what's left

Archive for May 2013

Canada’s Nonsense Trade Ban on Iran

with 4 comments

By Stephen Gowans

Who says you can’t form accurate judgments of people on the basis of first impressions? Long before he was Canada’s foreign minister, before he was even elected to public office, John Baird knocked at my door and introduced himself as a candidate in my riding for an election that had yet to be called. From the moment he spoke, I took a visceral dislike to him and pegged him for what he is: a demagogic creep whose life mission is pandering to the powerful.

His actions since have done nothing to soften my view. Consider, for example, his recent announcement that Canada will impose a total trade ban on Iran. Canada exports a few bushels of wheat to Iran in return for a truckload of Persian rugs. The ban means little sacrifice at home—and little pain for Iranians. In other words, it’s symbolic.

But it gives Baird a platform from which to demonize Iran and, in doing so, to ingratiate himself with Washington and Tel Aviv. Baird says the ban is necessary to punish Iran’s “reckless and irresponsible” behaviour in increasing its uranium enrichment activities. Problem is, there’s nothing reckless or irresponsible about Iran enriching uranium. Indeed, if anyone is reckless and irresponsible, it’s Canada.

As a non-nuclear weapons party to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, Iran has a right to enrich uranium, as long as it refrains from diverting fissile material to military use. The International Atomic Energy Agency—which monitors Iran’s enrichment activities—has never reported a single instance of Iran diverting fissile material. What’s more, Argentina, Brazil, Germany and Japan also enrich uranium on their own soil. When last I checked, Baird wasn’t denouncing these countries’ enrichment activities as reckless and irresponsible.

Iran has no nuclear weapons. And the US intelligence community says that, in its view, the Iranians aren’t developing them. As to the charge that Iran is just a few years away from a bomb, that canard has been around since the mid-1980s. And still Iran hasn’t a single nuclear weapon.

There’s nothing about Iran’s enrichment activities that are worthy of a trade ban. Except pandering to Israel. Which is kind of tricky considering that unlike Iran, Israel actually does have nuclear weapons—an estimated 400, and the means to deliver them by missiles, aircraft and submarines. Even if it did have nuclear weapons, Iran would—without long range bombers and submarines, and with missiles of limited range—struggle to deliver them.

Moreover, unlike Iran, Israel bars IAEA inspectors from monitoring its nuclear facilities. It won’t join the Non-Proliferation Treaty, despite UN resolutions directing it to do so. If any country were deserving of a total trade ban, Israel would seem to fit the bill, not only for its nuclear activities, but for its ongoing oppression of Palestinians and habit of attacking its neighbors.

Baird, then, can’t possibly be concerned about the presence of nuclear weapons in the Middle East.

Or anywhere else, for that matter.

In 2010—and here’s where Canadian recklessness and irresponsibility come in–Canada signed off on a deal to export uranium to India, despite concerns that the south Asian country would use the uranium to free up its domestic supply for military use. It’s widely believed that India used a research reactor sold to it by Canada to obtain weapons-grade plutonium to develop its first nuclear weapons. Because India, like Israel, is not a party to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, there are no international inspectors in India to ensure that uranium is used for peaceful purposes alone, as there are in Iran.

All of which means that Canada is about to sell uranium to a south Asian proliferator for commercial gain while imposing a symbolic trade ban on a non-proliferator to curry favour with a west Asian proliferator. And the west Asian proliferator is the regional attack dog of a country loaded to the gunwales with nuclear weapons, and no intention of relinquishing the political utility they provide in bullying other countries.

As I said: pandering to the powerful.

Finally, let’s be clear. As Peter Oborne and David Morrison point out in their excellent book, A Dangerous Delusion: Why the West is Wrong about Nuclear Iran, the West never had a problem with Iran’s nuclear program when Washington’s marionette, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, ruled with an iron fist in Tehran. It was only when the Iranians sent Pahlavi packing and asserted their independence that the United States turned sour on Iran’s civilian nuclear energy program—and much else about the country too.

