August 30, 2011
Voltaire Network

Next, Regime Change in Syria

by M K Bhadrakumar

If the likeness between ravaging regime-change scenarios in Iraq and Libya is any indication, the future of Bashar al-Assad's sovereignty in Syria might be hanging by a thin thread. The heart of the matter - underscores this analyst - is that regime change in Syria is absolutely central to US designs on the Middle East. The stakes are so intertwined that a host of stragetic gains could be achieved in one fell swoop, not least shaving Russia's and China's clout in the region. This is not an opportunity that Washington would want to miss.

The visuals beamed from Tripoli last night had an eerie familiarity. Cars blowing horns, Kalashnikovs firing into the air, youth and children aimlessly wandering on streets littered with heaps of debris, western cameramen eagerly lapping up the precious words in broken English by any local fellow holding forth on the stirring ideals of the 1789 French Revolution and the Magna Carta - the images are all- too-familiar. Somewhere else, some other time, one had seen these images, but couldn't exactly place them. Could they have stealthily crept up from the attic of the mind, a slice of memory that was best forgotten or purged from the consciousness? Now, the morning after, it is clear the television channels were only replaying the scenes from Baghdad in 2003.

The narrative from Tripoli bears uncanny resemblance to Baghdad: A brutal, megalomaniacal dictator, who seemed omnipotent, gets overthrown by the people, and a wave of euphoria sweeps over an exhausted land. As the celebrations erupt, the western benefactor-cum- liberator walks on to the centre stage, duly taking stance on the 'right side of history'. In the 19th century, he would have said in Kenya or India that he was carrying the 'white man's burden'. Now he claims he is bringing western enlightenment to people who are demanding it.

But it is a matter of time before the narrative withers away and chilling realities take hold. In Iraq, we have seen how a nation that was tiptoeing toward the OECD standards of development hardly 20 years ago has been reduced to beggary and anarchy.

A coup d'etat

Libya's democratic opposition is a myth conjured up by the western countries and the 'pro-West' Arab governments. There are deep splits within the opposition and there are factions ranging from genuine liberals to Islamists to plain lumpen elements. Then there are the tribal divisions. The infighting among the various factions seems a recipe for another round of civil war, as the factions that have neither legitimacy nor authority jostle for power. The acuteness of the rifts burst into the open last month when the opposition's commander-in-chief Abdul Fattah Younes was lured back from the front on a false pretext, taken away from his bodyguards and brutally tortured and killed by the rebels belonging to an Islamist faction.

The western media have begun openly discussing the role played by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization [NATO], which time and again intervened to tilt the military balance against Muammar Gaddafi. The revolution looks more like a coup d'etat instigated by Britain and France. Even then, it took the western alliance an awfully long time stretching over 6 months to get its 'boys' into Tripoli. Gaddafi is still keeping them guessing as to the manner of his grand exit. The stunning truth is that Gaddafi should decide when to stop fighting despite having the men and the material to prolong his defiance for a while.

His course of action in the coming hours or days would have great bearing on what follows. If there is going to be heavy bloodshed, revenge acts by the victors over the vanquished will likely follow. In political terms, Gaddafi's imminent fall doesn't mean the opposition has won. Divested of the NATO's tactical support, the opposition would have lost. The big question, therefore, is going to be about NATO's future role in Libya. Alongside appears the question of whether the NATO would now turn attention to Syria.

NATO embraces Arab world

With the mission of 'regime change' successfully accomplished, NATO ought to leave the Libyan theatre. The United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973 has been overtaken. But the NATO's withdrawal is too much to expect. Libya's oil has been the leitmotif of the western intervention. Gaddafi's recent proclivity to turn to Russia, China, Brazil and India to bring them into Libya's oil sector obviously threatened the western interests. The pro-democracy rhetoric emanating out of London and Paris had all along had a hollow ring. The NATO's intervention in Libya has stretched the limits of international law and the United Nations Charter. The alliance finds itself in the ludicrous position of seeking the legitimacy for its continued presence in Libya from the shady elements who masquerade as the 'democratic' forces, whose popular support is thin on the ground, on the pretext that there is still a job to be done.

There is indeed going to be a job to be done. It could well turn out to be Iraq and Afghanistan all over again. Resistance to foreign occupation is bound to appear sooner rather than later. Libyan tribes are steeped in the folklore of resistance. On the other hand, a great paradox of geopolitics is that anarchical conditions provide just the requisite pretext for occupation. The story of Libya is not going to be any different from that of Iraq and Afghanistan.

