Russia and Syria
July 24, 2012 12:08 PM   Subscribe

"The Western observer tends to split the Russian press into two camps: evil statists and martyrs. But for their part, members of the Russian press are convinced of their superiority over their Western colleagues, at least when it comes to Syria. Russian journalists aren’t under the illusion that they are more objective than their Western counterparts, but they are convinced of their ability to convey a more realistic, complex picture of the events in Syria." - The New Republic: In Russia, Even Putin’s Critics Are OK With His Syria Policy
posted by beisny (34 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
Russians and Syrians, Allied by History and Related by Marriage
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:21 PM on July 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


er... is this synopsis correct?: "Russians think the American press is covering Syria wrong, but the Russian press hardly bothers to mention Syria."

I mean given the poor record of much of the American press I don't see the first point as necessarily being wrong, but frankly the criticism seems to be just criticism for the sake a criticism, rather than "hey, this is how to do it correctly". And to be honest, I'm not likely to give much credence to Putin's (president-for-life!) views on democracy of all things.


We do not want the situation to develop along the lines of a bloody civil war

to late P baby
posted by edgeways at 12:23 PM on July 24, 2012


Well, it certainly hasn't been civil.
posted by spicynuts at 12:25 PM on July 24, 2012


It's hardly like the Russians are against using excessive force to crush Islamist uprisings. Putin made his name on it in Chechnya, n'est-ce pas?
posted by Space_Lady at 12:28 PM on July 24, 2012


It's not exactly like the US press had a sterling record on Iraq....
posted by schmod at 12:29 PM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


“Many analysts are surprised that the West is supporting Islamist uprisings against secular regimes,” says Lukyanov. “What’s the end game? Tunisia, Egypt, Libya show that the Islamists win. In Russia, this causes alarm. The more Islamists there are in the Middle East, the more there will be in the Northern Caucasus,”

This is actually a beautiful summation of the deeper geopolitical game being played. The US and the EU would much rather the Islamic radicals went after a rival power.
posted by Slap*Happy at 12:33 PM on July 24, 2012


This is actually a beautiful summation of the deeper geopolitical game being played. The US and the EU would much rather the Islamic radicals went after a rival power.

Isn't that the game they played in Afghanistan?
posted by vidur at 12:39 PM on July 24, 2012


This is actually a beautiful summation of the deeper geopolitical game being played. The US and the EU would much rather the Islamic radicals went after a rival power.

That assumes there is a deeper geopolitical game being played on the part of the US than "Well, what the hell do we do now?" Uhh, that looks like an oppressive dictatorship killing their own people, let's tell them to stop. And oh yeah, Israel." The alternative viewpoint is frankly, conspiratorial.
posted by happyroach at 12:42 PM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


to late P baby

what
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 12:56 PM on July 24, 2012


Being secular itself is not much of a value when it comes along with authoritarianism.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 12:57 PM on July 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


P baby = Putin.

Too late = it's already civil war.
posted by spicynuts at 12:59 PM on July 24, 2012


"“Many analysts are surprised that the West is supporting Islamist uprisings against secular regimes,” says Lukyanov. “What’s the end game? "

While American foreign policy does sometimes seem hopelessly naive and idealistic, there is legitimate reason for this.

Ultimately, democracy isn't about pro-Westernism, something that many Westerners don't realize. It's about peaceful transitions of power within a nation-state. If you allow this to happen, you defuse the ticking time bomb that is every oppressive, authoritarian regime.

While the Russian viewpoint is clearly more pragmatic, in the long run it doesn't do you any good to support authoritarian regimes.

The flip side of this is that the practice democracy is cultural. If the people do not culturally believe in the democratic process, it will fail. Eventually some elected do-gooder will refuse to give up power because his opponents "do not believe in democracy", paradoxically killing democracy.
posted by Xoebe at 1:01 PM on July 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


well i think they're right, even if it's for the wrong reasons. which american journalist knows jack squat about syria? i would sincerely like to know.

the u.s. is intervention-mad. they go in without knowing what the hell they're getting into, and thinking they know better than everyone else. makes you wonder whether it's not all being done for an ulterior motive, like establishing military bases all over the world. hm...
posted by facetious at 1:01 PM on July 24, 2012


The American press is a business with a product - "news" - that is crafted in order to sell advertising. Americans love "democratic revolutions" even though the particular crisis may have little that resembles a fight for "freedom" in the American sense of that term. The median doesn't care - it just moves on to another story and the American public waits for the next revolution.