Advertisements

Written by what's left

May 30, 2013 at 5:09 pm

What the Syrian Constitution says about Assad and the Rebels

with 15 comments

By Stephen Gowans

The idea that the uprising against the Syrian government is inspired by a grassroots movement thirsting for a pluralist, democratic state is a fiction. The opposition’s chief elements are Islamists who seek to establish a Sunni-dominated Islamic state in place of a Syrian government they revile for being secular and dominated by Alawi “heretics.” “Al Qaeda-linked groups…dominate rebel ranks,” notes The Wall Street Journal. [1] “There is frustration with the West’s inability to help nurture a secular military or political opposition to replace Mr. Assad,” echoes The New York Times. [2] “Islamic forces seem to be ascendant within the opposition,” observes Gerald F. Seib. [3]

Indeed, almost from the opening moments of the latest outbreak of Islamic unrest in Syria, the government has said that while some protesters have legitimate grievances, the uprising is driven by militant Islamists with foreign backing.” [4] It’s no secret that Saudi Arabia and Qatar- monarchies which abominate democracy—are furnishing Islamist militants with arms, while Turkey, Jordan, Israel, France, Britain and the United States are also lending support.

Syria’s post-colonial history is punctuated by Islamist uprisings. The Muslim Brotherhood organized riots against the government in 1964, 1965, 1967 and 1969. It called for a Jihad against then president Hafiz al-Assad, the current president’s father, denigrating him as “the enemy of Allah.” By 1977, the Mujahedeen were engaged in a guerrilla struggle against the Syrian army and its Soviet advisers, culminating in the 1982 occupation of the city of Hama. The Syrian army quelled the occupation, killing 20,000 to 30,000. Islamists have since remained a perennial source of instability in Syria and the government has been on continual guard against “a resurgence of Sunni Islamic fundamentalists.” [5] The resurgence, touched off by uprisings in surrounding countries, prompted Glen E. Robinson to write in Current History that the rebellion was a continuation of “Syria’s Long Civil War.” [6]

But the Western media, echoing former colonialist powers and high officials in Washington, would call it something different: a popular, grassroots uprising against a brutal dictator. Today, however, the flood of YouTube videos by Islamic terrorists, chronicling their killings of POWs, eviscerations of captured soldiers, and barbecuing of heads, has spoiled the narrative. It’s no longer possible to angelize the Syrian rebellion as a popular insurrection against dictatorship. Now even the Wall Street Journal and New York Times share Assad’s view.

Still, the rebels’ spin doctors aren’t yielding entirely. They insist that while the rebellion may be dominated by religious fanatics with a penchant for terrorism, that it wasn’t always so. Instead, they say, it began as a peaceful plea for democracy that was eventually hijacked by jihadists only after the government used brute force to crush a protest movement. At that point, protesters were forced to take up arms in self-defense.

This view is dishonest. To start, it sweeps aside the reality that the rebellion is dominated by Islamists who care not one whit for democracy and indeed are actively hostile to it. What’s more, it conceals the fact that the Assad government made substantial concessions in the direction of creating the kind of pluralist, democratic society the rebels are said to thirst for. The rebels rejected the concessions, and that they did, underscores the fact that the rebellion’s origins are to be found in Islamist, not democratic, ambitions.

In response to protestors’ demands, Damascus made a number of concessions that were neither superficial nor partial.

First, it cancelled the long-standing abridgment of civil liberties that had been authorized by the emergency law. The law, invoked because Syria is technically in a state of war with Israel, gave Damascus powers it needed to safeguard the security of the state in wartime, a measure states at war routinely take. Many Syrians, however, chaffed under the law, and regarded it as unduly restrictive. Bowing to popular pressure, the government lifted the security measures.

