Hands Off Syria!

This week is “Hands off Syria” week, with the United National Antiwar Coalition, with a call out for groups across the nation to take a stand against western antagonism of Syria and  Iran.  I volunteered a week or so ago to create a ‘fact sheet’ on Syria;  actually, showing the reasons why the US led intervention in Syria is an imperialist intervention and should be opposed.  But when I sat down to write, I found I just couldn’t to do it.   “The US is pouring gas on the fire in Syria.” Acknowledged by all.   “US motives are malicious towards Syria and they don’t care about the people.”  Unfortunately, not so obvious to some.  “Sanctions and violence don’t help people be free.”  Should be obvious, but . . .

I felt compelled to back up my stance with a little information about Syria and what is happening there now.  It’s hard to have a conversation on the subject with a regular follower of US mainstream news.  They have heard a story about a popular Syrian Revolution, but it bears little resemblance to what is actually occurring in that hapless country.  And, they have no idea of what was going on in Syria before that either.   I filled 4 pages, so I knew that what I wrote wasn’t going to fly as a little fact-sheet flyer to hand out at demonstrations.   Furthermore, it was just too specific not to trigger outrage in some individuals in this world of constructed truths and balanced reporting, and also from those who, like myself, are outraged by US complicity in the escalating cycle of atrocities in Syria.

So, I sent it off to some more experienced individuals for feedback, thinking I would hear that it is too long and inflammatory.  Instead, it was suggested that I add some more context and tie it up a little better.  So, I added a section of recent history and a page of philosophical discourse to provide context and circulate widely.  The result is a little strange.   It isn’t an article because it is mostly a bulleted list.  But, it isn’t just a list either as it has an introduction and a cohesive topic.  So there you have it.

Incorrigible Imperialism

US Imperialism is incorrigible in its determination to control the wealth and peoples of the earth.  Where economic warfare won’t do the trick, then there is always the possibility of a military meltdown, and if it the desired outcome is a long shot, the odds can be leveled with a bombing campaign.  If, from the standpoint of the imperial do-gooder a wayward state can always be redirected one way or the other, the act of setting the political context is a cynical project of designing appearances.

It is hard to be general in this context, because the general picture is so obvious.  Outside intervention in the internal conflicts within a country is a violation of the sovereignty of that country.  A country without sovereignty cannot be accountable to the people.   Moreover, I find it hard to talk about political freedom in a country where access to economic resources is not adequate to support personal independence and empowerment for a large portion of the society.   There is no doubt that these issues are at in some measure decided by external forces, in this case, selfish grasping, arrogant, would-be overlords.  Society is a fabric, and no individual can be absolutely free.   The Syrian people deserve better than Economic Sanctions and Automatic Weapons from the rest of us.

The US and Israel have dominated Syria’s neighbors for more than 60 years.  The Palestinians are all refugees, even the ones still living in their own country.  There was a horrific civil war in Lebanon, which has been repeatedly attacked by Israel.  The Kurds, who were denied their own country after WW1, have been oppressed by the political leaders in the countries that swallowed their lands, fighting among themselves and allied with any country that furthered their immediate goals.  In the last 10 years, Iraq was devastated by the US.  Now Syria and Iran are on the front line of US Imperialism.

While the Assads’, Syria has long fulfilled an important role in supporting regional political independence, the people have paid a high price for this.  But, would the alternative have been better?   Are Egyptians and Jordanians so much better off than Syrians?  Are they more prosperous? more free?  It is not so much that I support the Assad government, but that I cannot look at the Middle East without seeing the negative consequences of western imperialism.  It isn’t a lack of respect for people there that causes me to question what kind of society they can build in a context where the very sovereignty of their countries is under siege.

Syria stood alone, in the end, having swallowed as many refugees as she could hold and more that she could support.  She has continued to host the regional dissidents and the leadership of the regional resistance to Western Imperialism.  Although Syria has been repressive towards internal political dissent, the vast majority of Syrians strongly support Syria’s regional activities.  In fact, the vast majority of Arabs support Syria’s regional activities.  Bashar’s initiative to join the neoliberal economy created at least some of the vulnerabilities that have come back to bite him.  Continued isolation and government repression were suffocating Syrian society.

