Syria Through the Looking Glass


When wading into the ever muddied waters of the West’s never ending war against the people and states of the Middle East, it is useful to have some kind of mechanism if one is trying to find a bit of clarity.   The mechanism I prefer is that of history.  While not infallible, the fact of its existence tends to create a template of events that ultimately provides a sequence of events that, while often different, provide a context that makes sense out of what might otherwise seem to be random occurrences without connection.  When examining the history of imperial relations, the context is most often the ongoing attempts of the powerful nations to subjugate others.

Therefore, the US invasions of Iraq were clearly attempts by the world’s primary imperialist power to subjugate the people of that nation.  The reasons for these invasions were numerous and have been discussed for more than two decades.  Some of the  most accepted reasons include Washington’s desire to control Iraq’s resources, opposition to Saddam Hussein’s regional designs, Washington and Tel Aviv’s regional designs (including the desire to control Iran), and a long-range hope that a client Iraqi state would provide a base of operations for further US adventures.  As of this writing, not only is it impossible to measure the success of the invasion and occupation of Iraq; it might even be honest to state that the operation was more of a failure than a success.  One could also argue that the destruction of the pro-Saddam forces in the country and the ongoing signing of oil contracts under a law that clearly favors outside corporations means that the war and occupation was more of a success for Washington and its friends than it was a failure.  Still, it is too early to tell.

The real subject of this piece is not Iraq, however, but Syria.  Like Libya last year, there is little clarity in the coverage from the western press regarding this conflict.  It is clear that the Assad government brooks little patience for those who oppose its rule.  It is also clear that several actors with little interest in democracy have maneuvered themselves into roles as players in that opposition.  Some of those actors include Wahabbist fighters, mercenaries and others paid by the Saudi regime, arms merchants and gunrunners in the pay of Saudi and other Arab kingdoms, and various covert ops personnel (including CIA) working at the behest of various NATO governments including the US, and Israel.  Other possible actors include Al-Qaeda warriors and other religiously motivated types.  Those actually interested in a more democratic Syria have faded into the background as armed factions have come to the front.  Yet, it is these very same democracy protesters that provide a cover for NATO governments to increase their involvement.

Like virtually every other so-called pro-democracy movement in the past few decades, the movement in Syria was composed of people genuinely interested in social justice and democracy.  Also, like every other similar movement in the past few decades, those individuals and the groups they formed were infiltrated and manipulated by US government sponsored NGOS intent on confusing democracy with the creation of markets and cheap labor for US capitalism.  In countries where the national government was either too late in responding, too weak to respond, or pressured to accept a compromise encouraged by Washington, the protesters saw the authoritarian regime replaced with a US/NATO client regime that might or might not create the democratic conditions they hoped for.  Kosovo, Iraq, various eastern European nations and Libya provide several examples of this dynamic.  For some, the fact of the previous regime’s removal is enough.  For everyone else, the authoritarianism of the old regime has often been replaced with a new authoritarianism in the name of democracy.  Almost across the board, the cost of the old regime’s removal has been increased poverty for workers and farmers.

So, if we choose the prism of history to consider the situation in Syria, we find something familiar.  Simply put, we see western imperial powers and Turkey (and Israel) attempting to remove an Arab government unwilling to go along with their designs.  This is not the first such attempt.  In fact, Syria has been on the list of governments Washington wants to see gone for quite a while.  During the US military’s occupation of Iraq there were several moments when it looked like the US might launch attacks on Syria under the guise of fighting Iraqi insurgents supposedly based there.  As it turned out, this did not occur, most likely because the consensus was not there among those who were running the war.  Now, threats by Ankara against Syrian troops operating near the Turkish border could well be the pretext that leads to a shooting war between Syria and NATO member Turkey. If such a scenario unfolds, the NATO treaty demands assistance from Turkey’s fellow alliance members. As I wrote in November 2005:

Let’s take a look at just a couple of recent statements by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. On Oct. 19, 2005, Rice told a Senate committee that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were part of a plan to “redesign” the Middle East. She also added that U.S. troops could be in Iraq for 10 or more years. The reactions to these statements from the senators present varied, although none seemed to oppose the overall strategy presented by Ms. Rice. One GOP senator, George V. Voinovich of Ohio, noted: “We have to level with the American people,” he said. “This is another world war.” Voinovich, who opposed the appointment of John Bolton to the United Nations because Bolton alienated potential U.S. allies in its war for millennial world hegemony, was not so much asking for a change in policy as he was asking for the White House to stop misrepresenting its intentions.

The senator’s concern was seconded from the other side of the aisle by Senator Barack Obama (D-Ill.). Now, to some folks opposed to the war, Obama is a potential ally. However, like Voinovich, it appears that he is not opposed to the project to remake the world (especially those parts where there is oil) in Washington’s image; he is opposed to the current administration’s unilateralism. “This broadening of the mission is disturbing and difficult for us in the Senate to deal with as it requires a leap of faith on our part that a mission of that breadth can be accomplished in a reasonable time frame,” Mr. Obama said. Notice that his concern is with the time frame involved in dominating the world, not with the underlying philosophy that says such a project is the right thing to do. In summation, Washington does intend to change the governments in the Middle East that it opposes. Syria and Iran are the next two countries on the list, and any excuse to change their governments will be utilized, no matter how contrived or flimsy.

When considered in light of the statements by the two Senators (one who is now the president of the US), the historical view becomes quite clear.  The Pentagon and its cohorts in Washington, Brussels (where NATO headquarters are located), Tel Aviv, Ankara and other NATO capitals are not deviating from their thrust.  Despite the democratic possibilities unleashed by the Arab Spring, anyone hoping for genuine change must recognize that the supposed champions of democracy in the West are more intent on stifling democracy than guaranteeing it.  Those who believe otherwise are ignoring history.  Those who clamor for NATO intervention against Damascus and/or Tehran are denying it.

-headline is from a quote attributed to Thomas Mann.

Ron Jacobs is the author of The Way the Wind Blew: a History of the Weather Underground and Short Order Frame Up. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. His collection of essays and other musings titled Tripping Through the American Night is now available and his new novel is The Co-Conspirator’s Tale. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press.  He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.


Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

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