Notes From the Margins…

Telling Lies About Syria

  • June 15, 2013
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Galvanised by the reversals inflicted on the Syrian rebels in recent weeks, their foreign supporters have decided to lay the groundwork for further madness and folly.   Two weeks ago Britain and France, the old colonial powers, managed to browbeat the European Union into abrogating its weapons embargo on Syria.

This, Hague informed the public with the deadpan expression of a fool or an accomplished liar, was intended to contribute to the peace  conference in Geneva next month, by bolstering ‘moderate’ Syrian rebels.

Now, the Imperium has announced that the US is to start sending lethal weapons to the rebels.   This decision has been taken after some hesitation, possibly because of divisions within the US foreign policy establishment about its limited and risky strategic options in Syria,   and the reticence of the US public about getting involved in yet another ‘quagmire’   in the Middle East.

In doing so Obama has accepted the prescriptions of Republican swamp people like Lindsey Graham and the psychotic John McCain, a man who has never seen an Arab or Muslim country that he didn’t want to bomb into smithereens.     The Noble Prize winner also has the support of that faux-humanitarian elder statesman Bill Clinton, who told McCain himself   last week

“Some people say, ‘OK, see what a big mess it is? Stay out!’ I think that’s a big mistake.     I agree with you about this.   Sometimes it’s just best to get caught trying, as long as you don’t over-commit, like, as long as you don’t make an improvident commitment.”

That is really quite a dumb statement, especially when addressed to a man who has made ‘improvident commitments’ something of a speciality, at the McCain Institute for International Leadership.

Obama’s decision is further proof that his peace prize may go down as one of the worst decisions ever taken by the Swedish academy.   It is based on a combination of lying and manipulation that is so gross and so hollow on virtually every level,   that it defies belief that those involved could even think that anyone will take it seriously.

The US says that it has ‘conclusive evidence’ that Assad’s forces used sarin on at least four occasions, killing between 100 and 150 people.   Lord Snooty says that Assad has used it twice,    on the basis of tests carried out by none other than the joint intelligence committee at Porton Down, which definitively settles the matter.

Well I haven’t seen any evidence at all, but all this has a horrible stench of fabrication and deja vu. Why would Assad regime use sarin gas against the rebels, when it has been doing perfectly well with the conventional weapons that it already has?   If he was going to use sarin, why would he use it in such low quantities?   Why would he want to give the ‘international community’ a pretext to attack him?

There are no credible answers to any of these questions, but neither the US, British or French governments appear to have even asked them.       Both Cameron and the US have nevertheless dismissed allegations from the UN Independent Commission on Syria last month that the Syrian rebels themselves may have used chemical weapons.

The US declared itself to be ‘highly sceptical’ about these allegations, even though it   ‘knows’ that the allegations against Assad are true.     And Lord Snooty also says he has seen no ‘credible evidence’ that rebels have used sarin.

Of course Syrian rebels may not have used it.     But it’s certainly in their interest to make it look as though Assad does, and they clearly understand they understand the essential tropes that Western governments use prepare the public for the neo-imperialist ‘interventions’ of the early 21st century.

Firstly, cultivate security fears about ‘weapons of mass destruction’ in the hands of ‘brutal dictators’ that might end up in the hands of ‘terrorists’.     Prove – or at least allege – that said dictators have used these weapons ‘against their own people’ in order to suggest that they might use them against ‘us.’

Usually suggestions are enough, because the ‘risk averse’ post 9-11 climate means that you don’t actually have to prove that these imaginary weapons would be used by hypothetical terrorists or ‘rogue states’ – just the possibility is sufficient to act as a trigger for intervention.

This process is preferably managed and legitimized by presenting it as a joint decision taken by the ‘international community’,   rather than by a handful of powerful governments, in order to lock the target country into an intrusive inspections/sanctions regime that few governments will ever accept – least of all the governments that are actually imposing it.

Once these structures are in place, it then becomes possible to escalate the level of demands so that the regime can be accused of non-compliance,   and such reticence or defiance can then be used to get the UN Security Council to rubber stamp whatever measures are felt to be necessary.

This legalistic scam is rarely sufficient in itself.   Morality is also required.   It’s necessary to keep the public in a constant state of moral blackmail by highlighting and sometimes exaggerating atrocities and killings of civilians –   by the target regime only –   in order to induce a mood of desperate guilt and humanitarian empathy, accompanied by agonized exhortations that ‘we’ must ‘ do something’ or ‘stop the massacre’ – regardless of who is doing the massacres.

The public doesn’t actually have to come out into the streets for this manipulation to be effective, let alone go off to Baghdad or Damascus to fight the good fight.   But it needs to be brought to that pitch of horror and indignation when it can breathe a collective sigh of relief that something is at least being ‘done’ to ‘stop the killing’,   whether it’s weapons shipments, no fly zones or bombing.

It’s not surprising therefore, that in the same week that the US announced its decision to start sending weapons,   the UN published statistics showing that 99, 901 people have been killed in Syria.   Navi Pillay, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, cited these statistics as evidence that “civilians are bearing the brunt”   of the violence in Syria.

These conclusions, as McClatchy News points out, are not borne out even by the figures of the resolutely anti-Assad Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.     The Syrian Observatory claims that 96,431 people have died in Syria, of whom 24,617 are members of the Syrian security forces and 17,031 members of pro-government militias 43.2 percent of the total.

Civilian noncombatants came next, at 35,479, or 36.8 percent of the total, while deaths of   anti-Assad fighters totaled 16,699, or 17.3 percent.  These statistics, if accurate, suggest that there is a war taking place in Syria, not a one-sided ‘massacre’ perpetrated by the regime that ‘we’ must ‘do something’ about.

So we should be clear about this.   Obama’s decision to send weapons will not ‘shorten’ the war.   It is not humanitarian.   It will not save lives.   It will not bring about peace or reconciliation for Syria, or victory for the Syria rebels, or the end of Assad’s regime.   It will not bring democracy, negotiation or boost the ‘moderates.’

These weapons will go, as they did in Afghanistan,   to the most effective fighters, and if they happen to consist of heart-eating ‘jihadists’, and groups that kill 15-year-old boys for blasphemy and carry out sectarian massacres, so be it.

If ‘stopping the killing’ was a priority, then the governments that are planning to send these weapons would use all their influence to bring the ‘moderate’ rebels to the negotiating table and give the conference in Geneva a chance of success, in order to help facilitate a framework for some kind of political settlement to be decided by Syrians, without interference from any foreign power.

But neither the US nor its allies in the region are interested in this.     Cameron may talk about cultivating rebels concerned with ‘ a positive, democratic and pluralistic Syria’ because it is convenient and pretty to use that kind of language.     But what the British government wants is what the US wants:   to bring down Assad and establish a pliant regime in his place; to move on to Iran and Hezbollah and to reshape the Middle East in their own interests,   no matter how many deaths it takes in Syria or anywhere else.

And what Obama has done will only fan the flames of a proxy war in Syria that has already sucked in   countries throughout the whole region, and may yet end up turning what is already a terrible tragedy into  a catastrophic regional war.

1 Comment

  1. Richard Carter

    15th Jun 2013 - 1:19 pm

    Actually, if Assad was well advised, he’d say at once that yes, there had been some limited use of chemical weapons by his forces but they were solely the responsibility of local commanders and were completely unauthorised and those commanders have been appropriately sanctioned. If he did that, it would at once take the wind out of the sails of the (western) warmongers. Don’t suppose it’ll happen, though.

    PS: Good to see your putting that lying phrase ‘the international community’ in inverted commas…

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About Me

I’m a writer, campaigner and journalist.  My latest book is The Savage Frontier: The Pyrenees in History and the Imagination (New Press/Hurst, 2018).  The Infernal Machine is where I write on politics, history, cinema and other things that interest me.

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