yeah, and just a couple of days ago some key leaders of the Syrian National Council left because they saw there was a dominance of the Muslim brotherhood. And then the internal opposition that is based in Damascus, the underground internal opposition, is at odds with the external opposition, and the external opposition seems to be pushing the military struggle, which doesn’t seem to be the way to go. Which is why I think we should support what Kofi Annan is doing in trying to get a negotiated solution, work as much as possible with Russia.
PAUL Well, heaven knows Bashar has got to stop killing his people. Robert Fisk has told him to. (ALL CHUCKLE) We’ll leave that one there. Thank you very much.