President Obama’s threats against Syria are framed by the carefully crafted image of a responsible superpower reluctantly drawn into a horrific conflict caused by others. But the reality is very different.
For more than two years, U.S. policy has quietly fueled the escalation of the conflict in Syria and undermined every effort to bring the Syrian people the ceasefire and peaceful political transition they need and want. Whoever is directly responsible for hundreds of deaths in the latest alleged chemical weapons incident, the critical covert and diplomatic role the United States has played in a war that has killed at least 100,000 people means that their blood is also on our hands.
As Haytham Manna, a leader of the National Coordinating Body for Democratic Change (NCB) in Syria recently told Le Vif, the largest French language news magazine in Belgium, “The Americans have cheated. Two or three times they have withdrawn at the very moment that an agreement was in the works . . . Everything is possible but that will depend mainly on the Americans. The French are content to follow. A political solution is the only one that could save Syria.”
So, if Manna is correct, we Americans have played a decisive role at the critical moments for war or peace in Syria, including the one we are now confronting. If it comes as a surprise to you as an American that you are responsible for the horrific nightmare taking place in Syria, please review the well-documented record of what has been done in your name, albeit secretly and without your knowledge in many cases:
1) As protests spread through the Arab world in 2011, the mostly leftist groups who organized the Arab Spring protests in Syria formed the NCB to coordinate peaceful protests and resistance to government repression. They agreed, and they still agree, on three basic principles: non-violence; non-sectarianism; and no foreign military intervention. But the U.S. and its allies marginalized the NCB, formed an unrepresentative “Syrian National Council” in Turkey as a government-in-exile and recruited, armed and trained violent armed groups to pursue regime change in Syria.
2) The United States, the United Kingdom, France, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar began flying in fighters, weapons and equipment to turn the Syrian Spring into a bloody civil war. Once they had overthrown the government of Libya, at the cost of 25,000 to 50,000 lives, they began adapting the same strategy to Syria, despite knowing full well that this would be a much more drawn-out, destructive and bloody war.
3) Even as a Qatari-funded YouGov poll in December 2011 found that 55% of Syrians still supported their government, unmarked NATO planes were flying fighters and weapons from Libya to the “Free Syrian Army” base at Iskanderum in Turkey. British and French special forces were training FSA recruits, while the CIA and US special forces provided communications equipment and intelligence, as in Libya. Retired CIA officer Philip Giraldi concluded, “Syrian government claims that it is being assaulted by rebels who are armed, trained and financed by foreign governments are more true than false.”
4) Over the past two years, we have learned more about who is doing what in Syria. Anti-government sources acknowledged in June 2013 that 2,100 of the 16,700 rebel fighters killed so far in Syria were foreigners, while only 145 of 41,600 loyalists killed in action were foreign Hezbollah members.
5) Journalists in the Balkans have reported that wealthy Gulf Arab paymasters fund hundreds of hardened mercenaries from Croatia and elsewhere, who earn up to $2,000 per day as rebel snipers and special forces in Syria. Saudi Arabia has sent convicts to fight in Syria as an alternative to prison and funded shipments of weapons from Croatia to Jordan. Qatar has spent $3 billion to pay rebel fighters and ship at least 70 planeloads of weapons via Turkey.
6) On the diplomatic front, as Haytham Manna told Le Vif, the United States has played an equally insidious role. As Kofi Annan launched his peace plan in April 2012, the U.S. and its Western and Arab monarchist allies made sure that their Syrian proxies would not comply with the ceasefire by pledging unconditional political support, backed up by more weapons and generous funding.
7) The US joined France and its other allies at three Orwellian “Friends of Syria” meetings to launch what French officials referred to as a “Plan B”, to escalate the war and undermine the Annan peace plan. At the second Friends of Syria meeting, nine days before Annan’s ceasefire was due to take effect, the U.S and its allies agreed to provide funds for the Free Syrian Army to pay its fighters, while Qatar and Saudi Arabia pledged to increase their supply of weapons.
Annan finally assembled all the permanent members of the Security Council and other governments involved in the war in Syria in Geneva at the end of June 2012. The Western powers briefly dropped their previously non-negotiable demand to remove President Assad as the first step in a political transition, so that all sides could finally sign on to the Annan plan. But then the U.S. and its allies rejected a UN Security Council resolution to codify the agreement and revived their previous demands for Assad’s removal.
9) In May 2013, after tens of thousands more Syrians had been killed, Secretary Kerry finally went to Moscow and agreed to renew the peace process begun in Geneva in June 2012. But since May, the United States has once again reneged on the Geneva agreement and chosen to escalate the war even further, by providing direct weapons shipments and now missile strikes to support its proxies in Syria.
So, far from being reluctantly dragged into a terrible conflict not of its own making, the United States and its allies have in fact followed a quite coherent policy of regime change, modeled roughly on their successful overthrow of the Libyan government in 2011. The main difference has been the absence of foreign air support for the Syrian rebels. In Libya, NATO conducted 7,700 air strikes, demolishing Libya’s air defenses in the early stages of the campaign and thereafter bombing at will throughout the country. The fact that Syria possesses a far more extensive, modern, Russian-built air defense system has successfully deterred the West and its Arab royalist allies from following the same strategy in Syria.
Until now that is. The somewhat arbitrary “red line” regarding chemical weapons is serving as a pretext to launch missile strikes, degrade Syria’s air defenses and expose it to future air strikes. While President Obama tries to assuage liberals with promises of limited and proportionate strikes, there has been a steady parade of hawkish Republicans emerging from closed door meetings at the White House reassured that, as theGuardian wrote last Tuesday, this is indeed “part of a broader strategy to topple Bashar al-Assad.”
In fact, Obama admitted in an interview with Jeffrey Goldberg for the Atlantic in March 2012 that his entire assault on Syria is itself part of a broader strategy to isolate Iran by destroying its strongest Arab ally. When asked what more the U.S. could do to topple Assad, Obama laughed and said, “Well, nothing that I can tell you, because your classified clearance isn’t good enough.”
But enough details have now emerged of the true contours of this policy to make his crocodile tears for alleged nerve agent victims seem grotesque. The atrocious position in which he has placed the American public in whose name he acts should spur outrage, at a political class who connive in such cynical and murderous policies; at commercial media who laugh all the way to the bank as they misinform and mislead us; and yes, at ourselves for being patsies for serial aggression and genocide, in Vietnam, Iraq and now Syria.
To paraphrase Mr. Obama speaking in Sweden last Wednesday, the world set a “red line” when the UN Charter prohibited the use of military force except in self defense or in legitimate collective security operations mandated by the UN Security Council. The US Senate set a “red line” when it ratified the UN Charter by 89 votes to 2. As Obama said, “The international community’s credibility is on the line, and America and Congress’s credibility is on the line because we give lip service to the notion that these international norms are important.” And when we are talking about war and peace, it is not just our credibility that is on the line, but the very nature of the world that we live in.
So please take a few minutes and call your “representatives” in Congress to insist that they vote “No” on the authorization of U.S. aggression against Syria. Ask them instead to pass a resolution recommitting the United States to the June 2012 Geneva peace plan, which starts with a ceasefire by all parties to the conflict, including the United States.
Nicolas J. S. Davies is author of “Blood On Our Hands: The American Invasion and Destruction of Iraq.” He wrote the chapter on “Obama At War” for the just released book, “Grading the 44th President: A Report Card on Barack Obama’s First Term as a Progressive Leader.”