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Sep 2, 2013

Support for Syrian missile strike could test Labor unity

The Labor Party takes a far more nuanced view of Syria than recent bellicose statements from the Foreign Minister would suggest.

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As the US prepares to rain down cruise missiles on Damascus, the Labor government has declared its support for unilateral action, claiming that a targeted airstrike is the only way to send a message to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad over his widely reported use of chemical weapons. But deep down, some on the Labor frontbench may be squeamish about toeing the party line.

On Saturday in Sydney hundreds of protesters waving “Hands off Syria” placards took to the streets to warn US President Barack Obama off military action, joining thousands in London and Washington. Foreign Minister Bob Carr was unbowed, claiming a strike was warranted and that the Obama administration could be trusted to carry out the attack: “We think that if a government in this day and age uses chemical weapons against innocent men, women and children, it deserves a response.”

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who likes to speak on Syria at every opportunity because it makes him look like an international statesman, has suggested that Australia could use its presidency of the UN Security Council to slap down a veto-wielding Russia by making a statement in favour of intervention. The PM has also been keen to expose Tony Abbott’s lack of foreign affairs experience, bigging up briefings from departmental officials and stating that the Opposition Leader wanted to “wish away” the conflict because it wasn’t his “preferred field of operations”.

Interestingly, while Abbott has slammed the use of sarin gas on rebels as an “abomination”, he has shied away from committing Australia to a military role, stating that although it was important to “support our friends and allies”, Security Council resolutions were pending and the Mediterranean region was outside Australia’s sphere of influence. On Insiders yesterday Abbott unwisely characterised the conflict as between “baddies and baddies”, drawing ridicule from Rudd.

But there remains substantial scepticism within the Labor Party about the wisdom of launching an assault, especially among MPs whose electorates contain strong Alawite communities (the Alawite sect, loyal to al-Assad, makes up around 12% of Syria’s population of 23 million).

For example, at an as-yet unreported speech at a “Hands off Syria” gala dinner on April 20, Deputy Prime Minister Anthony Albanese spoke strongly about Syria’s history as a “secular state where people were able to live side by side with respect.”

“It is absolutely vital that respect and tolerance return,” Albanese said, calling the grave situation in Syria “nothing short of an humanitarian crisis”.

To strong applause, the then-local government minister said it was important not to let foreign forces use Syria as the venue for a proxy war:

“I note that there are of course as often happens with international conflict people who seek to engage by proxy their conflict in another country. It is it is absolutely important that Syria’s future be determined by those people in Syria and not forces outside Syria who seek to wage a proxy battle.”

Albanese, a recent visitor at the Alawi Centre in Carrington Road, Marrickville, in his electorate of Grayndler, recalled meeting with top al-Assad international media adviser and former government minister Bouthaina Shaaban on a Canberra visit a few years back:

“I’ve had the honour of meeting Minister Shaaban when she visited Canberra just a few years ago. A sophisticated leader in Middle East, a sophisticated, impressive leader from a part of the world that is indeed the cradle of civilisation and of course the birthplace of the three great monotheistic religions.”

Albanese explained his overall take on the issue thus:

“It is absolutely vital that peace and respect return to Syria…the reason I engage in political activity is very much to advance peace, to advance harmony, to support tough tolerance, to support multiculturalism, and to support respect for each other … I once again state my preparedness to do what I can on behalf of the local [Syrian] community in terms of assisting individuals or assisting issues of which are genuinely of such great concern.”

Lebanese community leader Sheikh Kamel Wehbe also spoke at the dinner in defence of Syria.

Crikey understands that there are numerous Left-aligned Labor MPs in caucus that are equally reticent about the prospect of Syria turning into another Iraq and are dismayed that Rudd and Carr have been beating the drum of war as an election draws near.

In February 2012, Albanese slapped down Zionist Melbourne Ports MP Michael Danby, who called in a Labor caucus meeting for local Syrian diplomats to be expelled from Canberra. Albanese said diplomatic staff provided vital services for the community. Syrian charge d’affaires, Jawdat Ali, was expelled by Carr three months later.

The split among progressives has been mirrored elsewhere. On Saturday, Democracy for America, the organisation founded out of Howard Dean’s anti-war 2004 presidential run, sent out an email to supporters in which it conceded it was rent down the middle on military action and therefore couldn’t advocate for an official position.

Albanese told Crikey this afternoon that “As a supporter of democracy, I have consistently opposed political violence in Syria and I am absolutely horrified at recent reports that chemical weapons have been used in defiance of international law.”

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11 comments

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Venise Alstergren
Member

The editor of the Herald Sun: “”These are the kinds of shows that interest the vast majority of our readers.””

Quite so! Heaven forbid that any of your readers has to think.

Venise Alstergren
Member

ANDREW CROOK:

I’m so sorry. My finger slipped and the comment meant for another article wandered into here.

Delorus Major
Member

What ever Danby says, do the opposite.

Delorus Major
Member

Yes, I agree with the above comment. The minister for Haifa Ports should stop exposing his Zionist agenda so obviously. Atleast conceal it a bit better and allow the Australian public to give him the B.O.D. That’s a Cricket term, but Mr Danby probably would n’t know that.

Kevin Herbert
Member
The followinbg take on the Syrian crisis by Australia’s Dr Gideon Polya covers all of the bases in this discussion: “US state terrorism and Israeli state terrorism are poised to destroy another largely Muslim country, Syria . The US has been funding the rebsls (support for terrorism) and Apartheid Israel has already been bombing Syria (a war crime). The serial war-maker, war criminal and pro-Zionist Obama Administration asserts that the Syrian Government has used chemical agents against civilians and is positioning American forces to bomb and devastate Syria . However there is no conclusive evidence for the Obama Adminstration conclusion… Read more »
Delorus Major
Member

Thanks for that Kevin. It confirms what we already know from other sources.
Cheers

MikeR
Member
Clearly some of the commentators above have received an advance copy of the UN report or have independently conducted their own investigations on the ground in Syria. I have no idea if the chemical weapons attack was conducted by the Syrian government or the Syrian opposition. At this stage, blame for the chemical weapons attack is being apportioned according to one’s own particular prejudices which are clearly on display here. Events have overtaken some of the comments above. I note that a comment was made a couple of days before the election regarding Kevin Rudd and the ‘Australian Lackey Party’.… Read more »
Limited News
Member

Albo for the leadership

MikeR
Member
As a postscript to references that have appeared in Crikey to ‘false flag’ ruses. Clearly it is a possibility that the Syrian opposition may have conspired to either fabricate the evidence for a chemical weapons attack by the Assad regime or may have been themselves responsible. We may never know the truth, which may be moot, as both sides appear to be pulling back from confrontation, which is excellent news. The whole idea of false flag conspiracies is pertinent at this time of the year as we are coming up to the 12th anniversary of 9/11.n In this context, the… Read more »
Kevin Herbert
Member

BEWARE: lightweight Wikipedia based polemicists abound…what a waste of space

MikeR
Member
Assuming that the above is aimed at me, I will confess that the generous attribution of lightweight is not the best description when it comes to matters corporeal. Flabby middleweight is probably more apt. If however, it referred to matters intellectual, it is clear that the above contributor’s intellectual portfolio is heavily over weighted in the area of pretentious self regard and seriously underweight in all other areas. He urgently needs to speak to an adviser, as it dangerous to have all one’s eggs in the one basket. I was also puzzled by the reference to Wiki as there has… Read more »
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