I remember during the “Libyan Revolution”; the tally of casualties resulting from Gaddafi’s crack down on protesters was being reported by the mainstream media with such a “dramatic” fervor that it hardly left the public with a moment to at least second-guess the ensuing avalanche of unverifiable information and erratic inflow of “eye witnesses’ accounts”.
Yet the minute NATO forces militarily intervened and started bombing the country into smithereens; the ceremonial practice of body count on our TV screens suddenly stopped, instead; reporting of Libyan casualties (of whom there were thousands thanks only to the now infamous UNSC resolution 1973) turned into a seemingly endless cycle of technical, daily updates of areas captured by NATO-backed “rebel forces” then lost back to Gaddafi’s military and again recaptured by the rebels in their creeping territorial advances towards Tripoli; all the while American, British and French air strikes were “silently” claiming the lives of untold numbers of innocent civilians, destroying vital infra-structure and reducing entire residential areas, universities and civil institutions into mere rubble.
Graphic images of the dead and the wounded pre-NATO involvement in Libya were replaced by digital maps and interactive screens of a divided country torn apart by a vicious civil war and a foreign invasion.
How is it that the media’s concern for human rights did not extend to the victims of NATO bombing campaigns in the Libyan cities of Tripoli and Sirte? How come the international community’s drive to protect the lives of Libyan civilians in Benghazi lost steam the minute NATO stepped in and actually increased the number of casualties ten-fold over?
The truth of the matter is; what transpired in Libya had nothing whatsoever to do with preventing an imminent “humanitarian disaster” from happening; and everything to do with exploiting an oil-rich country’s resources through sheer force and military might.
That’s when the Arab Spring went sour; the Libyan scenario proved to be such a success for NATO countries that western imperial powers and their client states fully embraced it as a practical template designed to stage-manage the revolutionary spirit of Arab world and topple “unfriendly” regimes in the region, and Syria seemed to tick all the right boxes (for them).
Syria has long been on the United States’ regime-change list along with countries like Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Lebanon, Iran and of course Iraq, to that end; the efforts of consecutive American administrations to undermine the regime of Bashar Al-Assad were relentless, from showering Syrian opposition groups (particularly those based in the U.S.) with money and funds under George W’s presidency, to the “Syria Accountability Act” in 2003, economic sanctions and constant insinuations about some secret WMD program were the weapons of choice, up until the spring of 2005; when the regime of Bashar Al-Assad was arbitrarily accused with the assassination of Lebanon’s former Prime Minister and business tycoon Rafiq El Hariri.
Yet America’s drive to bring down Assad lost considerable momentum after the humiliation of the U.S. army in Iraq and Hezbulla’s victory in the 2006 second Lebanon war with Israel, the Syrian regime seemed to emerge unscathed from its confrontation with the west, that is until the bloody events in the southern border city of Deraa represented a chance that was too good to pass up.
Drunk on its confidence that it is somehow immune to the slightest bit of criticism- the Syrian government presented the regime’s head on a silver platter for those seeking its downfall, with its miscalculated and disproportionate bloody onslaught on protesters in Deraa on March 15, 2011. It was a matter of time before Syria became a sandbox for western powers and their regional allies to wage their virtual war against the Baathist regime, not for the benefit of the Syrian people but for the benefit of their own narrow and parasitic interests with the regime’s “inconvenient” foreign policy and anti-imperial stance firmly in their sights.
Thus as dissidents’ demonstrations continued, something else was fervently brewing; the Arab League –which is essentially a rather colorful assembly of dictators so brutal in their rule that when it comes to inflecting torture and death on their own citizens even the Devil gets jealous- resumed the dirty role for which it rehearsed with a passion during the “Libyan Revolution”, I swear I have never seen so many meetings, activities and “decisive actions” in such a short interval of time from this dreadful organization before the Syrian crisis, even during the Israeli war on Gaza in 2008/2009; the same Arab League that today churns out ultimatums, daily sanctions and swift measures against Damascus, failed to convene even once during the 22-day long slaughter of Palestinians in the strip, citing problems with “logistical preparations”.
