The real winners of the London conference to help Syrian refugees: Assad and Putin
by Martin Jay
Feb 10, 2016 - 12:00 am GMT+3
by Martin Jay
Feb 10, 2016 12:00 am
The West reached an all-time low point with Syria in London and already Aleppo and other towns are being affected by Cameron and Merkel's new policy of ‘pay and pray'
Remember the Cold War? That bizarre period in history where the West carried out a Mexican standoff with Russia - and some would argue won, after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989? Many terribly clever commentators indulge themselves in this notion that, in fact, the Cold War is still very much alive and well.
But the London conference has buried this notion, along with the 28 dead bodies of those who died of starvation in Madaya, once and for all. Those who scorn Turkey's media should learn a lesson here about world class media handling and sloppy journalists: London was a brilliant PR coup pulled off by Angela Merkel and David Cameron as while these EU giants posed for the cameras hailing the $10 billion aid deal as unprecedented, banned cluster bombs were dropped on Syrian citizens by Syrian and Russian planes, 400,000 people continued to starve and Assad regime forces advanced towards Aleppo ultimately causing an exodus of refugees heading straight for the Turkish border.
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It's amazing what you can do with numbers and an effective PR outfit. Find an auspicious location. Invite world leaders and their posse of spoon-fed journalists and create a certain ambiguity about the number of years the aid pledges are made - one, two and three years sometimes all in one article - and the humble observer believes that $10 billion have been raised for poor Syrian refugees.
The reality is far from the truth. But no one can seem to agree on what is the pledged amount for 2016 - report ranging from $6 billion to $9 billion.
If Cameron and Merkel didn't have a contempt for their own fourth estate before London, then certainly the next day when they saw the headlines, they must have. How could fudging the figures present these two as 21st century heroes when in reality neither has the courage to act against the mighty Bashar Assad? Not even to send aid flights to drop food to the starving as this would need the consent of the Syrian leader.
How did all those journalists get the story wrong? The West is guilty of assisting in genocide yet the London conference hails Cameron and Merkel as crusaders of human rights. Assad and Putin must be laughing themselves to sleep.
The London conference is historic. In time, when journalists who are not on the payrolls of those political entities are given a chance to write the truth, it will be recorded as a milestone. The West gives more money to Syrian refugees (outside of Syria) while watching both Russian jets kill hundreds and Assad's besiegement of cities starve more to death. As those thousands flee Aleppo, few note that it will be western money and Turkish hospitality that feeds and protects them. Putin's actions are beyond reproach, in all instances.
But what is really behind the media fandango in London? Yes, politics of course. But not even geopolitical, but local. Merkel may have been voted Time magazine's person of the year for 2015 but in her own country her support is now looking like it's in desperate need of a face lift. Cameron also has the EU membership issue coming up in the U.K. and needs all the support he can get. The Paris bombing is not something either leader could afford in their own countries and it galvanized the minds of both those leaders that the numbers have to be stemmed as people's tolerance of Muslims generally is not unlimited. Those leaders know that lines get blurred and racist sentiment takes over when the television images show carnage of Europeans in their own countries committed by "extremists."
But it wasn't only the Paris bombings that focused the minds of Britain and Germany. The humanitarian issue in the Middle East has a habit of washing up on the shores of Europe and stirring the conscience of Europe. Europe needs to control the numbers and it is determined to keep refugees in the region - hence the massive pledge by the EU to Turkey to host them. Cameron and Merkel know well that if conditions were improved in refugee camps in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, that many feeling Syrians might consider them first before heading straight for Europe like last summer.
"The bulk of the new aid will fund education - with schools to be established for 700,000 refugees - improving living conditions and healthcare, instead of food handouts," the Financial Times gushed before adding almost as an afterthought. "The measures are intended to try to keep refugees in the region, with the potential to one day return to Syria."
That was the story of London. How do we keep the refugees in the region. But the quote in the FT is disturbing as it shows a staggering ignorance of the situation on the ground in the camps themselves, leaving many like myself to ask, who actually is advising these people?
I was recently in a refugee camp in Lebanon and saw with my own eyes the desperate conditions. Many were on the point of being malnourished. And about half of those in one camp in Zahle were burning plastic in their wood-burning stoves to keep warm. The toxic fumes were making a number ill with chest complications though and it presented itself as a stark metaphor for the international community's attitude towards the crisis: give them enough to eat - just - but not nearly enough to heat themselves.
And now, according to the FT, whatever is raised for 2016 at London won't go on food? I have searched hard, but I cannot find one headline from the conference which reads "No more food for starving Syrian refugees."
But just as swiftly as news is buried it is also manufactured - and timed - to distract a dying group of socially inept individuals around the world: those who still read the newspapers.
Breaking news! "U.N. investigators have accused the Assad regime of carrying out 'extermination' in its jails and detention centers through its brutal use of starvation, torture and executions of prisoners," screamed one newspaper.
The West can't win any battles with Assad so picks the lowest hanging fruit there is - media camped just down the road. While U.N. reports continue to portray the Assad regime as a horror story that Hollywood couldn't invent, an important message is lost in the shock of the new. The report investigates alleged war crimes from the start of the uprising in March 2011 until last year and "reveals how thousands of detainees have been killed while being held by both sides in Syria's brutal conflict" cites one report.
The shocking images of starvation from inside Madaya mark a new depth of the horror there as well as the torture and execution of prisoners. But this doesn't shock me anymore. What horrifies me is how the West's impotence in the torture and Russian military advances are only met with cash handouts from London. It's as though European and U.S. leaders are now complicit with the actions of the Assad regime as the cold war was not won on the battlefield in Afghanistan in 1989 but lost in the killing fields in Syria.
* Correspondent both for the U.K. Daily Mail, based in Beirut and also Deutsche Welle TV (Germany) and the founding editor of An Nahar English. @MartinRJay