Why Assad Refuses to Step Down
Paris Match: Many people say the solution lies in your departure. Do you believe that your departure is the solution?
Syrian president Assad: What was the result (of French policy when they attacked Gaddafi)? Chaos ensued after Gaddafi’s departure. So, was the departure the solution? Have things improved, and has Libya become a democracy?
December 5, 2014
By Stephen Gowans
Syrian president Bashar al-Assad has told an interviewer from the French magazine Paris Match that he won’t step down. And not because he wants to remain president, but because he “will never accept that Syria become a western puppet state.”
The view that Syria is under attack because it isn’t a western puppet state, and that Washington wants Assad to step down to make it one, cannot be so easily dismissed. There’s plenty of evidence that states that seek to remain independent of US prescriptions on how they ought to organize their economies and foreign policies are uniquely targeted for sub-critical warfare (sanctions, sabotage, demonization, diplomatic isolation), or—where a military victory can be secured with impunity for the aggressor—by outright military intervention.
The Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic, who NATO forces worked tirelessly to depose, told Canadian lawyer Christopher Black that Washington sought his ouster for two reasons: Because he was a communist. And because he told the Americans to go fuck themselves. Which is to say, Milosevic refused to turn Yugoslavia into a western puppet state.
Libyan leader Muamar Gaddafi was overthrown because he insisted that foreign investment in Libya work to the benefit of Libyans, an attitude that threatened to cut into the profit margins of Western investors. The US State Department complained that Gaddafi was practicing “resource nationalism,” while oil companies reacted bitterly to the tough bargains he was driving. This was hardly behavior befitting a western puppet state (which Libya wasn’t.) For telling Western oil companies that they could go fuck themselves if they thought they were going to get rich on Libyan oil while leaving Libya with nothing, Gaddafi, in the view of the Western foreign policy elite, had to go.
Assad is cut from the same cloth. He leads a state that was founded on anti-colonialism, anti-imperialism, Arab nationalism, and non-Marxist socialism, not subservience to an imperial master, and not setting the profit-making interests of foreign investors ahead of Syria’s economic development. The US State Department complains that “ideological reasons” prevent Assad from “liberalizing” the economy (that is, making it profitable for foreign investors), while the U.S. Library of Congress Country Study of Syria refers disapprovingly to “the socialist structure” of the Syrian government and economy.
Meanwhile, the US regional ally Egypt is crushing the Muslim Brotherhood, jailing thousands of moderate Islamists, meting out mass death sentences to supporters of the legitimately elected former president, (who the current president deposed in a military coup), and reversing whatever modest gains the Arab Spring brought to the country. Egypt’s president isn’t asked to step down. On the contrary, he’s showered with US military aid, subsidized with Saudi oil money, and praised by Western politicians.
The rulers of the Gulf kingdoms, the last theocratic absolutist redoubts on the planet, continue to thrive under US tutelage. Saudi Arabia, a particularly vile state, stands out in its abhorrence of basic human rights (for example, by forbidding women to drive automobiles), penchant for beheading criminals, and zeal in spreading the harsh 18th century version of Islam from which ISIS’s ideology springs.
As for Turkey, it continues to back ISIS, while remaining an important ally of the United States.
The lesson is plain: Create a good foreign investment climate, become a market for the US arms industry, turn over your resources to the West, cooperate with the US military, and you can kill as many of your own people as you like, resist democracy as long as you want, and merrily trample on human rights. Just don’t insist that your economy work to the benefit of your own people.
States that insist on screening and managing foreign investment become the subject of a propaganda assault, carried out ardently by Western state officials and their echo chambers, the Western mass media, which are, after all, large businesses, with a pro-business orientation, that quite naturally favor states that favor them and their class cohorts.
Under this propaganda system, the offending states become “regimes,” which have “secret police” (versus the West’s “security agencies”.) Members of the state become “regime personnel” or the leader’s “cronies,” rather than government members or ministers. If the state is large enough, it has “satellites,” versus the United States’ “strategic interests” and “allies.”
Assad brooked none of this in his interview with Paris Match. When the magazine’s interviewer called the Syrian government a “regime,” Assad retorted, “Let’s agree on terms first. In Syria we have a state, not a regime.”
The Syrian president faced a number of hostile questions, on whether Syria was backing ISIS to weaken the opposition, whether Syria’s army was using chlorine gas against its opponents, and why he denounces the US airstrikes in Syria as illegal when they’re helping Syrian forces (which they’re not, according to Assad).
Asked how he responds to the allegation that Syria encouraged the rise of Islamic extremists in order to divide the opposition,” Assad replied, “Assuming that what you are saying is true, that we supported ISIS, this means that we have asked this organization to attack us, attack military airports, kill hundreds of soldiers and occupy cities and villages. Where is the logic in that?”
(The question also overlooks the reality, about which there is no controversy, that funding for Islamic extremism comes from the Gulf states and Turkey, the ideology of ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra, the principal rebel forces in Syria, originates in Saudi Arabia, and Western powers have used Islamic extremists for decades as allies of convenience to undermine secular nationalist movements and to attack communist, socialist and Arab nationalist states.)
The Syrian president told Paris Match that US and allied airstrikes in Syria have done nothing to degrade ISIS in any meaningful way. “We are the ones fighting the battles against ISIS on the ground,” he said, “and we haven’t felt any change.”
Accordingly, he views “the alliance’s airstrikes (as) merely cosmetic,” as “tactics without a strategy.”
“You cannot achieve results on the ground,” he said, “without land forces who know the geographical details of the regions and move in tandem with the airstrikes.”
Assad called US airstrikes in Syria “an illegal intervention,” explaining that they’re “not authorized by a Security Council resolution” and not authorized by Syria.
The Syrian president ridiculed allegations that Syrian forces have used chlorine gas, pointing out that conventional weapons are capable of killing far more people, and far more readily, and that Syria has conventional weapons, so why use an ineffective weapon when you don’t have to?
While he didn’t raise the point directly, the West’s accusing Syria of using chlorine gas has more to do with its need to demonize a state it’s preying upon, than reality. The popular view of chemical weapons is that they are particularly gruesome and their use inhuman, though it’s unclear how choking to death in a gas attack is any more gruesome than bleeding to death from wounds suffered in a drone strike, or how waging war with chemical weapons is more inhuman than doing the same with cruise missiles and B1 bombers. (Still, aerial bombing attacks may seem cleaner. The late British historian Eric Hobsbawm once observed that young men who dropped bombs on civilians from the air would recoil from the demand that they drive a bayonet through the belly of a pregnant woman, though the effect is the same.)
Gas and biological weapons (as well as battlefield nuclear weapons) have mostly been shunned by militaries, not because their use is considered inhuman, but because they’re messy and may endanger their users and because their effects are greatly dependent on weather conditions. Conventional weapons are simply cleaner and more effective.
But given the reputation of chemical weapons as inhuman, there are propaganda dividends to be paid to predators who accuse their victims of using them, for those who use them are, in the public view, uniquely vile. And portraying victims as vile creates a public relations rationale for eliminating them.
Making the accusation stick is not a difficult task. The mass media view their job as disseminating the pronouncements of state officials, no matter how implausible they are, and not scrutinizing or challenging them. Given this stenographic approach to journalism, it’s enough that Western governments make an accusation to diabolize a potential target. No evidence is required.
Consider how it’s now widely believed that Syrian forces used gas to attack opposition forces. This is so because the accusation has been repeated time and again, until everyone believes it to be true because everyone believes it to be true and those who challenge it have no high-profile platform to reach a mass audience to show how it’s almost certainly not true. The claim is based on little more than Washington announcing its belief that Syrian forces were behind the infamous Ghouta attack. Yet a careful reading of the document Washington produced to back up its accusation showed that no gun was ever found, let alone a smoking one, an inconvenient reality Washington buried in the small print of its document. In effect, Washington said, “We believe the Syrians used chemical weapons, though we have no real evidence to back it up.” As for the official UN inquiry into the event, it was unable to assign responsibility.
All the same, it is now widely taken as indisputable that Syrian forces used chemical weapons, while a host of other dubious assertions, originating in the imaginations of high state officials in the West, are equally accepted as incontestable claims—for example, that there exist “moderate” rebels in Syria.
There are indeed moderate rebels in Syria, if moderate is defined as amenable to direction by Washington. But most rebels are Islamists whose goal is to establish a state governed by the Koran. US strategy in Syria is not to allow Islamists to come to power, but to use them to force a political settlement—one in which Assad steps down and relinquishes power to actors who are keen to turn Syria into a western puppet state, much like the current government in Ukraine, with its cadre of wealthy business people, investment bankers, anti-Russian rightists, and foreigners, including a former US government employee as finance minister.
Syrians will be spared Ukraine’s fate, or worse, Libya’s, so long as they continue to repudiate the illegitimate demands of the West and its crony powers in the Gulf and Turkey to abdicate the defining of their future to others. And Assad will continue to face hostile questions from the Western media, and worse from Western powers and their regional puppets, for doing what Milosevic did: having the backbone to tell the Americans to go fuck themselves.