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Syrian Revolution Hijacked

by PETER LEE

The Syrian revolution—a broad-based, non-sectarian, democratic anti-despot national movement—has failed.

Mass demonstrations never materialized in Damascus and Aleppo.  The military and security forces didn’t crack.  The Alawite on Sunni crackdown (Alawites form the backbone of the army/security forces/irregular goon squads) fomented sectarian divisions, with most non-Sunnis minorities cleaving desperately to the Assad regime.  Prosperous Sunnis have presumably been hedging their bets by donating to the anti-government cause in recent days but have not explicitly abandoned the regime.

The Gulf powers and the West would have welcomed a Ba’athist regime collapse at the hand of domestic anti-government demonstrations.

That didn’t happen.

As the peaceful democratic movement has faltered, there has been no move from the Western/Gulf powers to encourage reconciliation and reforms.

Quite the contrary, in fact.

Whenever Assad makes an offer of reform, the Western powers dismiss it as too late and/or insincere.

Victoria Nuland, the State Department spokesperson, counseled Syrian dissidents to defy the Assad regime’s offer of an amnesty in return for handing in illegal weapons, as the LA Times reported:

Syria accused Washington of “inciting sedition, supporting the acts of killing and terrorism,” the official Syrian news agency said, quoting an official source at the Foreign Ministry.

The comments came a day after State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland declared that she would counsel Syrians to reject the amnesty, in which those the government terms arms violators were asked to turn themselves in with their weapons “to the nearest police station” during a one-week period that began Saturday. Those who surrender and have not killed anyone “will be released soon,” the Interior Ministry vowed.

“I wouldn’t advise anybody to turn themselves in to regime authorities at the moment,” Nuland told reporters in Washington.

Nuland, by the way, is married to PNACer and neocon pundit Robert Kagan.  Recalling Dick Cheney’s enthusiasm for driving to Damascus post-Desert Storm, maybe we should call the Syria enterprise Clean Break II: The Do-Over.

Anyway, democracy didn’t work.  Time for Plan B.

The foreign powers interested in Assad’s fall—and stripping Iran of a regional ally–have made the decision to piggyback a foreign-supported, foreign-funded insurrection on the faltering anti-government movement.

More accurately, the democratic revolution is now an uncertain and unwilling passenger on the Gulf-funded military machine rumbling toward Damascus.

Havens for anti-Assad fighters have materialized in Turkey, and arms and money are flooding in from all over the place.

Weapons and money for anti-Assad insurrectionists has been trickling in for months, to the blissful disregard of western news outlets fixated on the images of democracy demonstrators struggling against oppression.

Now that the political option is sliding off the table and it is clear a foreign-funded insurrection is needed to remove the Assad regime, the gusher of arms and cash has become too big to ignore.

But the story doesn’t require old-fashioned reporting anymore.

Just go down to a Turkish foreign ministry presser for tea, cookies, and a targeted backgrounder.

Turkey has positioned itself as the indispensable Western/Gulf proxy on Syria’s northern border.

Iran’s IRNA news agency passed on a report in Turkey’s Millyet tabloid a major Turkish news outlet.  IRNA is sometimes selective and/or inaccurate in its presentation of international news, so I’m passing it on with a caveat, but the report as presented passes the smell test for me:

According to Milliyet, as cited by IRNA, France has sent its military training forces to Turkey and Lebanon to coach the so-called Free Syrian Army — a group of defectors operating out of Turkey and Lebanon — in an effort to wage war against Syria’s military.

The report added that the French, British, and Turkish authorities “have reached an agreement to send arms into Syria.”

The Turkish daily said that the three have informed the US about training and arming the Syrian opposition.

According to Milliyet, a group of armed rebels are currently stationed in Turkey’s Hatay Province near the border with Syria.

The report comes as an earlier report had revealed that the British and French intelligence agencies have reportedly tasked their agents with contacting Syrian dissidents based in the northern Lebanese town of Tripoli in order to help fuel unrest in Syria.

Reports also said that French intelligence agents have been sent to northern Lebanon and Turkey to build the first contingents of the Free Syrian Army out of the deserters who have fled Syria.

For those of you who prefer to get your Turkey/Syria news from a reliable Crusader source, here’s an eyebrow-raising item from the Daily Telegraph, albeit via Hurryet on November 27:

Syrian dissidents held secret talks Nov. 25 with Libya’s new authorities and Turkish authorities in Istanbul with the aim of securing weapons and money for their insurgency against Damascus, the Daily Telegraph has reported.

Syrian opposition group requested “assistance” from the Libyan representatives and were offered arms, and potentially volunteers, during the meeting, the daily reported Nov. 25.

“There is something being planned to send weapons and even Libyan fighters to Syria,” a Libyan source said on condition of anonymity. “There is a military intervention on the way. Within a few weeks you will see.”

Preliminary discussions about arms supplies took place when members of the Syrian National Council (SNC) – the country’s main opposition movement – visited Libya earlier this month, said the daily.

“The Libyans are offering money, training and weapons to the Syrian National Council,” said Wisam Taris, a human rights campaigner with links to the SNC. Last month, Libya’s interim government became the first in the world to recognize Syria’s opposition movement as the country’s “legitimate authority.”

Large shipments of weapons have not yet been sent, said activists, mainly because of logistical difficulties.

But proposals for a “buffer zone” inside Syria, monitored by the Arab League, or the likely emergence of an area inside the country controlled entirely by rebels, could solve this problem. “The [Libyan] council’s offer is serious,” said Taris.

Sources in the Libyan town of Misrata suggested that some weapons may already have been sent. Some smugglers were caught selling small arms to Syrian buyers in Misrata, said a man who trafficked guns to Libya’s rebels during the country’s civil war.

Libyans feel closely aligned to the Syrian cause, said Hameda al-Mageri, from the Tripoli Military Council.

The Tripoli Military Council is the creature of Islamist strongman Abdelhakim Belhadj.

Belhadj is the preferred in-Libya muscle of the Gulf States—“proxy” is perhaps not too strong a term.  He recently found it expedient to issue a non-denial denial that Qatar had dispatched nine planeloads of arms to Tripoli for the exclusive use of his forces.

Belhadj was denied a seat in the new Libyan cabinet thanks to Western anxiety over any overtly Islamist tinge to the proceedings. In an inspiring demonstration of the give-and-take of new Libyan democracy, a representative from Zintan was able to leverage his town’s continued and suspiciously prolonged local custody of Saif Qaddafi into a winning bid for the defense slot.

Instead, Belhadj now has the opportunity to pursue profitable mischief in Syria on behalf of the Gulf states and their anti Sh’ia/anti-Iranian counter revolution (and perhaps dissipating the intimidating shadow of Belhadj and a number of his well-trained and hardened fighters from the streets of Tripoli).

In an amusing sideline, Belhadj–presumably on his way to the Istanbul meeting–got a friendly hazing at the airport from his Zintan buddies.  The brief detention was noted by the local Libyan press; the thing about the money was apparently glossed by a pro-Gaddafi website (they still exist!):

The battalion of Zintan men has arrested him after the discovery that the passport is registered with the competent authorities and carrying fake name.

After the arrest the rebels received a call from the President of the Council Mustafa Abdul Jalil asking the Alzentan and officials at the airport in Tripoli to allow Hakim Belhaj to leave the country, this has been found on the large sum of money inside the bag Khuwaildi Belhadj.

The democratic revolution ship has sailed.  What’s going on today is a foreign-supported insurrection.

The Chinese and the Russians have a clear-eyed understanding of what’s going on.

The PRC is loath to get on the wrong side of Saudi Arabia, its largest energy supplier, by going too far to defend Syria.

Moscow, which has a real stake in its Iran alliance and cares about the fate of Assad’s regime, has shown no such qualms.

A selection of headlines from RIA Novosti gives an idea of what a responsible multi-lateral response on Syria—as opposed to a hurried military ass-kicking enabled by global anti-Iranian forces meant to obscure the failure of a peaceful “color revolution”—would have looked like:

Syria welcomes Russia as intermediary in reconciliation talks 

Syrian opposition should not boycott reforms—Russian FM 

Moscow calls on Arab League to work for peace in Syria

None of this is happening, of course.

As to where this all ends up, I will outsource the increasingly plausible endgame–Turkey is ready to invade Syria–to the estimable M. Badhrakumar of Asia Times (and his personal blog, Indian Punchline):

Turkey and its western allies are transferring the Libyan fighters whom they trained and armed to depose Muammar Gaddafi to Syria. Around 600 Libyan ‘volunteers’ have entered Syria. Daily Telegraph reported that secret meetings were held on Friday in Istanbul between the Turkish officials and the Syrian opposition representatives and the Libyan fighters. Large-scale infiltration of weapons from Turkey and Jordan have been going on for months to create civil-war conditions in Syria, but this is the first move to introduce ‘volunteers’.

The move is necessitated by the failure to induce defections form the Syrian armed forces, except a mere handful. Turkey and the western powers are desperate to create the myth of a ‘Syrian resistance’ force without which their blatant aggression will be in full display.

Things seem to be heading for a flash point, indeed. The sure sign is that US V-P Joseph Biden is heading for Ankara in the weekend. It is a major signal of the US giving the go-ahead to Turkey to act on Syria without fear. Again, Jordanian King, Abdullah, travelled to israel. He is Saudi Arabia’s ‘back channel’ to Israel and a key regional ally for the western intelligence.

Turkey is indeed shedding its fear of the unknown and is coming out into the open on the Syrian situation. Turkish FM Ahmet Davitoglu indicated today for the first time that Turkey is all set for invasion of Syria once it gets the green signal from its western allies. He said this before heading for the combined meeting of EU foreign ministers and Arab League representatives (read Saudi Arabia and Qatar).

The day Davutoglu spoke, November 29, will stand out as a notable date in the chronicle of the Turkish Republic that Kemal Ataturk founded. Ataturk’s ‘red line’ used to be that Turkey should never get entangled in the affairs of the Muslim Middle East but should instead concentrate on its own ‘modernization’. Evidently, the Islamist government in power today thinks Turkey is today ‘modern’ enough already and can now go back and reclaim its Ottoman legacy.

A Turkish army moving into an Arab country – it is a historic point. It is a century after the Turks were driven out by the ‘Arab revolt’. The matrix is dripping with irony. The Arab revolt against the Turks was instigated by Great Britain. And Britain, although a far weaker power today, is still playing a seminal role – except, it is encouraging the Turks to return to the Arab world. One hundred years ago, Britain successfully pitted the Arabs against the Turks. Today, Turks join hands with some Arabs who have a grouse against some other Arabs.

The Syrian revolutionaries were too weak to get the nation they wanted.

They’ll have to make do with whatever state that Turkey, the Gulf powers, and the western democracies decide to give them.

Peter Lee edits China Matters and writes about Asia for CounterPunch.  

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