Archive | September, 2013

Nazi Uses Settler Feces as Bio-Warfare

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Screen shot_2013-09-30_at_11.05.46_AMISRAELI SOLDIERS USE FECES TO ATTACK HUNDREDS OF VILLAGERS AND PEACEFUL PROTESTERS OUTSIDE THE WEST BANK VILLAGE OF NABI SALEH.

Screen shot_2013-09-30_at_9.43.11_AM

Muki Najaer / PNN Exclusive

Israeli Occupation Force (IOF) uses feces of Israeli residents and settlers as a form of bio-warfare against Palestinian farmers in the villages of Wadi Fuqeen and Nahaleen.  Additionally, the Israeli army has developed a large vehicle for spraying sewage waste and feces at Palestinian protestors and homes, reportedly, in the towns of Abu Dis, Aizariah, Bil’in and Nabi Saleh.

Spraying sewage waste has become so common a weapon used by the Israeli Army that the combination of sewage water, feces, and human urine has been named “skunk”.  B’Tselem reports that ‘skunk’ and the vehicle used to disperse it, have been added to Israel’s armory for crowd control.

On 3 June of this year, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that the wild poliovirus type 1 (WPV1) js present in sewage samples collected from Israel.  Additionally, human feces contain endless forms of bacterial and biological contaminants. Given this information, the intentional use of sewage waste against Palestinians qualifies as bio-warfare.

 

Feces as Bio-Warfare Against Farmers

For several days, raw sewage from the illegal settlement of Beitar Illit has been contaminating Palestinian farmers’ fields in the village of Wadi Fuqeen.  The effects of the sewage water include damage to crops, permanent poisoning of the land, and the potential of spreading viruses and diseases.

The settlement of Beitar Illit, which was built in 1986, is now illegally occupied by 50,000 Israeli settlers. In 2006 the settlement began to dispose of its wastewater by dumping it on what remains of Wadi Fukin.

As a result, 50-60 dunams (50,000 – 60,000 square meters) of agricultural land is now unusable, olive and almond crops have been ruined, and the spring water is unsafe to drink.

The residents and farmers, who are heavily dependent on fresh spring water and fertile soil, are now forced to purchase water from an Israeli company that steals and resells water from an aquifer located beneath the Palestinian city of Bethlehem.

The Palestinian residents of the neighboring Nahaleen are facing the same indignity and crime against their water, land, and health.

Tragically, Wadi Fuqeen and Nahaleen, which have been suffering these outflows of sewage about twice a week since 2006, are not the only Palestinian villages targeted with Israeli sewage.

Feces as Bio-Warfare Against Regular Citizens and Protestors

Locals in the village of Abu Dis reported on September 25 that Israeli Occupation Force officials drove a large vehicle containing feces around main streets, and sprayed the sewage water ‘everywhere’ and on everything.

Locals reported, “It entered the houses and the kids’ rooms – and it didn’t clear like teargas does. It hung around in the fabric inside houses and made everyone fear for their health.”  They added,  “Rumors of possible viruses are going around.”

A similar story of intentional sewage spraying is reported to have occurred in the nearby town of Aizariah on September 20.  In March of this year, Middle East Monitor reported that Israeli forces sprayed Palestinian homes in the village of Nabi Saleh as a punishment for organizing weekly protests against the Apartheid Wall.

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What the Syrian Constitution says about Assad and the Rebels

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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.

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What’s Left: Syria, The View From The Other Side

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Posted in Syria by what’s left

By Stephen Gowans

His security forces used live ammunition to mow down peaceful pro-democracy protesters, forcing them to take up arms to try to topple his brutal dictatorship. He has killed tens of thousands of his own people, using tanks, heavy artillery and even chemical weapons. He’s a blood-thirsty tyrant whose rule has lost its legitimacy and must step down to make way for a peaceful democratic transition.

That’s the view of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, cultivated by Western politicians and their media stenographers. If there’s another side to the story, you’re unlikely to hear it. Western mass media are not keen on presenting the world from the point of view of governments that find themselves the target of Western regime change operations. On the contrary, their concern is to present the point of view of the big business interests that own them and the Western imperialism that defends and promotes big business interests. They accept as beyond dispute all pronouncements by Western leaders on matters of foreign affairs, and accept without qualification that the official enemies of US imperialism are as nasty as the US president and secretary of state say they are.

What follows is the largely hidden story from the other side, based on two interviews with Assad, the first conducted by Clarin newspaper and Telam news agency on May 19, 2013, and the second carried out on June 17, 2013 by Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. Both were translated into English by the Syrian Arab News Agency.

Peaceful protests?

Ba’athist Syria is no stranger to civil unrest, having experienced wave after wave of uprisings by Sunni religious fanatics embittered by their country being ruled by a secular state whose highest offices are occupied by Alawite ‘heretics’. [1] The latest round of uprisings, the opening salvos in another chapter of what Glen E. Robinson calls “Syria’s Long Civil War,” began in March, 2011. The first press reports were of a few small protests, dwarfed by the far more numerous and substantial protests that erupt every day in the United States, Britain and France. A March 16, 2011 New York Times report noted that “In Syria, demonstrations are few and brief.” These early demonstrations—a few quixotic young men declaring that “the revolution has started!”, relatives of prisoners protesting outside the Interior Ministry—seem disconnected from the radical Islamist rebellion that would soon develop.

Within days, larger demonstrations were underway in Dara, where citizens were said to have been “outraged by the arrest of more than a dozen schoolchildren.” Contrary to a myth that has since taken hold, these demonstrations were hardly peaceful. Protesters set fire to the local Ba’ath Party headquarters, as well as to the town’s main courthouse and a branch of SyriaTel. Some protesters shot at the police, who returned fire. [2] One can imagine the reaction of the New York City Police to protesters in Manhattan setting fire to the federal court building, firebombing the Verizon building and opening fire on police. A foreign broadcaster with an agenda to depict the United States in the worst possible light might describe the protest as peaceful, and the police response as brutal, but it’s doubtful anyone in the United States would see it that way.

From “the first weeks of the protests we had policemen killed, so how could such protests have been peaceful?” asks Assad. “How could those who claim that the protests were peaceful explain the death of these policemen in the first week?” Assad doesn’t deny that most protesters demonstrated peacefully, but notes that “there were armed militants infiltrating protesters and shooting at the police.”

Was the reaction of Syrian security forces to the unrest heavy-handed? Syria has a long history of Islamist uprisings against its secular state. With anti-government revolts erupting in surrounding countries, there was an acute danger that Syria’s Muslim Brothers—long at war with the Syrian state—would be inspired to return to jihad. What’s more, Syria is technically at war with Israel. As other countries in similar circumstances, Syria had an emergency law in place, restricting certain civil liberties in the interest of defending national security. Among the restrictions was a ban on unauthorized public assembly. The demonstrations were a flagrant challenge to the law, at a time of growing instability and danger to the survival of the Syrian secular project. Moreover, to expect Syrian authorities to react with restraint to gunfire from protesters is to hold Syria to a higher standard than any other country.

Meanwhile, as protesters in Syria were shooting at police and setting fire to buildings, Bahrain’s royal dictatorship was crushing a popular uprising with the assistance of Saudi tanks and US equipment. New York Times’ columnist Nicholas D. Kristof lamented that “America’s ally, Bahrain” was using “American tanks, guns and tear gas as well as foreign mercenaries to crush a pro-democracy movement” as Washington remained “mostly silent.” [3] Kristof said he had “seen corpses of protesters who were shot at close range, seen a teenage girl writhing in pain after being clubbed, seen ambulance workers beaten for trying to rescue protesters.” He didn’t explain why the United States would have a dictator as an ally, much less one who crushed a pro-democracy movement. All he could offer was the weak excuse that the United States was “in a vice—caught between its allies and its values,” as if Washington didn’t chose its allies, and that they were a force of nature, like an earthquake or a hurricane, that you had to live with and endure. The United States was indeed in a vice—though not of the sort Kristof described. It was caught between Washington’s empty rhetoric on democracy and the profit-making interests of the country’s weighty citizens, the true engine of US foreign policy. The dilemma was readily resolved. Profits prevailed, as they always do.

Bahrain’s accommodating attitude to US imperialism—it is home to the US Fifth Fleet—and its emphasis on indulging owners and investors at the expense of wage- and salary-earners, are unimpeachably friendly to US corporate and financial interests. Practically the entire stable of US allies in the Middle East is comprised of royal dictators whose attitude to democracy is unremittingly hostile, but whose attitude to helping US oil companies and titans of finance rake in fabulous profits is tremendously accommodating. And so the United States is on good terms with them, despite their violent allergic reaction to democracy. Aware of whose interests really matter in US foreign policy, Kristof wrote of Bahrain, “We’re not going to pull out our naval base.” Democracy is one thing, but closing a military base half way around the world is quite another.

That Bahrain’s version of the Arab Spring failed to grow into a civil war has much to do with US tanks, guns and tear gas, foreign mercenaries, and the silence of the US government. The Bahraini authorities used the repressive apparatus of the state more vigorously than Syrian authorities did, and yet virtually escaped the negative attention of responsibility-to-protect advocates, the US State Department, “serious” political commentators, and anarchists and many (though not all) Trots who, in line with their savaging of Gadhafi, preferred to vent their spleen on another official enemy of Western imperialism, rather than waste their bile execrating a US ally. What’s more, the ‘international community’ did much to fan the flames of the Syrian rebellion, linking up once again with their old friends Al-Qaeda and the Muslim Brothers to destabilize yet another left nationalist secular regime, whose devotion to sovereignty and self-management was an affront to Wall Street. [4] Without naming him specifically, Assad says Khalifa is among the leaders who stand in relation to the United States, France and Britain as “puppets and dummies [who] do their bidding and serve their interests without question.”

Anti-imperialism

If Khalifa is the model of the Arab dictator Washington embraces, Assad fits the matrix of the Arab leader whose insistence on independence rubs the US State Department the wrong way. “The primary aim of the West,” Assad says, “is to ensure that they have ‘loyal’ governments at their disposal…which facilitate the exploitation and consumption of a country’s national resources.” Khalifa comes to mind.

In contrast, Assad insists that a “country like Syria is not by any means a satellite state to the West.” It hasn’t turned over its territory to US military bases, nor made over its economy to accommodate Western investors, banks and corporations. “Syria,” he says, “is an independent state working for the interests of its people, rather than making the Syrian people work for the interests of the West.”

It’s not his attitude to multi-party democracy or the actions of Syria’s security forces that have aroused Western enmity, asserts Assad, but his insistence on steering an independent course for Syria. “It is only normal that they would not want us to play a role (in managing our own affairs), preferring instead a puppet government serving their interests and creating projects that would benefit their peoples and economies.” Normal or not, the Syrian president says, “We have consistently rejected this. We will always be independent and free,” adding that the United States and its satellites are using the conflict in Syria “to get rid of Syria—this insubordinate state, and replace the president with a ‘yes’ man.”

Foreign agenda

Assad challenges the characterization of the conflict as a civil war. The rebel side, he points out, is overwhelmingly dominated by foreign jihadists and foreign-backed opposition elements (heavily dominated by the Muslim Brothers) backed by hostile imperialist powers. Some of Assad’s opponents, he observes, “are far from autonomous independent decision makers,” receiving money, weapons, logistical support and intelligence from foreign powers. “Their decisions,” he says, “are not self-governing.”

The conflict is more aptly characterized as a predatory war on Syrian sovereignty carried out by Western powers and their reactionary Arab satellite states using radical Islamists to topple Assad’s government “to impose a puppet government loyal to them which (will) ardently implement their policies.” These policies would almost certainly involve Damascus endorsing the Zionist conquest of Palestine as legitimate (i.e., recognizing Israel), as well as opening the country to the US military and turning over Syrian markets, labor and resources to exploitation by Western investors, banks and corporations on terms favourable to Western capital and unfavourable to Syrians.

