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Hichem Karoui: Imbroglio Over Syria
July 02, 2011
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Exclusive to The Gulf Today

Despite the continuing killings in Syria of the protesters demanding the removal of President Bashar Al Assad, the conspicuous fact is: the Arabs have not weighed in behind the call for a condemnation of the Syrian regime in the UN Security Council (UNSC). There is no noticeable diplomatic or political movement in the Arab League, favourable to a course of action similar to what was decided for Libya.

This might be due to the fear that Israel would be the first beneficiary from a military intervention against the Syrian regime. Moreover, as with Iraq, the Arabs do not want to run the risk that foreign powers sustain groups that have no credibility on the ground.

However, the Syrian government is not alone to talk about a worldwide conspiracy against the regime. In Global Research, a Canadian think tank, there are assumptions about the ongoing Syrian uprising described as “an armed insurrection” pushed by foreign powers including the US, Turkey, Israel, and even Saudi Arabia. Referring to The Voice of Russia (June 17, 2011) reporting that “armed insurgents belonging to Islamist organisations have crossed the border from Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan,” and to the US State Department’s public support of the protests, the Russians, the Chinese, and some left-wing naive propagate that a conspiracy has been concocted against Syria. It is not the Syrian population which is on the streets, but a “bunch of conspirators”!

Michel Chossudovsky (director of Global Research) is a renowned scholar and a respected anti-globalist militant. But the article he recently published about “the destabilisation of Syria” is full of half-truths. He cites for example, the statement by US State Department official Victoria Nuland: “We started to expand contacts with the Syrians, those who are calling for change, both inside and outside the country,” as evidence of an Iraq-like plan for intervention ready to go.

But the relations between the US Department of State and some Syrian activists is hardly a scoop. The Bush administration has preceded Obama years ago, in encouraging and supporting the Syrian opposition, and the Americans did the same for the Libyan opposition since at least the Reagan era. Does this imply that the popular revolt that burst out in Syria or in Libya in the wake of a general Arab uprising has been cooked in Washington and Tel-Aviv?

How could we overlook the consequences of long years of dictatorship?

The point here is that combinating authoritarism with radical rhetoric is no longer a winning equation. It may work for a time, mainly because of the stupid rigidity of Israel and the US sheepish followism, but it will not work forever, as the Arab uprising in these countries showed.

Radical rhetoric may earn the regimes using it Washington’s wrath and the disgrace with its Western allies, but it cannot be the remedy for domestic and social problems. Nor is the “resistance” against Israel a licence to kill your own people.

However, Michel Chossudovsky thinks that “action against Syria is part of a military roadmap, a sequencing of military operations.” He cites former Nato Commander General Wesley Clark, asserting that the Pentagon had clearly identified Iraq, Libya, Syria and Lebanon as target countries of a US-Nato intervention: “[The] Five-year campaign plan [included]... a total of seven countries, beginning with Iraq, then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Iran, Somalia and Sudan.”

That might be true at a time. But you know, each new US administration comes up with a new blueprint called “National Security Strategy,” and believe it or not, it is never the same, from an administration to another. Ask them why each US president has his own “doctrine.”

The simplest answer is: the world we live in is fastly changing, and the US strategy has to adapt itself permanently to these changes, and so do the presidents. Therefore, citing Wesley Clark as evidence that the US has a plan ready to go for an intervention in Syria, could be in the present conditions quite misleading and inaccurate.

Furthermore, such a discourse may reinforce the overall paranoia of the Arab governments and serve to hindering a condemnation of the atrocities happening in Syria every day.

And because Turkey is the most influential neighbour with US-Nato and EU connections, “conspiracy theorists” assume it to play a central role in Syria, although many indices point out to the contrary. What we see actually, is an enormous strain on the Turkish borders, and self-control in the Turkish reactions.

Admittedly, there were plans for destabilising Syria, in Israel and the USA. It is obvious that the “Arab uprising” made them just obsolete. Why should the US-Nato carry out military intervention plans, while there is no certainty as to the regime’s ability to survive after the protests spread out to engulf the whole country?  In Libya, the UN resolution was only meant to protect the civilian population and certainly not to change the regime, although its effects would come to the same result. A course of political and diplomatic action is still wished through the UNSC. But would it include necessarily a military action?

Chossudovsky may think that because Turkey is a member of Nato “with a powerful military force” and because it had signed with Israel a “long-standing joint military-intelligence agreement,” this would compel Mr Erdogan to arm the Syrian insurgents without more referring to anybody (no UN, no EU, and no Nato). His conclusion is:

“Israel and Nato signed a far-reaching military cooperation agreement in 2005. Under this agreement, Israel is considered a de facto member of Nato. If a military operation were to be launched against Syria, Israel would in all likelihood be involved in military undertakings alongside Nato forces (under the Nato-Israel bilateral agreement). Turkey would also play an active military role.”

But not many Turks would agree on such talk. “How do you do it? Do you send troops and face the Syrian army? I don’t think the Turks are really interested in doing that,” stated Political scientist Soli Ozel of Istanbul’s Kadir Has University.

Sinan Ulgen of the think tank Edam, said Turkey is haunted by past experiences. “In 1991, when Saddam had started to massacre his Kurdish population, Turkey ended being host to 550,000 Kurds in a few days. That still remains on the consciousness of Turkish policy-makers.”

Yet, there is still another reason why the West is reluctant to take a decision implying military action in Syria, despite the Assad regime’s sustained brutality against its opponents, and the burgeoning refugee crisis along the Turkish border: who wants to see a sectarian civil war (another one) developing and threatening to draw in partisans in Lebanon and Iraq?

The author, an expert on US-Middle EAst relations, is based in Paris

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