The Syria Settlement: History & Hypocrisy, Irony & Ignorance
On September 14, the recent historical paradigm unexpectedly shifted and, instead of following the marching step of the hypnotic drums of war, public pressure, international reluctance and an awakening of the too long slumbering distrust of Washington’s handling of the intelligence, held the line against the march of war and pushed it back. On September 14, the world trod the peaceful path of diplomacy instead.
Following up on a plan worked out by Syria, Russia and, ironically, Iran, Walid al-Moalllem, Syria’s foreign minister announced Syria’s willingness to acknowledge its chemical weapons stockpiles (which, despite America’s boasts that force compelled Syria to do so, she had, according to Noam Chomsky, acknowledged long ago), sign the international convention against chemical weapons, place its arsenal under international control and swear off any future development of chemical weapons. The United Nations has confirmed that it is in receipt of a letter signed by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad declaring Syria’s intention to sign the international chemical weapons treaty.
Shortly after, on September 14, the United States and Russia finalized an agreement on the removal or destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons by the middle of 2014.
Though this agreement is positive—perhaps the most positive event in American foreign policy in a very long time—the degree of hypocrisy it reveals is indescribable.
The Americans are going to rid the world of Syria’s chemical weapons. The Americans are going to force the Syrians to destroy their chemical weapons. But those same policemen are stockpiling approximately 2,611 tons of mustard gas and 524 tons of other chemical weapons, including the very same sarin gas the Syrians are accused of having used. The U.S. agreed in 1997 to destroy its chemical weapons stockpile by 2007. She then requested the maximum five year extension to 2012. But that date has gone, and the chemical weapons haven’t.
But, even forgetting that it is not just the use of, but also the production and stockpiling of chemical weapons that is banned by international law, one might object that the two cases are not analogous. One might say of America, as former Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz recently said of Israel, that it is “different” from Syria: “It is clear to everyone that [Israel] is a democratic, responsible regime”. But recent history belies the brazenness of such a claim. For the responsible, democratic American state not only possesses, but has used chemical weapons.
In investigating the atypically high incidence of cancer among ex-Iraqi soldiers, Robert Fisk, reports that he found that those most at risk were those who came from areas where the allies used large amounts of depleted uranium munitions in 1991. Fisk says that the depleted uranium led to “a nightmare trail of leukemia and stomach cancer” and other diseases and birth defects. Fisk goes on to cite a damning letter from the UK Atomic Energy Authority that says that U.S. tanks fired 5,000 depleted uranium rounds, releasing more than 50,000 pounds of depleted uranium, while aircrafts dropped many tens of thousands of rounds of depleted uranium.
And depleted uranium is not all Iraqis were exposed to. Though most closely associated with the war in Viet Nam, America also used a napalm type fire bomb known as MK77 in Iraq. MK77 is a more modern version of incendiary weapon. It was used in Iraq by the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force in 2003, as the State Department website now admits. They say it was used only against military targets and claim that that avoids violation of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons.
A year later, in Fallujah, the next chemical weapon was deployed by the democratic and responsible regime. The Pentagon now admits to having used white phosphorus in Fallujah in 2004. Though legal as a devise for illuminating targets, white phosphorus is illegal if used on people. Pentagon spokesperson, Colonel Barry Venable, has confirmed that white phosphorus was “used as an incendiary weapon against enemy combatants”. The New York Times reports that white phosphorus was also used by the Americans more recently against Taliban fighters in Afghanistan.
The United States has not only repeatedly used chemical weapons but has helped other regimes use them too. Declassified CIA documents and interviews with former intelligence officers show that Washington knew with certainty as early as 1983 that Iraq had been using chemical weapons against Iran. Senior American officials were even receiving regular briefings on the use of chemical weapons. And yet, in 1988, American intelligence provided the Iraqi military with the location of Iranian troops in full knowledge that the Iraqi military was going to use chemical weapons, including sarin gas, mustard gas and tabun. Ten thousand Iranians died, and as many as 90,000 soldiers and civilians were victims of the chemical attacks that the U.S. helped Saddam Hussein carry out.
That same year, Iraq would kill 5,000 Kurds in the Iraqi village of Halabja in chemical attacks using nerve gas. According to Stephen Zunes, professor of politics and international studies at the University of San Francisco, the Reagan administration downplayed the Halabja gassing and, incredibly, continued sending ingredients used in the manufacture of mustard gas and other chemical weapons. The Bush administration, Zunes continues, would then frustrate efforts by congress to sanction Iraq.
The U.S. has also frequently frustrated the efforts of chemical weapons inspectors. George Monbiot says that the Clinton administration passed a law forbidding international weapons inspectors from taking samples of chemicals in the United States. The law also gave the President the power to bar the door to unannounced inspections.
But the hypocrisy and irony don’t begin with Obama, Bush, Clinton or Reagan. America may not be “responsible”, but she is regular. We might not have had to transition or regime change our way to a Syrian democracy because Syria might have been a democracy if America hadn’t transitioned and regime changed her out of it.
Syria experienced a brief experiment with democracy in the early years of its independence that was quickly snuffed out by American interference. In 1949, before the birth of the CIA, two U.S. secret agents, Stephen Meade and Miles Copeland—both later CIA agents—helped the Syrian military pull off a coup. That coup triggered a series of coups and countercoups, with the U.S. frequently changing sides. Then in 1956, with Syria moving closer to Egypt and Nasser, with his ideas of neutralism and a pan-Arab United Arab Republic that cold war America hated so much, Eisenhower initiated Project Wakeful, an unsuccessful covert action for regime change in Syria, to be followed by Operation Wappen in 1957, which failed just as badly: the CIA agents were caught in the act and thrown out of Syria.
The irony that America may have prevented democracy from maturing in Syria is compounded by the irony that, even as a dictatorship, Syria could have been on our side. For many years prior to the civil war, Syria has been anxious to do everything the West wants her to do in order to move closer to both America and Israel. According to Stephen Zunes, in 2000, Israel and Syria came very close to a peace agreement. Upon succeeding his father, Bashar al-Assad requested that those talks resume, but the Israelis and Americans turned him down. Later, in 2005, the Israelis and Syrians actually began drafting a peace treaty. Two years later, after the Israeli-Lebanese war, Israel asked America about resuming those talks, but the Americans said no. According to Zunes, as recently as 2007, the Bush administration continued to block Israel from resuming peace negotiations with Syria. Syria, Zunes says, eager for international legitimacy, was willing to give security guarantees and full diplomatic relations to Israel in exchange for a peace agreement. Bush, he says, was more interested in changing the regime in Syria than in dealing with the regime in Syria.
And it didn’t stop in 2007. According to investigative journalist Seymour Hersh, prior to the war in Gaza, with the help of Turkey, Syria and Israel “had been engaged for almost a year in negotiations”. He says that many issues had been resolved and that Israel and Syria had reached “agreements in principle on the normalization of diplomatic relations”. Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, the ruler of Qatar, told Hersh that “Syria is eager to engage with the West”.
Hersh quotes then Senator John Kerry, who met with Assad on several occasions, as saying that Assad “wants to engage with the West . . . . Assad is willing to do the things he needs to do in order to change his relationship with the United States.” Given that firsthand knowledge on the part of now Secretary of State Kerry, his current point position on the push for war is the height of hypocrisy.
And the irony and hypocrisy go on. Kerry has said recently that the Syrian opposition has “increasingly become more defined by its moderation”. But American and European intelligence sources say that Islamic extremists continue to be by far the best, and best organized, fighters amongst the rebels. And now a report by the defense analysts HIS Jane exposes the extent of Kerry’s attempts to mislead the world about the wisdom of backing the rebels.
The report says that, overall, the strength of the rebel force is 100,000 fighters. The 100,000 is divided amongst 1,000 different factions. The faction that is directly loyal to Al-Qa’ida numbers a massive 10,000. Another 30,000 to 35,000 fighters are jihadists from factions sympathetic to Al-Qa’ida, though not directly controlled by it: that’s 40%-45% of the rebel forces that are extremists. 30,000 more are more moderate Islamic factions.
So less than a third of the rebel force is secular. Almost half is composed of jihadists and extremists. But these numbers are not even the full story, because the report goes on to say that Al-Qa’ida run factions, like Jabhat al-Nusra are the best armed and most formidable fighters. Along with Jabhat al-Nusra, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) is also linked to Al-Qa’ida.
The irony here is that America is fighting on the side of her enemy, Al-Qa’ida, against a Syrian government that has been trying to be her friend. That the goal of removing the Syrian regime is, at least in large part, removing the Iranian regime only deepens the irony. For America is fighting with the perpetrators of 9/11 against an ally of Iran, when Iran allied with America over 9/11. Iranian President Khatami denounced the 9/11 attacks and condemned the terrorists. Iran offered unconditional support to America against Al-Qa’ida and the Taliban. The Northern Alliance, who provided many of the anti-Taliban fighters once the Americans and her allies invaded Afghanistan, was, at least in part, put together by Iran, who placed it in the hands of the Americans. Iran also offered her air bases to the U.S. and permitted the U.S to carry out search and rescue missions for downed U.S. planes. And the Iranians gave the U.S. intelligence on Taliban and Al-Qa’ida targets. So the irony is deepened by the awkward realization that America is fighting on the side of Al-Qa’ida, in large part to remove a regime that helped her to remove Al-Qa’ida.
And the Iranian irony continues. In large part, the motivation for eliminating the Syrian government is to eliminate what America sees as Iran’s only ally in the region. But Syria is not Iran’s only ally in the region, because America delivered Iraq into the hands of Iran: more ignorance and irony. And, though Assad is an ally of Iran, Iran is not even convinced that his removal would, in fact, hurt her. As Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett point out, the rebels take issue, not with Assad’s foreign policy, but with his domestic policies. They say that a new Syrian regime, “if even minimally representative, would pursue a foreign policy perhaps even less interested in strategic cooperation with the United States”. A new government in Syria runs the risk for the Americans of being even more strongly pro-Iran.
And finally, though there has been not a word about Iran’s involvement in the Western media, which credits only the contributions of Russia and America, Asia Times says it has confirmed that the plan to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons was actually worked out by Syria, Russia and Iran after the head of the national security committee of the Iranian parliament, Alaeddin Boroujerdi, went to Damascus.
The irony here is deep. Firstly, it is Iran who is eliminating weapons in the region that are banned by international law. Secondly, it is Iran who is negotiating settlements that accomplish America’s foreign policy goals. Thirdly, the reason Iran’s involvement is not even whispered in the West is that America wants both to isolate Iran and to bar her from having a role in regional affairs. Ironically, the Syrian settlement is a victory for Iran on both counts. It helps her save Syria, which maintains an important ally, and it reinforces her crucial role of influence in the region. So it can’t be mentioned.
So the change in the historical and geopolitical paradigm that the very positive Syria settlement reveals also reveals levels upon levels of hypocrisy, irony and ignorance.