If it sounds like I am supporting the Syrian government, consider the statement “Killing their own people”.  The Imperial US has killed, massacred, exponentially more people.  Somehow, they are never our own, and either it is their own fault, or we are helping them.  When will we see that all people are our own people?  When will we understand that you can’t protect people by killing their relatives and poisoning their wells?  Bringing that day is what we need to do here in the US.

Below, I have outlined some facts about the current situation in Syria, and the events leading up to it.  I cannot say that I have covered every fact, or that every fact I mention is confirmed on all sides.  I can document every bullet to a reliable public source, and will make some effort to do so over the coming week.  However, right now there is a crisis and I think it is more important to present information than to frame it as a formal ‘paper’.

About the reporting of violence in Syria 

1.    The current cycle of violence in Syria appears to have begun with peaceful demonstrations in some Western Syrian Cities

2.    Many of the ‘facts’ presented in the press regarding the situation in Syria are undocumented and the truth is difficult to ascertain

3.    A continual stream of reports of atrocities in Syria have over time been shown to be untrue or distorted

4.    Some prominent reporters with Al Jazeera quit because they found out the station was  showing manipulated and contrived coverage received from the Syrian Opposition

5.    The London Observatory, a significant source of information on the Syrian crisis from day 1, has no one on the ground in Syria, and has rather shady credentials.

6.    The initial Arab League Monitors in Syria reported that both the government and the opposition were using excessive force BUT there were numerous incidents of violence against civilians by anti-government militias and  a number of reports of government violence from the opposition that, on investigation, were without substance.

7.    The Syrian Government has retaliated with excessive force on a number of occasions, has killed and imprisoned thousands

8.    However, even a year ago, about 1/3 of the casualties were members of the police and military, though this fact was not reported in western news outlets

9.    Suicide bombings of government buildings have killed scores and injured hundreds in Damascus and Aleppo

10.  The question as to who perpetrated the recent massacres in Hula and Hama remains unanswered.  Investigations have not been completed.

About the Opposition 

1)      The Syrian National Council, composed largely of expatriate intellectuals and politicians, is based in Turkey and supported by the western powers as the future government of Syria.

2)      The SNC has drifted under the control of the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist group that was outlawed in Syria in the 80s for provoking another armed insurrection.

3)      The Free Syrian Army is not a single organization, but rather an assortment of militias composed of conscripts who have defected from the Syrian Army, Islamic fighters from within Syria and Islamic fighters from neighboring states along with members of al Qaeda and militiamen from other Middle East wars in Libya, Lebanon and Iraq looking for a new war.

4)      While the government forces appear to have engaged in periodic door to door search and seizure missions, many Syrian Citizens have been attacked by militias under the banner of the FSA doing the same

5)      FSA militias have barricaded their fighters in neighborhoods in Homs and other cities, creating situations where the residents became defacto human shields.

6)      Muslim Brotherhood fighters have assassinated Christian, Alawite and Druze, and leaders of these communities.

7)      Shortly after receiving a letter from a particularly violent and radical group in the FSA, Burhan Ghayoun, the moderate secular head of the SNC resigned.  (Al Akhbar)

8)      The new head of the SNC, Abdulbaset Sieda is a Kurd.

9)      Sieda is hoped to reduce the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood and to draw Syrian Kurds into the rebellion,  but, this is unlikely.

10)   Kurdish deserters from the Syrian army also refuse to join the FSA

11)   Syrian Kurds, a significant disaffected group in Syria with legitimate complaints, have not joined the movement against the government or endorsed the SNC or the FSA because their issues have not been acknowledged by the SNC, and they fear elements within the FSA.

12)   The SNC does not control the FSA.   If the FSA drives the Syrian government from office, who do you think will rule?  Who rules in Libya?

13)   There is a coalition of opposition groups within Syria led by the National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change.  The NCC, unlike the FSA and the SNC, are adamantly opposed to outside intervention in the Syrian uprising, and have shown some willingness to come to the table with the Assad government

14)   the SNC (external – Western approved) leadership will not meet with the NCC (internal Syrian opposition leaders)

The Syrian Government 

1)    Bashar Assad does not rule Syria alone, but he is the most moderate of those in charge. Other members of his family head the military and security forces.

2)    The Syrian Government has been repressive and is known for harsh limits of political freedom

3)    The Syrian Government has been the #1 protector of refugee populations fleeing western wars in the region.  Syria hosts over a million Iraq refugees, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, and absorbed thousands from Lebanon during Israel’s 2006 war on that country

4)    We hear that the Assad’s rule Syria as an Alawite cabal, but in fact, there are many Sunnis in high places in the Syrian government, military bureaucracy and business community. (Syria Comment, Friday Breakfast Club)  Bashar Assad’s wife is from a Sunni family

5)    At the highest levels, there is no religious conflict and no civil war in Syria.   There are increasingly desperate businessmen and a government intent on controlling what it sees as an insurrection fueled from outside the country.

6)    In the course of the last year, poor people have become poorer and more desperate, and have in some cases turned on one another in sectarian attacks.

7)    The Syrian government has spoken with numerous representatives of internal opposition groups and held a referendum on a revamped constitution which increases political freedoms and the potential for broader participation in the political process

8)    The Syrian Government has periodically released large numbers of prisoners detained during the peaceful protests and military sweeps.

US/NATO Role In Violence in Syria   

1)      US Ambassador Robert Ford was meeting with and advising members of the Syrian Opposition from the day he set foot on the ground in Syria, which was only shortly before protests began there.

2)      The US has been demanding that the Syrian President step down from day one of the protests

3)      The US has been training and arming a military insurgency in Syria that initially took cover behind peaceful protesters, and now has driven them from the streets.

4)      The US admits to having CIA agents on the ground in Turkey assisting Syrian militants

5)      US allies Saudi Arabia and Qatar have funded a burgeoning militant insurgency in North and Western Syria

6)      US ally and NATO member, Turkey, has been openly giving refuge to Syrian militants, training them and helping them to bring arms into the country

7)      Turkey has created conditions along the border that are conducive to the occurrence of a cassis belli.  Whether the recent incident where Syria shot down a fighter plane entering it’s airspace was an accident on one or both sides, the plane’s presence there was clearly a provocation.

8)      Turkey, with US backing, has created a very dangerous situation, given the NATO commitment to protect any member from attack

9)      The US press has spearheaded a propaganda campaign to demonize the Syrian government (certainly no more oppressive than those of US allies Saudi Arabia and Qatar) so pervasive that few Americans know anything about the internal social conditions in Syria

10)   Arab allies of the US (and enemies of the Syrian Government) have also broadcast an avalanche of one sided propaganda that misrepresents both the government and the opposition, which is watched by many Syrians, thereby distorting their view as to the relative stability or instability of their country, and using misinformation to manipulate and divide the people.

11)   The US has repeatedly used or attempted to use the UN Security Council to sanction Syria and to lay the groundwork for more violence against Syria AND the Syrian people.

12)   The US and Israel have been trying to coopt the Assad regime for decades without success.  They lured Hafez Assad to use join their military venture in Lebanon, and then blamed him for their disaster.   Then they enticed Bashar Assad into the global economy, and now blame him for the negative results economic inside Syria.

13)   Wholly owned chattels are easier to manage, and that appears to be the current plan.

International participation in the Syrian Uprising 

1)    Bashar Assad is consistently maligned in the western press for claiming that the armed insurrection in his country is a foreign initiative to destroy Syria

2)    AND YET:

a)    The US is assisting the Syrian Militias with assistance from Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar

b)    Coordinating importation of increasingly heavy weapons and other supplies for the militiamen of the FSA,

c)    these weapons are supplied by  Saudi Arabia and Qatar and imported through Turkey and Lebanon

d)    Saudi Arabia and Qatar are also paying wages to anyone willing to fight against the Assad government in Syria.

e)    New York Times 6/21 has confirmed that CIA is in southern Turkey supporting Syrian militias which are in training camps in proximity to the refugee camps initially set up during the battle at Dara’a

f)     US government officials acknowledge that Al Qaeda operatives have joined the FSA

g)    The peaceful citizenry of Syria have also been severely injured by Western Sanctions which have caused food shortages, power outages and generally undermined the capacity of Syria to import necessary goods.