The West's Libyan intervention introduces new templates in the geopolitics of the Middle East and Africa. It has brought NATO to the eastern Mediterranean and Africa. This is of a piece with the United States' post-cold war strategy to mould the trans-Atlantic alliance into a global organization with the capability to act in global 'hotspots' with or without UN mandate. A pivotal role for the alliance in the 'new Middle East' seems all but certain. There is an ominous ring to the recap of the Libyan chapter by British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg: "I want to make it absolutely clear: the UK will not turn its back on the millions of citizens of Arab states looking to open up their societies, looking for a better life."

Was he talking about Syria? Surely, Clegg couldn't have been suggesting that Britain is raring to "open up" the societies in Saudi Arabia or Bahrain or Yemen and make the tribals living out there into modern-day citizens. With the Libyan operation drawing to a close, all eyes are turning on Syria. The Wall Street Journal speculates: "Libyans' success affects the potentially more important rebellion in Syria . . . Already there are signs Libya is giving inspiration to the rebels trying to oust [Bashar al] Assad." But then it also adds a caveat without which the discussion will remain incomplete: "There are crucial differences between Libya and Syria, and the Libyan template will be hard to replicate in Damascus."

High stakes in Syria

However, the western mind is famous for its innovative capacity. Without doubt, Syria occupies the heart of the Middle East and conflict breaking out there will most certainly engulf the entire region - including Israel and, possibly, Iran and Turkey. On the other hand, the calibrated western moves in the recent weeks, racheting up sanctions, are strikingly similar to those taken in the prelude to the Libyan intervention. Sustained efforts are afoot to bring about a unified Syrian opposition. Last weekend's conclave held in Turkey - third in a row - finally elected a 'council' ostensibly representing the voice of the Syrian people. Evidently, a focal point is being carefully crafted, which could be co-opted at a convenient point as the West's democratic interlocutor representing Syria. The fig-leaf of Arab League support is also available. The 'pro-West' Arab regimes, which are autocratic themselves, have reappeared in the forefront of the western campaign as the flag carriers of representative rule in Syria.

Conceivably, the main hurdle would be to get a United Nations mandate for the western intervention in Syria. But the Libyan experience shows that an alibi can always be found. Turkey can be trusted to play a role here. When Turkey gets involved, Charter 5 of the NATO can be invoked. The heart of the matter is that regime change in Syria is imperative for the advancement of the US strategy in the Middle East and Washington is unlikely to brook any BRICS obstacles on its path, since the stakes are very high. The stakes include the expulsion of the Hamas leadership from Damascus; the break-up of the Syrian-Iranian axis; isolation of Iran and a push for regime change there; weakening and degradation of Hezbollah in Lebanon; and regaining Israel's strategic dominance over the Arab world. And, of course, at the root of it all lies the control of oil, which George Kennan had said 60 years ago are "our resources - and not theirs" [Arabs'] - which are crucial for the continued prosperity of the western world. Mock at him if anyone claims that cash-strapped western governments and their war- weary citizens have no more appetite for wars.

Finally, all this means in geopolitical terms the rolling back of Russian and Chinese influence in the Middle East. A subtle western propaganda has begun pitting Russia and China as obstacles to regime change in the region - standing on the 'wrong side of history'. It is a clever ideological twist to the hugely successful Cold-War era blueprint that pitted communism against Islam. The body language in the western capitals underscores that there is no conceivable way the US would let go the opportunity in Syria.

Ambassador M K Bhadrakumar was a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service. His assignments included the Soviet Union, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Germany, Adghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Kuwait and Turkey.