Russia and Iran

Criticism of the intervention of a number of reactionary Arab states in the conflict, and the participation of Western imperialist powers, is often countered by pointing to Russia’s and Iran’s role in furnishing Syria with weapons. Assad argues that intervention of the side of the jihadists (‘terrorists’ in his vocabulary) is unlawful and illegitimate. By furnishing rebels with arms, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and the United States “meddle in Syria’s internal affairs” Assad says, “which is a flagrant violation of international law and our national sovereignty.” On the other hand, Russia and Iran, which have supplied Syria with arms, have engaged in lawful trade with Syria, and have not infringed its independence.

Hezbollah

According to Assad, Hezbollah has been active in towns on the border with Lebanon, but its involvement in the Syrian conflict has, otherwise, been limited. “There are no brigades (of Hezbollah fighters in Syria.) They have sent fighters who have aided the Syrian army in cleaning areas on the Lebanese borders that were infiltrated with terrorists.”

Assad points out that if Hezbollah’s assistance was needed, he would have asked for deployment of the resistance organization’s fighters to Damascus and Aleppo which are “more important than al-Quseir,” the border town that was cleared of rebel fighters with Hezbollah’s help.

Stories about Hezbollah fighters pouring over the border to prop up the Syrian government are a “frenzy…to reflect an image of Hezbollah as the main fighting force” in order “to provoke Western and international public opinion,” Assad says. The aim, he continues, is to create “this notion that Hezbollah and Iran are also fighting in Syria as a counterweight” to the “presence of foreign jihadists” in Syria.

Democracy?

The Assad government has implemented a number of reforms in response to the uprising.

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

Second, the government proposed a new constitution to accommodate protesters’ demands to strip the Ba’ath Party of its lead role in Syrian society. The constitution was put to a referendum and ratified. 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, with the next election scheduled for 2014. “I don’t know if (US secretary of state) Kerry or others like him have a mandate from the Syrian people to speak on their behalf as to who stays and who leaves,” Assad observes, noting that Syrians themselves can decide whether he stays or leaves when they go to the polls next year.

Despite Assad’s lifting the emergency law and amending the constitution to accommodate demands for a multi-party electoral democracy, the conflict continues. Instead of accepting these changes, the rebels summarily rejected them. Washington, London and Paris also dismissed Assad’s concessions, denigrating them as “meaningless,” without explanation. [5] Given the immediate and total rejection of the reforms, Assad can hardly be blamed for concluding that “democracy was not the driving force of the revolt.”

Elaborating, he notes:

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.

The reality that the armed rebellion is dominated by Islamists [6] also militates against the conclusion that thirst for democracy lies at its core. Many radical Islamists reject democracy because they see it as a system for creating man-made laws and, as a corollary, for rejecting God’s law. Reportedly hundreds of jihadists [7]—members of a sort of Islamist International—have travelled from abroad to fight for a Levantine society in which God’s law, and not that of men and women, rules. Assad asks, “What interest does an internationally listed terrorist from Chechnya or Afghanistan have with the internal political reform process in Syria?” Or in democracy?

Good terrorists and bad terrorists

Syria’s jihadists have resorted to terrorist tactics, and appear to have little fear that they will ever be held to account for these or other war crimes. They are not mistaken. Their summary executions of prisoners, indiscriminate shelling of civilian areas, terrorist car bombings, rapes, torture, hostage taking and pillage—documented by the UN human rights commission [8]—will very likely be swept into a dark, murky corner, to be forgotten and never acted upon, while imperialist powers use their sway over international courts to shine a bright line upon war crimes committed by Syrian forces. While their ranks include the Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Nusra front, the jihadists have been depicted as heroes by Western governments and their media stenographers, a “good Al-Qaeda,” says Assad. Cat’s paws of the West, radical Islamists are good terrorists when they fight to bring down independent governments, like the leftist pro-Soviet government in Afghanistan, and the anti-imperialist governments in Libya and Syria, but are bad terrorists when they attack the US homeland and threaten to take power in Mali.

Chemical weapons

Ben Rhodes, the US deputy national security advisor, announced that Syrian forces have “used chemical weapons, including the nerve agent sarin, on a small scale against the opposition multiple times in the last year” killing “100 to 150 people.” [9]

Assad says the White House’s claim doesn’t add up. The point of using nerve gas, a weapon of mass destruction, is to kill “thousands of people at one given time.” The 150 people Washington says Syrian forces took 365 days to kill with chemical weapons could have been easily killed in one day using conventional weapons.

Why, then, wonders Assad, would the Syrian army use a weapon of mass destruction sub-optimally to kill a limited number of rebels when in a year it could kill hundreds of times more with rifles, tanks and artillery? “It is counterintuitive,” says the Syrian president, “to use chemical weapons to create a death toll that you could potentially reach by using conventional weapons.”

There is some evidence pointing to the use of chemical weapons by the rebels. Carla Del Ponte, a member of the United Nations Independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria—a body created by the UN Human Rights Council to investigate alleged violations of human rights law in Syria—says that the commission has “concrete suspicions” of the use of sarin gas by the rebels” but no evidence government forces have used them. [10]

Assad says he asked the United Nations to launch a formal investigation into suspected use of chemical weapons by rebel forces in Aleppo, but that the UN demanded unconditional access to the country. If Assad acceded to the demand, the inspection regime could be used as a cover to gather military intelligence for use against Syrian forces. “We are a sovereign state; we have an army and all matters considered classified will never be accessible neither to the UN, nor Britain, nor France,” says Assad. If he rejected the demand, it could be said—as it indeed it was by the White House [11]—that the ‘international community’ had been prevented by Damascus from undertaking a comprehensive investigation, thereby releasing the UN from any obligation to investigate the use of chemical weapons by the jihadists. At the same time, by rejecting the UN’s demand, the Syrian government would create the impression it had something to hide. This could be countered by Damascus explaining its reasons for turning down the UN conditions, but the Western media give little time to the Syrian perspective, preferring saturation coverage of the pronouncements of Western officials. In terms of Western public opinion, whatever US officials say about Syria is decisive. Whatever Syrian officials say is drowned out, if presented at all.

It should be noted that no permanent member of the UN Security Council, including the United States and Britain—indeed, no country of any standing—would willingly grant an outside organization or country unrestricted access to its military and government facilities. The reasons for denying UN inspectors untrammelled access to Syria are all the stronger in Syria’s case, given that major players on the Security Council are overtly backing the rebels, and could be expected to try to use UN inspectors—as indeed the US did in Iraq—to gather military intelligence to be used against the host country.

It would also do well to remember that the United States evinced no interest in investigating the use of chemical weapons by the rebels, immediately dismissing the allegations as unfounded. Following up on the allegations wasn’t an option.

Finally, Assad points out that the chemical weapons charges call to mind the ‘sexed up’ WMD evidence used by the United States and Britain as a pretext to invade and conquer Iraq: “It is common knowledge” he says, “that Western administrations lie continuously and manufacture stories as a pretext for war.”

Conclusion

The purpose of the foregoing is to offer a glimpse into the conflict in Syria from the other side, a side which the Western media are institutionally incapable of presenting, except in passing, and only if overwhelmed by the competing imperialist narrative.

Assad’s analysis and values are very much in the anti-imperialist vein. He speaks of Western powers seeking “dummies” and “yes men” who will pursue policies that are favourable to the West. The United States does indeed maintain a collection of “yes men” in the Middle East. Khalifa, the royal dictator of Bahrain, who used US tanks, guns, tear gas and Saudi mercenaries to crush a popular rebellion, is a model Arab “yes man” and a dictator, as many of Washington’s “yes men” are, and have always been.

Assad, in contrast, has none of Khalifa’s readiness to kowtow to an imperialist master. Instead, his government’s insistence on working for the interests of Syrians, rather than making Syrians work for the interests of the West, has provoked the hostility of the United States, France and Britain, and their determination to overthrow his government. That Assad’s commitment to local interests goes beyond rhetoric is clear in the character of Syria’s economic policy. It features the state-owned enterprises, tariffs, subsidies to domestic firms, and restrictions on foreign investment that Wall Street and its State Department handmaiden vehemently oppose for restricting the profit-making opportunities of wealthy US investors, bankers and corporations [12]. On foreign policy, Syria has steered a course sensitive to local interests, refusing to abandon the Arab national project, whose success would threaten US domination of the Middle East, while allying with Iran and Hezbollah in a resistance (to US imperialism) front.

For his refusal to become their “puppet,” the United States and its imperialist allies intend to topple Assad through accustomed means: an opportunistic alliance with radical Islamists who hate Assad as much as Washington does, though for reasons of religion rather than economics and imperialism.

1. 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,” according to the US Library of Congress Country Study of Syria. http://lcweb2.loc.gov/frd/cs/sytoc.html
2. “Officers fire on crowd as Syria protests grow,” The New York Times, March 20, 2011.
3. Nicholas D. Kristof, “Bahrain pulls a Qaddafi”, The New York Times, March 16, 2011.
4. For the West’s opportunistic alliances with political Islam see Mark Curtis, Secret Affairs: Britain’s Collusion with Radical Islam, Serpent’s Tail, 2011.
5. David M. Herszenhorn, “For Syria, Reliant on Russia for weapons and food, old bonds run deep”, The New York Times, February 18, 2012.
6. Adam Entous, “White House readies new aid for Syrian rebels”, The Wall Street Journal, April 10, 2013; 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.
7. According to Russian president Vladimir Putin “at least 600 Russians and Europeans are fighting alongside the opposition.” “Putin: President al-Assad confronts foreign gunmen, not Syrian people,” Syrian Arab News Agency, June 22, 2013.
8. Damien Mcelroy, “Syrian rebels face war crime accusation”, The Ottawa Citizen, August 11, 2012; Sam Dagher and Nour Malas, “Lebanon militia kidnaps Syrians”, The Wall Street Journal, August 15, 2012; Hwaida Saad and Nick Cumming-Bruce, “Civilian attacks rise in Syria, U.N. says”, The New York Times, September 17, 2012; Stacy Meichtry, “Sarin detected in samples from Syria, France says”, The Wall Street Journal, June 4, 2013; Sam Dagher, “Violence spirals as Assad gains”, The Wall Street Journal, June 10, 2013.
9. Statement by Ben Rhodes, the US deputy national security advisor for strategic communications, on chemical weapons. The Guardian (UK), June 13, 2013.
10. “UN: ‘Strong suspicions’ that Syrian rebels have used sarin nerve gas,” Euronews, May 6, 2013; “UN’s Del Ponte says evidence Syria rebels ‘used sarin’”, BBC News, May 6, 2013.
11. Rhodes.
12. For Syria’s economic policies and the US ruling class reaction to them see the Syria sections of the Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedom http://www.heritage.org/index/country/syria and the CIA Factbook https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/sy.html .

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Why Syria Matters: Interview with Aijaz Ahmad

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by Prabir Purkayastha

Aijaz Ahmad: For one thing, Syria is the last remaining representative of Arab nationalism as it used to be understood historically.  It still calls itself socialist.  Even though it has implemented a great deal of neoliberal reform,the state sector is still dominant It bans, literally bans, religion from politics.  It will not recognize the existence of religious political parties.  It is the historic opponent of Israel for a variety of reasons. . . .   If you remove Syria, the cordon sanitaire around Israel is complete.  There’s no adversary left.  There is then Iran — not sharing a border, not a part of the historical Arab world.  Iran gets isolated.  And their perception is that both Hezbollah and Hamas will lose enormously. . . .  So, Syria has that kind of strategic situation.  In the old days, it was very closely aligned with the Socialist Bloc, and some of that kind of alignment still remains. . . .

Secular democratic — well, not terribly democratic but secular — Arab nationalism; secular, republican, anti-Zionist, anti-monarchical nationalism (in its social economic policy quite progressive — it destroyed feudal remnants in Egypt for example) — Syria is the last remaining representative of that.  So, the Saudis, the Qataris, the monarchical Gulf Council, all these people — their hatred of Syria comes from that old place [i.e. the reaction against the aforementioned current of nationalism] and then gets connected with Syria’s more recent alignment with Iran. . . .

