Those who want NATO to intervene “humanely” in Syria often say that Syria will not be like Iraq. They are right: it would be much worse, and could also be the prelude for war on Iran.
By Sami Ramadani
IT IS EVIDENT that the Obama Administration has taken on board tactical changes that were effected by the Bush Administration after US losses mounted in Iraq in 2004.
The change is to shift from direct invasions and occupations to encouraging destabilisation, clandestine operations and feeding civil strife. Their aim in Syria, Lebanon and Iran is the same: regime change to serve strategic interests – which does not exclude bombing raids and drone attacks.
US General Wesley Clerk, former Supreme Commander of Allied Forces Europe, is on record informing US journalist Amy Goodman that within weeks of the terrorist atrocity on 11th September 2001, the then Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld wrote a memo describing “how we’re going to take out seven countries in five years, starting with Iraq, and then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and, finishing off, Iran," (after invading Afghanistan).
Failure of the US in Iraq and the 2006 Israeli defeat in Lebanon have changed the order, manner and outcomes of “taking out” the eight countries:
- Afghanistan is still occupied by US-led NATO forces and reaping its deadly fruits, with competing warlords flooding the world heroin market;
- Iraq is splintered and bleeding heavily, with daily sectarian terrorist atrocities, having been invaded and destroyed with a million deaths;
- Somalia is ruined by intervention and competing militias;
- Sudan is divided into two warring states;
- Libya was bombed by NATO into a country of hundreds of deadly militias and armed gangs;
- Lebanon was bombed and invaded in a US-backed Israeli invasion in 2006 but was repulsed by Syrian-backed Lebanese resistance led by Hezbollah;
- Syria today is in the grip of a bitter conflict in which al Qaeda-type terrorists have established a foothold similar to the one in neighbouring Iraq;
- Iran is the target of plans to be attacked by either Israel or the US.
In retrospect, the 2006 Israeli invasion of Lebanon unmasked a historical development of momentous dimensions for Syria and the entire region. The Saudi ruling family, Egypt’s Mubarak regime and Jordan’s King Abdullah surprised the Arab world by publicly attacking Hezbollah while Israeli jets were heavily bombing Beirut. They dropped the pretence and appeared to be in de facto alliance with Israel against Lebanon.
The recent downfall of US-Saudi allies Bin Ali of Tunisia and Mubarak of Egypt raised more alarms, leading to NATO bombing of Libya. Today’s target is Syria, which is at the heart of what Jordan’s King Abdullah called the “Shia crescent”: Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Iran. It is opposition by the “crescent” to the hegemony of the US and Israel rather than religion or human rights that worry Washington and its dictatorial allies in the region. For it wasn’t very long ago that the Saudi rulers bankrolled Syria’s “Alawite-Shia” Hafiz Assad, Bashar’s father, had good relations with “Shia” Iran under the Shah’s dictatorship and backed Iraq’s former pro-US “Shia” Prime Minister Iyad Allawi. They are now backing Allawi again to replace Maliki.
It was the shift in Syria’s regional policies that angered the US, Saudi rulers and Israel rather than the regime’s nasty human rights record, because the shift turned Syria from an enemy to an ally of the Palestinian and Lebanese resistance and Iran.
It is now obvious that a strategic reconsideration of US-Saudi-Israeli regional priorities occurred in 2004 following US failure in Iraq. In March 2007 American Pulitzer Prize winner Seymour Hersh, related the new US strategy as explained to him by senior US officials. It was designed for Iraq but also Lebanon and Syria:
“In Lebanon, the Administration has co-operated with Saudi Arabia’s Government, which is Sunni [Wahhabi], in clandestine operations that are intended to weaken Hezbollah, the Shi’ite organization that is backed by Iran. The US has also taken part in clandestine operations aimed at Iran and its ally Syria. A by-product of these activities has been the bolstering of Sunni extremist groups that espouse a militant vision of Islam and are hostile to America and sympathetic to Al Qaeda.”
But it was deemed by the US that Syria and Iran were more dangerous than al Qaeda supporters. Dick Cheney and Saudi national security advisor Prince Bandar Bin Sultan were among the “architects” of that strategy and of going round congressional procedures “by leaving the execution or the funding to the Saudis”. Obama seems to have embraced the strategy, with Hilary Clinton being an enthusiast. Daily practicalities were left to US Assistant Secretary of State for the Near East Jeffrey Feltman, Prince Sultan and Saad Hariri, Lebanon’s former Prime Minister, leader of the pro-Washington 14th March bloc, a multi billionaire with Saudi/Lebanese dual nationality.
To this aggressive alliance one must now add Turkey, which in turn signalled a significant shift by backing NATO intervention in Libya and actively intervening in Syria. Indeed, Turkey has become the main base for the Saudi-Qatari funded factions of the opposition. The long Turkey-Syria border is one of the main routes for smuggling armed men and weapons into Syria. The other routes are through Iraqi Kurdistan, with the blessing of the Barzani forces; western Iraq, through the Iraqi US-trained al-Sahwa militias; and Lebanon, through the extreme right wing forces led by the Phalange and Hariri.
It is worth noting here that many Iraqis strongly believed that the US occupation forces were turning a blind eye to al Qaeda-type terrorism in Iraq because it was serving the useful purpose of weakening the patriotic resistance to their presence by encouraging divisive sectarian warfare, espoused by al Qaeda and its Wahhabi ideology.
Wahhabism is a sectarian, very repressive, socially backward and overwhelmingly rejected interpretation of Islam which is prone to nihilistic violence. As a small, isolated sect, Wahhabism was largely confined to a minority in the Saudi police state until its ruling family began to promote it across the world with billions of petro-dollars. Afghanistan was the arena in which Wahhabism prospered most, with the US and Saudi rulers backing the “Mujahideen”, including Bin Laden and the Taliban, against the Soviet “infidels” throughout the 1980s.
US and NATO tolerance of al Qaeda former terrorists was also visible in the fighting in Libya. With al Qaeda officially declaring Jihad on the Syrian regime, the de facto US-Saudi-Israeli alliance against the “crescent” is quite startling.
The oil-rich Qatari ruling family, a close US ally, joined the fray, with al-Jazeera TV (which they own) being even more influential than the arms and money they pumped into Libya and Syria. As the threat to their rule from the Arab uprisings moved ever closer and engulfed neighbouring Bahrain and Yemen, and affected parts of Saudi Arabia itself, the Saudi and Qatari rulers set their rivalry aside and moved swiftly to crush the brave Bahraini people’s democratic uprising. The aimed at dictating the direction of protests in Libya, Yemen and Syria, having lost their friends-in-dictatorship Bin Ali and Mubarak.
The media exclusively blames the repressive Syrian regime for militarisation of the conflict by opening fire on peaceful protestors during the first weeks of the protests, which began in March 2011. What is ignored is that it was only certain factions within the opposition in Syria which started calling for armed attacks against the Syrian armed forces. Democratic left opposition organisations, at the receiving end of state repression for decades, were and still are strongly opposed to such attacks and the militarisation of the conflict. They argued that militarisation would weaken the mass movement for radical democratic change, leave the door wide open for foreign intervention, play into the hands of the Israeli forces occupying the Syrian Golan Heights and threaten the social fabric of Syrian society. The media hide the fact that Israeli tanks in the occupied Golan are an hour’s drive away from Damascus.
The mainstream media here and in the Arab world, especially al-Jazeera, rarely report on the activities of the anti-intervention democratic opposition. On the other hand, al-Jazeera is acting as the cheer-leader for the Saudi-Qatari-backed Syrian National Council (SNC) and the Free Syrian Army (FSA), founded in and logistically backed by Turkey, a NATO member. Every allegation by the SNC and the FSA is reported as fact, even though serious doubts have been cast on their claims. […]
There are many occasions when al-Jazeera TV was caught peddling lies about Syria. Their reporter from Syria was caught on camera staging the scene of “fighting” before going on air. On one occasion the BBC published a picture about the Houla massacre, supplied by the Syrian pro-intervention opposition, which turned out to be from Iraq 2003. The BBC had to backtrack, though very discretely, using a blog by its World News editor, Jon Williams. He wrote:
“But tragic death toll aside, the facts are few: it's not clear who ordered the killings – or why… stories are never black and white – often shades of grey. Those opposed to President Assad have an agenda. One senior western official went as far as to describe their YouTube communications strategy as "brilliant". But he also likened it to so-called "psy-ops", brainwashing techniques used by the US and other military to convince people of things that may not necessarily be true. A healthy scepticism is one of the essential qualities of any journalist – never more so than in reporting conflict. The stakes are high – all may not always be as it seems.”
Glimpses of a different narrative, however, does occasionally force its way through, on Iraq or Syria. The vastly experienced Channel 4 journalist Alex Thomson came face to face with the brutal practices of some Syrian Free Syrian Army men when they tried to entrap him and his team to get them killed by regime forces to score a propaganda coup.
All this sadly reminds me of the way politicians and media regurgitated the made up stories peddled by the pro-US factions within the Iraqi opposition to Saddam’s rule in the build up to invading Iraq. Iraqis who opposed Saddam’s dictatorship but were strongly anti-war were similarly marginalised in favour of those funded by the US and Saudi and Kuwaiti rulers.
Why is the memory of some so very short? How could they forget the lies that converted opinion to go to war on Iraq? How could they forget the big lie about Iraqi soldiers tossing away babies from their incubators? How could they forget how Blair envoy Ann Clwyd MP, Melanie Philips of the Daily Mail, Australia’s Prime Minister, and legions more peddled the lie about people-shredding machines used by Saddam to shred prisoners alive, feet first to “prolong the agony”? It was the Sun’s 2003 editor who boasted that "Public opinion swung behind Tony Blair as voters learned how Saddam fed dissidents feet first into industrial shredders".
One customary pretext for intervention has not surfaced in relation to Syria. The advocates of humanitarian intervention in defence of women’s rights are silent in relation to women in Syria. Perhaps they know that women in Syria have immeasurably more rights than in Saudi Arabia, “an absolute monarchy that meets dissent with jail and bullets, and where women's lives are controlled by their fathers, husbands and the imam – from the cradle to the grave.” The Saudi-Qatari backed Moslem Brotherhood organisation in Syria, which leads the SNC and FSA, and is calling for NATO intervention, is not best known for championing women’s rights either.
The sad truth is that the democratic anti-imperialist opposition organisations in Syria are too weak at the moment to lead the struggle against Assad’s regime and for achieving radical democratic change. Alas, the sacrifices of the Syrian people have been hijacked by NATO and the Saudi-Qatari dictators.
Those who want NATO to intervene “humanely” in Syria often say that Syria will not be like Iraq. They are right: it would be much worse. Regime change through economic sanctions plus invasion killed a million or more Iraqis. Regime change through sanctions and backing the armed factions of the opposition will kill even more by plunging Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and probably Turkey into an even more horrific bloodbath. It will also be the prelude for a Saudi-Qatari-funded US/Israeli war on Iran. A war on Iran will not only risk the lives of millions of Iranians but might well drag Russia and China into the conflict.