On 30 December, Greg Barns, the former WikiLeaks Party (WLP) 2013 federal election manager, stated on Twitter that “WLP members visited top Syrian regime officials - good move. Isolating Assad strengthens him.” Barns was responding to the breaking news that - unnoticed by many WikiLeaks supporters, WLP National Council member Kellie Tranter and WikiLeaks - the WLP had “participate[d] in a solidarity delegation to Syria to promote peace and reconciliation.” This unexpected move had been announced by a single WLP tweet linking to a short blog post (December 22) which stated:
January 03, 2014
While the WikiLeaks Party recognises the needs for political reforms in Syria and to fight against corruption and abuses of human rights, it does not support achieving this by violence, Western military intervention and destruction of the country.
The post went on to say that the party supports “peaceful negotiation” and “oppose violent methods of changing governments and regimes.” These are fine words. However, throughout the Syrian post there is no sense of balance, it is a blinkered rendering of an almost incomprehensibly complex reality.
The first absentee is the escalating Sunni / Shiite Iran-Iraq-Syria-Lebanon war. The Iraqi-American political analyst, Raed Jarrar:
We’re dealing with a wave of sectarian politics that might redraw a new map of the region, a map that is not based on the current nation-state lines that were drawn in 1916 and 1920, but a map that is based on sectarian and religious affiliations.
Many Iraqis and Syrians and others in the Arab world are identifying more with their sectarian background than their national background. So you find many Iraqi Sunnis who will identify more now with a Syrian Sunni than with an Iraqi Shia.
So what’s going on in Syria has direct implications on the situation in Iraq. Iraq is heavily involved in the Syrian conflict. The Iraqi government, through the Iranian government, has been supporting the Syrian government against the uprising.
The veteran Middle East correspondent, Robert Fisk:
In the days of Twitter, who can trust a self-proclaimed al-Qa’ida outfit called the Abdullah Azzam brigades, which claimed the bombings and told Hezbollah to leave Syria? But could there be a more obvious target for those who curse Hezbollah’s military support for Bashar al-Assad in Damascus? Could there be a more ruthless way of hitting at the Shias of Lebanon than to go for the jugular and set off bombs so close to the embassy of a country [Iran] which has sent its own Shia fighters to Syria?
1. Supporting al-Assad's Ba'athist regime: China, Russia, Iran, Iraq and Hezbollah in Lebanon.
2. In opposition: Israel, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the U.S. / UK.
All of these nations are involved in the conflict for reasons of perceived national interest and are not acting in complete concert with their fellow travellers, although their interests often intersect. For obvious reasons both sides fear Saudi Arabia's Persian Gulf faction, which supports the al-Qa’ida affiliated group Jabhat al-Nusra. The Saudis are also working quickly to turn the Jaysh al-Islam (the Army of Islam) into a powerful non-jihadi Islamist / Salafi group capable of reversing al-Assad's political and battlefield successes.
The third absentee is the history of the Syrian branch of the Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party and the geopolitical shifts within the wider region. In April 1946 French forces left Syria in the hands of a weak republican government. Defeat in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War resulted in instability and a U.S.-backed military coup d'état (1949). A period of relative calm followed. However, the 1956 Suez Crisis again created turmoil. After a series of internal military coups the Arab Socialist Resurrection Party (Ba'ath Party) took control in 1963 (Iraq had fallen to a Ba'athist coup the month before). Ba'athism's authoritarian regimes are often, with good reason, described as fascistic.
In 1967, Israel fought a pre-emptive war against Egypt and a defensive war against Jordan and Syria. Israel backed by the U.S. defeated these Soviet-backed states in that order. After another period of turmoil, power changed hands, with Hafez al-Assad taking control (November 1970) of the Ba'ath party and creating a dynasty that has lasted for 43 years. In 1973, Syria and Egypt attacked Israel and were again defeated. In 1976, Syria invaded Lebanon (which was in the midst of a complex civil war) and began a thirty-year military occupation (Israel invaded and vied for control in 1982). In the meantime, fundamentalist Sunni Muslims (Syria's population is 74% Arab, Kurdish and Turkoman -Sunni) under the banner of the Muslim Brotherhood fought al-Assad's “heretical” Ba'athist Shia Alawites from 1976 to 1982. These uprisings ended in the infamous Hama massacre.