Since the days of the Truman Doctrine, Islam has been looked at as a great bulwark against all of these insurgent [nationalist and communist] forces in this part of the world.  One of the prominent leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood and a whole gang of them were welcomed to the White House by Eisenhower It goes back that far, this alignment with the Muslim Brotherhood. . . .   And it is that same process that brought jihadis to Afghanistan.  Islam will fight against Arab nationalism, against communism. . . .  [Imperialists] having defeated them in one place after another [by means of that alignment], Syria is perceived as that [i.e. the last of the kind that is yet to be defeated].

So, there is the Syria Accountability Act passed by the US Congress.  Since then, the undermining of the Syrian government with a view to regime change has been an objective of the successive US administrations. . . .

Yes, there were disgruntled elements in Libya, in Syria, for a variety of reasons.  But, in Syria certainly, they were very small.  The Muslim Brotherhood historically had a very small base.  They were quite powerful in the sixties and the early seventies. . . .  But the regime contained them very well.  So, what you had in Syria was the Muslim Brotherhood inside the country and a whole lot of exiled intellectuals in Paris, mainly in Paris, and elsewhere. . . .  The Americans have known from the beginning, the West has known from the beginning, that their only chance in Syria would be if they could establish a so-called “liberated zone,” preferably on the border with Turkey, which could become a kind of Benghazi . . . which could become a ground for intervention.  They have known that there would not be a popular uprising of the kind that you had in Egypt.  In Syria there are too many forces afraid of the Muslim Brotherhood.  Syria is a genuinely secular country, by and large, for 25% of the population consists of various kinds of minorities.  The fact that the Assad regime absolutely insists on secularism gives that 25% a great sense of security in the state.  So, there were no grounds that they could use.  This is very much manufactured — very much manufactured from the beginning.  And the killings of the state personnel have been going on from the beginning.  Over a thousand members of the state personnel have been killed so far.

Prabir Purkayastha: So, almost 30% of the total number of casualties that have taken place in Syria.

Aijaz Ahmad: Yes, but you’d never know it from the established media.  That has been going on from the beginning.  And violence has been there from the beginning because the kind of popular uprising you saw in Tunisia, or Egypt, or Yemen, or Bahrain, there were no grounds for that sort of thing in Syria.  You could not bring hundreds of thousands of people into the streets, and that’s not because the Assad regime is more authoritarian than all those other regimes. . . .  Disinformation in the case of Syria is actually in my view even greater than it was in the case of Libya. . . .

There are a number of things going on, on this question of the offering of reforms.  Very extensive reforms, by the way, very extensive reforms.  The only thing on which they’ve dug in their heels is the issue of the Muslim Brotherhood, and that is the issue, I’m told, on which the negotiations with Turkey broke down.  Turkey wanted 50-60% of the transitional umbrella organization’s seats to be allotted to the Muslim Brotherhood.  The Syrian regime said: Constitutionally we cannot give a seat to a religious party.  So, reforms were rejected out of hand because the objective is regime change.

Prabir Purkayastha: Do you think the Bashar Assad regime can ride it out?  At the moment it seems that he has tided over the initial crisis, which was there, and he seems very much in control, except in one or two spots like Homs and a couple of other places.  Do you think this particular phase is actually over?

Aijaz Ahmad: The control of the regime is not in question.  What the regime has been able to do is to deny them the creation of that sanctuary where these people could all be brought together, the creation of a Benghazi. . . .  The amount of weaponry, and the quality of weaponry, that has come into Syria, in the hands of these anti-state elements that Syria is calling “armed gangs,” is extraordinary.  Extremely sophisticated weaponry has come in.  It has come from Israel, it has come from Turkey, it has come through Lebanon, paid for by Saudi Arabia and so on.  So, it is quite an achievement on the part of the regime so far to have denied them a place where the army could not penetrate.  This much they have been able to do so far.  How long this will last, we don’t know.

 

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Assad Foreign Policy (II): Strategies of Confrontation

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A handout picture released by the official Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA), shows President Bashar al-Assad addressing his new cabinet during a swear-in ceremony on 26 June 2012. (Photo: AFP – HO – SANA)

Third-Wayers repeatedly discredit the mumanaist (political and/or military resistance) credentials of the Assad regime on account of a number of regional policies which include: its intervention on behalf of right-wing Christian militias in Lebanon in 1976; its war against Palestinian groups in Lebanon in the 1980s; its decision to join the Gulf War coalition against Saddam Hussein in 1991; its reluctance to engage Israel militarily; and its participation in so-called peace negotiations with Israel since 1991.

Indeed, the first two of these policies in particular represent the darker side of the Assad regime’s foreign policy history. Hafez al-Assad’s strategic motives at the time have been explained by academics as relating to his intent to reign in the Palestinians, and later Hezbollah, in order to avert a wider regional war with Israel, and to co-opt the Maronite Right lest it “draw Israel into the fighting on its behalf and… throw the Christians into the hands of Israel and balkanize Lebanon,” according to Anoushiravan Ehteshami and Raymond Hinnebusch.

In a recently declassified Pentagon document, the Assistant-Secretary of Defense explains the reasoning behind Assad’s 1976 intervention:

“Asad is loath to see emerge on his western flank a radical leftist- and Palestinian dominated Lebanon, almost certainly unamenable to his direction. Furthermore, a radical Lebanon could drag Asad into a war with Israel at a time, place, and in circumstances not of his own choosing. Moreover, a radicalized Lebanon would be a military liability as a confrontation state with Israel. Lebanon may never be able to field a credible military force against Israel and certainly could not do so for Lebanese-Israeli border, a mission for which they are clearly inadequate, or to present Israel with a virtually undefended corridor through which the IDF could outflank his forces on the Golan Heights.”

 

While difficult to justify this intervention either morally or ideologically, given its Realist motives, serving Israeli interests was clearly not one of them as the above document reveals. Furthermore, it is nothing short of politically naive reductionism to dismiss all of Syria’s foreign policy record as being consistent with these policies or as being governed exclusively by crude realpolitik. Even as it sought to restrain Palestinian forces in Lebanon, Syria confronted the Israeli invasion in 1982 and a year later, succeeded in torpedoing the infamous, US-backed, May 17 Agreement that Israel sought to impose on Lebanon, and which would otherwise have turned it into an Israeli satellite state. 

Syria’s Participation in the Gulf War

Even Hafez al-Assad’s decision to partake in the US-led “Operation Desert Storm” coalition against Saddam in 1991 cannot be reduced to such considerations, unless one regards political survival, national security and state sovereignty as power-politics. Doubtless, one of Assad’s motives for joining the coalition was to secure US acceptance of the Taif Accord which legitimized Syria’s mandate over Lebanon. However, this was by no means the sole incentive for participating in the offensive against Iraq as Third-Wayers and oppositionists would have us believe. Assad’s unpopular decision must be viewed against the backdrop of the “1989 Revolutions” in formerly Communist Eastern European countries which presaged the dismemberment of Syria’s superpower patron, the Soviet Union, only months after the Gulf war. In the context of a uni-polar world order, Assad’s rationale for ganging up against a regional rival who was hardly a beacon of resistance to imperialism at the time, was to prevent a similar fate from befalling Syria. After losing the support of the Soviet Union, Assad was forced into a detente of sorts with the sole remaining superpower. As expounded by Ehteshami and Hinnebusch:

“Assad certainly feared that the Iraq invasion could unleash a wider war which Israel could exploit to attack Syria, and joining the coalition was a kind of insurance against that….The destruction of Iraq showed what Assad had spared Syria. Syrians grudgingly gave him credit for shrewdly pre-empting plots to make Syria the next victim of the “New World Order.”

Syria’s Participation in the “Peace Process”

 

This type of strategic logic was also displayed in Assad’s refusal to drag Syria into another costly war with Israel and his subsequent decision to partake in the peace process, both of which are cited by Third-Way intellectuals as instances of the regime’s alleged complicity with imperialism and Zionism. Third-Wayers peremptorily denounce the Assad leadership for ensuring the Golan Heights remain Israel’s “quietest front” as detracting from its resistance or mumanaa status, and as an example of its “cowardly” regional policies. 

What they fail to take note of, however, is how suicidal any offensive action on Syria’s part would be not only for the regime but for the nation-state as a whole. As many historians have pointed out, Syria lacks “a credible offensive capability” in that it would not be able to hold any territory it might succeed in recapturing against an Israeli counter-attack. This is even more so the case considering that Syria lost territory in the 1967 war and failed to retrieve it in 1973 despite the participation of other Arab states.

Hafez al-Assad’s original strategy upon assuming power was to strike a strategic alliance with Egypt in order to retake the Golan. But although he believed in the necessity of the military option, Assad also conceived of the 1973 War and the recapture of the Golan as a prelude to negotiations which would lead to an “honorable” settlement that would include the Palestinian territories. The negotiations track was therefore always viewed as an unavoidable, albeit distasteful, need dictated by the strategic balance of power. This dualistic approach to the confrontation with Israel characterized much of Syria’s history.

However, by the late 1980s Syria was forced to scale back its military ambitions on account of Mikhail Gorbachev’s reforms and the Soviet Union’s changing priorities which led to a consequent reduction in military and economic aid to Syria. Such a scale back entailed a shift from pursuing a military balance with Israel to a strategic standoff where Israel could still launch offensive action against Syria but only at a high price. Concomitant with this revised military doctrine was a new political strategy described by Ehteshami and Hinnebusch as “negative power” – or what Washington dubs, a “spoiler” role – the obstruction of a peace agreement which either damages its own interests or Arab and Palestinian rights. This strategy was further demonstrated by Assad’s participation in the peace process after the Gulf War, which also coincided with the downfall of the Soviet Union in late 1991. Deprived of its Soviet backer, and in the context of a new world order, the regime could no longer afford to incur the wrath of the sole remaining superpower.

Rather than view such a change in strategy as a diminution in ideology, Ehteshami and Hinnebusch refer to it as “tactical rejectionism” characterized by “consistent goals and tactical flexibility.”

 

As Seyyid Hassan Nasrallah himself observed in his Quds day speech in 2009, the policy options before mumanaists did not fit into a neat dichotomy: “either war [value rationality] or if not able to fight, we succumb [instrumental rationality]”. When the requirements for military confrontationalism could not be satisfied, rejectionism served as its ideologically consistent and strategically advantageous, political substitute, and this substitute was to “not succumb” as Syria has done. Thus, for Nasrallah, although “It is true it [Syria] did not fight and close a front but still, it did not surrender.” 

This characterization is not confined to Assad’s allies like Hezbollah, but extends to his enemies as well. Aside from Henry Kissinger’s famous maxim, “No war without Egypt no peace without Syria”, Dennis Ross, Bill Clinton’s former special Middle East coordinator, laments “Peace was only acceptable on Assad’s terms”.

Israeli professor, Moshe Ma’oz explains some of the frustrations from the Israeli side:
“One of the obstacles to peace in the 1990s was Assad’s refusal to hold direct talks with Israel. So was his refusal to offer guarantees to Israel over water, security and peace. By security and peace, Israel doesn’t just mean guarantees of peace on its border with Syria. It means a distancing between Iran and Syria, which would also mean a distancing between Syria and Iranian-backed Hezbollah in Lebanon.”

Yet Assad’s steadfast refusal to divorce himself from his allies, prompted Israel to break off the Wye Plantation talks in 1996 after Syria refused to condemn Hamas’ attacks on Israeli buses, as observed by Israeli specialist, Henry Siegman.

 

This consistency was further evinced in the Geneva talks of March 2000, which was widely described as a failure on account of Syria’s refusal to relinquish its demand for a “sliver” of shoreline along the Sea of Galilee, as related by The Economist at the time. 