3)    From the beginning Robert Ford, the US Ambassador to Syria was meeting with opposition members, and he is currently threatening military officials with human rights charges if they do not defect from the government

4)    The international press was initially barred from Syria, and there are few westerners there to this day while Russia has a base in Syria and a long standing relationship with the government there, and over a thousand people who have been living there long term and speak the language

5)    Russia is opposed to a Security Council mandate to force regime change in Syria or to use military force to interfere with the course of events there even on behalf of the innocent civilians caught in the crossfire

6)    We are accustomed to see Russia as an antagonist and an interloper, however, in this case:

a)    Russia’s long standing relationship with Syria means they have lots of people on the ground who speak the language and are well positioned to understand what is going on.

b)    Russia has not called for unconditional support of the Assad government, but rather for a moderated, facilitated process whereby the Syrian people can negotiate an peaceful transition to a more empowered and satisfying relationship with their government.

7)    Meanwhile, the Americans and their NSC and FSA clients categorically reject any outcome less than a total renunciation by the Assad government and possible criminal prosecutions in international court

Conditions in Syria leading up to the Protests

1)      Within Syrian society, there has been a peaceful coexistence between Christians, Muslims and Jews for centuries.

2)      Syria is what remains of Greater Syria, which was divided among the Europeans after WW1.   Greater Syria included the earliest centers of these religions, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan and modern Syria,.

3)      Prior to Bashar Assad’s presidency, Hafez Assad’s Syria was economically and socially isolated from the western world.  Syria was a socialist state

4)      Bashar Assad, who was educated in the west and married to a Syrian British, has attempted to reintegrate Syria with the global economy and social matrix

5)      Unfortunately, this involved opening Syria to neoliberal economic policies that were problematic for the urban poor and agrarian villages, though they enriched an elite circle at the top of the society, and contributed to the development of a modern middle class in the Damascus and Aleppo

6)      Integration with the global economy has required the Syrian government to reduce subsidies on food and fuel, making the poor poorer.

7)      Even as a middle class has begun to develop in Syrian cities, and education has become a priority, jobs for ordinary people have become scarce, and poverty has deepened for the rural regions in the north and west of the country.  The agrarian society has been undermined and there is little manufacturing.  In the global economy, remote powers decide where the jobs go.

8)      Recently, there has been drought in Syria.  This is due, at least in part, to the fact that Israel took the Golan Heights, a significant source of water, in the 1967 war, and Turkey which is upstream from Syria on the Euphrates, another significant source of water, has been building dams on the river to maximize utilization.

9)      Meanwhile, in Homs and Hama, where a previous conflict between the government and the Muslim Brotherhood occurred in the 80’s there was a lot of underlying frustration and anger fuelling the protests.

a)      Hafez Assad’s brother Rifat was in charge of the Syrian military at the time of the Hama Massacre in the 80s.  Rifat Assad repeatedly tried to usurp the presidency from Bashar Assad until he was finally exiled.

b)      Many people in that region were left bitter and angry by the massive government crackdown on this rebellion which had some similarities to the current one, and was also related to by economic hardship and drought

10)   The early protests in 2011 were catalyzed by the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, primarily driven by economic issues, and fueled by residual resentment from Hafez/Rifat Assad’s war with the Muslim brotherhood in the 80s. (leaving aside any instigation Robert Ford may or may not have provided)

11)   People in Damascus and Aleppo, on the other hand, include the refugees from US/Israeli regional wars, people in business, people associated with Syria’s best educational institutions, recently modernized and improved under Bashar Assad, and other members of the middle class who prefer stability and a climate of tolerance to an uncertain political freedom based on ‘revolution’.

Judy Bello is currently a full time activist thanks to the harsh and unforgiving work environment in the Software Development Industry. Finally free to focus on her own interests in her home office, she is active with The Upstate Coalition to Ground the Drones and End the Wars, and with Fellowship of Reconciliation Middle East Task Force and often posts on their blog at http://forusa.org. She has been to Iran twice with FOR Peace Delegations, and spent a month in the Kurdish city of Suleimaniya in 2009. Her personal blog, Towards a Global Perspective, is at http://blog.papillonweb.net and she is administers the Upstate anti-Drone Coalition website at http://upstatedroneaction.org. She can be reached at: jb.papillonweb@gmail.com

Judith Bello is a long time peace and justice activist who blogs at The Deconstructed Globe.     She is a charter member of  The Upstate Coalition to Ground the Drones and End the Wars, which is a statewide organization that is in a confrontation with Hancock Air National Guard Base to end their piloting of Reaper drones over Afghanistan and the use of  weaponized drones for targeted killing around the world.   She administers the website for the Upstate Coalition, along with the websites for several other peace and justice organizations.  Offline, she lives in a suburb of Rochester, NY.