Second, the government proposed a new constitution to accommodate protestors’ demands to strip the Ba’ath Party of its special status, which had reserved for it a lead role in Syrian society. Additionally, the presidency would be open to anyone meeting basic residency, age and citizenship requirements. Presidential elections would be held by secret vote every seven years under a system of universal suffrage.

Here was the multi-party democracy the opposition was said to have clamored for. A protest movement thirsting for a democratic, pluralist society could accept the offer, its aspirations fulfilled. The constitution was put to a referendum and approved. New parliamentary multi-party elections were held. Multi-candidate presidential elections were set for 2014. A new democratic dawn had arrived. The rebels could lay down their arms and enjoy the fruits of their victory.

Or so you might expect. Instead, the insurrectionists escalated their war against Damascus, rejecting the reforms, explaining that they had arrived too late. Too late? Does pluralist democracy turn into a pumpkin unless it arrives before the clock strikes twelve? Washington, London and Paris also dismissed Assad’s concessions. They were “meaningless,” they said, without explaining why. [7] And yet the reforms were all the rebels had asked for and that the West had demanded. How could they be meaningless? Democrats, those seeking a peaceful resolution to the conflict, and the Assad government, could hardly be blamed for concluding that “democracy was not the driving force of the revolt.” [8]

Elaborating on this theme, the Syrian president noted:

It was seemingly apparent at the beginning that demands were for reforms. It was utilized to appear as if the crisis was a matter of political reform. Indeed, we pursued a policy of wide scale reforms from changing the constitution to many of the legislations and laws, including lifting the state of emergency law, and embarking on a national dialogue with all political opposition groups. It was striking that with every step we took in the reform process, the level of terrorism escalated. [9]

From Washington’s perspective, the new constitution opened space for alternative political parties. Washington could exploit this new openness to gain leverage in Syria by quietly backing parties that favor pro-US positions—a plus.

From the Islamists’ point of view, however, there were only negatives. First, the constitution was secular, and not rooted in Islam. Second, it proposed to ban political parties or movements that were formed on the basis of religion, sect, tribe, or region, as well as on the basis of gender, origin, race or color. This would effectively ban any party whose aim was to establish an Islamic state.

There were negatives too for Washington, London, Paris and Tel Aviv.

First, the constitution’s preamble defined Syria as “the beating heart of Arabism,” and “the forefront of confrontation with the Zionist enemy and the bedrock of resistance against colonial hegemony on the Arab world and its capabilities and wealth.” This hardly accorded with Washington’s desire to turn Syria into a “peace-partner” with Israel and clashed with the Western project of spreading neo-colonial tentacles across the Arab world.

Second, the constitution formalized the political orientation of the Syrian Ba’athists. This has been summed up by Assad as “Syria is an independent state working for the interests of its people, rather than making the Syrian people work for the interests of the West.” [10] Accordingly, the constitution mandated that important sectors of the Syrian economy would remain publicly owned and operated in the interests of Syrians as a whole. Western firms, then, were to be frozen out of profit-making opportunities in key sectors of the Syrian economy, a prospect hardly encouraging to the Wall Street financial interests that dominate decision-making in Washington.

Ba’ath socialism has long irritated Washington. The Ba’athist state has always exercised considerable influence over the Syrian economy, through ownership of enterprises, subsidies to privately-owned domestic firms, limits on foreign investment, and restrictions on imports. These are the necessary economic tools of a post-colonial state trying to wrest its economic life from the grips of former colonial powers and to chart a course of development free from the domination of foreign interests.

Washington’s goals, however, are obviously antithetical. It doesn’t want Syria to nurture its industry and jealously guard its independence, but to serve the interests of the bankers and major investors who truly matter in the United States, by opening Syrian labor to exploitation and Syria’s land and natural resources to foreign ownership.