True to form, Hafez al-Assad was a “100 percenter” as Ma’oz correctly identifies him, despite all this cost him in military and economic pressures. As Ma’oz points out, had he struck a peace deal with Israel, a large part of Syria’s budget which had previously earmarked for military purposes would have been diverted to social and economic development. Yet Assad was clearly willing to pay this price, as his allies knew well, which is why Hezbollah and Iran have always tolerated and understood Syria’s participation in the peace process, even though they don’t recognize the legitimacy of such talks.

On the report of one source close to Hezbollah, Bashar al-Assad once confided to the resistance movement that his father had in fact “feared” that the Israelis would accept a withdrawal to the June 4 lines and sought to find other pretexts for scuppering the talks after Wye Plantation. He did indeed want a comprehensive peace agreement, but not at any price.

Bashar al-Assad’s resistance credentials

Another pervasive tendency among Third-Wayers, is to conflate Bashar al-Assad’s regional policies with his father’s, despite the fact they are considerably more “radical”, as acknowledged by his American and Israeli foes. This distinction owes itself not only to differences in Bashar’s foreign policy style, but also to international and regional developments such as the Bush doctrine, along with its regime change and preemptive war policies, and the perceived success and efficacy of the resistance option, which was best illustrated by Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from South Lebanon in 2000 at the hands of Hezbollah’s resistance.

 

Were it not for the Bashar al-Assad regime’smumanaism, it is highly unlikely Hezbollah would be staunchly defending it and losing Arab popular support in the process. For Hezbollah, the Assad regime was not merely an active bystander who defended its allies, but a party to the resistance struggle as “it did not only stand by the resistance, but it backed the resistance in Lebanon and Palestine”. The resistance movement even maintains that it owed its victory in 2000, at least in part, to “Syrian backing”. While the nature of this backing is not specified, Nasrallah’s claim that he did “not want to go into details” about this support, “so as not to embarrass the Syrian leadership,” insinuates that it is military. 

Hezbollah and Iran are not alone in viewing the Assad regime as a bastion of political resistance. Israeli professor, Eyal Zisser notes that “Bashar’s foreign policy troubles started as early as the winter of 2000, following the outbreak of the Palestinian uprising (the al-Aqsa Intifada) and the renewal of Hezbollah’s activities, with Syria’s blessing, against Israel’s northern border.”

Viewed from Washington’s perspective, Bashar’s regional policies were far more threatening than his father’s. Dennis Ross griped that “In 1990-1991, Hafez al-Assad’s actions during the Persian Gulf War demonstrated that he grasped the realities of power very differently than his son understands them today,” hypothesizing that “At the time of the 2002 war in Iraq, Hafez would have looked for a deal with the Bush administration…”

As outlined in part I of this article, it is on account of the central pillars of Bashar’s foreign policy – support for Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad and the resistance in Iraq, in addition to its alignment with Iran – that Washington has pursued an increasingly aggressive campaign against his regime.

In effect, although Syria hasn’t directly engaged Israel since 1973, it has been engaging it indirectly through its active backing of resistance groups which have been resisting Israel militarily for the past few decades. What is more, the fact that it has been paying a high price for its military assistance and political support for resistance movements means it did indeed make the required sacrifices of any mumanaist actor and hence can hardly be branded as “cowardly” or insufficiently resistance-oriented.The international war against the regime today is the price Syria has had to pay for the Assad regime’s refusal to capitulate to imperialist and Zionist dictates.

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Assad Foreign Policy (I): A History of Consistence

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Bullet casings are seen near sandbags in the center of Houla, near Homs 1 June 2012. (Photo: Reuters – Saria Al-Houlani – Handout)

Chief among Third-Wayers’ denunciations against the Assad regime’s foreign policy record are accusations that relate to its alleged history of defeat, and later quietism, vis-à-vis Israel, as well as its persecution and cynical use of Lebanese and Palestine groups resisting the Zionist state. For these detractors, the Assad leadership’s anti-Zionist and anti-imperialist stances amount to little more than public posturing intended to preserve its popular legitimacy and is therefore of negligible strategic value to the resistance axis. While many of those making this argument are merely engaging in ex-post facto rationalization – that is, formulating retrospective explanations to justify their current position – this depiction of the Syrian regime as having “colluded” with imperialism in the past, warrants a comprehensive response, if only to underline the centrality of Assad’s Syria to the resistance project and the Palestinian cause generally.

Realism Versus Constructivism

The core problem with the Third Way historical meta-narrative is that it rests on political Realism, a school of thought which dominates the American tradition of the International Relations discipline. The Realist school views states as essentially self-interested actors, who pursue their security and the same predefined economic, political and military interests at the expense of ideological values and principles. While Realism is a useful theoretical tool for explaining some aspects of Syrian foreign policy, by no means does it account for it in its entirety, and even less so in the case of Bashar al-Assad’s regional policy. However, most Third Way intellectuals who study Syria adopt the Realist approach and consequently, reduce all Syrian foreign policy to power politics, while viewing the regime – a view which invariably conflates Hafez al-Assad’s with Bashar’s rule – as governed by considerations of crude realpolitik and regime/state interests, which it would readily sacrifice its ideological principles for.

 

A more discerning examination of Syrian foreign policy requires a paradigm shift from Realism to Constructivism. The latter approach is based on the ontological premise that reality isn’t only material but also ideational; both the social world and knowledge are socially constructed, and as such, “a state’s interests are not just out there waiting to be discovered,” but are shaped by identities which define political actors. These identities are constructed through foreign policy discourses which “shape the identity of the state, its ‘rationality’, the ‘reality’ it defines, and its interests and preferences in its interactions with the world.” 

In short, interests are defined by identities and are hence, not predefined universal givens. Hafez al-Assad said as much in this excerpt from 1994 : “There has been much talk about interests in this historic stage of international development…We say that when we talk about interests we mean…not just economic interests, but…[national] sentiments and common culture and heritage.”

Syria’s Political Identity

Only by interrogating the Syrian state’s identity, can we make meaningful sense of what its foreign policy interests are and how it pursues them. As Hussein Agha and Ahmad S. Khalidi have observed in their book “Syria and Iran: Rivalry and Co-Operation”, published by Chatham House, both national identity and the definition of the “national interest” in Assad’s Syria, can best be described as “Syrio-centric Arabism”, that is, a confluence of pan-Arabism and Syrian nationalism.

 

In turn, this identity has been shaped by an irredentist and revisionist drive following western colonialism’s dismemberment of historic Syria, “Bilad al-Sham”, into 4 mini-states – Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Palestine. The usurpation of Palestine and creation of Israel in its place, added a staunch anti-Zionism to Syria’s pan-Arab, anti-imperialist identity, an identity which was only reinforced by the loss of the Golan in the 1967 war. 

Beyond preserving its physical security, the Assad leadership’s mumanaa has also become a principal source of its ontological security. That is, security of its identity as a resistant state and champion of Arab rights. According to Constructivism, ontological security is a defining feature of all foreign policy; like humans, states are social actors which have both physical needs and social drives. Thus, in addition to the need for physical security, states also strive for a security of their identity. This characteristic of states is often lost on Third Wayers who oversimplify Syria’s national security policy as a pursuit of physical [regime] security, or its mere survival as an institutional entity, to the exclusion of the security of its identity or being as a particular kind of actor.

Anti-zionism and anti-imperialist Syrio-centric Arabism were the founding principles of the Assad regime. As depicted by the scholars Anoushiravan Ehteshami and Raymond A. Hinnebusch: “Hafez al-Assad’s seizure of power in 1970 aimed to unify [the] regime and country for the struggle to recover lost Arab territories from Israel; he designed his regime to carry on this struggle.” The ensuing military and economic costs wrought by the 1973 and 1982 wars with Israel (20,000 reported military casualties and military spending that reached over 50% of Syria’s GNP by the end of the 1980s) routinized the conflict as a stable fixture of the Syrian national identity.

But that is not to say that Syrian anti-Zionism is purely reactive and the result of the perception of Israel’s threat to Syria’s security. According to Agha and Khalidi: “Assad has never severed himself from his basic ideological roots. From this perspective the struggle with Israel, although undeniably aggravated by the occupation of Syrian soil on the Golan since 1967, is not to be seen as a purely territorial issue…. this hostility also has other elements, primary among them the Syrian commitment to the Palestinian cause. From a Baathist pan-Arab perspective, the creation of Israel is not only morally unjust and a trespass against the Palestinians but a transgression against the Arab people and the greater Arab homeland.”

It is for this reason that Syria has one of the strictest anti-normalization [with Israel] policies in the region, despite its participation in the so-called “peace negotiations”. As the Israeli professor Hillel Frisch observes in his discourse analysis of over 80 issues of the Syrian military journal Jaish al-Shaab: “The basic theme is that Zionism is incorrigibly evil, whether under a right-wing Likud government or under a Labor government. Implacable hatred of the ‘Zionist enemy’ continued to prevail, and even intensify, after the Madrid peace conference in 1991”. Frisch further corroborates the main thesis of this essay when he asserts that: “even realism cannot explain the persistence of the portrayal of demonic images of the enemy (as the above quotations demonstrate) long after these talks ensued. That would require recognition of the importance of ideology, as the idealists and constructivists argue.”

 

Not only is the Syrian army’s military doctrine a staunchly anti-Zionist one, but its media and public diplomacy are governed by a similar legitimacy-withholding ethos. As a matter of policy, Syrian officials do not meet with their Israeli counterparts, even in the context of peace negotiations, prompting former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin to complain that “Syria’s president has not done even one per cent of what President Sadat did to convince the people of Israel and in Syria that he wants peace.” Nor do they give interviews to Israeli media. A recent Times of Israel article compares the Syrian opposition’s openness to talking with Israeli media outlets with the Assad regime’s “taboo” of talking to Israeli journalists or even granting them visas to enter Syria. Moreover, Syrian censorship authorities ban all access to Israeli websites. 

As decades of Syrian history have testified, the Assad regime’s identification of Arab and Palestinian rights with its national identity, also extends to its national security and foreign policy behavior. Ehteshami and Hinnebsch note that “The identification of Syrian interests with the Arab cause was no mere fiction and a purely Syrian-centred policy never took form: had it done so Asad could long ago have pursued a Sadat-like settlement with Israel over the Golan instead of mortgaging Syria’s welfare and future to a struggle chiefly in Arabist irredentism, not narrowly defined Syrian raison d’etat.”

Threats to Syria’s Physical Security

Such seemingly self-defeating behavior is typical of states pursuing ontological security. Although many of the policies chosen by them lead to outcomes which threaten their physical security, this remains secondary to the perceived stability of their self-identity. Thus, states can become “attached” to confrontational and dangerous routines as well as safe ones; ontological security is “perfectly compatible with physical insecurity”.

 

Therefore, despite the sustained campaign of pressure by the US on the Assad regime, the Syrian leadership has not succumbed to any of Washington’s demands – a resolve which has clearly cost the regime its physical security, as the current western-GCC-Israeli backed insurrection against Assad’s rule attests. Since 1979, Syria has been placed on the US State Department’s list of “State Sponsors of Terrorism” on account of its support for resistance movements in Palestine and Lebanon, and included in the Bush administration’s infamous “axis of evil” list in 2002, on that account as well. 

Two months after the US invasion of Iraq in March 2003, Secretary of State Colin Powell presented Assad with a list of demands that included cutting off support to resistance forces in Lebanon and Iraq, as well as closing down Hamas and Islamic Jihad operations in their Damascus base – policies, Powell claimed which “no longer have the same relevance” in “a changing Middle East”. The price for Syria’s refusal to capitulate to this ultimatum was the imposition of a harsh sanctions regime, known as the Syria Accountability and Lebanon Sovereignty Act which was approved by Congress and signed by President Bush in May 2004. As reported by Eyal Zisser, “the US sanctions damaged and even blocked Syrian efforts to integrate into the world economy”. The US then spearheaded UN Security Council Resolution 1559 which called for the withdrawal of Syrian forces from Lebanon, and a year later, engineered the UN inquiry into the assassination of Lebanese Premier Rafik al-Hariri (UNIIIC) which – based on the flimsiest of evidence – accused the Syrian regime of the assassination.

