A FACT SHEET ON THE SYRIA QUESTION
(Reuters, Sept. 7, 2013) - With the United States threatening to attack Syria, U.S. and allied intelligence services are still trying to work out who ordered the poison gas attack on rebel-held neighborhoods near Damascus.
Secretary of State John Kerry: ÒThe evidence speaks for itself.Ó
A recent Pew Research poll shows only 29 percent of Americans favoring air strikes Òin response to reports that the Syrian government used chemical weapons.Ó This figure would be even smaller if the governmentÕs unsubstantiated claims of chemical weapons use by the Bashar al-Assad regime were not taken as the starting point. In an attempt to drum up greater popular support for the attack the administration is initiating a major propaganda blitz. Given the general political ignorance of the public, and AmericaÕs chronic historical amnesia, the administrationÕs efforts may well succeed. This could eventuate in one of WashingtonÕs major global disasters. Contrary to ObamaÕs assurances otherwise, if the attack takes place, it will not be a limited incursion.
You are familiar with the Russian proposal to place SyriaÕs chemical weapons under international control. Obama did not greet the proposal with enthusiasm. How this will work out remains to be seen. In any case, WashingtonÕs game plan for the region, in place since before the Bush administration, has not changed. So what follows is, I hope, helpful whatever should ensue in the coming weeks.
Time constraints forbid my rendering what follows in article form. DoesnÕt matter. What is important is the relevant factual background to ObamaÕs threats to launch yet another aerial assault in the region, this time on Syria. IÕve enumerated below what are to my mind the relevant facts. Everything that follows is uncontestable and on the public record. The issue is immensely important. Unlike Iraq and Libya, Syria in enmeshed in a range of geopolitically strategic relations with a number of major players in and out of the region. The consequences of a Òhumanitarian interventionÓ in Syria could be devastating on a grand scale.
DOES THE U.S. REALLY CARE ABOUT CHEMICAL WEAPONS?
We learn historical lessons. Washington has no aversion to the use of chemical weapons, by itself and by its allies, and the accusation against Assad is surely a pretext for military action decided upon long before chemical weapons were made an issue. Recall the three reasons given for the Iraq war: that Saddam was in cahoots with bin Laden, that Saddam was seeking to import uranium from an African nation, and that Saddam possessed Òweapons of mass destruction.Ó Paul Wolfowitz averred that the decision to bomb Iraq was made well before these accusations were fabricated. Each charge is now known -not merely believed- to be false. The religious jihadist loathed Saddam as an infidel, and the secular Saddam had no use for bin Laden. The ÒcontractÓ for the delivery of uranium to Iraq was demonstrated to have been a forgery, fabricated by either State or Defense or both. And there were no weapons of mass destruction. Bush himself jokingly referred to the lie in an address to the press corps. The ÒjournalistsÓ laughed along with Bush. There was a striking reminder that the corporate press now functions unabashedly as an extension of the White House Press Office.
Obama figures that no one will notice the similarity of the chemical weapons charge to the discredited weapons-of-mass-destruction charge. He may be right.
LetÕs be careful: this is not necessarily to say that Assad did not use chemical weapons. Perhaps he did, although we shall see below that this is unlikely. What matters is that the question is irrelevant. That a dictator abuses or even kills his countrymen/women/kids is a domestic matter and constitutes no threat to the U.S. The dictatorships of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other Arab emirates have been far more vicious to their citizens than has Assad, and have been lavished with WashingtonÕs financial and political largesse. Saudi Arabia has in fact been the major supplier of (American made) arms to the religious jihadists who make up the vast majority of the ÒrebelsÓ in Syria. Since the end of the Second World War, Washington has supported countless murderous dictators, in Central and South America, Africa, and Asia. Òkilling their own peopleÓ has mattered to the U.S. only when Washington sees the villain as unfriendly to Uncle Sam for reasons other than the killing. In that case, the accusation of poison gas use functions as a pretext for aggression whose true grounds remain unexplored by the press.