Prior to Assad drafting the new constitution, the US State Department complained that Syria had “failed to join an increasingly interconnected global economy,” which is to say, had failed to turn over its state-owned enterprises to private investors, among them Wall Street financial interests. The State Department also expressed dissatisfaction that “ideological reasons” had prevented Assad from liberalizing Syria’s economy, that “privatization of government enterprises was still not widespread,” and that the economy “remains highly controlled by the government.” [11]

Were Assad to demonstrate a readiness to appease Wall Street’s demands he would have departed holus bolus from the dirigiste practices that had irritated the State Department. Instead, he did the opposite, drafting a constitution that mandated that the government maintain a role in guiding the economy on behalf of Syrian interests, and that the Syrian government would not make Syrians work for the interests of Western banks, oil companies, and other corporations. This was effectively a slap in Washington’s face.

He then compounded the sin by writing certain social rights into the constitution: security against sickness, disability and old age; access to health care; and free education at all levels. Now these rights would be placed beyond the easy reach of legislators and politicians who could sacrifice them on the altar of creating a low-tax, foreign-investment-friendly climate. To make matters worse, he included an article in the constitution which declared that “taxes shall be progressive.”

Finally, he took a step toward real, genuine democracy—a kind that decision-makers in Washington, with their myriad connections to the banking and corporate world—could hardly tolerate. He included a provision in the constitution requiring that at minimum half the members of the People’s Assembly are to be drawn from the ranks of peasants and workers.

Therein were the real reasons Washington, London and Paris rejected Assad’s concessions. It wasn’t that they weren’t genuine. It was that they were made to the wrong people: to Syrians, rather than Wall Street; to the Arabs, rather than Israel. And nor was it that his reforms weren’t democratic enough. It was that they were too democratic, too focussed on safeguarding and promoting the interests of Syrians, rather than making Syrians promote the interests of Wall Street, Washington and Tel Aviv.

The Syrian constitution clarifies the orientation of the Syrian Ba’athists and underscores why the Syrian government ought to be supported in its struggle against foreign-backed Islamist rebels. In short, because it is, on balance, progressive, and the forces arrayed against it are retrograde. The Syrian government is pro-Palestinian, anti-Zionist, anti-colonialist, and anti-imperialist. It is committed to secularism, non-sectarianism, and public ownership of the commanding heights of its economy. These are values that have traditionally been held high by the political left. Were the Syrian government to fall, it is almost certain that a US-client regime would be implanted in Damascus that would quickly adopt a pro-US foreign policy, abandon the Palestinians, capitulate to Israel, and cater to Western investors and corporations. The left project would, accordingly, be dealt a serious blow, and yet another state, dedicated to national liberation—not to say one with a sufficient democratic orientation to enshrine social rights in its constitution—would be crushed under the steamroller of US imperialism.

1. Adam Entous, “White House readies new aid for Syrian rebels”, The Wall Street Journal, April 10, 2013.
2. Anne Barnard, “Syria campaigns to persuade U.S. to change sides”, The New York Times, April 24, 2013.
3. Gerald F. Seib, “The risks holding back Obama on Syria”, The Wall Street journal, May 6, 2013.
4. Anthony Shadid, “Assad says he rejects West’s call to resign”, The New York Times, August 21, 2011.
5. US Library of Congress. A Country Study: Syria. http://lcweb2.loc.gov/frd/cs/sytoc.html
6. December 2012.
7. David M. Herszenhorn, “For Syria, Reliant on Russia for weapons and food, old bonds run deep”, The New York Times, February 18, 2012.
8. Zeina Karam, “In rare public appearance, Syrian president denies role in Houla massacre”, The Associated Press, June 3, 2012.
9. Bashar al-Assad May 19, 2013 interview with Clarin newspaper and Telam news agency
10. Bashar al-Assad May 19, 2013 interview with Clarin newspaper and Telam news agency
11. US State Department website. http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/3580.htm#econ. Accessed February 8, 2012.

Written by what's left

May 21, 2013 at 3:56 pm

Posted in Syria

Should the US bomb Syria?

with 2 comments

By Stephen Gowans

There is no compelling evidence that the Syrian government has used chemical weapons against the rebel forces which seek its overthrow. But even if chemical weapons have been used, a military intervention by the United States, its NATO allies, or its regional proxies, would fail the test of humanitarian intervention. First, it would exacerbate, not reduce, the suffering of Syrians. Second, it would be undertaken for concealed reasons of economic and geostrategic gain, not to protect Syrians from chemical weapons, not for the promotion of multi-party representative democracy, and not to encourage tolerance of dissent, as the promoters of intervention would have us believe.

Moreover, a successful US-led intervention would eliminate a pro-Palestinian, anti-Zionist, anti-colonialist, anti-imperialist state committed to secularism, non-sectarianism, and public ownership of the commanding heights of its economy, and would, install, in its place, a US-client regime that would adopt a pro-US foreign policy, abandon the Palestinians, capitulate to Israel, and cater to Western investors and corporations. “Syria,” remarked president Bashar al-Assad, not without substance, “is an independent state working for the interests of its people, rather than making the Syrian people work for the interests of the West.” [1] This orientation would be completely reversed if a US intervention succeeded.

Three reasons the chemical weapons case against the Syrian government is weak at best

1. Britain and Israel claim to have evidence that the Syrian army used chemical agents against armed rebels. The British evidence is based on tissue samples taken from armed rebels who claim to have been gassed by loyalist forces. To concretely make the case that the Syrian army used chemical weapons:

• The tissue samples would have to test positive for chemical agents.
• There could be no possibility the samples were tampered with.
• A direct link between the contaminated tissue and an attack by Syrian forces would need to be established.

Concerning the first point, we have nothing to rely on but the word of British authorities. Should we believe them? Britain has been implicated in attempts to concoct pretexts for military intervention with phony evidence before (see the bogus WMD claims used to justify the war on Iraq and the genocide fear-mongering pressed into service to justify NATO’s 1999 air war on Yugoslavia.)

What’s more, Britain is hardly a neutral party to the conflict in Syria, and therefore has an interest in manufacturing justifications for more open and direct meddling. That’s not to say that the tissue sample didn’t test positive, only that it would be foolhardy to suppose that a country that “sexed up” evidence to justify a war on Iraq can be trusted.

Secondly, “the samples collected by Britain may have been tainted by rebels who want to draw the West into the conflict on their side” [2], a point made by US officials.

Third, “the detection of chemical agents doesn’t necessarily mean they were used in an attack by the Syrian” army. [3] Rebels, for example, may have been accidentally exposed to chemical agents they, themselves, had in their possession.

The key point is that evidence of tissue contamination (if indeed such evidence exists) is not evidence that the Syrian army used chemical agents, since there are multiple possible ways in which the tissue could have become contaminated.

2. Once US president Barack Obama declared that the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government was a red line that would trigger a more muscular US intervention, the Syrian calculus turned decidedly against their use. Using chemical agents against rebels would play directly into Washington’s hands, giving the bellicose superpower a pretext to intervene militarily in an open and direct fashion. This would be a disadvantage that would grossly outweigh any advantage that accrued from the weapons’ use. On the other hand, once Obama announced his red line, it made a ton of sense for the rebels to falsely claim they were gassed.

3. While an investigation by the United Nations independent commission of inquiry on Syria has found evidence that the rebels used sarin gas, no evidence has been found that the Syrian government has done the same. Commission member Carla Del Ponte reported that, “We collected some witness testimony that made it appear that some chemical weapons were used, in particular, nerve gas. What appeared to our investigation was that was used by the opponents, by the rebels. We have no, no indication at all that the government, the authorities of the Syrian government, had used chemical weapons.” (Emphasis added.) [4]

An intervention would create harm

To reduce suffering, a military intervention would need to reduce harm to a greater degree than the military intervention itself would produce. Judging by previous US-led interventions undertaken for professedly humanitarian reasons, a military intervention in Syria would likely involve air strikes on Syrian military, government and even civilian facilities, with attendant civilian casualties, disruption of essential services, and massive displacement of non-combatants. According to The New York Times’ Elisabeth Bummiler, senior Pentagon officials have warned that “military intervention would be a daunting and protracted operation, requiring at least weeks of exclusively American airstrikes, with the potential for killing vast numbers of civilians.” (Emphasis added.) [5]

To be sure, an open and direct military intervention would be ardently welcomed by Syrian rebels, and their co-sectarian arms suppliers, the Turks, Saudis and Qataris. But it would kill many and make life even more miserable and uncertain for Syrians, especially those living in areas under loyalist control.

Far better to reach a political solution. But one of the reasons the Syrian civil war carries on is because the United States refuses to back a political resolution that would fall short of achieving its chief Syria foreign policy goal, namely, the ouster of Assad and his replacement by a pliant, pro-US government. A genuinely humanitarian intervention would set as its goal an end to hostilities, not the absorption of Syria into the US-Israeli camp.

Intervention would not be based on humanitarian concern

There is no reason to believe that the United States has any genuine interest in protecting Syrians from chemical weapons attacks. Washington dismissed out of hand evidence presented by the United Nations that the rebels used sarin gas, which is hardly what a government would do were it genuinely keen on protecting all Syrians from chemical attack, no matter which side of the conflict they’re on.

Significantly, US regime change policy in Syria antedates Syria’s civil war. The outbreak of the “Arab Spring” in Syria, and Damascus’s response to it, didn’t start the ball rolling on US efforts to force Assad from power. US regime change policy, linked to Damascus’s refusal to become a “peace-partner” with Israel, its alliance with Iran and Hezbollah, and its refusal to fully open its economy to US capital, existed long before the Syrian government cracked down on opposition forces. In fact, one element of US foreign policy was to encourage opposition to the Assad government, [6] that is, to foment the kind of civil unrest that eventually morphed into a full blown civil war.

Multi-party representative democracy, a tolerant attitude to dissent, and eschewal of chemical weapons, have not been relevant components of US foreign policy decision making. Indeed, Washington has shown itself willing to overlook the absence of multi-party representative democracy, to ignore an intolerant attitude to dissent, and to turn a blind eye to the deployment of chemical weapons, where US corporate interests are promoted, either directly, or indirectly through the strengthening of United States’ geostrategic position. For example, Washington and its NATO allies have adopted a tolerant attitude to the violent suppression (aided by Saudi tanks) of a Shiite rebellion in Bahrain against an absolutist Sunni monarchy, while at the same time casually dismissing the UN’s concrete suspicions that the Syrian rebels used sarin gas. Significantly, Bahrain, a paragon of free-markets and free-enterprise, is home to the US Fifth Fleet; Saudi Arabia is a source of generous profits for US oil majors and New York investment banks; and the Syrian rebels are instruments through which US foreign policy goals of regime change in Damascus are to be achieved. If US foreign policy was indeed driven by democracy-promotion, human rights objectives, and non-proliferation goals, its attitude toward Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the UAE, Jordan and the possibility of sarin gas use by Syrian rebels, would be very different.

Conclusion

There are sound strategic reasons for the Syrian army to leave chemical weapons in storage. Deploying them would play into Washington’s hands by providing the United States with a pretext to escalate its intervention in the Syrian civil war. On the other hand, any force that would benefit from a more muscular US intervention on the rebels’ behalf has an interest in manufacturing evidence of the use of chemical agents by Syrian forces. This would include the rebels themselves and those of the United States’ allies that would like Washington to refashion Syria in their political or sectarian interests.

Much as intervention by the United States is sold as a humanitarian exercise, it fails the humanitarian test on two levels. First, it would create substantial harm. US military officials have warned that direct military intervention—which would take the form of US air strikes—would create massive civilian casualties. Second, US foreign policy is based on commercial, financial, and geostrategic goals, not the promotion of multi-party representative democracy, tolerance of dissent, and anti-proliferation. This is clear from a simple examination of the countries Washington supports: those with a congenial attitude to US free enterprise and a willingness to submit to US domination, regardless of their practices in connection with multiparty representative democracy, civil liberties and weapons of mass destruction.

For all these reasons the United States should not bomb Syria, and nor should it provide military, diplomatic, or any other kind of assistance to the Syrian rebels. Of course, what it should do and what it will do are very different matters, but all the same we should be clear that the chemical weapons case against Syria is a fraud, as is the idea that direct US military intervention in the Syrian conflict would have either a humanitarian basis or humanitarian outcome.

1. Bashar al-Assad May 19, 2013 interview with Clarin newspaper and Telam news agency.

2. Adam Entous, Joshua Mitnick and Stephen Fidler, “Syria used chemical arms, Israel says”, The Wall Street Journal, April 23, 2013.

3. Ibid.

4. Alex Lantier, “UN says US-backed opposition, not Syrian regime, used poison gas”, World Socialist Web Site, May 7, 2013

5. Elisabeth Bummiler, “Military points to risks of Syrian intervention”, The New York Times, March 11, 2012.

6. Craig Whitlock, “U.S. secretly backed Syrian opposition groups, cables released by Wikileaks show”, The Washington Post, April 17, 2011.

Written by what's left

May 11, 2013 at 10:53 pm

Posted in Syria

Red lines and other double standards

with 2 comments

By Stephen Gowans

According to the White House, Israel has the right to defend itself (1). I would argue that it doesn’t. Based on the theft of another people’s land and denial of their right to return to the homes from which they fled or were driven, Israel no more than any other thief has the right to defend itself.

Judging by its indulgent attitude to Israeli aggressions, Washington claims that Israel has the right to defend itself in any way it pleases: by unprovoked airstrikes across international borders; by meting out collective punishment; by carrying out extrajudicial assassinations; by invasions and occupations; and through other outrages against international law, sovereignty and humanity. In fact, by doing what the United States, itself, regularly does.

The White House says that the most recent Israeli aggression, airstrikes carried out over the last few days against Syrian military facilities, were intended to stop a shipment of advanced surface-to-surface missiles from Iran to the Lebanese resistance organization, Hezbollah. Striking a dissenting note, The New York Times reported that, “Some American officials are unsure whether the new shipment was intended for use by Hezbollah or by the Assad government.” (2) Which means the airstrikes may have nothing to do with Israel “defending itself” and everything to do with Tel Aviv helping Syria’s Sunni rebels in what is, in large measure, a sectarian war, inflamed by outside interference, against an Alawi-dominated state that has (from Washington’s perspective) the wrong attitude to US free enterprise and (from Israel’s) the wrong attitude to the dispossession of the Palestinians. Or it may be that the missiles were intended for the Syrian military, but the Israelis struck as a precaution, in case the missiles were indeed destined for Hezbollah.

While indulging Israel for its aggressions, Washington denies North Korea the right to develop nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles for self-defense, for the obvious reason that North Korea’s self-defense is self-defense against the United States. Likewise, the threat posed to Israel of Iranian-made Fateh-110 missiles in Hezbollah’s hands is that they bolster the resistance organization’s ability to defend both itself, and its benefactor, Iran, from Israeli attack. It’s no secret that Israel has been threatening war on Iran for some time on grounds that Iran’s civilian nuclear energy industry may, at some point, provide Tehran with the capability of developing what Israel already has in abundance: nuclear weapons.

What’s more, if Israel has the right to defend itself, why not Syria? It’s not as if the Assad government’s actions, in defense of secular pan-Arabism, have come anywhere close to matching the level of barbarity regularly visited by the Zionist regime on its opponents in defense of its settler ideology, or in helping to promote the imperial interests of its American benefactor and sponsor.