Aside from these political and diplomatic pressures, Washington has overtly harbored regime-change designs for Syria as far back as 1996 when the “Clean Break” document was drafted by former Assistant Secretary for Defence, Richard Perle for Netahyahu who was running for Prime Minister at the time. The report advises:

 

“Israel can shape its strategic environment, in cooperation with Turkey and Jordan, by weakening, containing, and even rolling back Syria. This effort can focus on removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq – an important Israeli strategic objective in its own right – as a means of foiling Syria’s regional ambitions.” 

According to The Nation magazine, the Syria Accountability Act itself was a product of the Clean Break document. Further attesting to the US strategy of regime-change for Syria was General Wesley Clarke’s admission in a 2007 interview that he had been informed by a general in 2001 that the Pentagon was planning on “taking out 7 countries in 5 years starting with Iraq, then Syria and Lebanon. Then Libya, Somalia and Sudan. Then finishing off Iran.”

Posted in SyriaComments Off on Assad Foreign Policy (I): A History of Consistence

A mistaken case for Syrian regime change

NOVANEWS

By Aisling Byrne

“War with Iran is already here,” wrote a leading Israeli commentator recently, describing “the combination of covert warfare and international pressure” being applied to Iran.

Although not mentioned, the “strategic prize” of the first stage of this war on Iran is Syria; the first campaign in a much wider sectarian power-bid. “Other than the collapse of the Islamic Republic itself,” Saudi King Abdullah was reported to have said last summer, “nothing would weaken Iran more than losing Syria.” [1]

By December, senior United States officials were explicit about their regime change agenda for Syria: Tom Donilon, the US National Security Adviser, explained that the “end of the [President Bashar al-]Assad regime would constitute Iran’s greatest setback in the region yet – a strategic blow that will further shift the balance of power in the region against Iran.”
Shortly before, a key official in terms of operationalizing this policy, Under Secretary of State for the Near East Jeffrey Feltman, had stated at a congressional hearing that the US would “relentlessly pursue our two-track strategy of supporting the opposition and diplomatically and financially strangling the [Syrian] regime until that outcome is achieved”. [2]

What we are seeing in Syria is a deliberate and calculated campaign to bring down the Assad government so as to replace it with a regime “more compatible” with US interests in the region.

The blueprint for this project is essentially a report produced by the neo-conservative Brookings Institute for regime change in Iran in 2009. The report – “Which Path to Persia?” [3] – continues to be the generic strategic approach for US-led regime change in the region.

A rereading of it, together with the more recent “Towards a Post-Assad Syria” [4] (which adopts the same language and perspective, but focuses on Syria, and was recently produced by two US neo-conservative think-tanks) illustrates how developments in Syria have been shaped according to the step-by-step approach detailed in the “Paths to Persia” report with the same key objective: regime change.

The authors of these reports include, among others, John Hannah and Martin Indyk, both former senior neo-conservative officials from the George W Bush/Dick Cheney administration, and both advocates for regime change in Syria. [5] Not for the first time are we seeing a close alliance between US/British neo-cons with Islamists (including, reports show [6], some with links to al-Qaeda) working together to bring about regime change in an “enemy” state.

Arguably, the most important component in this struggle for the “strategic prize” has been the deliberate construction of a largely false narrative that pits unarmed democracy demonstrators being killed in their hundreds and thousands as they protest peacefully against an oppressive, violent regime, a “killing machine” [7] led by the “monster” [8] Assad.

Whereas in Libya, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) claimed it had “no confirmed reports of civilian casualties” because, as the New York Times wrote recently, “the alliance had created its own definition for ‘confirmed’: only a death that NATO itself investigated and corroborated could be called confirmed”.

“But because the alliance declined to investigate allegations,” the Times wrote, “its casualty tally by definition could not budge – from zero”. [9]

In Syria, we see the exact opposite: the majority of Western mainstream media outlets, along with the media of the US’s allies in the region, particularly al-Jazeera and the Saudi-owned al-Arabiya TV channels, are effectively collaborating with the “regime change” narrative and agenda with a near-complete lack of questioning or investigation of statistics and information put out by organizations and media outlets that are either funded or owned by the US/European/Gulf alliance – the very same countries instigating the regime change project in the first place.

Claims of “massacres”, “campaigns of rape targeting women and girls in predominantly Sunni towns” [10] “torture” and even “child-rape” [11] are reported by the international press based largely on two sources – the British-based Syrian Observatory of Human Rights and the Local Co-ordination Committees (LCCs) – with minimal additional checking or verification.

Hiding behind the rubric – “we are not able to verify these statistics” – the lack of integrity in reporting by the Western mainstream media has been starkly apparent since the onset of events in Syria. A decade after the Iraq war, it would seem that no lessons from 2003 – from the demonization of Saddam Hussein and his purported weapons of mass destruction – have been learnt.

Of the three main sources for all data on numbers of protesters killed and numbers of people attending demonstrations – the pillars of the narrative – all are part of the “regime change” alliance.
The Syrian Observatory of Human Rights, in particular, is reportedly funded through a Dubai-based fund with pooled (and therefore deniable) Western-Gulf money (Saudi Arabia alone has, according to Elliot Abrams [12] allocated US$130 billion to “palliate the masses” of the Arab Spring).

What appears to be a nondescript British-based organization, the Observatory has been pivotal in sustaining the narrative of the mass killing of thousands of peaceful protesters using inflated figures, “facts”, and often exaggerated claims of “massacres” and even recently “genocide”.

Although it claims to be based in its director’s house [13], the Observatory has been described as the “front office” of a large media propaganda set-up run by the Syrian opposition and its backers. The Russian Foreign Ministry [14] stated starkly:

The agenda of the [Syrian] transitional council [is] composed in London by the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights … It is also there where pictures of ‘horror’ in Syria are made to stir up hatred towards Assad’s regime.

The Observatory is not legally registered either as a company or charity in the United Kingdom, but operates informally; it has no office, no staff and its director is reportedly awash with funding.

It receives its information, it says, from a network of “activists” inside Syria; its English-language website is a single page with al-Jazeera instead hosting a minute-by-minute live blog page for it since the outset of protests. [15]

The second, the LCCs, are a more overt part of the opposition’s media infrastructure, and their figures and reporting is similarly encompassed only [16] within the context of this main narrative: in an analysis of their daily reports, I couldn’t find a single reference to any armed insurgents being killed: reported deaths are of “martyrs”, “defector soldiers”, people killed in “peaceful demonstrations” and similar descriptions.

The third is al-Jazeera, whose biased role in “reporting” the Awakenings has been well documented. Described by one seasoned media analyst [17] as the “sophisticated mouthpiece of the state of Qatar and its ambitious emir”, al-Jazeera is integral to Qatar’s “foreign-policy aspirations”.

Al-Jazeera has, and continues, [18] to provide technical support, equipment, hosting and “credibility” to Syrian opposition activists and organizations. Reports show that as early as March 2011, al-Jazeera was providing messaging and technical support to exiled Syrian opposition activists [19] , who even by January 2010 were co-ordinating their messaging activities from Doha.

Nearly 10 months on, however, and despite the daily international media onslaught, the project isn’t exactly going to plan: a YouGov poll commissioned by the Qatar Foundation [20] showed last week that 55% of Syrians do not want Assad to resign and 68% of Syrians disapprove of the Arab League sanctions imposed on their country.

According to the poll, Assad’s support has effectively increased since the onset of current events – 46% of Syrians felt Assad was a “good” president for Syria prior to current events in the country – something that certainly doesn’t fit with the false narrative being peddled.

As if trumpeting the success of their own propaganda campaign, the poll summary concludes:

The majority of Arabs believe Syria’s President Basher al-Assad should resign in the wake of the regime’s brutal treatment of protesters … 81% of Arabs [want] President Assad to step down. They believe Syria would be better off if free democratic elections were held under the supervision of a transitional government. [21]

One is left wondering who exactly is Assad accountable to – the Syrian people or the Arab public? A blurring of lines that might perhaps be useful as two main Syrian opposition groups have just announced [22] that while they are against foreign military intervention, they do not consider “Arab intervention” to be foreign.

Unsurprisingly, not a single mainstream major newspaper or news outlet reported the YouGov poll results – it doesn’t fit their narrative.

In the UK, the volunteer-run Muslim News [23] was the only newspaper to report the findings; yet only two weeks before in the immediate aftermath of the suicide explosions in Damascus, both the Guardian [24], like other outlets, within hours of the explosions were publishing sensational, unsubstantiated reports from bloggers, including one who was “sure that some of the bodies … were those of demonstrators”.

“They have planted bodies before,” he said; “they took dead people from Dera’a [in the south] and showed the media bodies in Jisr al-Shughour [near the Turkish border.]”

Recent reports have cast serious doubt on the accuracy of the false narrative peddled daily by the mainstream international press, in particular information put out by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the LCCs.

In December, the mainstream US intelligence group Stratfor cautioned:

Most of the [Syrian] opposition’s more serious claims have turned out to be grossly exaggerated or simply untrue … revealing more about the opposition’s weaknesses than the level of instability inside the Syrian regime. [25]

Throughout the nine-month uprising, Stratfor has advised caution on accuracy of the mainstream narrative on Syria: in September it commented that “with two sides to every war … the war of perceptions in Syria is no exception”. [26]

Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and LCC reports, “like those from the regime, should be viewed with skepticism”, argues Stratfor; “the opposition understands that it needs external support, specifically financial support, if it is to be a more robust movement than it is now. To that end, it has every reason to present the facts on the ground in a way that makes the case for foreign backing.”

As Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov observed: “It is clear that the purpose is to provoke a humanitarian catastrophe, to get a pretext to demand external interference into this conflict.” [27] Similarly, in mid-December, American Conservative reported:

CIA [Central Intelligence Agency] analysts are skeptical regarding the march to war. The frequently cited United Nations report that more than 3,500 civilians have been killed by Assad’s soldiers is based largely on rebel sources and is uncorroborated. The Agency has refused to sign off on the claims.

Likewise, accounts of mass defections from the Syrian army and pitched battles between deserters and loyal soldiers appear to be a fabrication, with few defections being confirmed independently. Syrian government claims that it is being assaulted by rebels who are armed, trained and financed by foreign governments are more true than false. [28]

As recently as November, the Free Syria Army implied their numbers would be larger, but, as they explained to one analyst, they are “advising sympathizers to delay their defection” until regional conditions improve. [29]
A guide to regime change
In relation to Syria, section three of the “Paths to Persia” report is particularly relevant – it is essentially a step-by-step guide detailing options for instigating and supporting a popular uprising, inspiring an insurgency and/or instigating a coup. The report comes complete with a “Pros and Cons” section:

An insurgency is often easier to instigate and support from abroad … Insurgencies are famously cheap to support … covert support to an insurgency would provide the United States with “plausibility deniability” … [with less] diplomatic and political backlash … than if the United States were to mount a direct military action … Once the regime suffers some major setback [this] provides an opportunity to act.

Military action, the report argues, would only be taken once other options had been tried and shown to have failed as the “international community” would then conclude of any attack that the government “brought it on themselves” by refusing a very good deal.

Key aspects for instigating a popular uprising and building a “full-fledged insurgency” are evident in relation to developments in Syria.

These include:

  • “Funding and helping organize domestic rivals of the regime” including using “unhappy” ethnic groups;
  • “Building the capacity of ‘effective oppositions’ with whom to work” in order to “create an alternative leadership to seize power”;
  • Provision of equipment and covert backing to groups, including arms – either directly or indirectly, as well as “fax machines … Internet access, funds” (on Iran the report noted that the “CIA could take care of most of the supplies and training for these groups, as it has for decades all over the world”);
  • Training and facilitation of messaging by opposition activists;
  • Constructing a narrative “with the support of US-backed media outlets could highlight regime shortcomings and make otherwise obscure critics more prominent” – “having the regime discredited among key ‘opinion shapers’ is critical to its collapse”;
  • The creation of a large funding budget to fund a wide array of civil-society-led initiatives (a so-called “$75 million fund” created under former US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice-funded civil society groups, including “a handful of Beltway-based think-tanks and institutions [which] announced new Iran desks)” [30];
  • The need for an adjacent land corridor in a neighboring country “to help develop an infrastructure to support operations”.