You will recall that Under Reagan Defense SecÕy Donald Rumsfeld arranged for U.S. shipments of the poison gas sarin to Saddam Hussein for use against Iran in 1988. After the war, Saddam used the gas against the Kurds in Halabja in northern Iraq. Washington was full aware of this and said and did nothing. The press barely mentioned it. IsraelÕs use of white phosphorous in Gaza also went unmentioned.
The U.S. itself has been a major user of poison gas and comparable weapons, frequently to horrific effect. In Fallujah, in April and November of 2004, the U.S. used depleted uranium and white phosphorus, a chemical agent. Fallujah was left with a higher measure of radioactive poisoning than that experienced by Hiroshima and Nagasaki after the atomic bomb droppings of 1945, creating in Iraq an epidemic of cancer, leukemia, infant mortality and birth defects. For the first time ever, anywhere, there was an outbreak of breast cancer in Fallujah among four-year-old girls. The incidence of birth defects in Iraq since the large-scale use by Washington of these Ur-poisonous weapons has been very high. About as high as the incidence of birth defects in Vietnam after WashingtonÕs use of napalm and Agent Orange there.
What is especially hypocritical is BidenÕs and ObamaÕs repeated mention of the ÒchildrenÓ Assad is alleged to have killed with poison gas. Biden called this a Òmoral obscenity.Ó We are supposed to have forgotten Madeline AlbrightÕs admission to Leslie Stahl on 60 Minutes that the Clinton administration thought the death of a half million Iraqi children -who would not have died absent ClintonÕs sanctions- was Òworth itÓ in order to unseat Saddam Hussein. It is difficult to measure the cynicism of the Obama administration when it bleats about AssadÕs unforgiveable murder of children. You should be personally offended. The president takes you to be ignorant, and/or stupid and/or indifferent.
The alleged use of poison gas has nothing whatever to do with ObamaÕs decision to rain another extended round of death upon the Middle East. ObamaÕs rationale is about great-power geopolitics. More on that later.
DID ASSAD USE POISON GAS?
The administrationÕs claims must be subject to the strictest scrutiny. Standards of what is to count as ÒevidenceÓ must be severe. Remember BushÕs fictitious Òweapons of mass destruction.Ó And keep in mind that Obama has perpetrated more drone attacks in 10 months than Bush did in 8 years. Skepticism is the default position.
The administrationÕs alleged evidence comes to no more than mere assertion. Obama has refused to provide specifics, anything that would count as reliable evidence. Unnamed U.S. officials told The New York Times there is "no smoking gun" that directly links President Bashar al-Assad to the attack. On Sunday, White House Chief of Staff McDonough told NBCÕs ÒMeet the PressÓ that Òthe common-sense testÓ proves that Assad is responsible for the Ghouta attack. In other words, the administration lacks the facts and evidence that would justify its accusation. In fact, if Òcommon senseÓ is to be the criterion, weÕd best believe that the CIA- and Saudi-backed opposition, not Assad, gassed Ghouta. AssadÕs forces control 13 out of 14 provincial capitals, are winning on the battlefield and have nothing to gain from a gas attack that would provide the pretext for US military intervention against them. Keep in mind that the Syrian government invited U.N. inspectors in to investigate the accusation. Immediately after the inspectorsÕ arrival, a poison gas attack took place 10 miles from the inspectors. Why would Assad do such a stupid thing under those circumstances? As always, the Cui bono? standard is the most telling. It was the opposition, dominated by the al Nusrah Front and other Islamist sectarians linked to al Qaeda, who benefited from the attack.
There is independent evidence that the opposition has used poison gas. In May, Turkish authorities disrupted a Jahbat al-Nusra cell and discovered sarin gas in the possession of the militants. This is significant because the Syrian opposition is provided U.S.-made arms through Saudi Arabia, which funnels the weapons through Turkey. Dale Gavlak -a longtime correspondent for the Associated Press, based in Amman, Jordan for more than two decades, who currently reports for AP and National Public Radio, as well as MPN- reports that the Al Nusra Front had custody of the chemical weapons.
