Robert Johnson writes: This will likely be rare support for Gari Sullivan (yesterday, comments) on Syria, whose observations remain largely valid despite the rapid events on the ground in the subsequent 24-plus hours.

Wednesday’s escalation of conflict in Syria’s capital by heavily armed rebel groups was further reminder of the “end justifies means” nature of this situation and the way in which civilian populations overwhelmingly opposed to the rebels are caught up in it. This is not to excuse the repressive side of the Assad government (or “regime”, as we seem to switch to describing governments we no longer support), but does help to explain a large part of the stance of Russia and China in wanting a diplomatic solution. (“Part” because of broader regional concerns of less interest to Western states, such as proximate Chechen Muslim instability, as well as Russia no doubt being as interested in the future of its Syrian military base as is the US in ensuring oil flows and of displacing that Russian presence.)

But this is at least as much a proxy US war on Iran than a seeming extension of the Arab Spring, despite the rhetoric to the contrary. We need to be careful what we wish for, as the mass arming of anti-Assad groups by Saudi Arabia and others, and their rapid military training by foreign mercenary groups in Jordan, can have no pleasant outcome. The West is already busy propping up “regimes” that are disastrous for the rights of Muslim women, notably in Afghanistan (even to the extent of trying to rewrite or suppress inconvenient truths), plus Saudi Arabia and others, let alone the big risk of adding Syria to the list.

In her 2008 presidential campaign, Hillary Clinton made no secret of her desire to bomb Iran and, as US Secretary of State, is fast running out of time if she intends to stand down at the end of President Obama’s current term. Toppling Assad to further isolate Iran could appease her desire. The Syrian rebel forces have long found themselves better armed for internal combat than Syrian government forces (as regularly reported, at least by Al Jazeera), even as media have focused on the state’s arming by Russia as if only anti-government forces should be armed and how (or why) they get them is of no interest. And thus the violence has been able to be extended into other parts of Syria, notably Aleppo and Damascus, while US-led efforts have appeared to run counter to Kofi Annan’s efforts for a diplomatic solution while purporting to support them, albeit as being too late.

Of course, once President Assad has been ousted, it is almost certain that Syria will switch to US weapons suppliers: a win-win. Wednesday’s escalation also seems to raise new hopes for the West that regime change is possible without disruption to oil flows: another win-win. After it’s all over, we will presumably — it’s become a bit of a pattern within regime change — see fuller reports of civilian casualties that, surprise surprise, were at least as much perpetrated by “our” side as by the “bad guys”. But if previous Democrat Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said that the deaths of 500,000 Iraqi children was a price worth paying in a conflict in which the justification was manufactured, this is likely also the view of the incumbent when the goal is more than simply regime change.

Mainstream media coverage — including by Crikey — treats Syria as simply a black and white situation; it is not.

David Mendelssohn writes: Re. Wednesday’s Editorial. I’m sorry to say that, in my very firm opinion, your editorial about Syria was way off beam.

The so-called Syrian opposition do not want to turn Syria into a democracy. They are a very narrowly based Sunni Muslim grouping, mainly based in the Homs province, who want to replace the dictatorship of the Assad family with an intolerant Sunni dictatorship. There is no evidence to dispute this undoubted fact.

This will be bad news for the various minorities who have received decades of protection from the Assad regime, in particular Shia Muslims (of whom Assad himself is one) and Syria’s substantial Christian minority. There is little doubt that, should the anti-Assad forces prevail, there will be widespread massacres of Shia and possibly of Christians as well.  There will certainly be no quarter given to secularists, democrats, liberals, socialists and other leftists (many of whom are themselves Sunni Muslims). They will certainly be put to the sword.

That is the reality of what the West is supporting for Syria. I believe Russia’s approach is far more in accord with reality. Also note the silence of Israel on the subject. Israel is certainly no friend of Assad’s, but its border with Syria has been pretty much undisturbed for a long time. Why would the Israelis want to upset that situation?


Kathleen Hughes writes: Re. “Rundle: no happy returns as the Mitt hits the fan” (yesterday, item 3). When people say Oz press political commentary is far less analytical than your average tabloid footy article, and breathlessly obsessed only with gossip and trivia, I have often pointed to Crikey to refute. So, although I usually cheer you on I have to take issue with Guy Rundle’s coarse, ignorant and misogynistic comment today about educated women “rushing to the bathroom to change their panties”, after hearing Obama sing. That’s not funny, just gross.

RESPECT please. Educated or not, most women aren’t just dripping v-ginas, Mr Rundle, however much p-rn and paid lap dancing companions you may have gasped and groaned to. Charming eh? Maybe you have to change your jocks quite a lot but when women are aroused, which is unlikely to occur simply  because a president sings in tune, women generally won’t have to “rush to the bathroom to change their panties”; clearly you don’t know a lot about women’s arousal, Mr Rundle.

If Obama’s singing turned you on so you had a little accident, just say so, we’re mostly grown-ups here.