The media has been producing "reality television" (in the faux scripted sense) way before the advent of the Jersey Shore, Kardashian scourge.
posted by incandissonance at 1:03 PM on July 24, 2012


P baby

All babies pee, but only a few babies truly whiz.

---

Eventually some elected do-gooder will refuse to give up power because his opponents "do not believe in democracy", paradoxically killing democracy.

I think we can occasional pick up whiffs of that in the air in most Democratic systems, certainly in the U.S. If the only people who truly believe in democracy and freedom freedom freedom are the people in your political party, then logically the other parties don't believe it in and should be denied power.
posted by Joey Michaels at 1:05 PM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


> “Many analysts are surprised that the West is supporting Islamist uprisings against secular regimes,” says Lukyanov. “What’s the end game? Tunisia, Egypt, Libya show that the Islamists win. In Russia, this causes alarm. The more Islamists there are in the Middle East, the more there will be in the Northern Caucasus,”

A quick search of google news:
Libyan elections favor secular coalition over Islamist party‎
USA TODAY - 6 days ago
CAIRO – A coalition of secular parties in Libya known as the National Forces Alliance won just shy of half the seats allocated to parties in ...
Blog: Jibril's centrist party wins Libya's elections‎ Foreign Policy (blog)
Libya election results place liberal alliance ahead of Islamists ...‎ Washington Post
Libya election success for secularist Jibril's bloc‎ BBC News
linky

So uhh, 'journalists' who comment on a election results without actually knowing the results.
posted by mulligan at 1:06 PM on July 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


That assumes there is a deeper geopolitical game being played on the part of the US than "Well, what the hell do we do now?" Uhh, that looks like an oppressive dictatorship killing their own people, let's tell them to stop. And oh yeah, Israel." The alternative viewpoint is frankly, conspiratorial.

Yeah that would just be crazy. The U.S. has never conspired to invade a country under false pretenses.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 1:29 PM on July 24, 2012


- well i think they're right, even if it's for the wrong reasons. which american journalist knows jack squat about syria? i would sincerely like to know.

- The American press is a business with a product - "news" - that is crafted in order to sell advertising. Americans love "democratic revolutions" even though the particular crisis may have little that resembles a fight for "freedom" in the American sense of that term. The median doesn't care - it just moves on to another story and the American public waits for the next revolution.

This kind of thinking is very odd and feels almost archaic. International communication is extremely easy nowadays. We have access to news from all over the world. European and Arab news agencies don't agree with the conspiracy riddled news being pushed by a lot of Russian news agencies.

It isn't difficult to access people in countries like Libya and Syria, or people with relatives there and actually get at the truth.
Sure the American media has flaws, sometimes they drop the ball completely on important stories. But that doesn't mean it is happening with Syria. It didn't happen with Libya.
posted by mulligan at 1:32 PM on July 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


Being secular itself is not much of a value when it comes along with authoritarianism.

I don't think it's quite so simple. Whose to say what replaces this will not be authoritarian? What if the end result of these secular, authoritarian non-democracies has higher literacy, more personal freedoms for women and minority religions, better urban infrastructure, greater prosperity for individuals and less deaths than the democratic alternative? Is life better for the average Iraqi in post-Saddam Iraq? It was a modern, stable country with less people dying and more reliable electricity before we fixed it up.
posted by floam at 1:38 PM on July 24, 2012


Here is the "complex" view of the Russian press per the article:

“The Russian press is more accurate than the Western press, because the West, in painting [the Free Syrian Army] as freedom fighters, doesn’t understand that these guys, are blood-sucking vampires and if they come to power there will be hell to pay, and for the Americans, too,” says Maxim Yusin, the deputy editor of the foreign affairs section of the daily newspaper Kommersant, Russia’s largest and among its more liberal.

Painting the Free Syrian partisans in this utterly negative light is hardly nuanced or insightful.