    “Beyond this,” continues the report, “US economic pressure (and perhaps military pressure as well) can discredit the regime, making the population hungry for a rival leadership.”

    The US and its allies, particularly Britain [31] and France, have funded and helped “shape” the opposition from the outset – building both on attempts started by the US in 2006 to construct a unified front against the Assad government, and the perceived “success” of the Libyan Transitional National Council model. [32]

    Despite months of attempts – predominately by the West – at cajoling the various groups into a unified, proficient opposition movement, they remain “a diverse group, representing the country’s ideological, sectarian and generational divides”.

    “There neither has been nor is [there] now any natural tendency towards unity between these groups, since they belong to totally different ideological backgrounds and have antagonistic political views,” one analyst concluded. [33]

    At a recent meeting with the British foreign secretary, the different groups would not even meet with William Hague together, instead meeting him separately. [34]

    Nevertheless, despite a lack of cohesion, internal credibility and legitimacy, the opposition, predominately under the umbrella of the Syrian National Council (SNC), is being groomed for office. This includes capacity-building, as confirmed by the former Syrian ambassador to the US, Rafiq Juajati, now part of the opposition.

    At a closed briefing in Washington DC in mid-December 2011, he confirmed that the US State Department and the SWP-German Institute for International and Security Affairs (a think-tank that provides foreign policy analysis to the German government) were funding a project that is managed by the US Institute for Peace and SWP, working in partnership with the SNC, to prepare the SNC for the takeover and running of Syria.

    In a recent interview, SNC leader Burhan Ghaliyoun disclosed (so as to “speed up the process” of Assad’s fall) [35] the credentials expected of him: “There will be no special relationship with Iran,” he said. “Breaking the exceptional relationship means breaking the strategic, military alliance,” adding that “after the fall of the Syrian regime, [Hezbollah] won’t be the same.” [36]

    Described in Slate magazine [37] as the “most liberal and Western-friendly of the Arab Spring uprisings”, Syrian opposition groups sound as compliant as their Libyan counterparts prior to the demise of Muammar Gaddafi, whom the New York Times described as “secular-minded professionals – lawyers, academics, businesspeople – who talk about democracy, transparency, human rights and the rule of law” [38]; that was, until reality transitioned to former leader of the Libyan Islamist Fighting Group Abdulhakim Belhaj and his jihadi colleagues.

    The import of weapons, equipment, manpower (predominantly from Libya) [39] and training by governments and other groups linked to the US, NATO and their regional allies began in April-May 2011, [40] according to various reports [41], and is co-ordinated out of the US air force base at Incirlik in southern Turkey. From Incirlik, an information warfare division also directs communications to Syria via the Free Syria Army. This covert support continues, as American Conservative reported in mid-December:

    Unmarked NATO warplanes are arriving at Turkish military bases close to Iskenderum on the Syrian border, delivering weapons … as well as volunteers from the Libyan Transitional National Council … Iskenderum is also the seat of the Free Syrian Army, the armed wing of the Syrian National Council. French and British special forces trainers are on the ground, assisting the Syrian rebels while the CIA and US Spec Ops are providing communications equipment and intelligence to assist the rebel cause, enabling the fighters to avoid concentrations of Syrian soldiers. [42]

    The Washington Post exposed in April 2011 that recent WikiLeaks showed that the US State Department had been giving millions of dollars to various Syrian exile groups (including the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Movement for Justice and Development in London) and individuals since 2006 via its “Middle East Partnership Initiative” administered by a US foundation, the Democracy Council. [43]

    Leaked WikiLeak cables confirmed that well into 2010, this funding was continuing, a trend that not only continues today but which has expanded in light of the shift to the “soft power” option aimed at regime change in Syria.

    As this neo-con-led call for regime change in Syria gains strength within the US administration, [44] so too has this policy been institutionalized among leading US foreign policy think-tanks, many of whom have “Syria desks” or “Syria working groups” which collaborate closely with Syrian opposition groups and individuals (for example USIP [45] and the Foundation for the Defense of Democracy) [46] and which have published a range of policy documents making the case for regime change.

    In the UK, the similarly neo-con Henry Jackson Society (which “supports the maintenance of a strong military, by the United States, the countries of the European Union and other democratic powers, armed with expeditionary capabilities with a global reach” and which believes that “only modern liberal democratic states are truly legitimate”) is similarly pushing the agenda for regime change in Syria [47].

    This is in partnership with Syrian opposition figures including Ausama Monajed, [48] a former leader of the Syrian exile group, the Movement for Justice & Development, linked to the Muslim Brotherhood, which was funded by the US State Department from 2006, as we know from WikiLeaks.

    Monajed, a member of the SNC, currently directs a public relations firm [49] recently established in London and incidentally was the first to use the term “genocide” in relation to events in Syria in a recent SNC press release. [50]

    Since the outset, significant pressure has been brought to bear on Turkey to establish a “humanitarian corridor” along its southern border with Syria. The main aim of this, as the “Paths to Persia” report outlines, is to provide a base from which the externally-backed insurgency can be launched and based.

    The objective of this “humanitarian corridor” is about as humanitarian as the four-week NATO bombing of Sirte when NATO exercised its “responsibility to protect” mandate, as approved by the UN Security Council.

    All this is not to say that there isn’t a genuine popular demand for change in Syria against the repressive security-dominated infrastructure that dominates every aspect of people’s lives, nor that gross human-rights violations have not been committed, both by the Syrian security forces, armed opposition insurgents, as well as mysterious third force characters operating since the onset of the crisis in Syria, including insurgents, [51] mostly jihadis from neighboring Iraq and Lebanon, as well as more recently Libya, among others.

Such abuses are inevitable in low-intensity conflict. Leading critics [52] of this US-France-UK-Gulf-led regime change project have, from the outset, called for full accountability and punishment for any security or other official “however senior”, found to have committed any human-rights abuses. Ibrahim al-Amine writes that some in the regime have conceded “that the security remedy was damaging in many cases and regions [and] that the response to the popular protests was mistaken … it would have been possible to contain the situation via clear and firm practical measures – such as arresting those responsible for torturing children in Deraa”. And it argues that the demand for political pluralism and an end to the all-encompassing repression is both vital and urgent. [53]  

But what may have began as popular protests, initially focused on

local issues and incidents (including the case of the torture of young boys in Dera’a by security forces) were rapidly hijacked by this wider strategic project for regime change. Five years ago, I worked in northern Syria with the United Nations managing a large community development project. 


After evening community meetings, it wasn’t uncommon to find the mukhabarat (military intelligence) waiting for us to vacate the room so they could scan flipcharts posted on the walls. That almost every aspect of people’s daily lives was regulated by a sclerotic dysfunctional Ba’ath party/security bureaucracy, devoid of any ideology apart from the inevitable corruption and nepotism that comes with authoritarian power, was apparent in every feature of people’s lives.

Tuesday, December 20 was reportedly the “deadliest day of the nine-month [Syrian] uprising “with the “organized massacre” of a “mass defection” of army deserters widely reported by the international press in Idlib, northern Syria. Claiming that areas of Syria were now “exposed to large-scale genocide”, the SNC lamented the “250 fallen heroes during a 48-hour period”, citing figures provided by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. [54] Quoting the same source, the Guardian reported that the Syrian army was:

… hunt[ing] down deserters after troops … killed close to 150 men who had fled their base”. A picture has emerged … of a mass defection … that went badly wrong … with loyalist forces positioned to mow down large numbers of defectors as they fled a military base. Those who managed to escape were later hunted down in hideouts in nearby mountains, multiple sources have reported. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights estimated that 100 deserters were besieged, then killed or wounded. Regular troops allegedly also hunted down residents who had given shelter to the deserters. [55]

The Guardian’s live blog-quoted AVAAZ, the citizen political advocacy/public relations group, which “claimed 269 people had been killed in the clashes”, and cited AVAAZ’s precise breakdown of casualties: “163 armed revolutionaries, 97 government troops and 9 civilians”. [56] They noted that AVAAZ “provided nothing to corroborate the claim”.

The Washington Post reported only that they had spoken to “an activist with the rights group AVAAZ [who] said he had spoken to local activists and medical groups who put the death toll in that area Tuesday at 269”. [57]

A day after initial reports of the massacre of fleeing deserters, however, the story had changed. On December 23, the Telegraph reported:

At first they were said to be army deserters attempting to break into Turkey to join the FSA [Free Syrian Army], but they are now said to be unarmed civilians and activists attempting to escape the army’s attempts to bring the province back under control. They were surrounded by troops and tanks and gunned down until there were no survivors, according to reports. [58]

The New York Times had, on December 21, reported that the “massacre”, citing the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights, was of “unarmed civilians and activists, with no armed military defectors among them, the rights groups said”.

It quoted the head of the Observatory who described it as “an organized massacre” and said his account corroborated a Kfar Owaid witness’ account: “The security forces had lists of names of those who organized massive anti-regime protests … the troops then opened fire with tanks, rockets and heavy machine guns [and], bombs filled with nails to increase the number of casualties. [59]

The LA Times quoted an activist it had spoken to via satellite connection who, from his position “sheltering in the woods” commented: “The word ‘massacre’ seems like too small a word to describe what happened.” Meanwhile, the Syrian government reported that on December 19 and 20, it had killed “tens” of members of “armed terrorist gangs” in both Homs and Idlib, and had arrested many wanted individuals. [60]

The truth of these two “deadly” days will probably never be known – the figures cited above (between 10-163 armed insurgents, 9-111 unarmed civilians and 0-97 government forces) differ so significantly in both numbers reported killed and who they were, that the “truth” is impossible to establish.

In relation to an earlier purported “massacre” in Homs, a Stratfor investigation found “no signs of a massacre”, concluding that “opposition forces have an interest in portraying an impending massacre, hoping to mimic the conditions that propelled a foreign military intervention in Libya”. [61]

Nevertheless, the “massacre” of December 19-20 in Idlib was reported as fact, and was etched into the narrative of Assad’s “killing machine”.

Both the recent UN Human Rights Commissioner’s report and a recent data blog report [62] on reported deaths in “Syria’s bloody uprising” by the Guardian (published December 13) – two examples of attempts to establish the truth about numbers killed in the Syrian conflict – rely almost exclusively on opposition-provided data: interviews with 233 alleged “army defectors” in the case of the UN report, and on reports from the Syrian Human Rights Observatory, the LCCs and al-Jazeera in the case of the Guardian’s data blog.

The Guardian reports a total of 1,414.5 people (sic) killed – including 144 Syrian security personnel – between January and November 21, 2011. Based solely on press reports, the report contains a number of basic inaccuracies (eg sources not matching numbers killed with places cited in original sources): their total includes 23 Syrians killed by the Israeli army in June on the Golan Heights; 25 people reported “wounded” are included in total figures for those killed, as are many people reported shot.

The report makes no reference to any killings of armed insurgents during the entire 10-month period – all victims are “protesters”, “civilians” or “people” – apart from the 144 security personnel.

Seventy percent of the report’s data sources are from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the LCCs and “activists”; 38% of press reports are from al-Jazeera, 3% from Amnesty International and 1.5% from official Syrian sources.

In response to the UN Commissioner’s report, Syria’s ambassador to the UN commented: “How could defectors give positive testimonies on the Syrian government? Of course they will give negative testimonies against the Syrian government. They are defectors.”

