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Syria: Nation and Region in Crisis

wounded girl syria refugee

Rita’s most recent humanitarian mission brought her to this girl who lost her leg in fighting

Tonight, Rita Zawaideh and I spoke to about 60 people tonight about the Syria crisis.  Rita returned yesterday from one of her many trips to Jordan helping Syrian refugees.  She reported on her humanitarian efforts and the extent of the suffering experienced by the 1.5-million Syrians who’ve fled the country.

This is the talk I gave:

Right from the beginning, let’s acknowledge the impossible moral dilemma that the current Syrian conflict presents.

Two years ago, in the spirit of the Arab Spring that swept through the Middle East, the Syrian people rose up against the brutal, corrupt, nepotistic Assad dynasty.  They used classic forms of non-violent resistance.  They streamed from Friday prayer in the mosques into the public square, using religion as an expression of their moral opposition.  They rallied, shouted slogans, published broadsides.  It was almost a classic lesson in civic participation.  This was the same force that toppled the Tunisian and Egyptian dictatorships.  Syrians had every hope and reason to believe it might do the same there.

Instead of engaging in serious dialogue with the opposition; instead of proposing and implementing reforms, Bashar al-Assad summoned his brother’s commandos, who brutalized the civilian protesters.  They turned guns, helicopters, jet fighters, artillery and missiles on unarmed civilians, mowing them down in their thousands and tens of thousands.

At that point, the opposition had a fateful choice.  It could continue on the path of non-violence and suffer an ongoing slaughter or it could arm itself and fight the regime’s fire with its own.  It chose fire.  At first, the armed resistance was domestic and relied solely upon what it could muster inside the country in the way of recruitment and weapons.

But as the brutality of the government increased, the resistance responded in kind.  Soon it was turning to outside forces for support.  As the majority of Syrians are Sunni, while the Assadists are Shiite or Alawite (a Shia offshoot), the opposition turned to other Sunni countries to meet their military needs.  That meant Qatar and Turkey, which have provided the lion’s share of the armaments for the Free Syrian Army.

To be clear, foreign intervention isn’t a one-sided deal.  Assad has received major support from Russia and Iran for decades.  That includes advanced weaponry like anti-aircraft and ground to ground missiles.  Syria’s other major ally, Hezbollah, has also served as a useful proxy both in Lebanon and Syria.  So each side in this conflict is guilty of turning to outsiders for lethal support.

Unfortunately, a conflict that began as an act of civic protest, turned into an increasingly ethnic conflict between Shia and Sunni.  Assad’s Shia allies are Iran and Hezbollah; while the opposition’s Sunni allies are Qatar and Turkey.

So far, the United Nations estimates that 93,000 have died.  There are 1.5-million refugees in three neighboring countries.  Rita spoke so eloquently of her work bringing some of them humanitarian relief.  The funds we raise tonight will be used to support her work.

To return to the conflict: each side is playing a game of chicken.  They realize that if they violate the rules of the game and cross red lines, the other side will do the same.  That’s why Russia hasn’t yet supplied the SA-300 anti-aircraft missiles it had contracted to Syria.  Because Israel has made clear that such “game-changing” weapons would likely be used by Hezbollah against it.  Israel would likely attack any weapons convoy in order to take out such armaments, as it has done twice in the past months.

Hezbollah recently made a critical choice to escalate the conflict by sending 4,000 of its own fighters to retake the Syrian town of Qusayr.  This is an act of outside intervention that exacerbated hostile feelings both inside Syria and Lebanon itself, since many Lebanese do not approve of the Shia militia taking its battles outside Lebanon.

Some, like Israel’s intelligence correspondent Ronen Bergman, have forecast the demise of Nasrallah because of this detour away from the movement’s core mission to resist Israel.  But the rumors of Nasrallah’s fall are premature.

Though the U.S. did not phrase its decision this way, Pres. Obama’s recent announcement that the U.S. would begin arming the rebels came as an indirect response to the victory in Qusayr.  Of course, we publicly stated that our decision came as a result of Assad’s forces use of chemical weapons in the fighting.  This was a justification after-the-fact.  In this conflict, as in Iraq, WMD seems as much a political, as a military issue.  It is used by outside forces to justify whatever course of action they’d already decided upon.  Bush did it.  Now Obama is doing it.

Our CIA is already training Syrian rebels in Jordan.  Now we will be overtly arming them as well.