Enver Masud, "A Clash Between Justice and Greed, Not Islam and the West," The Wisdom Fund, September 2, 2002

Gen. Wesley Clark, "Memo: Attack Seven Countries in Five Years," Commonwealth Club, October 3, 2007

Anna Haqq, "The Complexities of Syria's Violence," CounterPunch, May 2, 2011

Ron Paul, "Mission Accomplished in Libya?,", August 30, 2011

[In coordination with Turkey, the United States has been exploring how to deal with the possibility of a civil war among Syria's Alawite, Druse, Christian and Sunni sects--Helene Cooper, "U.S. Is Quietly Getting Ready for Syria Without Assad,", September 19, 2011]

"Dissidents in Syria reject foreign intervention: Kilo," AFP, September 29, 2011

"Russia and China veto UN resolution against Syrian regime," Associated Press, October 4, 2011

[Jobs' mother, Joanne Schieble, was a German-American woman who had an affair with Abdulfattah Jandali in the 1950s, when they were living in Wisconsin. Her father refused to let her marry a Syrian Muslim, forcing them to give up the baby boy for adoption in San Francisco, where he was raised by Paul and Clara Jobs, an Armenian woman who after seven years of marriage was unable to conceive.--Sami Moubayed, "iSad in Damascus: Syria reclaims Jobs,", October 8, 2011]

Robert Fisk, "Assad, his raids on Lebanon, and Syria's slow slip into civil war," Independent, October 17, 2011

[The agreement includes the release of prisoners, the withdrawal of security forces from the streets and talks between the government and opposition.--"Syria accepts Arab League peace plan after Cairo talks," BBC News, November 2, 2011

[ . . . until he was called down by the Syrian government, the American ambassador in Damascus had criss-crossed the country instigating various groups to overthrow the regime--"Michael Scheuer: 'Washington's enemy is one that doesn't exist',", November 10, 2011]

Hannah Allam, "Arab League suspends Syria, calls for talks on 'transition' with Assad opponents,", November 12, 2011

RussiaToday, November 14, 2011

November 15, 2011, Part 1 of 2 (Part 2 of 2)

Martin Chulov and Rachel Stevenson, "Free Syrian Army takes shape on Lebanese border," Guardian, November 16, 2011

"US plot to wage Syria war revealed," PressTV, November 17, 2011

Jack Khoury, "Report: Russia warships to enter Syria waters in bid to stem foreign intervention," Haaretz, November 18, 2011

[It is probably safe to assume that most support reform. The question is how to get it and at what price. Many are demonstrating but there is no sign that the majority of the people (and this largely includes the internal opposition) want anything other than evolved political reform. They are strongly opposed to foreign intervention and they object to Turkey's aggressive involvement in their affairs. . . .

. . . there are two narratives here the Al Jazeera version where the violence was all one way until army 'defectors' began shooting back and the Syrian government version in which armed gangs were causing chaos across the country well before the 'defectors' joined in. Like most narratives neither is likely to be completely true or untrue, but there is abundant if unreported evidence in support of the case being made by the Syrian government. Many of the accusations against the Syrian government are coming from exiled groups such as the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Al Jazeera reports them with little or no attempt at verification. Its bias in its 'reporting' of Libya and Syria was so great, in the eyes of its Beirut bureau chief, Ghassan bin Jiddu, that he resigned in disgust.

What is happening in Syria bears the hallmarks of an orchestrated plan put into action by the US and its gulf allies. . . . The destruction of the government and therefore the removal of a long-standing obstacle in the way of US and Israeli policies is the objective.--Jeremy Salt, "Turkey's Syrian Ambit: New War in the Making,", November 18, 2011]

Will Rahn, "Report: U.S. carrier sent to Syrian coast as tensions flare,", November 23, 2011

[The United States has three choices. Accept the evolution and try to live with what emerges. Attempt to make a deal with Iran - a very painful and costly one. Or go to war. The first assumes Washington can live with what emerges. The second depends on whether Iran is interested in dealing with the United States. The third depends on having enough power to wage a war and to absorb Iran's retaliatory strikes, particularly in the Strait of Hormuz. All are dubious, so toppling al Assad is critical. It changes the game and the momentum. But even that is enormously difficult and laden with risks.--"Power Balance in the Middle East," Stratfor, November 23, 2011]

Ruth Sherlock, "Libya's new rulers offer weapons to Syrian rebels," Telegraph, November 25, 2011

Gearoid O Colmain, "Unknown Snipers and Western backed 'Regime Change': A Historical Review and Analysis," Global Research, November 28, 2011

[One would think that the charges concerning the alleged repression and the number of victims were carefully looked into. But not at all. They originated from a single source: the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights, based in London, whose leaders demand anonymity. What is the validity of such grave accusations if they are not cross-checked and why do institutions such as the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights rubber stamp them without verifying their authenticity?--Thierry Meyssan, "Lies and truths about Syria,", November 28, 2011]

[The Libyans formerly known as rebels, with explicit consent from Transitional National Council (TNC) chairman Mustafa Abdul NATO, aka Jalil, have already shipped to Syria - via Turkey - 600 highly motivated troops fresh from toppling the Gaddafi regime, to fight alongside the Free Syria Army (FSA). This followed a secret meeting in Istanbul between the TNC and the Syrian "rebels", rebranded as Syrian National Council. . . .

Diplomats in Brussels confirmed to Asia Times Online that NATOGCC operatives have set up a command center in Iskenderun, in Hatay province in Turkey. Crucial Aleppo, in northwest Syria, is very close to the Turkish-Syrian border. The cover story for this command center is to engineer "humanitarian corridors" to Syria.

Although these "humanitarians" come from NATO members US, Canada and France, and GCC members Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the UAE, their cover is that they're only innocent ''monitors'', and not part of NATO. Needless to say these humanitarians consist of ground, naval, air force and engineering specialists. Their mission: infiltrate northern Syria, especially Idlib, Rastan, Homs but most of all the big prize, Aleppo, the largest city in Syria, with at least 2.5 million people, the majority of which are Sunni and Kurdish.--Pepe Escobar, "The shadow war in Syria,", December 2, 2011]

[The 1996 Israeli document, which included prominent U.S. policy figures as authors, calls for "rolling back Syria" in 2000 or afterward. The roadmap outlines pushing the Syrians out of Lebanon, diverting the attention of Damascus by using an anti-Syrian opposition in Lebanon, and then destabilizing Syria with the help of both Jordan and Turkey. This has all respectively occurred from 2005 to 2011. This is also why the anti-Syrian March 14 Alliance and the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) were created in Lebanon.--Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya, "Iran and the Strategic Encirclement of Syria and Lebanon,", December 2, 2011]

"Syria signs Arab League deal to allow in monitors," BBC News, December 19, 2011

[What we are seeing in Syria is a deliberate and calculated campaign to bring down the Assad government so as to replace it with a regime "more compatible" with US interests in the region.

The blueprint for this project is essentially a report produced by the neo-conservative Brookings Institute for regime change in Iran in 2009.--Aisling Byrne, "A mistaken case for Syrian regime change,", January 5, 2012]

[There was an international conspiracy against Syria. True. Arab states opposed to Syria were under "outside pressure". True, up to a point.--Robert Fisk, "Assad faces his people's hatred - but as their anger grows, his excuses are still just the same," Independent, January 11, 2012]

[When coverage of an unfolding drama ceases to be fair and turns into a propaganda weapon, inconvenient facts get suppressed. So it is with the results of a recent YouGov Siraj poll on Syria commissioned by The Doha Debates, funded by the Qatar Foundation. Qatar's royal family has taken one of the most hawkish lines against Assad - the emir has just called for Arab troops to intervene - so it was good that The Doha Debates published the poll on its website. The pity is that it was ignored by almost all media outlets in every western country whose government has called for Assad to go. . . .

As for foreign military intervention, it has already started. It is not following the Libyan pattern since Russia and China are furious at the west's deception in the security council last year. They will not accept a new United Nations resolution that allows any use of force. The model is an older one, going back to the era of the cold war, before "humanitarian intervention" and the "responsibility to protect" were developed and often misused. Remember Ronald Reagan's support for the Contras, whom he armed and trained to try to topple Nicaragua's Sandinistas from bases in Honduras? For Honduras read Turkey, the safe haven where the so-called Free Syrian Army has set up.--Jonathan Steele, "Most Syrians back President Assad, but you'd never know from western media," Guardian, January 17, 2012]

["If someone conceives the idea of using force at any cost - and I've already heard calls for sending some Arab troops to Syria - we are unlikely to be able to prevent this," Mr. Lavrov said. "But this should be done on their own initiative and should remain on their conscience. They won't get any authorization from the Security Council."

Mr. Lavrov said foreign governments were arming "militants and extremists" in Syria--Ellen Barry and Michael Schwartz, "Russian Warns That Western Support for Arab Revolts Could Cause a 'Big War',", January 18, 2012]

John Pilger, "The World War on Democracy,", January 19, 2012

Bassam Haddad, "The Idiot's Guide to Fighting Dictatorship in Syria While Opposing Military Intervention,", January 20, 2012

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