In the effort to inflate figures of casualties, the public relations-activist group AVAAZ has consistently outstripped even the UN. AVAAZ has publicly stated it is involved in “smuggling activists … out of the country”, running “secret safe houses to shelter … top activists from regime thugs” and that one “AVAAZ citizen journalist” “discover[ed] a mass grave”. [63]

It states proudly that the BBC and CNN have said that AVAAZ data amounts to some 30% of their news coverage of Syria. The Guardian reported AVAAZ’s latest claim to have “evidence” of killings of some 6,200 people (including security forces and including 400 children), claiming 617 of whom died under torture [64] – their justification to have verified each single death with confirmation by three people, “including a relative and a cleric who handled the body” is improbable in the extreme.

The killing of one brigadier-general and his children in April last year in Homs illustrates how near impossible it is, particularly during sectarian conflict, to verify even one killing – in this case, a man and his children:

The general, believed to be Abdu Tallawi, was killed with his children and nephew while passing through an agitated neighborhood. There are two accounts of what happened to him and his family, and they differ about the victim’s sect.

Regime loyalists say that he was killed by takfiris – hardline Islamists who accuse other Muslims of apostasy – because he belonged to the Alawite sect. The protesters insist that he is a member of the Tallawi family from Homs and that he was killed by security forces to accuse the opposition and destroy their reputation. Some even claim that he was shot because he refused to fire at protesters.

The third account is ignored due to the extreme polarization of opinions in the city [Homs]. The brigadier-general was killed because he was in a military vehicle, even though he had his kids with him. Whoever killed him was not concerned with his sect but with directing a blow to the regime, thus provoking an even harsher crackdown, which, in turn, would drag the protest movement into a cycle of violence with the state. [65]

Notes
1. See here.
2. See here.
3. See here.
4. See here.
5. See here and here.
6. See here.
7. See here.
8. See here.
9. See here.
10. See here.
11. See here.
12. See here.
13. See here.
14. See here.
15. See here.
16. See here.
17. See here.
18. See here.
19. See here.
20. See here.
21. ibid.
22. See here.
23. See here.
24. See here.
25. See here.
26. See here.
27. See here.
28. See here.
29. See here.
30. See here.
31. See here.
32. See here.
33. See here.
34. See here.
35. See here.
36. See here.
37. See here.
38. See here.
39. See here.
40. See here.
41. See here.
42. See here.
43. See here.
44. See here.
45. See here.
46. See here.
47. See here.
48. See here.
49. See here.
50. See here.
51. See here.
52. See here.
53. See here.
54. See here.
55. See here.
56. See here.
57. See here.
58. See here.
59. See here.
60. See here.
61. See here.
62. See here.
63. See here.
64. See here.
65. See here.

 

 

Posted in SyriaComments Off on A mistaken case for Syrian regime change

Decriminalising Bashar – towards a more effective anti-war movement

NOVANEWS

 

On 10 April 1993, one of the greatest heroes of the anti-apartheid struggle, Chris Hani, was gunned down by a neo-fascist in an attempt to disrupt the seemingly inexorable process of bringing majority rule to South Africa. Although direct legal culpability for this tragic assassination belonged to only two men – a Polish immigrant by the name of Janusz Waluś and a senior Conservative Party MP named Clive Derby-Lewis – the crime formed part of a much wider onslaught against the ANC and its allies. This onslaught – paramilitary, political, legal, psychological, journalistic – was not primarily conducted by fringe lunatics such as Waluś and Derby-Lewis, but by the mainstream white political forces and their puppets within the black community (such as the Inkatha Freedom Party). The leaders of the ANC, and particularly the MK (Umkhonto we Sizwe, the armed liberation movement with which Chris Hani’s name will forever be associated) were subjected to a wide-ranging campaign of demonisation. This campaign created conditions such that political assassinations of anti-apartheid leaders became expected, almost inevitable. Of course, the more ‘dovish’ leaders of the main white party, the National Party, were quick to denounce Hani’s assassination; but the truth is that they were at least partly responsible for it.
Speaking at Hani’s funeral, Nelson Mandela spoke of this phenomenon: “To criminalise is to outlaw, and the hunting down of an outlaw is regarded as legitimate. That is why, although millions of people have been outraged at the murder of Chris Hani, few were really surprised. Those who have deliberately created this climate that legitimates political assassinations are as much responsible for the death of Chris Hani as the man who pulled the trigger.”
Turning to the current situation in Syria, we see a parallel between the “climate that legitimates political assassinations” in early-90s South Africa and a media climate that legitimates the “limited military strikes being planned in Washington.
The Syrian state has been under direct attack by western imperialism for the last two and a half years (although the US and others have been accelerating the work of reformers” for much longer than that). The forms of this attack are many:providing weapons and money to opposition groups trying to topple the government; implementing wide-ranging trade sanctions; providing practically unlimited space in the media for the opposition whilst effecting a near-total media blackout on pro-government sources; and relentlessly slandering the Syrian president and government. In short, the western media and governments have – consciously and deliberately – “created this climate that legitimates” a military regime change operation against Syria.
An anti-war movement that takes part in war propaganda
Building a phoney case for imperialist regime change is, of course, not unusual. What is really curious is that the leadership of the anti-war movement in the west – the people whose clear responsibility is to build the widest possible opposition to war on Syria – has been actively participating in the propaganda and demonisation campaign. Whilst opposing direct military strikes, they have nonetheless given consistent support to the regime change operation that such strikes are meant to consummate.
Wilfully ignoring the indications that the Syrian government is very popular, Tariq Ali – perhaps the most recognisable figure in the British anti-war movement – feels able to claim that “the overwhelming majority of the Syrian people want the Assad family out”. Indeed, he explicitly calls for foreign-assisted regime change, saying “non-violent pressure has to be kept up externally to tell Bashar he has to go.”
Rising star of the British left Owen Jones used his high-profile Independent column of 25 August this year (just as the war rhetoric from Cameron, Hollande and Kerry was reaching fever pitch) to voice his hatred of the “gang of thugs” and “glorified gangsters” that run Syria, before worrying that “an attack could invite retaliation from Iran and an escalation of Russian’s support for Assad’s thugs, helping to drag the region even further into disaster.” Jones evidently doesn’t know very much about Syria, but that doesn’t stop him from participating in the Ba’ath-bashing: last year, his response to a bomb attack in Damascus which killed several Syrian ministers was the gleeful “Adios, Assad (I hope)”.
According to Stop the War Coalition national officer John Rees, “no-one can minimise the barbarity of the Assad regime, nor want to defend it from the justified rage of its own people.” Any objectively progressive actions ever taken by the Syrian government (such as its support for Palestine and Hezbollah) are nothing more than “self-interested and calculated acts of state policy – which claim is rather reminiscent of the Financial Times accusing Hugo Chávez of “demagogy” in pushing for land reform in Venezuela!
Rees is only too clear that the number one enemy for Syrians is the government, and that pro-west sectarian Saudi-funded rebels are a secondary enemy – a position virtually indistinguishable from the Israelis, who state: “We always wanted Bashar Assad to go, we always preferred the bad guys who weren’t backed by Iran to the bad guys who were backed by Iran.” Further, Rees believes that what is really needed is to “give the revolutionaries the chance to shake off their pro-western leaders and defeat Assad.” That’s presumably if they’re not too busy eating human hearts or murdering people on the basis of their religious beliefs.
These are not isolated examples. It is decidedly rare to find a British anti-war leader mentioning Bashar al-Assad and his government in anything but an intensely negative light. Bashar is “brutal”; he is a “dictator”; he should be indictedat the International Criminal Court. Frankly, this leader of independent, anti-imperialist Syria is subjected to far more severe abuse from the mainstream left than are the leaders of Britain, France and the US. In the imperialist heartlands of North America and Western Europe, the defence of (PreviewSyria has (Preview) been leftto a (Previewsmall minority, although thankfully the (far more important) left movements in VenezuelaCubaNicaragua and elsewhere have a much richer understanding of anti-imperialist solidarity.
At the risk of stating the bleedin’ obvious: if you’re trying to spread anti-war sentiment and build the most effective possible movement against military action, then taking part in the demonisation of the country under threat is probably not a very smart strategy.
This campaign of propaganda, lies and slander has been very effective in creating a public opinion that is ambivalent at best in relation to the attack that is under preparation. Whilst most people may be “against” bombing Syria in principle, to what extent are they passionate enough to actually do anything to prevent this criminal, murderous act from taking place? Two million people marched against war in Iraq (and given the right leadership, they would have been willing to do considerably more than just march); yet no demonstration against war on Syria has attracted more than a couple of thousand people. Would thousands of people be willing to participate in direct action? Would they be willing to conduct, say, a one-week general strike? Would workers follow the great example of the Rolls Royce workers in East Kilbride and actively disrupt imperialist support for regime change? Highly unlikely. And this is because all they have heard about Syria – from the radical left to the fundamentalist right to the Saudi-sponsored Muslim organisations – is that Bashar al-Assad is a brutal dictator whose overthrow is long overdue.
OK, but haven’t we just prevented a war?
In the light of the House of Commons exhibiting an unusual level of sense by voting against Cameron’s motion authorising use of force against Syria, some anti-war activists were quick to claim that the “sustained mass power of the anti-war movement” has “undoubtedly been a decisive factor.” Members of this movement should recognise what we have achieved in recent weeks : we have stopped the US and Britain from waging a war that, if the British parliament had voted the other way, would already have taken place, with who knows what consequences.”
Now, optimism and jubilation have their place, but they shouldn’t be used to deflect valid criticism or avoid serious reflection. Anybody who has been involved in the anti-war movement in Britain over the past decade will have noticed the level of activity steadily dwindling. Just two years ago, we witnessed a vicious war fought by the western imperialist powers (with Britain one of the major instigators) in order to effect regime change in Libya. Over 50,000 diedMurderous racists were brought to power. A head of state was tortured and murdered , while imperialism celebrated. Decades of development – that had turned Libya from a colonial backwater into the country with the highest living standards in Africa – have been turned back. Stop the War Coalition weren’t able to mobilise more than a tiny protest against this war, and yet we are expected to believe that, two years later, Britain suddenly has a vibrant and brilliantly effective anti-war movement capable of preventing war on Syria? This is obviously not the case.
Regardless of how much attention the British public pays to the anti-war movement, the fact is that public opinion in the west is only a small factor in the much larger question of the balance of forces. Syria is different to Libya in that it has powerful allies and that it has never disarmed. Furthermore, it shares a border with Israel and is capable of doing some serious damage to imperialism’s most important ally in the Middle East. This makes military intervention a highly dangerous and unpredictable option from the point of view of the decision-makers in Washington, London and Paris.
The uprising was supposed to take care of this problem. A successful ‘Arab Spring’ revolution – armed, trained and funded by the west and its regional proxies in Saudi, Turkey, Qatar and Jordan – would have installed a compliant government and would have constituted an essential milestone in the imperialist-zionist regional strategy: the breakup of the resistance axis and the overthrow of all states unwilling to go along with imperialist diktat. This strategy – seemingly so difficult for western liberals and leftists to comprehend – is perfectly well understood by the Lebanese resistance movement Hezbollah: “What is happening in Syria is a confrontation between the resistance axis and the U.S./Israeli axis. They seek aggression against the resistance axis through Syria in order to destroy Syria’s capabilities and people, marginalize its role, weaken the resistance and relieve Israel.”
Beyond the Middle East, a successful ‘revolution’ in Syria would of course be a vital boost to the US-led global strategy: protecting US hegemony and containing the rise of China, Russia and the other major developing nations.
And yet, in spite of massive support given to the armed opposition; in spite of the relentless propaganda campaign against the Syrian government; in spite of Israeli bombing raids on Damascus; in spite of a brutal and tragic campaign of sectarianhatred being conducted by the rebels; in spite of the blanket support given to the rebels by the imperialists and zioniststhe Syrian Arab Army is winning. The tide has clearly turned and the momentum is with the patriotic forces. Hezbollah have openly joined the fray. Russia has sent its warships to the region and has demonstrated some genuine creative brilliance in the diplomatic field in order to prevent western military strikes. Russia, China, Iran, Venezuela and others have been immovable in their demands for a peaceful, negotiated solution to the crisis.
Nobody in imperialist policy circles expected things to turn out like this. The ‘revolution’ was supposed to have succeeded long ago. As a result, the western ruling classes have moved from a firm, united policy (i.e. help the rebels to victory and then ‘assist the transition to democracy’) to chaos, confusion and division. There are hawkish elements that want to bomb their way to victory, and there are more cautious/realistic elements that realise this would be an incredibly dangerous course of action for the western powers and for Israel. Imperialism is faced with a very delicate, even impossible, balance: trying to preserve its increasingly fragile hegemony whilst actively attacking the global counter-hegemonic process. It is a case of “damned if they do and damned if they don’t”.
Such divisions within the ruling circles in the west are to be welcomed, but it would be an act of significant deception to claim victory for a western anti-war movement that has persistently refused to ally itself with global anti-imperialism.
Decriminalise and defend Syria
If we are going to build an anti-war movement capable of mobilising people in a serious way to actually counter imperialist war plans for Syria, we cannot continue with the hopeless neither imperialism nor Assad” position, which is designed to avoid the obvious question: when imperialism is fighting against the Syrian state, which side should we be on?
A far more viable anti-war slogan is: Defend Syria from imperialist destabilisation, demonisation and war.
But can we really defend this brutal, oppressive, repressive regime? Wasn’t the much-missed Hugo Chavez just being a bit of a nutcase when he expressed his fondness for brother President Bashar al-Assad and worked to counter the offensive against Syria by shipping fuel to it?
As with so many things, we have to start with a total rejection of the mainstream media narrative. The country they paint as a brutally repressive police state, a prison of nations, a Cold War relic, is (or was, until the war started tearing it apart) a dignified, safe, secular, modern and moderately prosperous state, closely aligned with the socialist and non-aligned world (e.g. VenezuelaCubaDPR Korea), and one of the leading forces within the resistance axis – a bloc that the imperialists are absolutely desperate to break up.
In the words of its president, 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.” For over half a century, it has stubbornly refused to play by the rules of imperialism and neoliberalism. Stephen Gowans shows that, in spite of some limited market reforms of recent years, “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.”
The Syrian government maintains a commitment to a strong welfare state, for example ensuring universal access to healthcare (in which area its performance has been impressive) and providing free education at all levels. It has a long-established policy of secularism and multiculturalism, protecting and celebrating its religious and ethnic diversity and refusing to tolerate sectarian hatred.
Syria has done a great deal – perhaps more than any other country – to oppose Israel and support the Palestinians. It has long been the chief financial and practical supporter of the various Palestinian resistance organisations, as well as of Hezbollah. It has intervened militarily to prevent Israel’s expansion into Lebanon. It has provided a home to hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees, who are treated far better than they are elsewhere in the Arab world. In spite of massive pressure to do so – and in spite of the obvious immediate benefits that it would reap in terms of security and peace – it has refused to go down the route of a bilateral peace treaty with Israel. Palestine is very much at the forefront of the Syrian national consciousness, as exemplified by the Syrians who went to the border with Israel on Nakba Day 2011 and were martyred there at the hands of the Israeli ‘Defence’ Forces.
True to its Pan-Arabist traditions, Syria has also provided a home to hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees in the aftermath of NATO’s 2003 attack.
Whatever mistakes and painful compromises Ba’athist Syria has made over the years should be viewed in terms of the very unstable and dangerous geopolitical and economic context within which it exists. For example:
  • It is in a permanent state of war with Israel, and has part of its territory occupied by the latter.
  • While it has stuck to the principles of Arab Nationalism and the defence of Palestinian rights, the other frontline Arab states – Egypt and Jordan, along with the reactionary Gulf monarchies – have capitulated.
  • It has suffered constant destabilisation by the western imperialist countries and their regional allies.
  • It shares a border with the heavily militarised pro-western regime in Turkey.
  • It shares a border with the chronically unstable Lebanon (historically a part of Syria that was carved out in the 1920s by the French colonialists in order to create a Christian-dominated enclave).
  • Its most important ally of the 70s and 80s – the Soviet Union – collapsed in 1991, leaving it in a highly precarious situation.
  • Its economic burdens have been added to by longstanding sanctions, significantly deepened in 2003 by George W Bush, specifically in response to Syria’s support for resistance movements in the region.
  • Its economic problems of recent years have also been exacerbated by the illegal imperialist war on Iraq, which created a refugee crisis of horrific proportions. Syria absorbed 1.5 million Iraqi refugees and has made significant sacrifices to help them. Given that Syria has the highest level of civic and social rights for refugees in the region,” it’s not difficult to understand how its economic and social stability must have been affected.
  • In recent years, Syria has been suffering from a devastating drought“impacting more than 1.3 million people, killing up to 85 percent of livestock in some regions and forcing 160 villages to be abandoned due to crop failures”. The root of this problem is the Israeli occupation of the Golan Heights, as one-third of Israel’s water is supplied from Golan.
  • Given the number of different religious sects and ethnicities within Syria, it has never been difficult for the west and its regional proxies to stir up tensions and create unrest.
While there is clearly a need to enhance popular democracy and to clamp down on corruption and cronyism (in what country is this not the case?), this is well understood by the state. As Alistair Crooke writes: “There is this mass demand for reform. But paradoxically – and contrary to the ‘awakening’ narrative – most Syrians also believe that President Bashar al-Assad shares their conviction for reform.”
So there is every reason to defend Syria. Not because it is some sort of socialist utopia, but because it is an independent, anti-imperialist, anti-zionist state that tries to provide a good standard of living for its people and which aligns itself with the progressive and counterhegemonic forces in the region and worldwide.
Tasks for the anti-war movement
If the anti-war movement can agree on the need to actively defend Syria, then its tasks become relatively clear:
  1. Clearly explain to the public that this is not a revolution or a civil war, but an imperialist war of regime change where the fighting has been outsourced to sectarian religious terrorists. It is not part of a region-wide ‘Arab Spring’ process of “overthrowing reactionary regimes”; rather, it is part of a global process of destabilising, demonising, weakening and removing all states that refuse to play by the rules. It is this same process that brought about regime change in Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yugoslavia, Grenada, Nicaragua, Chile, Argentina, Congo, Iran, Guatemala, Indonesia, Brazil and elsewhere. This process was described in a very clear, straightforward way by Maurice Bishop, leader of the socialist government in Grenada that was overthrown 30 years ago: “Destabilisation is the name given to the newest method of controlling and exploiting the lives and resources of a country and its people by a bigger and more powerful country through bullying, intimidation and violence… Destabilisation takes many forms: there is propaganda destabilisation, when the foreign media, and sometimes our own Caribbean press, prints lies and distortions against us; there is economic destabilisation, when our trade and our industries are sabotaged and disrupted; and there is violent destabilization, criminal acts of death and destruction… As long as we show the world, clearly and unflinchingly, that we intend to remain free and independent; that we intend to consolidate and strengthen the principles and goals of our revolution; as we show this to the world, there will be attacks on us.”
  2. Stop participating in the demonisation of the Syrian state. This demonisation – repeating the media’s lies against Syria, exaggerating the negative aspects of the Syrian state and downplaying all the positive things it has done – is totally demobilising. It is preventing the development of a meaningful, creative, courageous, audacious anti-war movement.
  3. Campaign for an end to trade sanctions on Syria.
  4. Campaign for an end to the arming and funding of rebel groups by the British, French and US governments and their stooges in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, Jordan and Kuwait.
  5. Send peace delegations to Syria to observe the situation first hand and report back. The recent delegation by Cynthia McKinney, Ramsey Clark, Dedon Kamathi and others is an excellent example that should be emulated.
  6. Campaign for wide-ranging industrial action in the case of military attack.
  7. Support all processes leading to a peaceful, negotiated resolution of the Syrian crisis, reflecting the will of the vast majority of the Syrian people.
The defence of Syria is, at this point in time, the frontline of the struggle worldwide against imperialist domination. It is Korea in 1950, Vietnam in 1965, Algeria in 1954, Zimbabwe in 1970, Cuba in 1961, Nicaragua in 1981, Iraq in 2003, Libya in 2011, Palestine since 1948. It’s time for us to step up.

