Syria Ten Years On

8 Apr

For socialists and internationalists (and how can you be the one without being the other?) the only thing more dismaying than the ability of ‘our’ power-serving media to whip The People into a frenzy of Orwellian loathing for manufactured bêtes noires is their ability to whip The People into a frenzy of Orwellian loathing for bêtes noires in parts of the world of which The People’s knowledge could be written on the back of a stamp.

Syria, say. We could say the same of course about Ukraine or China, on which The People are in a state of cultivated outrage over “Russian aggression”, and China’s allegedly racist oppression of its Uighurs – though few could locate Donbass or Xinjiang on a map, while fewer still ask in whose interests we are being corralled into such indignation.

But Syria will do for now. For ten years we’ve had wall to wall vilification of Damascus and the ‘regime’ of President Bashar al-Assad. By and large the allegations of atrocity, though many are disproved and many more unproven – not that you’d know this from corporate media coverage – have been accepted as true, even on the left. Yet how many know that Syria was targeted for regime change a decade before the Daraa protests of 2011? In my post the other day, former Virginia State Senator Dick Black is quoted as telling the Schiller Institute a fortnight ago that:

In 2001, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld ordered the Pentagon to draft plans to overthrow seven countries in the Middle East, beginning with Iraq, then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and finishing off with Iran. Not one of them had harmed the United States. In two thousand six, the US embassy in Damascus drew up detailed plans to destabilize and overthrow Syria.

I prefaced Black’s speech with an observation I’ve made a few times. The rising phenomenon of gamekeeper turned poacher – Scott Ritter, Philip Giraldi, Paul Craig Roberts, Stephen Cohen, Craig Murray, Peter Ford and Ed Snowden to name a few – is a sign of deeply fractured times. Specifically it is a sign of a mighty empire on the wane, and all the more dangerous for that fact.

Another gamekeeper turned poacher is M.K. Bhadrakumar, who describes himself thus on his blogsite, India Punchline:

I was a career diplomat by profession … Roughly half of the 3 decades of my diplomatic career was devoted to assignments on the territories of the former Soviet Union and to Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan. Other overseas postings included South Korea, Sri Lanka, Germany, and Turkey. I write mainly on Indian foreign policy and the affairs of the Middle East, Eurasia, Central Asia, South Asia and the Asia-Pacific.

…I will be gravely remiss if I do not acknowledge the two profound influences on my formative years – my late mother who was a deeply religious person of extraordinary spirituality who moulded my inner world and my late father who was a prolific writer, author, and Marxist intellectual and thinker who introduced me at a young age to dialectics as a matchless intellectual tool to analyse the material world and decode politics.

As it happens, the day (March 20) Dick Black addressed the Schiller Institute, Mr Bhadrakumar posted this summary of Syria’s postwar history. As with the former senator, I do not endorse his views unconditionally. For instance I find his closing paragraph way too indulgent in praising with faint damnation an enterprise of extraordinary evil:

The US policy in Syria is opaque. It has oscillated between aiming to prevent a resurgence of IS, confronting Iran, pushing back against Russia, providing humanitarian aid, and even protecting Israel, while the crux of the matter is that successive US administrations have failed to articulate a clear strategy and rationale for the US military presence in Syria. 

I offer it here because it gets far more right than wrong, and as a corrective to the manufactured views of the vast majority in the West, premised as they are on the lies, omissions and crude disinformation of ten years of media propaganda. And because if there’s a better antidote to memory-holed amnesia than the historic record, I’ve yet to hear of it.

Ten years on, Syria is almost destroyed. Who’s to blame?

In George Orwell’s novel Animal Farm, the ruling pigs led by Napoleon constantly rewrote history in order to justify and reinforce their own continuing power. The rewriting by the western powers of the history of the ongoing conflict in Syria leaps out of Orwell. 

The joint statement issued by the foreign ministers of the US, UK, France, Germany and Italy last week to mark the tenth anniversary of the Syrian conflict begins with an outright falsehood by holding President Bashar al-Assad and “his backers” responsible for the horrific events in that country. It asserts that the five western powers “will not abandon” the Syrian people — till death do us part. 

The historical reality is that Syria has been a theatre of the CIA’s activities ever since the inception of that agency in 1947. There is a whole history of CIA-sponsored “regime change” projects in Syria ranging from coup attempts and assassination plots to paramilitary strikes and funding and military training of anti-government forces. 

It all began with the bloodless military coup in 1949 against then Syrian president Shukri al-Quwatli which was engineered by the CIA. As per the memoirs of Miles Copeland Jr, the CIA station chief in Damascus at that time — who later actually went on to write a fine book of high literary quality on the subject — the coup aimed at safeguarding Syria from the communist party and other radicals!

However, the CIA-installed colonel in power, Adib Shaishakli, was a bad choice. As Copeland put it, he was a “likeable rogue” alright who had not “to my certain knowledge, ever bowed down to a graven image. He had, however, committed sacrilege, blasphemy, murder, adultery and theft” to earn American support. He lasted for four years before overthrown by the Ba’ath Party and military officers. By 1955, CIA estimated that Syria was ripe for another military coup. By April 1956, a joint CIA-SIS (British Secret Intelligence Service) plot was implemented to mobilise right-wing Syrian military officers. But then, the Suez fiasco interrupted the project.   

The CIA revived the project and plotted a second coup in 1957 under the codename Operation Wappen — again, to save Syria from communism — and even spent $3 million to bribe Syrian military officers. Tim Weiner, in his masterly 2008 book Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA, writes:

“The president (Dwight Eisenhower) said he wanted to promote the idea of an Islamic jihad against godless communism. “We should do everything possible to stress the ‘holy war’ aspect,” he said at a 1957 White House meeting… (Secretary of state) Foster Dulles proposed a “secret task force,” under whose auspices the CIA would deliver American guns, money, and intelligence to King Saud of Saudi Arabia, King Hussein of Jordan, President Camille Chamoun of Lebanon, and President Nuri Said of Iraq.” 

“These four mongrels were supposed to be our defence against communism and the extremes of Arab nationalism in the Middle East… If arms could not buy loyalty in the Middle East, the almighty dollar was still the CIA’s secret weapon. Cash for political warfare and power plays was always welcome. It could help an American imperium in Arab and Asian lands.”

But, as it happened, some of those “right-wing” officers instead turned in the bribe money and revealed the CIA plot to the Syrian intelligence. Whereupon, 3 CIA officers were kicked out of the American embassy in Damascus, forcing  Washington to withdraw its ambassador in Damascus. With egg on its face, Washington promptly branded Syria as a “Soviet satellite”, deployed a fleet to the Mediterranean and incited Turkey to amass troops on the Syrian border. Dulles even contemplated a military strike under the so-called “Eisenhower Doctrine” as retaliation against Syria’s “provocations”. By the way, Britain’s MI6 was also working with the CIA in the failed coup attempt; the details came to light accidentally in 2003 among the papers of British Defence Minister Duncan Sandys many years after his death. 

Now, coming down to current history, suffice to say that according to the WikiLeaks, since 2006, the US had been funding London-based Syrian dissidents, and he CIA unit responsible for covert operations was deployed to Syria to mobilise rebel groups and ascertain potential supply routes. The US is known to have trained at least 10000 rebel fighters at a cost of $1 billion annually since 2012. President Barack Obama reportedly admitted to a group of senators the operation to insert these CIA-trained rebel fighters into Syria. 

The well-known American investigative journalist and political writer Seymour Hersh has written, based on inputs from intelligence officers, that CIA was already transferring arms from its Benghazi station (Libya) to Syria around that time. Make no mistake, Obama was the first world leader to openly call for the removal of Assad. That was in August 2011. Then CIA chief David Petraeus paid two unannounced visits to Turkey (in March and September 2012) to persuade Erdogan to step in as the flag carrier of the US’ regime change project in Syria (under the rubric of “anti-terror fight”.) 

In fact, the US’ key allies in the Persian Gulf — Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the UAE — took the cue from Obama to loosen their purse strings to recruit, finance and equip thousands of jihadi fighters to be deployed to Syria. Equally, from the early stages of the conflict in Syria, major western intelligence agencies provided political, military and logistic support to the Syrian opposition and its associated rebel groups in Syria. 

Curiously, the Russian intervention in Syria in September 2015 was in response to an emergent imminent defeat of the Syrian government forces at the hands of the jihadi fighters backed by the US’ regional allies. Saudi Arabia withdrew from the arena only in 2017 after the tide of the war turned, thanks to the Russian intervention. 

The joint statement issued last week by the US and its NATO allies belongs to the world of fiction. In reality, there is Syrian blood in the hands of these NATO countries (including Turkey) and the US’ Gulf allies. Look at the colossal destruction that the US has caused: in the World Bank’s estimation, a cumulative total of $226 billion in gross domestic product was lost to Syria due to the war from 2011 to 2016 alone. 

The Syrian conflict has been among the most tragic and destructive conflicts of our time. Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have died, half a nation has been displaced, and millions have been forced into desperate poverty and hunger. In the UNHRC estimation, after ten years of conflict, half of the Syrian population has been forced to flee home, 70% are living in poverty, 6.7 million Syrians have been internally displaced, over 13 million people need humanitarian assistance and protection, 12.4 million people suffer from lack of food (or 60% of the entire population), 5.9 million people are experiencing a housing emergency and nearly nine in 10 Syrians are living below the poverty threshold. 

And, come to think of it, Syria used to have one of the highest levels of social formation in the entire Muslim Middle East. It used to be a middle income country until the US decided to destabilise Syria. Ever since the late 1940s, the US’ successive regime change projects were driven by geopolitical considerations. The agenda is unmistakeable: the US has systematically destroyed the heart, soul and mind of “Arabism” — Iraq, Syria and Egypt — with a view to perpetuate the western domination of the Middle East. 

Former President Donald Trump intended to withdraw the US troops from Syria and end the war. He tried twice, but Pentagon commanders sabotaged his plans. What Joe Biden proposes to do is anybody’s guess. Biden doesn’t seem to be in any rush to withdraw the US troops. 

The most disturbing aspect is that the US is methodically facilitating a Balkanisation of Syria by helping the Kurdish groups aligned with it to carve out a semiautonomous enclave in the country’s northeast. In fact, the the Arab population in northeastern Syria resents being under the Kurds’ governance, and this may eventually turn into a new source of recruits for Islamic State. Meanwhile, Turkey seized the US-Kurdish axis as alibi to occupy vast territories in northern Syria. 

The sad part of the joint statement by the US and its European allies is not only that it is rewriting history and spreading falsehood but conveys a sense of despair that there is no hope for light at the end of the tunnel in the Syrian conflict in a conceivable future. 

The US policy in Syria is opaque. It has oscillated between aiming to prevent a resurgence of IS, confronting Iran, pushing back against Russia, providing humanitarian aid, and even protecting Israel, while the crux of the matter is that successive US administrations have failed to articulate a clear strategy and rationale for the US military presence in Syria. 

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One Reply to “Syria Ten Years On”

  1. An empire narrative which also dog whistles, via the fifth columnist corporate media, the useful idiots amongst it’s populace into blaming the victims for the plight our elites have visited upon them.

    Here’s Escobar again, quoted from a current book review:

    “Those were the days when NATO, with full impunity, could bomb Serbia, miserably lose a war on Afghanistan, turn Libya into a militia hell and plot myriad interventions across the Global South. And of course, none of that had any connection whatsoever with the bombed and the invaded forced into becoming refugees in Europe.”

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