Over the past four years I have noticed that just after Bashar al-Assad is pilloried in the bourgeois press for some atrocity or another, his amen corner in the USA and England rises to the occasion publishing one article after another warning that this was preparation for a George W. Bush type “regime change” operation, making analogies between Assad being accused of using sarin gas in East Ghouta and Saddam Hussein supposedly building nuclear weapons. I often had the feeling that if the war in Iraq had not occurred, the amen corner would be at a loss for words.
In the latest go-round, the misery of Syrian refugees has been turned by some into the fruit of a “war on Syria” conducted by Barack Obama rather than the result of four years of scorched earth tactics of the sort that have leveled Gaza and Chechnya. We are told that if the USA had not funded “takfiri” (terrorists), Syria would have remained a peaceful beacon of Enlightenment values in the Middle East even if its democratically elected president (after all, he did get 88.7 percent of the vote in the last election) was forced to use discretionary powers against fanatics of the sort who cry out “Alluah Akbar” in the most off-putting manner, especially when they have the audacity to aim machine guns at helicopters bombing street markets.
The image that has generated the most “the West has to do something” type commentary is that of the drowned son of Abdullah Kurdi. Poor Kurdi blames ISIS and Bashar al-Assad for forcing his family to take the risky exodus to Europe over the open sea, and especially the latter for having him tortured in a Baathist prison for five months. Surely Mr. Kurdi should have understood that President al-Assad was forced to take draconian measures because of all those Nicholas Kristof op-ed pieces in the NY Times.
Although there have probably been hundreds of “the CIA did it” articles, I want to single out four for special attention since they appear in high-profile “legitimate” publications rather than the usual latrine of Global Research or WSWS.org.
The first appeared in Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, a NY media watchdog that has not covered itself in glory since the war in Syria began. For instance, longtime contributor Jim Naureckas wrote on September 1, 2013 that the Mint Press account of the East Ghouta sarin gas massacre might be credible, an act of howling stupidity given the subsequent unraveling of the Mint report.
Perhaps the young FAIR contributor Adam Johnson has had the misfortune of being Naureckas’s intern at one point since that might explain his breathtakingly asinine article “The Syrian Refugee Crisis and the ‘Do Something’ Lie” that claims that the USA has been “intervening” in Syria all along. Johnson cites a Washington Post article titled “Secret CIA effort in Syria faces large funding cut” to prove his point, the same article that Patrick Higgins alluded to for identical reasons in a feckless Jacobin piece.
As is often the case with people like Johnson and Higgins, there is some doubt whether they carefully read the articles they are citing to make their case. That is the only explanation for them linking to the Washington Post article that states: “In the past two years, the goal of the CIA’s mission in Syria has shifted from ousting Assad to countering the rise of extremist groups including al-Qaeda affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State, which is also known as ISIS and ISIL.” I suppose it doesn’t matter much to the amen corner that the CIA has not been very interested in ousting al-Assad since 2012 when you are trying to make the larger point that it did so in the past—even of course if that this was not true as well.
Despite the feeble attempts to turn Obama into a “regime change” proponent, there was evidence all along that he was nothing of the sort as I pointed out in a CounterPunch commentary on Higgins’s article:
To start with, there was never any intention by Barack Obama to launch a “humanitarian intervention” in Syria whatever people like Nicholas Kristof or Samantha Power sought. On October 22nd, 2013, the NY Times reported that “from the beginning, Mr. Obama made it clear to his aides that he did not envision an American military intervention, even as public calls mounted that year for a no-fly zone to protect Syrian civilians from bombings.” The article stressed the role of White House Chief of Staff Dennis McDonough, who had frequently clashed with the hawkish Samantha Power. In contrast to Power and others with a more overtly “humanitarian intervention” perspective, McDonough “who had perhaps the closest ties to Mr. Obama, remained skeptical.” The Times added, “He questioned how much it was in America’s interest to tamp down the violence in Syria.”
Furthermore, it is unfortunate that Johnson lacked the intellectual curiosity to follow up on the Washington Post article, which he interpreted as proof positive that the USA was ramping up its “regime change” policies. Five minutes of investigation on the Internet revealed that there was less there than meets the eye according to Vice, a generally reliable voice of critical minded journalism:
“There’s a dribble, a small trickle of fighters, maybe 150 soldiers a month,” said Joshua Landis, director of the Center of Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma. “But there’s not enough of them to make a difference.”
Charles Lister, a visiting fellow with the Brookings Doha Center—and an expert on FSA activity in southern Syria—agreed. “So far, because this training effort has been on such a small scale, it doesn’t appear to have a qualitative impact on conflict dynamics inside the country.”
Beyond manpower, there’s also the issue of arms; the earthbound FSA is seriously outmatched by the Syrian Air Force. Rebels have been asking for anti-aircraft missiles for more than a year, and at the top of their wish list are shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles, the “MANPADS,” that can shoot a plane out of the sky.
I would only add that if the USA was bent on regime change, the first thing it would have done is arm the rebels with MANPADS but as Landis observed in this article, “America cannot let MANPADS into Syria because they will be used against Israeli planes someday.” Considering that the largest American rally ever for the Syrian uprising invited Berkeley professor Hatem Bazian to be its keynote speaker, I can understand the fears. Bazian, a Palestinian, after all was targeted for firing by the Israel lobby because of his support for BDS.
I suppose that Adam Johnson has a different approach to media analysis than I do. His preferred method is to comb through the newspapers finding every shred of evidence that he can to buttress his case—sort of the way that paralegals do on behalf of an attorney defending someone charged with murder. I don’t think that John Reed or IF Stone operated that way but that was in a different country and besides the wench is dead.
In a CounterPunch article dated September 4, 2013, Vijay Prashad refers to “Regime Change Refugees: On the Shores of Europe”. If you didn’t read past the title, you’d think that this the refugees have been fleeing American jets that have been bombing Baathist strongholds like Damascus in order to punish the social base of the government after the fashion of German V-2 rockets raining down on London during WWII. Somehow that eluded me.
Prashad contends that imperialism is largely responsible for the suffering of Syrians and other peoples of North Africa and the Middle East, a position that I find incontrovertible:
The West believes that it is acceptable for it to intervene to influence the political economy of the Third World – to force IMF-driven “reforms” on these states.
That certainly is true but it is too bad that Prashad does not make the necessary connection as did his fellow Marxmailer Patrick Bond in a 2010 book titled “Confronting Global Neoliberalism”:
Developments that Syria has experienced during Bashar al-Assad’s regime (2000-) are evidence of a qualitative transformation of the Syrian state. The growing influence of pro-reform factions and their participation in the political process since the 1990s has come to determine the course of economic development and state reform under Bashar. While the old guard, embodied in the Ba’ath Party, has resisted the fast pace of reform, a neoliberal logic has been dominant in shaping a wide range of political, legal and institutional reforms. Bringing together the emerging factions of the ruling class, along with the pro-reform Ba’athists, Bashar al-Assad has been engaged in the remaking of the Syrian state and economy. Unlike his father, Bashar did not hesitate to get help from the IMF and the World Bank. In fact, his minister of finance is an ex-World Bank economist. From this point of view, the period of his rule is quite significant, especially in terms of the impacts this new path of economic development has on the process of class formation.
Prashad does not seem to think that the Baathist dictatorship has much to do with the mass exodus from Syria that he blames exclusively on Western imperialism: “Our outrage at this callous death should drive us deeper into a politics that calls for a drawdown of the violence in Syria and for a serious peace process in Libya, that forces us to be resolute in our fight against IMF and NATO destruction of societies and states.” You would think that a much-awarded professor like Vijay Prashad would endeavor to appear impartial by at least making a concession or two to the reality that places like Aleppo have been turned into something looking like Stalingrad in 1943 and that it was helicopter barrel bombs and MIG missiles that turned this once great city into something looking like this, not NATO:
Then there is Charles Glass writing an article titled “The Syrian Refugee Crisis Will Transform Middle East Politics” in Intercept, the online magazine launched by EBay billionaire Pierre Omidyar and edited by Glenn Greenwald. Charles Glass is an old hand at media spin on behalf of the torture state as I discussed here: https://louisproyect.org/2014/10/22/charles-glass-on-the-improving-situation-in-syria/ and here https://louisproyect.org/2014/06/04/i-run-afoul-of-stringent-british-libel-laws/,
Mercifully brief, the article identifies “jihadists” as the cause of the exodus even though 7 times as many Syrians have been killed by the Baathists than by ISIS.
A friend of mine in Aleppo, who refuses to leave despite the battles in his once beautiful city, told me over the telephone, “You have sent hell to us.” That is, he blames me as a Westerner for putting the jihadis in his midst. The day cannot be far off when the jihadi militants, like the poor refugees whom they and the regime have displaced, will bring that hell back to us.
Suffice it to say that Glass has zero capability of acknowledging that this “once beautiful city” has become a hell largely because of regime artillery and air strikes. And with respect to “jihadis” bringing that hell “back to us”, this is ironically the prophecy about a possible blowback made by Diana Johnstone in today’s CounterPunch in an article on the refugee crisis. Referring to obstacles to their being welcomed, she warns darkly about how they can be a Trojan Horse:
There is another reason that many European citizens feel less than enthusiastic about welcoming hundreds of thousands of unknown foreigners into their communities. The Islamic State has openly boasted of sending terrorists into Europe among the refugees, with the clear intention of committing violent acts to destabilize the West.
As you will recall, Johnstone had nice things to say about Le Pen a while back. The moral and intellectual decay continues apace.
Yesterday, while researching the question of Syrian refugees, I discovered that one version or another of her quote above appeared in a number of ultraright venues including this one: ISIS SMUGGLER: ‘WE WILL USE REFUGEE CRISIS TO INFILTRATE WEST’ 4,000 covert terrorists already in place ‘awaiting’ orders.
I should add that the article appeared in World Net Daily, a fetid journal that offers up reader polls that have asked: “What do you think of U.S. government inviting Muslim cleric who disparaged dead Navy SEALs at their own funeral?” It was founded by Joseph Farah, a rightwing nut who was deeply involved in the campaign to prove that Obama was not born in Hawaii. Apparently he also believes that soybeans cause homosexuality. Nice.