In reality, Assad is a brutal dictator, but the forces opposing him are so splintered and diverse that it is hard to know what will emerge when (as I believe is inevitable) he is overthrown. That will be chaotic, to the point of making Libya and Egypt seem stable by contrast. Only one thing seems likely: Russia's name will be mud.
posted by bearwife at 1:46 PM on July 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


What a terrible article, but what else would you expect from TNR?

“Russians understand it better,” Yusin explains. “They understand that this is a conflict between the civilized world and the suicide bombers who cry ‘Allahu akbar!’”

Yup, that's some deep understanding right there.

Don't get me wrong, American media have done a pretty shitty job of covering Syria, but it's better than it would have been a few years ago (the disasters in Iraq and Afghanistan have had a chastening effect, and have even taught journalists some important distinctions), and it's a hell of a lot better than anything mentioned in this ridiculous piece. When you start off quoting Putin as your exemplar of reasoned analysis, you've pretty much given up at the outset.
posted by languagehat at 1:47 PM on July 24, 2012 [10 favorites]


Is life better for the average Iraqi in post-Saddam Iraq? It was a modern, stable country with less people dying and more reliable electricity before we fixed it up.

The actions of the authoritarian dictator played a pretty major role in leading to the country being involved in three separate major wars which progressively fucked the country up more and more. I'm not a fan of military intervention and the American occupation was extremely stupid, but Saddam is most responsible for what happened to that country.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 2:16 PM on July 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


“What’s the end game? Tunisia, Egypt, Libya show that the Islamists win.

Libya and Tunisia don't show that and the jury is still out on Egypt. Secularists won in Libya. In Tunisia, human rights activist Moncef Marzouki was chosen president of Tunisia by a ruling coalition dominated by the moderate Islamist Nahda party (who has a female member who goes without a headscarf). At the time of his election, Marzouki was head of the secular center-left Congress for the Republic party.

A party leader of Nahda (Rashid Al-Ghannushi) said in a public debate:
“Why are we put in the same place as a model that is far from our thought, like the Taliban or the Saudi model, while there are other successful Islamic models that are close to us, like the Turkish, the Malaysian and the Indonesian models; models that combine Islam and modernity?”
Not Western-style secularism, but no evidence of fundamentalism, either.
posted by spaltavian at 2:19 PM on July 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Whenever I see images of the fighting in Syria in US news media, it is always from behind the rebel lines. It's almost as if the New York Times is "embedded" with the Free Syrian Army. The editorial slant is always extremely clear as well: The USA is on the side of the Rebels fighting Assad. Of course that's fine, but it irritates me that there is any pretense of impartiality. Impartiality in this case is deciding not to bomb Syria.

languagehat, yes we have learned some lessons, but I think practically all the media has learned is to define a more politically plausible narrative. That is, fit for domestic political consumption, while advancing our interests in the gulf. It is ever the same as it was, like in Gulf War II and Afghanistan..
posted by kuatto at 2:21 PM on July 24, 2012


The NYT's coverage of Syria has seemed pretty decent to me - Times Topic: Syria. Also, semi-related, Anthony Shadid.
posted by rosswald at 3:53 PM on July 24, 2012


American press vs Russian press?

The answer is neither -- Al Jazeera.
posted by JackFlash at 4:07 PM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah that would just be crazy. The U.S. has never conspired to invade a country under false pretenses.

Still falls under the "What the hell do we do now" category, with a heavy dose of delusional thinking by the higher ups as well.

Whenever I see images of the fighting in Syria in US news media, it is always from behind the rebel lines. It's almost as if the New York Times is "embedded" with the Free Syrian Army. The editorial slant is always extremely clear as well: The USA is on the side of the Rebels fighting Assad. Of course that's fine, but it irritates me that there is any pretense of impartiality. Impartiality in this case is deciding not to bomb Syria.

If the US was really on the side of the rebels, and had any clue as to what to do, it would be doing more than sponsoring ineffective UN resolutions.
posted by happyroach at 4:22 PM on July 24, 2012


happyroach, Something like funnel RPGs, machine guns and ammunition via operatives in Turkey?
posted by kuatto at 4:37 PM on July 24, 2012


What a terrible article, but what else would you expect from TNR?