Gulf Cooperation Council countries (GCC) took the lead in turning the Arab League into a vehicle for the west’s war on Syria (after Qatar bought the league’s presidency from the Palestinian Authority), massive amounts of time, energy and cunning diplomacy were spent on inflaming the situation on the ground through provocative public statements, arming of dissenters and adopting a macho rhetoric bordering on sectarian incitements which we have long since come to expect as a staple in the GCC’s armory, in addition of course to suspending Syria’s membership from the organization (thus effectively taking the “Arab” out of the Arab League), and opening a window of opportunity for foreign intervention through Qatar’s bizarre insistence on taking the Syrian matter straight to the United Nations Security Council while dismissing the league’s own observers’ report for fear of it causing this whole tower of cards (western narrative of events) to fall apart, as the mission’s findings stood in marked contrast to the contortions of the Saudi and Qatari funded mainstream media.
Unfortunately; Syria’s ephemeral revolution has long morphed into something unrecognizable and equally alarming; something that is almost entirely at odds with where it began in the first place as a genuine civic movement with legitimate demands and aspirations, what’s transpiring in Syria nowadays seems to mimic the Libyan Revolution; an armed insurrection -funded by foreign governments- masquerading as an alleged rebellion against despotism that was outsourced from the GCC countries of all places.
The level of hypocrisy one finds in the Syrian issue is truly something to marvel at; and it speaks volumes about the real agenda of those on the hunt for Assad; but in no other happenstance have I found it to be so appalling than in the UNSC session on January 31, 2012, when “humanitarian extraordinaire” Hillary Clinton denounced the Syrian regime’s “campaign of violence against its own citizens” all the while American drone strikers were murdering Yemeni and Afghan civilians in their sleep; a true case of cannibals preaching vegetarianism.
For the lopsided logic employed by these democracy-loving folks; one needs not look farther than Bahrain (home to the US Fifth Fleet) to realize that all their talk of siding with the Syrian people’s struggle for political reform and dignity is just smoke and mirrors.
Over a year ago; the Bahraini people began a popular revolt against the ruling monarchy demanding social equality and greater political freedoms, but their peaceful movement has been violently crushed not only by the Bahraini government’s forces but also by the GCC’s Peninsula Shield Force (read: Saudi military) which amounted to a foreign invasion of the country, the cherry on top is that events in the tiny kingdom have been heavily blocked out from the media and the revolution in Bahrain has barely been a blip on the radar of the new revolutionaries and humanitarians; those who now call themselves “friends of the Syrian people”.
On February 24th -and according to Alarabiya.com; Saudi foreign minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal said that the Syrian regime has lost all legitimacy and turned into an “occupation-like authority”. That statement was hypocritical enough to merit laughter, indeed “occupation authority” might strike us as an interesting choice of words; I wonder then, what would Prince Al-Faisal call Saudi military presence and operations in Bahrain… a tea party?
Moreover; Bahrain’s own tyrant, king Hamad bin Issa al Khalifa –in an interview with Germany’s Der Spiegel- advised Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad that he should “listen to his people”; indeed the perverse irony just screams at you.
When Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Bahrain spearhead a democracy crusade and express “disgust” at the human rights violations perpetrated by the Syrian regime; you immediately know there is something rotten in the “Syrian crisis”, Gulf regimes -next to which Assad may seem like a paragon of altruism- do not have the moral authority to lecture yet another middle-eastern despot on the virtues of political pluralism and democratic reforms; the level of tyranny and authoritarianism in those states can only be measured on a unique scale of its own.
By the same token; I find it hard to believe that the U.S. administration really cares about the Syrian people when their own history is absolutely littered with unrivaled human rights abuses both inside and outside its borders; their grave violations of international law has become a matter of public record; from Somalia, Afghanistan to Libya and Iraq; America’s militaristic rap sheet reads like a tossed horror movie script and the historic memory of this region is chock full of American sponsored democracy spreading escapades gone haywire; the kind that leaves a scorched path of destruction and civil wars in its wake and claims the lives of hundreds of thousands of innocents before having their corpses urinated on.