Earlier, the White House declared that Syria’s use of chemical weapons against terrorist insurgents would be a red line whose crossing would trigger a strong US response, presumably direct US military intervention in Syria’s civil war. Recent claims by Israel, Britain and one US intelligence agency of evidence that the Syrian government has used chemical weapons against rebel forces—evidence the White House says is inconclusive—touched off a controversy over whether the Obama administration had blundered in setting a red line, and whether failure to act on even weak evidence undermines US credibility.

Lost in the polemic is the telling reality that Washington has set no red line for the insurgents’ use of the same weapons.

And that can’t be because there are no grounds to believe rebel forces would use deadly gas against Syrian loyalists. The UN independent commission of inquiry on Syria says there are strong, concrete suspicions that the rebels have used sarin gas (but has no evidence the Syrian government has deployed chemical weapons against the rebels.) (3)

Okay, let’s assume that the UN’s strong and concrete suspicions do reflect the rebels’ actual use of sarin gas against loyalist forces.

The obvious question (unasked as far as I can tell by the mass media) is where did the rebels’ chemical weapons come from? Were they captured from the Syrian military, or procured through a supplier of the rebels’ other weapons—Saudi Arabia, Qatar or a NATO state?

And does the United States plan to act on the UN’s strong and concrete suspicions?

The answer to the first question is uncertain. As to the second, the US might intervene to secure the rebels’ chemical weapons if the weapons have been captured from the Syrian army by jihadists acting independently of US control, but it would likely be done quietly, to avoid raising embarrassing questions about the rebellion putting dangerous weapons into the hands of Islamists who might use them later against US targets (including, if the Assad government falls, a US-client regime in Damascus.)

On the other hand, if the weapons have been used by US-controlled opposition factions, an intervention won’t occur, unless the weapons were used without US approval. If so, measures—again quiet ones—will likely to be taken to curb their use, or to use them only at Washington’s direction.

Another possibility is that Washington colluded in the weapons’ use.

Clearly, Washington’s chemical weapons standards are contigent and not absolute. The red line against the Syrian defense forces provides Washington with a pretext for direct and open military intervention against Damascus when and if intervention is feasible. Since no intervention against the rebel forces is desired—on the contrary, only intervention on their behalf is on the agenda—a rebel red line is unnecessary, and restrictive. It’s not the use of chemical weapons that Washington opposes, but their use by a government fighting for survival against US predations. Anyone else can use chemical weapons with impunity so long as it’s done in the service of US foreign policy goals.

Finally, we might ask whether the country that has the greatest store of weapons of mass destruction, is the world’s largest manufacturer of them, and has been the most ardent user of them, would act to stop their use by rebel forces it has backed against a pan-Arab nationalist regime it has for decades sought to overthrow? Again, subject to the condition the rebels were under US control, not likely.

The United States professed opposition to weapons of mass destruction is entirely one-sided. It is applied selectively to governments and organizations that it, itself, or its proxies, are opposed to, typically because they have the wrong attitude to US free enterprise, or the wrong attitude to their proxies’ plunder of the land, natural resources and markets of other people.

1. Sam Dagher, Nour Malas and Joshua Mitnick, “Strikes in Syria raise alarm”, The Wall Street Journal, May 5, 2013.
2. Anne Barnard, Michael R. Gordon and Jodi Rudoren, “Israel targeted Iranian missiles in Syria attack”, The New York Times, May 4, 2013.
3. “Syrian rebels may have used Sarin” Reuters, May 5, 2013: “UN: ‘Strong suspicions’ that Syrian rebels have used sarin nerve gas,” Euronews, May 6, 2013.

Written by what's left

May 6, 2013 at 10:32 pm

Posted in Syria

%d bloggers like this: