Archive for the ‘Syria’ Category
May 20, 2015
By Stephen Gowans
John Mueller, the US political scientist who coined the term “sanctions of mass destruction,” to show that “economic sanctions…by large states…may have contributed to more deaths during the post-Cold War era than all weapons of mass destruction throughout history” , wrote an article two years ago in Foreign Affairs, the major foreign policy journal of the US establishment, challenging the idea that Syria’s chemical weapons (when it had them) were a threat.  Mueller examined the history of chemical weapons since WWI to make the point that chemical agents are misclassified as weapons of mass destruction (WMD).
According to Mueller, chemical weapons accounted for less than one percent of battle fatalities during the First World War; it took one ton of Sarin gas on average, during that conflict, to produce a single fatality; and only 2-3% of those gassed on the Western front died, compared to a fatality rate 10 to 12 times higher among those who were struck by bullets or shrapnel from conventional weapons. 
In their official history of WWI, the British concluded that “gas made war uncomfortable…to no purpose.”  Accordingly, most handsomely funded militaries with generous weapons development programs or the means to purchase highly destructive armaments were quite happy to relinquish their chemical weapons. They are ineffective and conventional arms produce far higher rates of fatalities.
But in the course of challenging the view that chemical weapons are WMD, Mueller came close to making a far more significant point, namely, that the concept of WMD is used for propaganda purposes to vastly exaggerate the threat posed by official enemies that have “weapons of little destruction.” This is done by creating the impression that the ineffective weapons in the enemy’s arsenal are weapons of great destructive power, through the pairing of weapons of little destruction, like chemical agents, with highly destructive armaments, like nuclear weapons. Two auxiliary points are necessary here: (i) These “enemies” are comparatively weak militarily, without the massively destructive conventional arms found in the arsenals of major military powers; (ii) The previous point explains the “enemies’” possession of weapons of little destruction. To exaggerate to make a point, labeling chemical weapons as WMD is like calling the spears of hunting and gathering tribes WMD in order to turn primitive people into threats.
In 1992, the term WMD was explicitly codified in US law to include not only nuclear weapons but chemical and biological weapons, as well. Then, in 1994, radiological weapons—conventional bombs used to disperse radioactive material—were added.  But chemical, biological and radiological weapons have nowhere near the destructive capability of nuclear weapons, to say nothing of the destructive capability of the high yield conventional explosives in the arsenals of the US and other large militaries.
So why would the United States subsume a class of highly ineffective weapons under a rubric archetypically defined by nuclear weapons?
For the same reason the British quintupled their gas casualty figures in WWI—to justify a military intervention. For the British, making gas into a uniquely inhuman weapon demonized the Germans, the major users of gas. This could be used, it was hoped, to draw the United States into the war on the side of the Triple Entente. 
For the United States, in 1992, investing chemical weapons with the same kind of horrific aura that nuclear weapons have, served the political purpose of making Iraq, which had chemical weapons—furnished by the United States, which condoned their use by Iraq against Iran —appear to be a unique threat—one that had to be dealt with by imposing what amounted to a blockade to starve the population into submission. The blockade contributed to the deaths of hundreds of thousands, if not over a million, Iraqis—more people than could ever be killed by all of the chemical weapons in the US-supplied Iraqi arsenal—truly, sanctions of mass destruction, and far more terrible than chemical weapons.
So, WMD, applied to chemical, biological, and radiological weapons, is by design, a term of deception, whose purpose is the manipulation of public opinion to soften up attitudes to war against countries that (i) are an obstacle to US geopolitical designs and (ii) have one or more types of these weapons of little destruction.
These days, the concept of WMD as part of the propaganda system of Western states has been used against the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad. The nature of the government in Damascus, and the reason it finds itself in the cross-hairs of the West’s regime-change apparatus, can best be explained in the words of its president. “Syria,” asserts Assad, “is an independent state working for the interests of its people, rather than making the Syrian people work for the interests of the West.”  In other words, the Syrian government pursues Syria’s interests, not the interlocked political agendas of Washington and economic agendas of Wall St.
To demonize this obstacle to Western agendas, the charge is leveled at Damascus that it is responsible for at least one chemical weapons attack, for which no clear evidence has ever been adduced that implicates the Syrian army, and for which the use of chemical weapons would have been a transparent tactical blunder since it would have delivered to Washington a pretext to directly intervene militarily in Syria. For this reason it is highly improbable that the Syrian army was behind the attack. An additional charge, made now that Syria has abandoned its chemical weapons, is that it routinely uses chlorine gas as a weapon.
As a weapon, chlorine gas is exceedingly ineffective. It is lethal only in highly concentrated doses and where medical treatment is not immediately available. It is far less effective than conventional weapons.  Why, then, would the Syrian army use a highly ineffective weapon, which is deplored by world public opinion, and whose use would provide the United States a pretext to directly intervene militarily in Syria, when it has far more effective conventional weapons, which are not deplored by world public opinion, and whose use does not deliver a pretext to Washington to intervene? Unless we believe the government in Damascus is comprised of a collection of imbeciles, this makes no sense.
On the other hand, let’s look at this from the perspective of the opposition. It has a strong motive to use chlorine gas in order to pin blame for its use on the Syrian army to create a pretext for direct US military intervention. What’s more, the opposition’s major forces have a long history of using chlorine gas as a weapon.
Chlorine gas has been used by Sunni militants in Iraq for over a decade. It has been used intermittently in attacks against US and Iraqi forces and against civilians since 2003. There was a flurry of such attacks in Anbar province in 2007 as US forces were trying to wrest control of the territory from Al-Qaeda in Iraq , an organization from which sprang ISIS and al-Nusra, the principal militant groups in Syria today.
In light of the above, you don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to figure out who’s using chlorine gas in Syria: the forces that have a motive for their use and a history of using them. Nor do you have to be particularly perceptive (only attentive) to determine that the insinuation of US politicians and leading news media that the Syrian government is weaponizing chlorine gas is a deliberate deception, on par with Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Powell inventing a pretext for war on Iraq by concocting a deliberate fiction about Iraq concealing chemical weapons, a fabrication leading news media legitimized.
The concept of WMD provides a context in which the public is manipulated to see governments whose militaries have ineffective weapons, of a destructive capability far below that of the conventional weapons in the arsenals of major militaries, as uniquely inhuman and vastly destructive, thereby depicting these governments as dire threats and consequently as necessary targets for regime change. Syria’s relinquishing its chemical weapons stores has undercut the ability of Western governments to demonize Damascus as a user of WMD. Accordingly, the Western propaganda system, of which governments, leading news media, and leading human rights NGOs are a part, has invoked allegations of chlorine gas use by the Syrian Arab Army to bring WMD back into the picture.
But it should be made clear, first, that it is a corruption of the truth to equate weaponized chlorine gas, a weapon of little destruction, with nuclear weapons and veridical WMD; second, that the allegation that the Syrian military is deploying a weapon of little destruction when it has more effective weapons and use of chlorine gas would deliver a pretext to Washington to directly intervene militarily in Syria, strains credibility; and third, there is, not surprisingly, a complete absence of credible evidence that the Syrian army has used chlorine gas as a weapon. It is the propaganda apparatus of Western states—itself a weapon of mass deception–that advances the antitheses of these points.
1. John Mueller and Karl Mueller, “Sanctions of Mass Destruction,” Foreign Affairs, May/June 1999.
2. John Mueller, “Erase the Red Line: Why WeShouldn’t Care about Syria’s Chemical Weapons,” Foreign Affairs, April 30, 2013.
5. Ibid; The radiation dispersal range is equal to the blast range. Hence, anyone exposed to radiation would be killed first by the conventional blast. Adding radioactive material, then, to a conventional bomb is pointless—like shooting someone two days after he has been beheaded.
7. Glen Kessler, “History lesson: When the United States looked the other way on chemical weapons,” The Washington Post, September 4, 2013
8. President al-Assad: Basis for any political solution for crisis in Syria is what the Syrian people want,” http://www.syriaonline.sy/?f=Details&catid=12&pageid=5835
9. Anne Barnard and Somini Sengupta, “Syria is using chemical weapons again, rescue workers say,” The New York Times, May 6, 2015.
10. Kirk Semple and Eric Schmitt, “U.S. is investigating report that Islamic state used chlorine gas,” The New York Times, October 23, 2014.
May 14, 2015
By Stephen Gowans
The dictator of Bahrain—who, with the help of Saudi troops and tanks, ruthlessly crushed an Arab Spring uprising that demanded a representative democracy—is spending a leisurely day, today, in Britain, one of the world’s oldest parliamentary ‘democracies’, visiting a horse show with his fellow parasite Queen Elizabeth II. Britain is neck deep in the undemocratic campaign to topple the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad, amply assisted by Saudi Arabia and other tyrannies of the Persian Gulf, who have provided arms, training and money to al-Qaeda and other Sunni religious fanatics to wage jihad against the secular, anti-sectarian, anti-imperialist, and anti-Zionist government of Assad. Assad must be toppled, the misnamed Friends of Syria aver, because he is a dictator who thwarted an Arab Spring uprising.
Sensitive to the legitimate demands inhered in the uprising, the Syrian government made major concessions, amending its constitution to open up political participation, and holding a multi-candidate presidential election, which Assad won. Is Syria a democracy? By Western standards, not yet, concedes Assad. But “if you want to compare me to your closest friend, Saudi Arabia, of course we are democratic,” Assad told a French journalist.
In response to news that traces of ricin and sarin have been found in Syria, former US ambassador to Syria Robert Ford, ever vigilant for opportunities to vilify Assad, pronounced the Syrian government guilty of hiding chemical weapons, even though UN inspectors say the discovery is not evidence of “a lingering weapons program” or “new use or production.”
“You’re dealing with a regime that is not very credible on weapons of mass destruction programs,” Ford insisted, to lend weight to his case. To be sure, his observation is incontestable, but not in connection with Syria and only insofar as it refers to the “regime” in Washington, which infamously concocted a fiction about Saddam Hussein concealing weapons of mass destruction as a pretext for war on Iraq. The accusations levelled at Syria are no less baseless, Ford’s transparently politically-inspired arguments notwithstanding.
The Bahraini king’s hobnobbing with ‘Her Majesty’ calls to mind Diderot’s observation that mankind will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest, though an updated version would need to include the rulers of the world’s currently dominant socio-political system, along with an expanded definition of priests to include mainstream journalists, think-tank experts and PR hacks, to say nothing of former US ambassadors, labouring to mislead public opinion into accepting yet another war on a country that seeks to chart its own course, free from subservience to the dictates of Washington and its political masters on Wall St..
“Syria,” asserts Assad, “is an independent state working for the interests of its people, rather than making the Syrian people work for the interests of the West.” And therein is the issue. Ford, the New York Times, and other instruments of the Western ruling class, want the Syrian people to work for the interests of Western bankers, high-level corporate executives and major investors, as the Saudis, Bahrainis, and other puppet Arab monarchies do. And they’re willing to lie, deceive the public, do deals with al-Qaeda, and wage wars of aggression, to get their way. Into the Middle East they stride, their hypocrisy going naked, with the new priests scrambling desperately to drape it with pleasing raiment.
By Stephen Gowans
The New York Times ran an article on May 12 suggesting that the Syrian government has held back some of its chemical weapons and is using them against rebel fighters. Significantly, the allegation was backed by no evidence, yet the newspaper chose to run the story anyway.
In their story (“Inspectors in Syria find traces of banned military chemicals”) reporters Somini Sengupta, Marlise Simons and Anne Barnard cited a conclusion drawn by an anonymous Western diplomat who was briefed on findings by inspectors from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. The inspectors had reportedly found traces of toxic nerve agents in Syria. The diplomat was quoted as saying that there’s a “strong suspicion” that the Syrians “are retaining stockpiles which are being held back.”
However, a close reading of the article showed that there was not one whit of evidence to back up the diplomat’s suspicion. Indeed, at various points in the article, the story’s lead was challenged by the journalists themselves.
• “[S]mall amounts of banned agents [have been found. But these findings] do not necessarily indicate a lingering weapons program.”
• “[T]here was no clear evidence of new use or production of forbidden chemicals.”
• “There is no evidence that banned materials were used in weapons after Syria signed the treaty, or that Syria possesses sufficient quantities to use in future weapons.”
A fitting headline would have read “Western diplomat accuses Syrian government of hiding chemical weapons, on no evidence.”
In the same article the reporters refer to “mounting evidence that Mr. Assad’s forces had violated the terms of the international treaty banning use of chemical weapons … by dropping jerry-built chlorine bombs on insurgent-held areas.” The mounting evidence turned out to be the testimony of witnesses who say the bombs have been dropped from government helicopters.
However, the quality of the evidence is untested, and virtually useless. There’s no way to determine whether the witnesses are authentic or simply opponents of the Syrian government who have an interest in spreading false allegations.
What’s more, there’s a compelling reason to believe that Syrian forces have not engaged in the action they’re accused of. Jerry-built chlorine bombs are capable only of briefly incapacitating a few fighters. Conventional bombs—which the Syrians have in abundance—permanently eliminate many more. Why, then, would Syrian forces risk worldwide condemnation to use an ineffective weapon, when they have more effective weapons at their disposable which world opinion does not condemn?
Sensing that their source’s allegation may be treated with suspicion, the New York Times journalists acknowledge that “Evidence of chemical weapons remains a fraught issue for global public opinion more than a decade after false claims of an Iraqi chemical weapons program were used to justify the American invasion that deposed Saddam Hussein.”
No less fraught is the complicity of Western media in propagating similarly baseless allegations to serve an obvious political agenda.
Syria’s Bashar al-Assad on the West’s Quest for a Puppet State in Syria and Its Phony War on Violent Political Islam
Here are excerpts from a Russian media interview with Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.
What the West wants from Syria
Assad: “U.S. demands are…to bring down the Syrian state and replace it with a client state which does their bidding.
“The West does not accept partners. It only wants satellite states. The United States does not even accept partners in the West. It wants Europe to follow the United States. They didn’t accept Russia, although it was a superpower. They didn’t accept it as a partner. Russian officials talk all the time about partnership with the West, and talk positively about the West. In return, the West does not accept Russia as a great power and as a partner on a global level. So, how could they accept a smaller state like Syria which could say no to them? When anything contradicts Syrian interests, we say no. And this is something they do not accept in the West. They asked us for a number of things in the past.
“They used to put pressure on us to abandon our rights in our land occupied by Israel. They wanted us not to support the resistance in Lebanon or Palestine which defends the rights of the Palestinian people. At a later stage, a few years before the crisis, they put pressure on Syria to distance itself from Iran. In another case, some of them wanted to use Syria’s relationship with Iran to influence the nuclear file. We have never been a part of this issue, but they wanted us to convince Iran to take steps against its national interests. We refused to do that. There were other similar things.
“That’s why they wanted in the end to make the Syrian state a satellite state which implements Western agendas in this region. We refused. Had we done these things, we would have become, as I said, a good, moderate, and democratic state. Now, they describe our state as being anti-democratic, while they have the best relations with the Saudi state which has nothing to do with democracy or elections and deprives women of their rights (emphasis added), in addition to many other things well known to the world. This is Western hypocrisy.”
Question: So, what does the West require of Syria today in order to stop arming the Syrian opposition and start the political solution?
Assad: “Simply, to be a puppet. And I’m not convinced that the West has a political solution. They do not want a political solution. When I say the West, I mean a number of countries like the United States, France, and Britain. The other countries play a secondary role. For them, the political solution is changing the state, bringing the state down and replacing it with a client state, exactly like what happened in Ukraine. As far as they are concerned, what happened in Ukraine was a political solution. But, had the former president, who was elected by the people, remained, they would have said that this president is bad, dictatorial, and kills his people. It is the same propaganda. So, the West is not interested in a political solution. They want war, and they want to change states everywhere in the world.”
On the West’s war on terrorism
Assad: “When you follow media reports on daily or weekly basis, you see that the rate of the airstrikes conducted by what they call a coalition against terrorism is sometimes less than ten strikes a day or a little more, in Syria or in Iraq, or in both Syria and Iraq. We are talking about a coalition which includes 60 countries, some of which are rich and advanced. On the other hand, the Syrian air force, which is very small in comparison to this coalition, conducts in a single day many times the number of the airstrikes conducted by a coalition which includes 60 countries.
“This shows the lack of seriousness. Maybe some of these countries do not want ISIS to grow larger than it has become in Syria and Iraq, but at the same time they don’t want to get rid of ISIS completely. They want to retain this terrorist force to be used as a threat to blackmail different countries. That’s why we say simply that there is no serious effort to fight terrorism, and what is being achieved by the Syrian forces on the ground equals in one day what is being achieved by these states in weeks. Once again, this shows that these countries are not serious, not only militarily, but politically speaking. An anti-terrorist coalition cannot consist of countries which are themselves supporters of terrorism (emphasis added.) So, there is a political side and a military side, and the two are linked to each other. The result is the same: ISIS still exists. It is struck in one place but expands in another.”
February 2, 2015
By Stephen Gowans
The idea that market share concerns are behind Saudi Arabia’s refusal to use supply management to prop up oil prices is challenged in an article in today’s New York Times.
According to the article, the Saudis “believe that there could be ancillary diplomatic benefits to the country’s current strategy of allowing oil prices to stay low — including a chance to negotiate an exit for Mr. Assad” by encouraging Russia to withdraw its support for the embattled Syrian president in return for the Saudis allowing the price of oil to rise.
Saudi Arabia can sway oil prices significantly by cutting back or increasing production. It is the leading player in OPEC, with a fifth of the world’s oil reserves.
The Saudis reportedly “told the United States that they think they have some leverage over Mr. Putin because of their ability to reduce the supply of oil and possibly drive up prices.”
What’s left unspoken, however, is that the leverage didn’t just happen by chance, but came about because the Saudis have refused to exercise their sway, despite substantial harm to themselves.
As the article points out, “Saudi Arabia needs the price of oil to be over $100 a barrel to cover its federal spending, including a lavish budget for infrastructure projects. The current price is about $55 a barrel, and Saudi Arabia has projected a 2015 deficit of about $39 billion.”
Low oil prices mean the Saudis also have leverage over Iran and Venezuela, which, like Russia, are major oil-producers, and like Russia, are objects of enmity in Washington.
The New York Times also reported that former Al Qaeda operative, Zacarias Moussaoui, currently locked up in a US federal supermax prison, testified before a US District Court “that he was directed in 1998 or 1999 by Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan to create a digital database of donors to the group. Among those he said he recalled listing in the database” were three members of the Saudi royal family:
• Prince Turki al-Faisal, then the Saudi intelligence chief;
• Prince Bandar Bin Sultan, the longtime Saudi ambassador to the United States;
• Prince al-Waleed bin Talal, a prominent billionaire investor.
Saudi sources have long been credited with funding the violent fundamentalist Muslim group, but until now news reports have suggested that the funding has come from Saudi civil society, and not the state.
The Saudi royal family, has, throughout its history, been deeply involved in projects to advance British and US foreign policy goals, in return for arms, diplomatic support, and protection of the family’s power and privileges as unelected leaders of the country.
One service the Saudis have provided to the West has been to export Islamist extremism to counter nationalism and socialist and communist movements in the Arab and Muslim worlds.
Another service has been to use oil supply management to intervene in energy markets to facilitate US foreign policy objectives.
For example, The Wall Street Journal pointed out in December that, “During the 1980s, the Reagan administration credited the Saudis with maintaining high oil production to drive down prices and weaken the Soviet Union’s finances.” And “President Barack Obama ’s administration has worked closely with Saudi Arabia to try using energy markets to pressure Iran into constraining its nuclear program, according to U.S. and Saudi officials.”
The newspaper also reported that “U.S. and Arab officials have privately gushed” that the Saudi-assisted price decline is giving Washington greater leverage over Tehran, Moscow and Caracas.
Puppets vs. anti-puppets: Why Syria’s Assad is persona non grata in the West while Egypt’s Sisi gets $1.3 billion in U.S. military aid annually
January 15, 2015
By Stephen Gowans
In a January 14 Wall Street Journal article on how “four years after the Arab Spring began, the new Middle East looks more and more like the old one,” reporter Yaroslav Trofimov noted that:
In his three decades in power, (former Egyptian president Hosni) Mubarak often told visiting American dignitaries that the choice was between him and the Muslim Brotherhood, the country’s main Islamist organization with branches across the region. He did prove right: A year after his ouster, the country’s first democratic presidential elections put the Brotherhood’s Mohammed Morsi in power.
