Edward Snowdon
Edward Snowdon: His revelations (though not new) have launched an avalanche of introspection and head scratching.

The New York Times and the Guardian have been digging ever deeper into the activities of the US National Security Agency or NSA following the leaking by Edward Snowdon of information about how they were spying both on countries and ordinary people at home.  Hot on the heels of the Chelsea Manning and Wikileaks diplomatic cables episode, there has been a constant flow of stories reporting on nefarious activities of spooks and governments, embarrassing opinions, and the mechanisms by which international diplomacy and spying are conducted, though Wired Magazine had got there first.   There are numerous angles to all of this.  There is the technology problem, an Orwellian, Kurtzweilian post-humanist dystopia where technology trumps all, and big data and analytics undermines or redefines the essence of who we are and forces a kind of a re-evaluation of existence.  There is the human rights problem, the balancing of the right to privacy and – generally speaking – an avoidance of judgement of the individual by the state, with the obligation to secure the state.  This issue is complex – if for example we have an ability to know, to predict, to foretell that people are going to do bad things, but we choose not to do that because it would require predicting also which people were going to do not-bad things, and therefore invade their privacy, is that wrong?  Many people said after 9/11 ‘why didn’t we see this coming?’ Which leads to the question – if you could know all that was coming, would you want to know?

Syria's borders are all fraught
Syria’s borders are all fraught

Six months ago, it appeared obvious that Bashar Al-Assad was on his way out of Syria.  What was less clear, however, was who was likely to succeed him. And it is this particular point – the absence of a clear opposition – that has kept him in place. The various countries that have an interest are both local and global, and the rationale of each bears thinking about.

Let’s start with the neighbours.  Immediately surrounding Syria are Turkey, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Israel.  Hizbollah – and therefore Lebanon – is supporting Assad, primarily one suspects because they think he will win. Syria has long been a friend of the Palestinians.  Assad himself put it thus in 2002: “As far as an occupier is concerned, there is no distinction between soldiers and civilians… There is a distinction between armed and unarmed, but in Israel everyone is armed. In any case, we adopted the following concept: resistance to occupation is a legitimate right.”

I stumbled upon a most excellent article called The Meaning and Measurement of State Legitimacy by Dr Bruce Gilley, formerly of Princeton University and now at Portland State.   One of the most useful pieces of the article is the definition of State Legitimacy, which from my first reading appears to be interchangeable with the term political legitimacy.  Gilley explores the subjects, objects and sub-types of legitimacy.  Gilley then proceeds to do essentially what I have been discussing – a ‘strategy to achieve replicable cross-national measurements of legitimacy is then outlined and implemented, including a discussion of data sources and three alternative aggregation methods.’  He also has a book (right), which I’ve ordered.