Make no mistake; it’s not Syria -the dictatorship that is being targeted nowadays, it’s Syria the ally of Iran, Hizbullah and Hamas, indeed it is not that regional powers and their western patrons can not coexist with an undemocratic regime in Damascus; rather it’s that they can not coexist with what they term a “rogue state”; a regime that has the audacity not to toe the American line.
Sure, being an ardent supporter of popular resistance movements in Palestine, Lebanon and Iraq, and challenging U.S. hegemony in the Middle East region should not categorically give the Syrian regime (or any regime for that matter) carte blanche to violently crush popular grass-roots movements demanding dignity, freedom of speech and equality, however there is a flip side to that coin; the pursuit of “democracy” and “human rights” can not be used as an excuse for inviting salivating colonial powers to take over the country and cow it into total submission; and that is exactly what the SNC is doing.
The Syrian National Council (SNC) boasts a political/military collective that almost predisposes it towards serving western interests as a Trojan horse for foreign intervention and a regime-change extravaganza (think the Iraqi National Congress in 2003 and the Libyan Transitional Council in 2011); it arbitrarily ties together a mish-mash of bickering opposition groups and exile figures with only their sheer willingness (and desire) to make a pact even with the devil himself to overthrow the regime of president Bashar Al-Assad in common, some are Islamic (the Syrian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, a particularly more vicious brand of the movement), some are “liberal academics” for whom notions like Pan-Arab Nationalism ring hollow (the SNC’s spokesperson Radwan Ziadeh, Muhieddine Ladkani, Basma Kadmani and their ilk), and some are downright extremists and religious fanatics with an apparent sectarian twist, needless to say the majority of these components are on the GCC’s lucrative payroll.
Instead of seeking domestic, national consensus –which is an indispensable ingredient for the success of any popular revolution-; the so-called “Syrian National Council” opted to go after foreign consensus, and they did so with such a repulsive enthusiasm; leaving no rock unturned in their endless quest to rally former colonial powers from the not so-distant past (namely; France, the U.K. and the U.S.) behind their “noble” cause; this was particularly evidenced in the council’s president Burhan Ghalyoun’s knee fall to appease western governments when in an interview with the Wall Street Journal on Dec. 3, 2011, he expressed that under a new Syria -presumably under the SNC’s governance- “Relations with Iran will be revisited as any of the countries in the region in the context of improving stability in the region and not that of a special relationship”, and further added that “As our relations with Iran change, so too will our relationship with Hezbollah. Hezbollah after the fall of the Syrian regime will not be the same”. Translation: the “New Revolutionary Syria” will tag along the sorry club of “moderate Arab states” and eventually turn into something akin to Egypt under the Mubarak rule, you know; the one that was overthrown by an actual popular and peaceful uprising just over a year ago.
The new face of Syria, the SNC, already suffers from a chronic dependency on foreign governments and is extremely susceptible to the slightest of whims of the Emirs and Sheikhs of the gulf whom are using Ghalyoun’s council like a rag-tag doll only to settle personal scores with Bashar Al-Assad just like they did with Abdel Jalil’s council to get back at Libya’s Qaddafi.
The gutter politics of the Syrian opposition abroad and their delusions of grandeur have weighed heavily on the uprising they claim to represent, and that is exactly why the Syrian revolution has been hemorrhaging supporters by the day among the ranks of ordinary citizens in Syria and the Arab world in general, the common Syrian rightly saw in the SNC a bigger threat to their country’s independence and sovereignty than the Assad regime which -according to a public opinion poll commissioned and sponsored by none other than the Qatar foundation- still enjoys the support of the majority of Syrians.
Despite Turkey and Qatar’s near-herculean efforts to iron out the differences between these opposition groups; the SNC remains severely disenfranchised till this very day. At a time when mainstream media outlets (namely Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya news networks) were frantically scavenging for any news of a high profile defection from the Syrian government; the SNC itself witnessed its own major defection when several disgruntled members split to form their own opposition front: the Syrian Patriotic Group headed by Haytham Al-Maleh.