In Syria, too, the view of the Assads was that the choice is between a secular government and the Muslim Brotherhood or violent Sunni Muslim fundamentalists.
The Muslim Brothers had organized a series of riots against the Syrian government throughout the 1960s.
On coming to power in 1970, Hafez Assad—the current president’s father– tried to overcome the opposition of the Muslim Brotherhood by weakening his party’s commitment to socialism (which political Islam opposes) and opening space for Islam.
This, however, did little to mollify the Muslim Brothers, who organized new riots and called for a jihad against Assad, denigrating him as “the enemy of Allah.” His “heretical” government was to be brought down and the secular character of the state overthrown.
By 1977, the ideological forbears of today’s jihadists 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.
In an effort to win the Islamists’ acquiescence, Assad built new mosques, opened Koranic schools, and relaxed restrictions on Islamic dress and publications. With these measures he secured some degree of calm, but political Islam remained a perennial source of instability, according to a U.S. Library of Congress country study of Syria, and the government was on continual guard against it. “The Muslim Brothers in Syria,” wrote the late Patrick Seale, a leading British writer on the Middle East, “were a sort of fever that rose and fell according to conditions at home and manipulation from abroad.”
What’s interesting about the parallel between Egypt and Syria in both sharing tensions between secular government and political Islam is that the West has sided with secularism in Egypt and the use of coercive methods to quell opposition to it while supporting jihad in Syria and condemning the Syrian government’s attempts to quash it.
So it is that no one in the West is calling for Egypt’s president, Abdel Fattah Al Sisi, to step down, even though Sisi’s Egypt is hardly the model of the liberal democracy the West professes to promote. As Trofimov reports, “Egypt’s new authorities have…imprisoned tens of thousands of political foes and imposed new restrictions on protesting, the media, nongovernmental organizations and human-rights groups.” Sisi’s forces have also killed over a thousand Morsi supporters for the crime of demonstrating against the ouster of the legitimately elected president. Human Rights Watch concluded that Sisi’s violent crackdown was a crime against humanity.
In short, the West backs a dictator with a deplorable record of human rights violations and rewards him with over a billion dollars of military aid annually.
Meanwhile, the West, Turkey, and the Gulf oil tyrannies funnel arms, money and other assistance to violent Sunni Muslim fundamentalists in Syria, including al-Qaeda and its offshoots, who are but the latest expression of a decades-long jihad which began with the Muslim Brotherhood against secular government in Syria. And the ostensible rationale for this exercise is said to be the necessity of overthrowing a dictator with a deplorable record of human rights violations.
It should be recalled that Egypt sold out the Palestinians by signing a peace treaty in 1979 with Israel to recover the Sinai Peninsula, and that the military, the real ruler of the country, is attached at the hip to the Pentagon.
The situation in Syria is quite different.
The West’s insistence that Assad step down (to yield power to puppets the West designates as the legitimate representatives of the Syrian people) “has nothing to do with democracy, freedom, or supporting the people in the region,” argues the Syrian president. “The West wants client states ruled by puppets.”
And Syria, under the Assads, unlike Egypt under Sadat, Mubarak and Sisi, is not a client state.
France wanted Syria to play a role with Iran concerning the nuclear file. What was required was not to be part of that file, but to convince Iran to take steps which are against its interests. We refused to do that.
They also wanted us to take a position against resistance in our region before putting an end to Israeli occupation and aggression against the Palestinians and other neighboring countries. We refused that too.
They wanted us to sign the Euro-Association Agreement which was against our interests and was meant to turn our country into an open market for their products while giving us a very small share of their markets. We refused to do that because it is against the interests of the Syrian people.
The Syrian government refuses to be one of the West’s marionettes, insisting on promoting domestic interests at the expense of foreign powers and foreign businesses. Egypt, by contrast, has stepped wholly into the club of the West’s marionettes.
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.