WHAT IS THE ROLE OF SAUDI ARABIA IN THE PLAN TO ATTACK SYRIA?
The Saudis are major players in this scenario. The Saudis are Sunni, but not the kind that made up the majority in Iraq before the war. The Saudi Sunni are fundamentalist and jihadist. The 9/11 hijackers were mostly Saudi. It is an open secret that the royal family is a, perhaps the, major funder of al Qaeda and other radical jihadist elements everywhere. The jihadists who make up the opposition in Syria, most of whom are imports and not Syrian, are armed, as noted above, by Saudi Arabia. Because Saudi Arabia is a strategic ally of the U.S (In 1944 FDR signed an agreement with King Farouk: in exchange a for reliable supply of cheap oil, the U.S. would intervene on behalf of the regime in case of any insurrection against the continued ownership of that country by the Saud family.), the news media do not make an issue of our close ally being the globeÕs major funder of terrorist organizations. If war happens, the U.S. will be al QaedaÕs air force.
The Saudis arming al Qaeda is nothing new. They played a huge role in making it possible for the Taliban to come to power in Afghanistan after the Soviets were driven out. HereÕs how: itÕs now well known that the U.S., through the most expensive operation in the CIAÕs history, financed the training of the opposition in Afghanistan. But the CIA channeled the money through Saudi Arabia, which has close ties to PakistanÕs CIA-equivalent, the intelligence service ISI. The Saudis funneled the U.S. funds to the Afhgani resistance through the ISI, which is lousy with Taliban, Taliban supporters and other radical jihadiists beloved by the Saudis. Accordingly, ISI funneled the U.S. funds to one element of the Afghani opposition, the radical Islamists, among whom was Osama bin Laden and his cohorts. Keep in mind that the radical Islamists were by no means the only participants in the Afghani resistance. The secular opposition was completely bypassed by the ISI, with the result we are all familiar with: it was only the religious radicals who were trained to fight in Afghanistan, and the jihadist ideology spread through much of the entire region, an outcome Washington could have seen coming, but didnÕt, blinded as it was by its obsession to saddle the Soviets with Òtheir own Vietnam,Ó as U.S. policymakers put it.
Secretary of state Kerry has felt obliged to deny the fact that al Qaeda is part of the Syrian opposition. The following sources have run major stories which debunk KerryÕs deceitful claim: my files contain stories from the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, CNN, McClatchy, AP, Time, BBC, the Independent, the Telegraph, Agence France-Presse, Asia Times, and the Star. No matter. Many Americans will choose to be hornswaggled. But not you.
The Saudis see ShiÕite Iran as their major rival in the region. Iran is a close ally of Syria. Thus, the Saudis see an attack on Alawite (a species of Shia) Syria as a proxy assault on Iran and a blow to ShiÕites. So there is a sectarian subplot to the U.S.-Saudi connection. Much of this background emerged as an outcome of one of WashingtonÕs ancillary aims in the Iraq war, to further advance Arab disunity by creating the Shia-Sunni divide. This was effected by WashingtonÕs handing over of power, during the occupation of Iraq, to Shia clerical parties. Since then the divide has predictably widened. An accompanying outcome, perhaps unforeseen by Washington, was to turn Iran into a major player in the region. The natural result of that development was to bring the Sunni governments of the region into the game behind Uncle Sam in order to counter IranÕs newly heightened influence. ObamaÕs aggression, then, will exacerbate a major regional conflict, a proxy war between Sunni states in the region -Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and Turkey (TurkeyÕs population is strongly opposed to its governmentÕs complicity in the assault on Syria.)- and ShiÕite Iran. Yet another wave of U.S. bombs and missiles in the Middle East could easily result in a wider regional conflict virtually impossible to contain.