...

“Russians understand it better,” Yusin explains. “They understand that this is a conflict between the civilized world and the suicide bombers who cry ‘Allahu akbar!’”


Anecdata in the article's defense: I hear the "what you don't understand, dear boy, is that [insert disliked brown skinned group here] are all idiotic scum, therefore you are wrong and naive" argument from my extended Russian family and their friends very often.
posted by tempythethird at 4:55 PM on July 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Whenever I see images of the fighting in Syria in US news media, it is always from behind the rebel lines. It's almost as if the New York Times is "embedded" with the Free Syrian Army.

The rebels have better media teams. No, really. Assad isn't going to let Western reporters go anywhere or see anything that's not heavily managed. I've know I've read or heard coverage about how reporters can't get real interviews with, for example, pro-Assad minorities. But the authorities keep Western reporters on a short leash.
posted by BungaDunga at 6:43 PM on July 24, 2012


Yeah, the TNR article didn't seem to be endorsing the Russian press view, just expressing what it is. And yes, in agreement with tempythethird: The level of anti-Muslim hatred and absolutely unapologetic anti-Arab racism among even very educated Russians would shock a Klansman.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 11:11 PM on July 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


> Yeah, the TNR article didn't seem to be endorsing the Russian press view, just expressing what it is.

I wish I could believe you, but if that's how they meant the piece to be read, they didn't do a good job of it. Here's the heart of it:
The Western observer tends to split the Russian press into two camps: evil statists and martyrs. But for their part, members of the Russian press are convinced of their superiority over their Western colleagues, at least when it comes to Syria. Russian journalists aren’t under the illusion that they are more objective than their Western counterparts, but they are convinced of their ability to convey a more realistic, complex picture of the events in Syria.

...

In large part, this is because the Russian point of view starts with the naiveté of the Western point of view, and its corollary: That Russians alone can glimpse the ugly truths that run the world.

...

Russians are happy to dish out this kind of straight talk, sweeping cultural sensitivities aside, because they consider such constructs to be artificial and twee—and therefore dangerous. In the Russian mind, geopolitics are a hard and serious business; they are not a proper venue for American idealism and, unfortunately, there are many bungled Western interventions to back the Russians up.
The parts I've bolded are in the magazine's voice, and although, yes, they're explicitly talking about what the Russians think, they're expressed in a gung-ho kind of language that to me is clear journalese for "This is an important point of view that we think is well worth listening to." It would be easy to rewrite it as if it were written by someone who thought the Russian pretension to better-informed "straight talk" was pernicious bullshit.

> And yes, in agreement with tempythethird: The level of anti-Muslim hatred and absolutely unapologetic anti-Arab racism among even very educated Russians would shock a Klansman.

Oh, sure, I have no quarrel with that. And it's not just anti-Arab racism, either; I heard some nasty things about blacks and the "yellow peril" when I was Over There—which, granted, was in Soviet days, but I have no reason to think it's changed.
posted by languagehat at 11:17 AM on July 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


Jacobin - Tom Friedman as Midwife :'In the aftermath of Pulitzer champ Thomas Friedman’s latest New York Times offering, “Syria Is Iraq,” commentators have begun to question whether Friedman himself has not discovered the joys of Friedman-parodying.'
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:24 PM on July 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Jadaliyya: My 50 Minutes With Manaf
Manaf Tlass was no businessman, having gone the route of his father, Mustafa, the former defense minister who was a close confidante of Hafiz al-Asad for decades. But his brother, Firas, was. Many offspring of the Syrian leadership had gone the entrepreneurial route, and by the late 1980s they had become big businessmen, often with the aid of connections to consummate insiders like Manaf. Firas Tlass is said not to have exploited his connections as much as others, but the fact is that policymakers and policy takers in Syria were increasingly bound together. And there was another model that proved even more efficient at generating profits: The state official himself was a businessman in his capacity as a private citizen, creating what I called “fusion” between the public and private sectors.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:04 PM on July 29, 2012


« Older PSY (Park Jae Sang) is a Korean singer, previously...  |  "According to a photo publishe... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments