Syria Back in the Crosshairs?


Rumors of future air and/or ground attacks on supposed insurgent bases inside Syria; Rumsfeld’s denials that US Special Forces death squads are already operating in Syria; and US attempts to get use of a Turkish air base to attack Iraq from. All of these news items over the week of January 11th, 2005 coincided with another rumor about discussions within Washington’s ruling circles about how to disengage from the debacle in Iraq. There seems to be a contradiction, doesn’t there? While talk of expanding the war on the ground, which is what all of these Turkish and Syrian-related moves are, peppers the media, the folks in Washington are supposedly speculating about getting out.

How can they declare victory and leave is how some of the pundits put it, borrowing a line from the late Vermont Senator George Aiken. The reality, however, is closer to this: How can they leave and keep control over the oil and the region that it is buried in? Unfortunately for the residents of that region, there is probably no way that Washington and London can do such a thing. Since these two capitals have made it their mission to expand their control of the world market and keep control of what they already have; and a good number of the residents of the Middle East have made it their mission to deny those capitals their desire, one can expect many more years of occupation and conflict. Unless, that is, the armies of London and DC are forced to leave.

The logic of empire demands that they remain and, furthermore, that they deny any other capital from involving itself in the region. For that matter, that logic also demands that the locals keep their desires to rule themselves quiet also. The world saw the logic of the former in the buildup towards the Iraqi invasion and can see it manifest itself currently not only in Iraq, but also in the recent demands to Russia made by Washington and Tel Aviv (which is, generally speaking, Washington’s annex in the region) that Moscow stop considering the sale of missiles to Syria.

If one reads the media reports coming out of Washington these days concerning potential US strikes into Syria, they’ll discover that Washington hopes to find and destroy elements of the former Iraqi military that are supposedly coordinating part of the Iraqi insurgency from Syria. While this may be happening to some extent, the more fundamental reason for any such attacks would be to end the Ba’athist government in Damascus. This desire can be seen in the attempts to link the Ba’athist elements of the Iraqi insurgency with the Ba’athist government in Damascus. If the US somehow succeeded in this endeavor, it would replace the Syrian government with a regime willing to accede to US and Israeli demands regarding Lebanon and other territories in the region. These are pieces of territory that the US and Israel would like to either claim for their own or, at the least, neutralize any threat from the people living there.

According to various news articles, especially one from UPI on January 12th, 2005 and another in The Jerusalem Post on December 24, 2004, the sentiment for making some kind of military move on the supposed insurgent command and control centers in Syria comes from many quarters of the Washington establishment, not just the neocons. The near universality of opinion on this matter proves that it is the logic of empire that is at work. Indeed, it is part and parcel of the imperial sentiment spoken by both major party candidates in the recent US presidential election that stated that the US must “stay the course” in Iraq. It is now quite obvious that the “course” over there has nothing to do with Iraqi WMD and little to do with the capture of Saddam Hussein. It may have been Bush’s war to begin with, (although the consent of Congress was asked for and provided), but that is no longer the case. It is the empire’s war and it can only end in one of two ways: victory or defeat. Whether or not widening the war into Syria would result in victory is certainly being weighed.

Another aspect of the US propaganda assault on Syria is the recent Security Council resolution calling on Syria to withdraw its forces from Lebanon. While this sounds like a legitimate call to support Lebanon’s independence, it is important that one looks at the sponsors of this resolution. Not only is this demand the primary goal of a US-based organization composed almost completely of members of the US neoconservative cabal-the United States Committee for a Free Lebanon (USCFL)-it is supported by the governments of France and the United States. In addition, its Lebanese supporters include the Christian Phalangist movement, which is a pro-Israel right-wing movement that has often done Israel’s dirty work on Lebanese territory.

Indeed, the website states quite clearly that “Ariel Sharon has an opportunity to finish what he started in 1982, before Lebanese President-elect (Phalangist) Bashir Gemayel’s life was so rudely ended.” Gemayel was killed by some of his political opponents in 1982. That same year, Ariel Sharon organized the massacre of women and children in the Shabra and Shatila refugee camps. The massacres were carried out by Phalangist militia and the South Lebanese Army, a mercenary force financed by Israel.

Why does France support this resolution? The most obvious answer is that Lebanon used to be a French protectorate. After World War I, when the victors were dividing the spoils of war and Britain was running the show, France ended up with what was called Lebanon after all was said and done. Prior to this division, Lebanon had been part of Greater Syria, which was in turn part of the Ottoman Empire. In addition, it was culturally part of an Arab nation that identified itself in this manner: The boundaries of this politically unfulfilled nation are found in the chorus of a song written by the Damascene nationalist and man of letters, Fakhri al-Barudi, which enjoyed wide circulation:

The countries of the Arabs are my homelands:
From Damascus to Baghdad;
From Syria to the Yemen, to Egypt, and all the way to Tetuan

Although this Arab nation still is not a physical reality, it remains a hope among many Arabs, with the Ba’athists of Syria and Iraq being among its most fervent supporters. One could argue that, although the Arab peoples live in many different countries, most of them would identify themselves as Arab first. This is especially the case of the Arab on the street who has no vested interest in the benefits their national governments might gain from ignoring the phenomenon.

Lebanon has remained a nominally independent nation since its postwar creation, although it has remained under Syrian protection since the end of the Lebanese civil war of the 1980s. France would like to have more say in its former protectorate, especially in today’s Middle East, where the US and Great Britain currently hold greatest sway. This desire seems to have increased since the most recent US-UK invasion and occupation of Iraq, actions strongly opposed by Paris. As for the Phalangists, it has been their desire since Lebanon’s creation to rule the region. They have been supported in this desire by various elements in Washington, Paris and, more recently, Tel Aviv. Much of this support is based on their identification with these capitals’ political and economic goals for the entire region.

For some reason, I keep thinking of the US invasion of Cambodia whenever I read these news items about the US attacking Syria. Most of the reasoning for that incursion (to use Richard Nixon’s terminology) had to do with hitting North Vietnamese Army (NVA) command and control centers that were allegedly in the Cambodian jungles bordering Vietnam. The US Air Force had already been covertly bombing Cambodia for several months prior to the invasion and had sponsored a coup to overthrow the neutral Prince Sihanouk in Phnom Penh. Once Sihanouk was overthrown, the CIA asset Lon Nol was put into power and the way was paved for an overt move into Cambodian territory by US and southern Vietnamese troops. Reaction to the US move was swift and convulsive. Millions protested around the world and open rebellion existed in some US cities and towns, with ROTC buildings burnt to the ground and martial law declared. Six college students were killed by police and National Guard at campuses in Ohio and Mississippi.
While I have no desire to return to the turmoil of that time, it is essential the US antiwar movement revitalize itself quickly in order to prevent any further escalation of the current conflict in Iraq.

RON JACOBS is author of The Way the Wind Blew: a history of the Weather Underground, which is just republished by Verso. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s new collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. He can be reached at:

Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. He has a new book, titled Nowhere Land: Journeys Through a Broken Nation coming out in Spring 2024.   He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: