Jim Houle: Setting Aside Assad…

Redwood Valley

The Propaganda Buildup to Regime Change in Syria has gone on since last spring but almost no one in the US pays much attention. Partly this is because the stories that are floated on the air waves sound so much like the usual buildup to war: whether it be the NATO intervention in Libya last year, the recent Somalia intervention, or the Iraqi invasion back in 2003. The Syrian dictator Bashar Assad has kept most foreign journalists out and we are left with precious little of that bloody street fighting video our bored TV watchers can sink their chops into. When we tried to enter southern Syria ourselves last May, the border was suddenly closed while the Army proceeded to shoot unarmed protesters in the southern town of Daraa.

Last November, our Arab League vassals got President Assad to invite 165 “observers”, wearing those orange vests that highway workers normally wear around here, to see what Assad was doing. Their mission expired recently and there was little enthusiasm to risk further stray bullets on the streets. They were unsuccessful in curbing the bloodshed and opposition groups within Syria felt they had merely whitewashed the Assad regime’s suppression. A spokesman for the Syrian National Council, Burban Ghalioun, complained that: “conditions did not allow observers to submit an objective report”. Nevertheless, the Qatar foreign minister bravely stated: “We are with the Syrian people and with their will and their aspirations” ( NYT -1/22) and wanted foreign troops to enter so long as they were not Qataris. Most of the Arab League seems to want the UN to bail them out and apply a little white wash to the rebellion, as had worked so well in Libya. Nevertheless, a smaller contingent went back to Syria last week to monitor conditions in the restive city of Rankous near the Lebanese border from which the government had earlier withdrawn its troops. The observers never made it into town. One member of the team said that Syrian Army officers sitting astride a ring of tanks shelling the deserted town told them it was too dangerous, even with those orange vests. The head of the Arab League, Nabil al-Araby, said the 22-member body decided to suspend the monitors’ mission in Syria because of “a severe deterioration in the situation and the continued use of violence.” (Had they expected a meshoui – a ceremonial young camel roast?)

Will Israel Be Pleased By Regime Change?
We ask if there is any benefit to the United States, or to our dearest ally Israel, in setting Assad aside. He has not threatened his neighbors, has not taken arms against Israel in 45 years and has not pushed very hard for the return of the Golan Heights as ordered by UN Security Council Resolution Number 242 after its seizure by Israel during the 1967 Six Day War. Syria has admittedly operated independently of the United States and supported the Hezbullah in Lebanon in the transit of weapons and missiles from Iran for defense of their southern border. Yet the Assads, father and son, have cooperated in arresting Al Qaeda agents for the CIA, in the clandestine imprisonment and torture of US prisoners shipped abroad, and actually supported the US with troops in that wonderfully short 1991 Gulf War. However, if we replace Bashar with an even more cooperative ruler, we may further isolate Iran, perhaps bring Turkey into the US regional alliance, suppress Hezbullah activity in Lebanon, and grease the skids for Lebanon’s conversion to another US client state.

It might please Israel by eliminating the last unfriendly Arab country on their border, although it seems more difficult every day to please the Israelis. Such a regime change would be costly and probably lengthy, for Syria is better armed, more centrally controlled than Libya, and more than twice the size of little Libya. The United States military and economic muscle may not be able to handle another war front just now. Even if replaced, could the next regime harness, as well as Bashar Assad has, those who would make trouble on the Israeli border and would it be worth all the bother just now when Tel Aviv is so taken up with the threat of a nuclear Iran?

Who Wants Regime Change?

France, always willing to do what they can to buff-up their tarnished glory as protector of Greater Lebanon and Syria, asks: “How about Another No Fly Zone?” We do remember, surely, how this NATO tactic eliminated Libya’s air force and turned much of Tripoli into a pile of rubble, all under the guise of protecting civilian lives. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton calls for Syrian regime change and predicts a civil war but does not exactly sign on to the no-fly zone tactic complete with the saturation bombing that this would likely bring about. Phillip Giraldi, a former CIA man, (American Conservative – Jan.18th) claims that there are contingents of French and British Special Forces on the ground already in Syria along with Italian and US/CIA communications specialists. However, the claim that defectors from the Syrian Army are a big factor in the rebellion is mainly a fabrication in Giraldi’s view and no one seriously raises the fear that our old bugaboo Al Qaeda will rise again – that’s really yesterday’s news.

In back offices at the Pentagon and Foggy Bottom, neo-con holdovers have continued to feed a thin stream of stories about armed skirmishes and unsubstantiated civilian murders by the Syrian Army. The Foreign Policy Initiative, a neo-con think tank headed by William Krystol since the mid 1990s, has published: “Towards a Post Assad Syria”, Nov. 8, 2011, by Martin Indyk and John Hannah. Their rumours have included everything from fears of Turkish intrusion across northern borders to suggestions that massive amounts of left-over weapons are being airlifted to Turkish military bases from Libya. In the Asian Times, Aisling Byrne quotes them as saying: “the first stage of war in Iran is Syria: Nothing would weaken Iran more than losing Syria”. King Abdullah, our Saudi Vassal, opines that: “Syria has a long history of exporting terrorism beyond its borders and is a dangerous enemy of the United States” but the old king has always had a very esoteric set of informants. UN Ambassador Susan Rice, always righteous and eager to pile on, is sure that: “Syria is an urgent moral challenge and a growing threat to regional peace and security”. Robert Fisk, the Beiruti correspondent for London’s Independent, says there is “no doubt that weapons are pouring into Syria from Assad’s enemies in Lebanon” but he presents no evidence for this whatsoever and we have heard of no battles with well-equipped rebel groups yet. The presence of the 6th Fleet carrier George H.W. Bush bobbing around out there in the Western Mediterranean alongside Russia’s lone aircraft carrier Kusnetsov, makes one wonder if we have not both been feeding the war monster once again. President Bashar Assad claims that foreign elements are causing all of his troubles. Turkey is definitely acting as a US military proxy prepared to invade when given the right signal (Ahmed Davit – Turkish Foreign Minister per Phillip Giraldi, Jan 12).

Just How Bad Is Dictator Assad?
Barbara Walters says that Bashar Assad is really a mild-mannered ophthal­mologist and very squeamish about blood. He released political prisoners upon taking power and instituted economic reforms and some modernizations. He was called back reluctantly from a quiet medical practice in London when his older brother Basil, the next in line, killed himself in a drunken auto crash in 1994. Next year, Bashar will preside over the fiftieth year of the Assad Dynasty in Syria. Always brutal in its repression of free speech and democracy, it has actually been a model of social peace, managing a stable country with poor but functional institutions, relatively safe cities, and a bustling life at least in the urban areas (Bassam Haddad: Director of the Middle East Studies Program at George Mason University in Aaliyah, Jan 18th). The withdrawal of state subsidies, economic mismanagement, and heavy favoritism towards the business class, have all eroded this stability recently. GDP grew at an impressive 3.2 % last year but is expected to now drop 2% (The Progressive: Reese Erich: Jan.2012). The country is ruled by the Alawites, a splinter Shi’ite religious faction that represents only 13 % of the population but are a well-disciplined political bloc. Sunni moslems make up the majority of the population and Christians comprise 10%.

While we can demand the downfall of authoritarianism, for the Syrians it has kept foreign intervention at bay, and prevented their becoming just another in our regional collection of client states. Syria has been one of the safest place on earth with no confrontations with Israel since 1982 when Israel stole the Shubra Farms during their withdrawal from southern Lebanon. Yet the Assads have supported Hezbullah and Hamas and somehow remain the only anti-imperialist Arab nation in the region. The opposition within Syria has not so far taken its cues from anyone outside Syria. The Syrian National Council, based outside Syria is the only opposition group that calls for outside intervention. Henry Kissinger argues that we should let the Syrians kill each other and not intervene directly. “Intervention is not seriously on the table yet” he grumbles.

While The New York Times has encouraged regime change, even they were forced to admit, in several articles, that there have been massive rallies in Syria in support of the government. “The turnout of tens of thousands in Sabaa Bahrat Square once again underlined the degree of backing that Mr. Assad and his leadership still enjoy seven months into the popular uprising. That support is especially pronounced in cities like Damascus and Aleppo, the country’s two largest” (Jan.13). This was further confirmed by a poll funded by the anti-Assad Qatar Foundation: ” Syrians are supportive of their president with 55% not wanting him to resign” (Jan.2). If people in Syria do not want foreign intervention — a likely reason that so many attended pro-Assad demonstrations. This 55% was an increase from 46% that had earlier thought Assad a good president. No Main Stream Media in the US have bothered to report this however – it upsets the prevailing narrative. Even Stratfor, a conservative Intelligence Think Tank, said that “most of the opposition’s more serious claims have proven grossly exaggerated or simply untrue.” and warned that Syrian Observatory should be viewed with skepticism. CIA has refused to sign off on the estimates of 3500 to 5400 killed that the UN Secretary General has been repeating. What about the so-called Free Syrian Army, which claims to speak for the Syrian people?  Like its Libyan counterpart, it appears to be yet another Made-in-the-USA militant group, by means of our ally Turkey, a fact alluded to by the pro U.S.-establishment magazine, Foreign Affairs. They ask: “Why does the Syrian military not fire upon their Free Syrian Army positions or launch a large-scale assault? The FSA fighters are positioned about a mile from the Turkish border, near enough to escape across if the situation turned dire.”  Major Maher Numeiri speaking for the Free Syrian Army admits that “we do not have the arsenal necessary to confront the Assad regime directly”.

The Rumble for War and the Demands We Not Interfere

Syria has allies in Algeria, Iraq, Russia and China. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights called for intervention this past December and Syrian analyst Peter Harling warns that: “We have not seen anything this ominous in 15 years.” Demands for economic sanctions have been blocked by Russia and China at the UN. Correspondent Franklin Lamb in Beirut doubts their real effectiveness: “The history going back to Iraq and before shows that sanctions are not really effective in changing the behavior of a regime” (RT – 4 Dec 2011). The British based Syrian Observatory of Human Rights, funded by Dubai with Saudi money, has published months of unsubstantiated data on civilians killed by Assad as well has the Syrian Transitional Council. No checking on these claims at hospitals and morgues inside Syria has been possible.

Petrodollar Implications
Pepe Escobar in the Asian Times 1/20 reports that the Gulf Counter-revolutionary Council, as he calls the GCC, supports the petrodollar dollar and supplies the world market with 25% of all oil. US supplies $120 billion in armaments to GCC, presumably to counter Iran. China wants to make more investments in the Middle East including Syria, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, Iraq and Iran. The Saudis already export more oil to China than they do to the US. China could well propose to buy Saudi oil for Petro-Yuan instead of Petrodollars since there appears to be less and less advantage to the Saudis in the US Petrodollar Alliance as both the Dollar and the Euro weaken further.

We find it difficult to find any serious justification for pushing Assad Aside just now other than as a means to stimulate production of war materiel by the US military-industrial complex at a time when our domestic economy is wobbling.