The Lebanese and Syrian civil wars share several similarities. Both are deeply rooted in history, with an array of factions (driven by religious and ethnic sectarianism) becoming ever more radicalised by the brutality of conflict. Outside interventions stem from and are extensions of the historic webs of influence in the region. They were inside the conflicts from the beginning. As the stakes rise, the external powers seek to protect their interests with an ever greater ferocity. The power with by far the most to lose (in the Syrian civil war) is Russia, who has backed the 'friendly' government of Syria for decades with arms and economic aid, both of which have been provided in quantities sufficient to sustain the regime's military strength throughout the conflict. If al-Assad falls, the Russians fear and the U.S. hope, that Iran (and ironically Iraq) will eventually domino into America's sphere of influence.
However, isn't this yesterday's news? Today, after Ahmadinejad - Sharon and Netanyahu's years of infantile brinkmanship; Russia, the West and Iran's new president Rouhani seem to be tried with such antics and are seeking a détente, which revolves around Iran's nuclear program being subjected to a form of Western oversight in return for the easing of crippling U.S. imposed sanctions. Isn't this a victory for America? Perhaps the Iraq war could become a 'success' after all? With the regional destabilisations causing positions to become unsettled enough for the U.S. to achieve its aims without a further intervention. On the other side, by sidestepping America's casus belli for conflict: chemical weapons of Syria, the supposed nuclear weapons of Iran - Russia is stifling their ambitions of hegemonic expansion into its territories. And so the world's beacons of rationality continue in the twilight of climate change. And as usual, it is literally impossible to read between the chaos of unfolding events and the insanity of those willing to be involved in such matters. It is also a logical impossibility to state that everything you see is only caused by one thing and not everything else.
Choosing between Syria's mass murders through a lens of moral relativism (based on who backs them) shows both naïvety and ignorance. The short WLP blog post simply does not cover the needed ground to rebuff such a criticism. In fact, by including only one aspect of this bloody tapestry, which means choosing only that aspect - the post demands such a criticism.
After posting the blog, WLP tweeted: “After we met with Syrian [Prime Minister] & Dep[uty Foreign Minister], we understood how Syrians defeated the conspiracy of more than 86 countries against the country.”
The most recent Syrian uprising against the Russian-backed al-Assad dynasty was caused by climate change and a popular seething resentment towards an incompetent, rigid, oppressive government; factors seen within almost every Arab Spring country. It is not a “conspiracy” of “86 countries”. Despite what some on the left believe, the CIA did not cause crop failures across the world or create the Arab Spring in friendly countries in order to attack foes. The al-Assads have ruled through violence and fear because they are afraid of the deep sectarian rifts within Syria, not because of a few closely monitored and heavily outnumbered CIA assets.
To show the solidarity of the Austrialian people and the WLP with the difficulties the Syria is having at the moment. I think that the Syrian people and their courage is an example to the rest of the world in how to resist this plague of terrorism which is sweeping the Middle East and Central Asia. We will continue to expose the truth to the Australian people and to our international audience, and next year we will set up an office in Damascus.
Shipton went on to say after his Syrian state TV interview that “[Assad] invited us to call in and have a cup of tea, it was difficult to snub him, […] just a matter of good manners.”
What is the WLP's “plague of terrorism” composed of? Are they Bashar al-Assad's 'terrorists'? Bashar has said “We are fighting terrorists, 80-90% of those we are fighting belong to al-Qa'ida (ed. More accurately: 8 to 10% out of a force of 120,000. By labelling groups like the Free Syrian Army as al-Qa'ida, al-Assad is suggesting that all Sunnis' - 74% of the population - are 'terrorists'). They are not interested in reform or in politics. The only way to deal with them is to annihilate them.” Or are the 'terrorists' Bashar al-Assad's army and militias, who are also not particularly “interested in reform”. Indeed, if Assad had stepped down instead of slaughtering people behind a well-worn dictator's rhetoric of “foreign plots”, there would not have been a war (which he would have lost without Russian and Iranian support) or a danger of Western intervention and spillover.