You can see why the attempt to overthrow Assad is not comparable to prior successful efforts to unseat Gaddafi and Saddam. The latter two were leaders of more-or-less isolated countries. Syria is lodged within a network of alliances -with Hezbollah (more below), Iran, Lebanon and Russia, which also sends Assad weapons. Iraq too is involved: Maliki has sent fighters for one side, and Muqtada al-Sadr has sent his supporters to fight for the other. War with Syria is virtually certain to spread the resulting Dunkirk beyond its borders. The trigger-happy Obama either doesnÕt know this, doesnÕt care or thinks that larger imperial interests make the whole thing worth it.
WHAT IS THE ROLE OF ISRAEL IN THE PLAN TO ATTACK SYRIA?
The principal objects of Israeli fear and loathing in the region are Iran and Hezbollah, the Lebanese ShiÕite group and a major ally of Iran. Hezbollah is in IsraelÕs eyes the most serious challenge to its imagined military omnipotence. Hezbollah is a savvy, well equiped and effective fighting force. It is the only organization that has fought Israel to a standstill more than once in the past. For 18 years it resisted IsraelÕs occupation of southern Lebanon and finally forced Israel to end the occupation in 2000. In 2006 Hezbollah defeated a 30-day Israeli bombing and whipped Israel once again on the ground. IsraelÕs sense of humiliation has not faded, and it sees the present crisis as a means of crushing Hezbollah, which receives arms from Iran through the conduit of Syria. The Israelis hope that the defeat of Assad will leave Hezbollah without access to arms. In this eventuality, IsraelÕs hunger for conflict will see Hezbollah as a sitting duck and an object of Israeli vengeance. Another factor transforming the war against Syria into a wider conflict is that Hezbollah is full aware of israelÕs intentions and is surely planning accordingly.
And of course Israel welcomes any development that might undermine Iran via the destruction of its ally Syria. But Hezbollah is a serious threat to any U.S. and/or Israeli plan to attack Iran in the future. In the event of such an assault, Hezbollah could open a new front on IsraelÕs northern border. Israel will not be able stretch itself so thin; with its resources disproportionately commited to Iran, it would again fare badly in a conflict with Hezbollah.
WHAT ARE WASHINGTONÕS REAL MOTIVES?
This is a very long story, a bookÕs worth. Gotta simplify without oversimplifying. We must begin with WashingtonÕs most fundamental and overriding geopolitical aim: to be the worldÕs only unequalled superpower, and to be so forever. Not the worldÕs sole unsurpassed superpower; the worldÕs only unequalled superpower. Cheney, Bush and Obama have explicitly affirmed that this necessarily puts the U.S. in a state of perpetual war. In addition, the policy states that any country that seeks to gain parity -parity, not superiority- to the U.S. will be considered by Washington as a candidate for military retaliation. We are told that this is required by the perpetual threat of terrorism, but thatÕs not the truth.
The situation is easy to understand. But it will require what the reader may perceive as a digression. ItÕs not a digression. YouÕll see. Bear with me. Remember, weÕre talking about WashingtonÕs global aspirations to hegemony as the most useful and illuminating framework for comprehending the significance of the fuss about Syria. Start by looking at WashingtonÕs historical record. Make it easier: check the record since the end of the Second World War. As Martin Luther King pointed out shortly before his death, no country in the world has killed more civilians outside its borders during that period than the U.S. In recent years the destruction syndrome appears to be entirely out of control. Every country in the world has an interest in protecting itself from Uncle SamÕs economic and/or military sanctions. This can be achieved in two ways. 1. A nation can become a loyal ally of the U.S. Under the circumstances, this comes to lapdog status. Think the UK or Canada. 2. Many nations will of course abhor blind compliance, and will be thereby obliged to protect itself by building up a military deterrent. This alternative is actually forced upon some nations by Washington itself. For Uncle Sam has anticipated that China and Russia are the principal potential equals of the U.S. in economic and therefore military power. Since China will certainly be the largest economy in the world pretty soon, and the U.S.Õs economic power has been in gradual secular decline, China is WashingtonÕs main concern. Accordingly, the U.S. has continued to surround China (and Russia) with U.S. missiles and military bases. (cf. WashingtonÕs Òtilt to AsiaÓ) This makes it irrational for China (and Russia) not to build up a military deterrent to possible U.S. direct or indirect aggression.
A country with an effective military deterrent to U.S. aggression is eo ipso the U.S.Õs military equal. But thatÕs not allowed. So Washington is commited, by the logic of its desire for imperial supremacy, to a perpetual military buildup. In self-defense, China and Russia must do the same. The inexorable result of this dynamic is an Òarms race.Ó Unless Washington attacks first, the countries it has designated as enemies/competitors will eventually achieve military, i.e. nuclear, parity with the U.S. The result is Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) and with it the loss of WashingtonÕs ability to maneuver world events and the policies of individual sovereign nations by means of the implicit threat of military action. Of course the current new arms race will not necessarily end as the original one with the Soviets did, without the emergence of a cataclysmic crisis. A protracted arms race can easily morph into a dangerous game of nuclear chicken.
The game I describe above is played on a global chessboard. Any country desiring a significant global presence/influence -and not necessarily hegemony- must operate through a system of alliances. WashingtonÕs aim to remain an economic and military hegemon entails a crucial geopolitical imperative: the now highly integrated global economy must function to serve the perceived economic and military interests of the hegemon. Every country in the world must be an ally of Washington. (Recall the Cold War, when every country in the world was under pressure to ally itself with either the Soviet Union or the U.S.) Countries that resist the hegemon can be destroyed (Libya, Iraq,É), denied access to international trade (Cuba), or punished in a variety of other ways. A serious form of economic resistance can take this form: a sovereign decides to break the Bretton Woods rule and accept payment for its oil in currencies other than the dollar. (Bretton Woods consisted the dollar as the worldÕs reserve currency, making it Òas good as goldÓ, i.e., the dollar is a universally accepted currency in any transaction anywhere.) Saddam and Gaddafi began accepting oil payments in euros.
A country that refuses to accept U.S. authority in a strategically important region, i.e. that refuses to function as a U.S. ally, will be treated by Washington as an enemy. The U.S. has always has always had a local cop-on-the-beat in every strategic region of the world. (ThatÕs always how imperial hegemony has worked, whatever the hegemon. Strategic alliances are indispensable.) In the Middle East it had been Iran under the Shah. After the ShahÕs fall the local sub-imperial gendarme became Israel, which would provide intelligence to Washington about regional resistance to U.S. hegemony, and sometimes take military action in support of or consistent with U.S. interests. Those who resist U.S. and Israeli dominance in the region, such as Iran and Syria and the Palestinians, will be treated, as enemies. Iran regards the U.S. as hostile because of WashingtonÕs strong support of the Shah, one of the most despised dictators of the 20th century. And Iran desires autonomy for the entire region, and so has been sharply critical of WashingtonÕs strong support of dictatorial client sheikdoms and Israel. The sheikdoms are despised by large portions of their own populations, which leans the latter toward Iran when push comes to shove. IranÕs resources and size, and its alliances with greater powers outside the region, make it a natural as a major player in the region. (And it hasnÕt started a war in more than 2 centuries.)
A NYT story strongly suggests that Obama sees a successful incursion against Syria as a necessary prequel to a comparable move against Iran within the next 2 or 3 years. An Aug. 31 NYT story describes what one of ObamaÕs aids told the Times about a meeting Obama called with his top aids to explain to them his reasons for seeking congressional authorization for a strike against Syria: ÒHe had several reasons, he told them, including a sense of isolation after the terrible setback in the British Parliament. But the most compelling one may have been that acting alone would undercut him if in the next three years he needed Congressional authority for his next military confrontation in the Middle East, perhaps with Iran.Ó
Were Obama to wage war against Syria and Iran before the next election, the ensuing disaster would make a Republican president a sure thing. He couldnÕt be worse than Obama.