I oppose U.S. military intervention.  Not because I’m a pacifist or believe the U.S. should never intervene in such situations.  There are times when military engagement is morally justified.

I believe the Assad regime is evil and should be overthrown.  But I’m not prepared to do this for the Syrians.  The reasons are obvious.  Look at what happened in Iraq.  We were going to overthrow Saddam and hand Iraqis democracy on a silver platter.  It didn’t’ work out that way.

I would not be opposed to some form of U.S. intervention, if the Syrian opposition had a unified political agenda and military command.  If it could demonstrate that it had surmounted the ethnic rivalries and religious hostilities, I would support a greater level of involvement.  Unfortunately, the leaders haven’t shown that level of maturity and stability.

Instead, some of the strongest fighters on their side have been the Al-Nusra Front, an extremist Sunni faction allied with Al Qaeda.  Those fighting units which are more secular or religiously moderate have not shown the cohesion or toughness of the extremists.

As a result, if we now play a definitive role in determining outcome, we risk bringing to power the forces that will be most hostile to democratic values and religious tolerance, ideas that will be necessary to rebuild society after the civil war ends.

Syrians have to take control of their destiny.  They have to determine who will govern them and what form that government will take.  I don’t have a problem with other regional forces taking a role in this.  Turkey, as a neighbor, is intimately connected to Syria, and stability there is critical for Turkey’s interests.  But the Turkish government so far has taken a measured approach that hasn’t enabled the rebels to decisively defeat Assad.  In addition, Turkey faces massive civil disruption of its own in the Taksim Square protests, that will likely occupy it for some time to come.

So if Syria’s Arab-Muslim neighbors can’t produce a coherent response to Assad who are we to do so?

The 800-Pound Gorillas

There are two other 800-pound gorillas in this conflict.  One is on stage and the other hovering just off stage.  Iran is Assad’s key ally.  It provides him with both the financing and weaponry to pursue the butchery until the end.  Without Assad, Iran’s support for Hezbollah would also be in jeopardy since weapons are transferred to Lebanon via Syrian territory.  Without a compliant Syria, Hezbollah could not aggressively confront Israel.  In this sense, the Lebanese militia serves Iran’s interests should Israel attack Iran, as Bibi Netanyahu has threatened to do multiple times.

Not to mention the Shia religious axis of Iran-Syria (Assad’s Alawites)-Hezbollah.  Religious solidarity plays a strong role in this conflict.  The longer the blood flows, the more divisive will this element become.  As we all know, benign conflicts can flare into raging conflagrations when religious hatreds are introduced.

Let’s not forget an important recent development in Iran: that a relative moderate, Hassan Rouhani, came from virtually nowhere to defeat seven candidates each more dour and conservative than the next and pledging fealty to the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei.  Rouhani is what in an American context might be called a hard-headed realist.  He puts Iran’s interests above all else, but realizes when is the proper moment to compromise.

Expecting Rouhani will be the Middle East’s Martin Luther King who will bring freedom to Iran and rid it of the clerical regime is foolish.  He is a product of this regime, albeit a pragmatic one.

That off-stage gorilla I just mentioned is Israel.  It has a deep and vested interest in Syria, which has been a frontline state going back to the 1948 War.

Israel conquered the Golan from Syria in 1967.  There are scores of Druze villages under Israeli control.  On the other side of the armistice line are Syrian Druze villages where Israel has sought to exercise influence.

Just last month, a FoxNews TV crew filmed an Israeli special forces unit returning from a foray inside Syria.  A confidential Israeli source with military background told me they had been engaged in liaising with those Syrian Druze villages.  There has been increasing hostility on the Syrian Golan border with Syrian army forces battling insurgents.

Israel wants to be sure that its Syrian Druze allies, many of whom oppose Assad, are protected.  Israel, as I said earlier, has already intervened militarily.  In January, an airstrike knocked out a weapons convoy headed to Lebanon, that was led by the leading Iranian Revolutionary Guard general in Syria.  He was killed.

But these interventions have been targeted until now and somewhat proportional.  Should matters deteriorate and chaos ensue in the Golan, Israel could intervene much more forcefully, perhaps even invade the country and occupy parts of it with Druze proxies.

That would be a disaster for everyone.  For the Syrians, because it would ensure Israel carved out a slice of Syrian territory as it did in South Lebanon with the connivance of its South Lebanese Army proxy.  Such a fragmenting of Syria would continue the process of disintegration inside the country.  It would add years to the healing process and rebuilding of the nation, just as the Lebanese civil war has taken decades to recover from.

