May 12, 2012
Syria, why a Scandinavian general?
By Abdulateef Al-Mulhim
We have seen atrocities in Syria even Hollywood movie producers would not show in a horror movie
When a country starts sinking in the sand of political and social unrest, it is the people of the country who can save the country. No one else can, even a well-groomed Norwegian Major General. But, why are the Scandinavian politicians and generals always the ones who command peace missions and are they different from other generals?
In the early 1990s, I heard a maritime story from a US Naval officer at a graduation ceremony at Whiting Field, Florida. And the story was: The US was negotiating with Finland a possible deal to sell the Finnish Air Force F-18 planes. At the final stage, top Finnish generals met with US generals (or admirals) at the Finnish Embassy in Washington. After lengthy talks, the Finnish generals suggested to the American top brass to continue the discussion and wrap up their conversations in a well-known Finnish tradition, which is spending one hour in the sauna. Now, every one was in the sauna discussing the purchase of the most sophisticated plane in the world and the American and Finnish top military men were only wearing their birthday suites!
This is a brief American maritime story to show how peaceful and how different the Scandinavians are in their approach to events. Everyone thinks of a general, as someone who doesn’t smile, is always serious and only leads his troops or marines to battle. Well, not the Scandinavian generals. They are always peacekeepers and peace advocates. In fact, there is a rumor about the Swedish Air Force that claims, even during the Cold War, they didn’t operate on weekends. Another Scandinavian country, Iceland, doesn’t even have a standing army and their presidents don’t use the red carpets. To this day, I always wonder the whereabouts of the Finnish F-18. Maybe they have them stationed at Santa Claus’ village in Rovaniemi for last minute supersonic Christmas delivery of presents! Let’s be honest, Can you imagine a Finnish F-18 bombing a wedding ceremony in an Afghan village in a miscalculated air raid? No.
When the United Nation was founded in 1945, the first two consecutive UN secretary-generals were from Scandinavia. They were Norway’s Trygve Lie, and Sweden’s Dag Hammerskjold. And even though the two were civilians, they dealt with military conflicts. In later years it was Gunnar Jarring from Sweden who had the difficult job as the UN envoy to the Middle East, decades ago. So why are the Scandinavians, either civilian diplomats or military general the most trusted negotiators? People are even wondering why a Scandinavian (Norwegian) major general is in Syria?
Scandinavia consists of three main monarchies, Sweden-Norway-Denmark, in addition to two more countries, Finland and Iceland. These five countries have many high-ranking generals and admirals. And there is common thing among them. From WWII to this day, none of these countries had a general who ordered his troops to fight in battles. They are always in peacekeeping missions. The most remembered Scandinavian general in the Middle East is Ensio Siilasvuo. And even though he was engaged in battles during his early career and wounded twice, it was all during WWII. The most notable thing about this general is that, his father was also a general. Hjalmar Siilasvuo was the leader in the Finnish Winter War. Gen. Ensio Siilasvuo was the commander of the Finnish Contingent to Cyprus in 1965 and later on as a Commander of the (UNEF) in Sinai Peninsula and later on as the Coordinator of the Untied Nations Peace Keeping in the Middle East in the years 1973-1979.
And on Friday, April 27, 2012, another Scandinavian general was assigned to head the United Nations truce observer mission in Syria. The Norwegian Maj. Gen. Robert Mood will be leading about 300 observers to cover a country the size of the US state of North Dakota and engaged in an almost civil war. Maj. Gen. Robert Mood gave the solution to the Syrian uprising and killing even before the mission got started. He said that they would not be able to solve the Syrian problem alone. And this is true. It is the Syrians and only them who should stop the violence. We have seen atrocities in Syria even Hollywood movie producers would not show in a horror movie.
How can the Syrians accept these atrocities? Syria and Syrians deserve a better quality of life. And to this day, people are surprised about the attitude of Bashar Assad and his wife Asma Assad. Both of them are highly educated and both attended the best schools in the UK. He attended a post graduate training in ophthalmology at the Western Eye Hospital in London. And he was exposed to Western democracy and life in a Western society. And his wife was even more exposed to how life in the West is run. As a matter of fact, she didn’t know any other life outside Britain. Asma Assad was born in London in 1975. They both had a taste for French literature. So, why did they fail to at least to be more open to the Syrians, a country which is rich in culture, raw materials and fertile land? The Syrians are very proud and hard working people. Their land is the birthplace for many civilizations. Historians indicate that Damascus was the oldest inhibited city in the world. And it is part of the Fertile Crescent. The Syrians are very highly educated and were ahead of many countries in the area. It is important for the Syrian leadership to show the highest desire for a truce and a will to negotiate serious reforms. Syria had allied itself with many suspicious organizations and allied itself with radical states such as Iran and North Korea. So, let us hope that the Norwegian major general will lead a mission possible, not a mission impossible.
Abdulateef Al-Mulhim is Commodore (Retd.) of Royal Saudi Navy.