Posted in Politics1 Comment

Cameron jokes about “mental health lobby” after describing Miliband’s plans as “nuts

NOVANEWS

The PM digs himself a deeper hole on The Andrew Marr Show.

BY GEORGE EATON

The PM digs himself a deeper hole on The Andrew Marr Show.
David Cameron answers a question during a joint news conference with Italy’s Prime Minister Enrico Letta in 10 Downing Street on July 17, 2013. Photograph: Getty Images.

After rather unwisely describing Ed Miliband’s plan to raise corporation tax from 20% to 21% as “nuts” in his interview in the Sunday Telegraph, David Cameron dug himself a deeper hole on The Andrew Marr Show this morning.

After again referring to the policy as “nuts” (“Land Rover makes money around the world. Miliband want to put up their taxes. That’s nuts.”), while carefully omitting to note that Miliband has pledged to use the revenue to cut tax rates for small businesses, Cameron quipped:

I don’t want to get into a huge argument with the mental health lobby.

It seems, then, that the PM regards those mental health sufferers who may rightly be offended by his comments as just another “lobby”. And, ironically, by stating that he doesn’t want to get into “a huge argument” he has almost certainly guaranteed that there will now be one.

Elsewhere today, the Independent on Sunday reports that Eric Pickles told a survivor of alleged child abuse to “adjust your medication” when she accused him of ignoring her. Pickles has defended himself on the basis that “It was never my intention to insult Teresa Cooper. I was giving her a frank piece of advice in private.” But as Alastair Campbell commented this morning, “Cameron calls opponents ‘nuts’, Pickles tells abuse victim to ‘adjust your medication.’ And they wonder why people think they don’t get it.”

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New NSA Leaks on “Assassination Program” to be Released

NOVANEWS

The journalist who first released the Edward Snowden NSA files will be leaking details of a US Assassination program

FT. MEADE, MD - UNDATED: (FILE PHOTO) This undated photo provided by the National Security Agency (NSA) shows its headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland. (Photo by NSA via Getty Images)

FT. MEADE, MD – UNDATED: (FILE PHOTO) This undated photo provided by the National Security Agency (NSA) shows its headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland. (Photo by NSA via Getty Images)

By JG Vibes

Reporter Glenn Greenwald has been causing an uproar in the political establishment since he helped Edward Snowden release the NSA files, proving beyond any doubt that the NSA is in fact spying on every single American, from street sweeper to senator.

Now an associate of Greenwald’s has announced that they two will be working on another NSA leak together, this one in relation to the secret assassination program run by the US government.

Associated Press reported that Jeremy Scahill, a contributor to The Nation magazine and the New York Times best-selling author of “Dirty Wars,” said he will be working with Glenn Greenwald, the Rio-based journalist who has written stories about U.S. surveillance programs based on documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

“The connections between war and surveillance are clear. I don’t want to give too much away but Glenn and I are working on a project right now that has at its center how the National Security Agency plays a significant, central role in the U.S. assassination program,” said Scahill, speaking to moviegoers in Rio de Janeiro, where the documentary based on his book made its Latin American debut at the Rio Film Festival.

“There are so many stories that are yet to be published that we hope will produce `actionable intelligence,’ or information that ordinary citizens across the world can use to try to fight for change, to try to confront those in power,” said Scahill.[1]

Journalists like Greenwald and Scahill are creating a panic among the ruling elite, and there is no doubt that the recent NSA revelations are tied to the renewed attacks on alternative media.

In the video below Abby Martin talks to Larry King, host of RT’s Politicking, about his views on what journalism should be, and how they are different from what ‘Breaking the Set’ presents.

In the short interview Larry King laments the death of the mainstream media and complains that people have too many options in their news today.

He says that Glen Greenwald and Abby Martin are not journalists because they offer their opinions on government corruption. He also says that he has “never heard of a war on whistleblowers”.

 

Sources:

[1] Glenn Greenwald working on new NSA revelations – AP

 

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