It would be disastrous for Israel because it would cement its reputation as a meddlesome, aggressive and untrustworthy regional force.  Iran could use the excuse of Israeli intervention to ratchet up pressure and its own military posture inside Syria.  It could even escalate its nuclear program as a response.

The reason Israeli intervention in Syria is bad is the same reason the first Pres. Bush demanded that Israel not reply to Iraqi Scuds that hit Tel Aviv.  The fight against Saddam’s forces was hard enough without adding an Israeli wild card into the mix.

What does that leave us with?  I’m afraid there are no easy answers.  The conflict is fraught morally and politically.  Assad must go, but how to do it?  The process must be done carefully and judiciously.  But this need for caution means Syrians will continue to die.

The onus is on the Syrian opposition.  They must step up to the plate.  They must organize.  They must coalesce.  They must be worthy of assuming the mantle of leadership.  The last thing Syria needs is a repeat of the Saddam disaster in which a tyrant is violently overthrown and a vacuum allows the most intolerant, violent forces to come to power.

Though 100,000 Syrians have died thus far, millions have died in Iraq in the decade of fighting there.  Let that not be Syria’s fate.

I Have a Dream: Does Obama?

I don’t want to end my talk on such a down note.  So indulge me when I spin a dream of my own, to echo Martin Luther King’s famous words.  Let’s posit two leaders, Barack Obama and Hassan Rouhani who rise to the better angels of their natures.  Leaders who realize that the interests of each of their countries may be realized by a comprehensive settlement of all outstanding issues between them.  I’m not just talking about Iran’s nuclear program.  I’m talking about Iran’s intractable relationship with Israel and its support for Assad and Hezbollah.

My dream may be unlikely but humor me as I consider the following: Iran agrees to stop uranium enrichment beyond 20%.  It agrees to ship enriched material above that level to a neutral third country like Brazil or Turkey.  The U.S. and allies agree to end sanctions and offer full recognition and trade relations with Iran.

Let’s not stop there: Iran persuades Assad to step down and he is replaced by a caretaker government appointed with the agreement of Turkey and Iran.  Elections will be held within a specified time frame for a democratically elected government.  Power will be shared among the various ethnic groups.

Iran also agrees to stop arming Hezbollah in return for U.S. pressure on Israel to settle all outstanding issues between both Lebanon and Syria.  The Golan is returned to Syria.  Lebanese territory is returned and prisoners are freed.  Israel and Syria recognize each other for the first time.

Now, let’s turn to the Palestinians: that’s the thorny part.  The U.S. would have to force Israel to agree to a settlement that would involve withdrawal to 1967 borders, recognition of a Palestinian state sharing Jerusalem as its capital, and return of refugees.

What would Israel get?  It would get the U.S. and United Nations acting as guarantors of the peace.  The Saudi peace initiative would be sealed and Arab states would end their hostilities with Israel.

I know it sounds crazy.  But remember that day in Reykjavik when Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan came within a whisker of nuclear disarmament?  Yes, it didn’t work.  But within a few years the Soviet Union collapsed, bringing an end of the Cold War and decades of Mutually Assured Destruction.  It fundamentally realigned the world.  While it didn’t end conflicts, it did substantially reduce the chance of nuclear war.

What my dream requires is two key leaders (and perhaps others as well) who rise to the occasion.  Leaders who foresee a Grand Plan to resolve some of the worst, most intractable conflicts in the region for the sake of all the peoples of the region.

Think Abraham Lincoln at the end of the Civil War contemplating the reintegration of the Confederate states into the Union.  Think Eleanor Roosevelt addressing the first meeting of the United Nations in 1946 in San Francisco.  Think Nelson Mandela as he left decades of imprisonment on Robben Island and prepared to dismantle apartheid with the help of his former mortal enemy, F.W. deKlerk.

Do Obama and Rouhani have it in them?  Probably not.  I’m not foolish enough to believe that they really do.  They may be such creatures of their respective systems that they can’t break out of them to seize such an opportunity.  But wouldn’t it be grand to think what they could do if they appealed to the better angels of their nature; instead of the nattering our respective countries have been engaged in since 1979?  I have such a dream.  I hope they do too.

