Stephen Hawking wrote a remarkably lame opinion piece for the WaPo (“Syria’s war must end” – WaPo – 2014-02-14) in which he demonstrates that his phenomenal understanding of physics has come at the expense of his understanding of the real world. In it he chides the world and is shamefaced for us all at the horrific atrocities in Syria. It’s basically a “think of the children!” piece, but I wanted to address a few of the things he has to say.
“[…] humans still have the instincts, and in particular the aggressive impulses, that we had in caveman days. Aggression has had definite advantages for survival, but when modern technology meets ancient aggression the entire human race and much of the rest of life on Earth is at risk.”
This should really tell us all we need to know about the distinguished professor’s grasp of world events. This war started as an uprising against the dictatorial oppression of “president” Bashar al-Assad and has morphed into a war between his forces and those that would replace him. There are Islamic jihadists aplenty on both sides, with Iran supplying the government with fighters and the opposition consisting of jihadists of varying degrees of fervor, the most extreme of which are allied with Al Qaeda. They are not fighting because they have “aggressive impulses”; they are fighting for their power, their god, and their survival.
“What’s happening in Syria is an abomination, one that the world is watching coldly from a distance. Where is our emotional intelligence, our sense of collective justice? […] The international community has watched from the sidelines for three years as this conflict rages […]”
The “international community” (whatever that means) has been – no, wait, I can’t accept that term. There is no “international community”, and if there were, Hawking is not referring to the small and powerless states which are members thereof. Regional and world players have been engaged in this war for years. The United Nations (i.e., the EU) has been holding talks but they fell apart because Bashir won’t step down and the rebels won’t give up. As mentioned, Iran is supplying Bashar not just with Revolutionary Guard fighters but war materiel as well. Lebanese Hizbollah fighters are in Syria fighting for Bashar. Russia has provided diplomatic interference on Bashar’s behalf as well as providing various intelligence products and massive amounts of weapons and weapons platforms. The United States has provided some millions of dollars for the rebels (and a bunch of empty threats against Bashar). Saudi Arabia reportedly will be providing anti-aircraft and anti-tank missiles. You’d have to be blind ignorant to think that the world is watching from the sidelines – well, China is sitting this one out, but China doesn’t give a flying F about the rest of the world unless it involves their geopolitical or business interests.
The conflict ends when a negotiated peace is reached or one side wins, and Hawking provides no guidance here.