Then there is the Free Syrian Army (whose name sounds eerily similar to that of Saad Haddad’s pro-Israeli militia: Free Lebanon Army), it comprises a slew of low ranking uniformed military defectors, Al-Qaeda fighters and most dangerously foreign elements ranging from former Libyan rebel fighters to Turkish intelligence officers.
Thanks to loose borders -from Lebanon’s and Turkey’s side- Syria became the new Mecca for various fundamental Jihadist groups and especially veteran Iraqi fighters; of course with these circumstances the nefarious presence of CIA and MI6 operatives is almost certain, reports coming out of northern Lebanon reveal that British intelligence agents are freely roaming the border area to their hearts’ content; working hand in hand with the rebels, providing technical aid, guidance, equipments and training for the Free Syrian Army inside the Syrian territory and all along its borders, furthermore; on March 5th, Lebanon’s the Daily Star reported that 13 French intelligence officers have been captured by the Syrian Army in the city of Homs, so much for that whole “no boots on the ground” nonsense. As it turned out; the self-proclaimed “Free Syrian Army” is anything but Syrian, and definitely not free.
Neither the SNC nor the FSA enjoy the moral and political imperatives to preach concepts like “freedom” and “independence” when they themselves turn putty in the hands of the lowest ranking employee in Hillary Clinton’s state department and the GCC.
The media coverage of events unfolding in Syria has been nothing short of hyperbolic -and that’s putting it rather delicately-, mass indoctrination and manipulation of public perceptions reign supreme, anonymous “eye witnesses” -who incidentally preface their accounts on air by heaping praise on the “wise” leadership of Qatar and Saudi Arabia- are given ample air time to manufacture a spoon-fed reality steeped in wild exaggerations and dramatic anecdotal evidence, reporting on the situation on the ground is mired in contradictions, fabrications and false information courtesy of the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights; a shadowy opposition front that has recently made the headlines when an internal divide within the group yielded two identically named organizations squabbling for legitimacy.
An extremely reductive logic in portraying the Syrian crisis is utilized by the Saudi and Qatari funded media to build a case for their “humanitarian intervention” in the court of public opinion, opting for the simple –yet misleading- analogy of David vs. Goliath (peaceful protesters vs. a bloodthirsty tyrant) while at the same time downplaying the role of armed militias in instigating the violence that’s been bleeding the country dry.
In their no-holds-barred attempts to portray Assad in an almost cartoonish villainy; the well-oiled propaganda machine of the west went into overdrive; stories of atrocities and mass rapes were hastily manufactured to turn the Syrian people against the Syrian Arab Army, and some of these stories were oddly familiar; as if they’ve slipped from the Iraq war’s bag of tricks right onto the Syrian chapter of the Arab Spring.
On February 9th, 2012 the Independent reported that 18 babies in incubators died in the restive city of Homs; citing the dubious Syrian Observatory for Human Rights as the source for the story, it turned out that this was nothing more than a cheap plot device used in an almost predictive repetition to pull at the public’s heart strings (a similar story was also employed prior to the war on Iraq in 1991 which also turned out to be fake), in covering the Syrian crisis; the principles of journalistic integrity and professionalism have been completely and nauseatingly redrawn into boundaries that can be pushed, passed, broken, jumped over and dug under as long as it serves western imperial interests.
Syrian state owned television channels are no better either, cherry-picking abounds and the pro-government private satellite channel Addounia takes the regime’s weird obsession with Henry Kissinger and the 1973 war to the point of self-parody, leaving us, the public, to sift through it all in the murky swamps of spin and counterspin narratives from both sides of the conflict.
The great Syrian people deserve to live in freedom and dignity away from the clutches of security forces and the state’s ruthless intelligence apparatus, but there is absolutely nothing dignified in groveling at the feet of NATO countries begging for a military intervention; that’s just a quick slide down the slippery slope of foreign occupation.
Ahmad Barqawi, a Jordanian freelance columnist & writer based in Amman, he has done several studies, statistical analysis and researches on economic and social development in Jordan