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{ 51 comments… add one }
  • Damien Flinter June 29, 2013, 2:46 AM

    I’m afraid the dream omits a couple of points and makes a few common presumptions about the evil Assad and benign US, Richard.
    Even if Obama rose to the visionary stature of his initial campaign and found his cojones the internal military/industrial complex coup initiated during WWII and warned of by Eisenhower is cemented home since the Cheyney/Bush(senior through junior puppet)finalising…he would meet his Dallas if he tried seriously to thwart their full spectrum totalitarian corporate agenda.
    The piece also seems more sanguine than usual regarding Bibi&Co. and less pragmatic regarding Iran which has a genuine defensive motive to weaponise its nuclear industry due to the Dimona introduction of this infernal technology into the region.
    Wishful thinking only obscures this increasingly volatile and malign mess. Assad, or the Teheran regime, are no more ‘evil’ than Netanyahu or the Strangelovians behind Obama. With all due respect, I think you display traces of the very attitudes you regularly condemn Tel Aviv for..that automatic ‘white man’s burden’ assumption of a moral superiority over the lesser races. Correct me if I wrong you, but I suggest you reread the piece yourself first.

    • Richard Silverstein June 29, 2013, 1:10 PM

      @Damien Flinter: I never made any judgments about the relative morality of any of the parties (except the rebels and Assad, who I condemned in proportion to their relative evils). As for “white man’s burden,” I have no idea what you’re talking about. As for Iran, the proposals I mentioned about its nuclear program are ones it’s already agreed to in past negotiations.

      • clarification June 29, 2013, 3:59 PM

        RS: “I never made any judgements …”

        Yes you did Richard – “the Syrian people rose up …”. How many Syrian people? And what would the majority of Syrians want?

        http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/jan/17/syrians-support-assad-western-propaganda

        • Richard Silverstein June 29, 2013, 6:27 PM

          Sorry, the vast majority of Syrians opposed the regime when the Revolution began, no matter how much that upsets you.

          • Bob Mann June 29, 2013, 7:38 PM

            This article may be of interest with respect to the poll from The Guardian mentioned by the reader above.

            Do 55% of Syrians really want President Assad to stay?

            Excerpts:

            When the BBC checked with YouGov Siraj for the exact breakdown, the company said that in fact there were 98 respondents from Syria (the difference arising from the fact that averages given in the survey report were rounded).

            This is a very low sample according to the managing director of survey company ORB, Johnny Heald, who has been carrying out polls in the Middle East for many years.

            “It is not good to say that 55% of Syrians, for example, think that Assad should stay when only 97 people were asked that question.”

            But he has another criticism – according to UN figures, only 18% of people in Syria have access to the internet, which means that the sample polled is biased towards those who can get online.

            http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-17155349

          • Richard Silverstein June 29, 2013, 8:16 PM

            @Bob Mann: Thanks for that, Bob. Your final sentence also indicates a poll bias favoring those with internet access in Syria, which means those who are wealthy & support the regime since they are the ones who generally have internet access. Poor Sunni, Shiites or Christians neither have access to the internet nor, generally, support Assad.

            This all goes to prove my old adage that you have to examine polls closely before you grant them credibility.

            @Clarification may want to temper his claims, but I doubt he will since he knows what he knows & disregards the rest.

            But man, 55% of 98 Syrians reached by internet say Assad should remain their dictator because they fear civil war would be worse. That’s persuasive!

          • clarification June 29, 2013, 10:54 PM

            Saying something does not make it so. Please provide evidence. Here’s an admittedly more recent report.

            http://www.voltairenet.org/article178779.html

            And note this – while not evidence of support by Syrians it represents a very different US take on Assad from two years ago.

            http://cnsnews.com/news/article/syrian-president-assad-regarded-reformer-clinton-says

            No-one is doubting that Assad has indulged in some fairly brutal treatment of some minorities but I would like some evidence for your statement that “the Syrian people rose up”.

          • Richard Silverstein June 30, 2013, 2:59 AM

            @Clarification: You don’t accept that people in towns & cities throughout Syria rose up against him & demonstrated in their hundreds of thousands against him & faced tanks & missiles to do so? Do you think those images of teeming crowds in town squares throughout the country were staged?

      • Damien Flinter June 30, 2013, 3:18 AM

        I’m surprised you’re not familiar with the concept of the ‘white man’s burden’…the imperial and imperious automatic presumption of moral and civilisational superiority licencing its bearer to criticise and correct the failings of the inferior recipient of their beneficence while retaining an immunity to critical feedback. Beams and motes, pots and kettles. The ‘West’ and its ‘civilising mission’ mirrored in the generality of us all to more readily see the faults of others, and those ‘othered’, rather than our own individual and culturally collective blind-spots. I felt on reading the above piece that you granted the US and Israel that licence by your leniency towards both relative to the regimes in question. It is simply my expressed opinion. The piece reads as though it had less of your usual reflective impartiality..perhaps due to pressures of time. My own opinion, for what it is worth, is that the US/Israel/EU/Nato warrior jihad/crusade is the more dangerous threat to the planet and the maintenance of our shredding veneer of civilisation. The Islamic terror is more blowback from western imperial resumption of the 19th century Great Game, now that the Cold War stalemate has broken favourably for WASP full spectrum dominance of a sunset-free imperium. Being Irish I have a certain awareness of the price of such imperial hubris on its recipients…hence my scepticism about the often vaunted ‘British Justice’ which bestowed the Balfour deed, and my seeing of parallels between Elizabethan plantations and Zionist settlements. Our Ulster Unionists carry the same ‘burden’ to civilise us savage paddies. I hope that clarifies .

        • Deïr Yassin June 30, 2013, 7:08 AM

          “The White Man’s Burden” comes from a poem by Rudyard Kipling by the same name:
          http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/kipling.asp
          I’ve read Richard’s blog for years now and though we don’t agree on everything, I’ve never felt that he’s been suffering from ‘the White Man’s Burden’.

          • Damien Flinter June 30, 2013, 10:52 AM

            If you read what I wrote, Deir, you’ll find I’m in agreement…but, as the cliche has it, ‘Homer nods..’…we all have our lapses and blind spots..that is precisely the justification of democratic dialogue over all our fallibilities.
            It is imperative not only that we have the gumption to criticise each other, but that we retain the capacity to accept honest feedback without reactive defensiveness.
            This becomes all the more imperative the closer we are generally to having unanimity of opinion. Dissent is the leaven of progress. Consensus has its trapdoors. The centrality of honesty and good will cannot be overemphasised. I hope that makes sense.
            I am not giving feedback out of any personal rancour; I am simply trying to alert the educated and informed and concerned to the pitfalls of our cultural certitudes and received unquestioned wisdom. I hope I am receptive to feedback on my own misreadings, overstatements, prejudices and limitations; the day I am not is the day I stop learning. The day I stop learning is the day I have succumbed to neural ‘death in life’, to borrow from Coleridge.

  • dickerson3870 June 29, 2013, 3:24 AM

    RE: “What would Israel get [out of a comprehensive peace settlement]? It would get the U.S. and United Nations acting as guarantors of the peace. The Saudi peace initiative would be sealed and Arab states would end their hostilities with Israel.” ~ R.S.

    MY COMMENT: Unfortunately, peace (i.e., an end to hostilities) is the last thing Likudnik Israel is interested in. It runs entirely counter to the “iron wall” strategy of Revisionist Zionism.

    SEE: “Israel’s Defense Chief OK’s Hundreds of Israeli Deaths”, By Ira Chernus, CommonDreams.org, 11/11/11

    [EXCERPT] . . . An essential motive of Zionism from its beginning was a fierce desire to end the centuries of Jewish weakness, to show the world that Jews would no longer be pushed around, that they’d fight back and prove themselves tougher than their enemies. There was more to Zionism than that. But the “pride through strength” piece came to dominate the whole project. Hence the massive Israeli military machine with its nuclear arsenal.
    But you can’t prove that you’re stronger than your enemies unless you’ve also got enemies — or at least believe you’ve got enemies — to fight against. So there has to be a myth of Israel’s insecurity, fueled by an image of vicious anti-semites lurking somewhere out there, for Zionism to work. Since the 1979 Iranian revolution, Iran has gradually risen to the top of Israel oh-so-necessary enemies list. Iranophobia is rampant in Israel, as one Israeli scholar writes, because “Israel needs an existential threat.”
    Anyone who has grown up in Israel, or in the U.S. Jewish community (as I did), and paid attention knows all this. . .

    ENTIRE COMMENTARY – http://www.commondreams.org/view/2011/11/11-2

    P.S. ALSO SEE – “Iranophobia: The Panic of the Hegemons”, by Ira Chernus, Tikkun Magazine, November/December 2010
    LINK – http://www.tikkun.org/nextgen/iranophobia-the-panic-of-the-hegemons-3

  • Down with closet zionists June 29, 2013, 8:33 AM

    You can fool NO ONE except yourslef, a mossad agent, and your gullible readers with your fucking ‘humanitarian efforts”. What you all can do FUCK OFF FROM SYRIA closet zionistds!!!

  • Siusaidh June 29, 2013, 9:08 AM

    Thank you, Damien, for having written much of what I have come to understand.

    The superpower has been involved in this horror in Syria from the start – what do people think those many thousands of special forces personnel do with their time? How much more clear does it need to be made that the intent is to smash up Iran not only for its resources and influence in the region, but to encroach further against both Russia and China? How much more obvious does it need to be made that Al-Qaeda – call it Al-CIAda, led by assets, followed by dupes – exists for this purpose?

    While we look today at the Middle East, I suggest people start paying more attention to central Asia as the under-belly of both large countries that block the US from the domination that Damien identiies as the objection of the real deciders, as opposed to the figureheads, in what we loosely call ‘the West’.

  • Nimrod June 30, 2013, 12:21 AM

    @Richard: One small correction for you,
    The FoxNews TV crew did not film an Israeli special forces unit returning from a foray inside Syria. Yes, that’s what the reported said but he was mistaken. The footage showed the soldiers walking next the the fence, mistaken it for the border line.
    My guess is that they were operating east the patrol road’s fence (the one which was shown in the footage), but west to the actual border – it’s a pretty common activity on all of Israel’s border lines.
    I’m sure that some special IDF units do operate on Syrian, but that was not one of those cases.

    • Richard Silverstein June 30, 2013, 2:56 AM

      My own Israeli source confirmed that there are special forces units operating inside Syria. He confirmed in general terms what they’re doing inside Syria.

      As far as I understood, he confirmed that this unit filmed by FoxNews was one of those. Further, even if you’re right & the filmed sequence was inside Israel & not Syria, we don’t know what the unit was doing before it was filmed, nor where it had just come from.

      But it doesn’t make much different to me whether this particular unit was inside Syria or whether other units are. The facts are still the same.

      • Nimrod June 30, 2013, 3:06 AM

        @Richard:
        You are right – we don’t know what the unit was doing before it was filmed, nor where it had just come from.
        Sorry for nitpicking, but I highly doubt that a special forces unit would return in daylight, on foot, exposed on open ground after crossing the Syrian border. “Special” units do not operate this way.
        If your source could name the unit itself, it could be checked. To me, it seems like a regular infantry squad on some regular activity, and the reporter couldn’t tell the difference between the security fence to the actual border with Syria (which could be dozens to more than a hundred of meters to the east).

  • Noam June 30, 2013, 4:26 AM

    @ Richard,
    “The fight against Saddam’s forces was hard enough without adding an Israeli wild card into the mix.”

    the gulf war was one of the most one sided wars in human history. look at the casualties numbers – 100 times if not more Iraqi casualties (there are no official reports on Iraqi casualties) than the coalition’s . the reason Saddam bombed tel aviv was to force Israel into the war and by that to dis-mental the coalition – no Arab country would agree to fight along side Israel. the US wanted to establish itself as the only super power in the middle east (and the world), take over the countries that was once soviet oriented, after the soviet union had fallen – so they told Israel to stand down.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gulf_War

    • Richard Silverstein July 1, 2013, 2:44 AM

      @Noam: The U.S. wanted to “take over” Afghanistan? What are you smokin’?

      • Noam July 1, 2013, 3:34 AM

        @ Richard, perhaps my English is a bit lacking. i didn’t mean “take over” as to conquer and control. what i meant is that the US wanted the Arab nations that were allies of the soviet union to join “their side”. and as the only super power most of the Arab nation did – that would guarantee help in the future with arms and funds. if Israel had joined the war the Arab leaders at the time would be portrayed as traitors for fighting along side Israel and would be forced to quit the coalition – and the US would be shown as a supporter of Israel thus limiting it’s influence in these countries (nowadays it’s not rare to see demonstrations in the Arab world burning the Israeli and the US flags together).
        that’s why it was in the interest of all sides that Israel stayed out of the gulf war and Saddam’s interest to force them to enter – the war itself was not the issue the US would have destroyed Iraq with or without the Arab coalition.