Perhaps "the plague of terrorism which is sweeping the Middle East" are al-Assad father's Muslim Brotherhood foes who have now been branded as such by the Egyptian dictator General Sisi, all the better to “annihilate them”? Or are they the litany of 'terrorist' groups who received Hafez's patronage?
One thing is clear: “one man's terrorist is another man's revolutionary” (Harry's Game, by Gerald Seymour, 1975) and labelling fighters of a particular faction to disguise the causes of a conflict is to choose a side. Al-Qa'ida is Sunni and Syria has a majority Sunni population long oppressed by al-Assad's Shia Alawites, that is why they are there. And of course Assad has an equal number of foreign Shia jihadist fighters (around 10,000). In the context of this conflict, who are John Shipton's 'terrorists'? We don't know and likely never will - except that the “Syrian people” are resisting them, which presumably means they are resisting everyone, including themselves.
After creating a story within a media vacuum (filled only by a couple of tweets and a blog post) that would have overwhelm the PR departments of any major aid agency - and ended their field work - let alone the extra political difficulties that a small party would clearly encounter, the WLP Secretary Matt Watt tweeted “Further statements in coming days.” The next day the WLP tweeted "More info re[garding] Syria 1. Delegates paid travel costs 2. Office to help rebuild bridges, transparency & promote peace/ dialogue." and three days later posted 'Peace in Syria' by Mairead Maguire (it is unclear which is the "further statement"), which states:
The two WLP posts appear to use the language of the Arab Spring dictators, without any caveats or context. Robert Fisk “I am amazed at the idiocy of all of the various dictators in this region all say the same thing, it's a foreign plot, Gaddafi said it was al-Qaeda, Mossad and America, Sali said it was the same. We heard from Mubarak it was “foreign hands” and now this silly statement from Bashar al-Assad this week, saying there is a foreign hand involved. I don't think that is true. I think this is a real voice of a real people. I am amazed at the infantile way the various presidents have responded to what is a genuine movement on the streets.”
John Shipton's response to the political fallout from Syria was threatened legal action against anyone who calls him “stupid and reckless”. However, once again the WLP has been just that - stupid and reckless. The party has no influence in Syria, other than providing five minutes of propaganda to whichever side they were foolish enough to approach. And whilst walking in the distorted coat-tails of the 'ideologue for sale', Dr Tim Anderson, the selected side was always going to be al-Assad's.
WikiLeaks has stated on Twitter that “Peace brokering a good idea, but obvious meeting would be spun without care. Did not know or approve. Not fans of the censorship brigade. Opponents, especially, should talk, but preventing spin needs care.”
The fact that the WLP could not even manage to broker election preference choices between themselves, means the chances of achieving anything beyond was improbable. One must also ask, if the WLP are to set up a Damascus office, will they also include Moscow, Tehran, Langley and Riyadh, to “expose the truth to the Australian people”? Or is that not in keeping with Anderson's 'solidarity' agenda? Preventing spin needs care, but in the WLP's world, care and attention is yet to exist. After preferencing a neo-Nazis group, a group of elephant murderers and a group of homophobes, apparently the only thing left to do was to head for Syria and have tea with al-Assad.
So far, there has been no reform, no preferences inquiry and certainly no road to Damascus for the WikiLeaks Party.
No outside military intervention or support for militants should be allowed. The International community should put pressure on those countries who are fuelling terror to stop. And should encourage all parties to attend the Geneva II peace conference to give the Syrian people the right to self-determination through legal elections without foreign interference to achieve an honourable transformation towards a peaceful future and participation in the free democratic world.