        • Damien Flinter July 1, 2013, 3:57 AM

          For insights into the motivation to occupy Afghanistan I recommend William Dalrymple’s recent ‘Return of a King’ analysis of the parallels between Britannia’s blinkered stumblings to block the perceived ambitions of Moscow in the 19th century. Plus ca change…

  • Blabbaer June 30, 2013, 5:37 AM

    I believe that Richard shows a selective blindness in this. He is silent on the depth of the US participation in fomenting the uprising and arming it through its proxies Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The CIA gets one line and I don’t believe Saudi Arabia gets a mention at all. I agree with correspondent Flinter, Richard’s usual commendable impartiality is sadly missing in this piece. Where are the documented reports of the rebels using sarin, etc. Assad’s government is evil but how many sovereign states has it attacked compared with the US? The same adjectives Richard uses to the describe Syrian regime could be used to describe the Saudi and Qatar regimes (and Bahrain, Jordan, etc) Where are the civil protests there?
    Sorry, Richard, but this piece is off your usual high standard.

    • Dana June 30, 2013, 12:20 PM

      Blabbaer, good points and ones I’ve made before several times. To understand the true dimensions of the so-called Syrian “uprising” against Assad one needs to look at who is exactly behind the current attempts to destroy Syria. Any campaign where one finds oneself on the same side as those corrupt monarchs of the gulf, whose ideas of democracy seem to be confined to the democracy among feudal, ultra-tribal, reactionary despots (ie, whose son’s turn is it?) , should be looked at with askance.

      US/Qatar/SA were ready more than two years ago at the first hints of dissatisfaction with the regime. Assad made the mistake of over-reacting to the demonstrations (which were NEVER all that large or wide-spread, no matter what the PR is) something that Russia has even stated. But then, perhaps there were those in the Syrian government who knew who and what was behind the attempt to institute yet another ‘velvet” revolution? and in what universe were the Syrian suppression efforts worse than what we saw in Bahrain? or in Yemen?

      That’s what I keep asking – where are the calls for democratic regime in Bahrain and Yemen?where is the flow of foreign jihadi mercenaries into those countries? where are the CIA training camps? if they are not so visible , perhaps there’s a reason.

      The entire effort to destroy Syria from within (using some totally unbelievable ‘reform” notions that play well in certain western left circles, coupled with an activation of the “exile” Chalabbi-like western denizens) smacks of a calculated attempt to destabilize the “Shite crescent” – an Israel/neocon favorite scenario. It looks like a “civil” war because Qatar, Saudi Arabia and turkey made it so. recently though, Turkey, suffering some popular uprisings itself, has now pulled well back from the brink, leaving just the Sunni monarchies, with Uncle sam and israel in the shadows behind.

      In any case, regardless of what exactly went on in Syria two years ago, the popular opinion by real Syrians (not the “exiles”) seems to have swung firmly in Assad’s direction. that, having gotten a taste of just who exactly those oh-so-democratic “rebels” are. Hence the resent string of victories by the SAA. Those towns are falling away from the “rebel” mercenaries’ grasp partly because the people are not on their side, having seen what they are made of, and it sure isn’t tasty.

      • Richard Silverstein July 1, 2013, 2:37 AM

        @Dana: Who’s behind the “attempts to destroy Syria?” Try Bashar al Assad. He’s Enemy No. 1. You talk about “corrupt monarchs” without acknowledging Assad and his family are as corrupt as they come.

        I don’t mind people who disagree with me. But your blind spot is as big as entire car. Saying Assad “overreacted” is laughable. He’s a butcher and you talk about “overreaction.”

        Opposition “wasn’t widespread” except the hundreds of thousands who took to the town squares in the days before Assad’s troops butchered them in the streets.

        You also forget that there have been movements for reform in Bahrain & Yemen. They failed unfortunately. But they existed & still exist. Did you forget this?

        The “effort to destroy Syria from within” is one concocted by Syria’s most destructive citizen and his family of thieves & killers.

        Popular opinion “seems to have swung firmly in Assad’s direction?” Says who? And what is your evidence? That Assad’s 4,000 Hezbollah street fighters took Qusayr?

        I’m going to exercise the same rule I do with others. You will not express claims and opinions without offering supporting evidence from crecible source. I’m not going to allow the commment threads of this blog to be inundated by pro-Assad propaganda. If that’s your goal or need you’re going to have to do it elsewhere.

        Regardless of the positive role you’ve played in the comment threads here in the past, if you want to go off the deep end in support of a brutal dictator, you’re going to have to do that elsewhere. That being said, if you have credible support for claims you make you may offer evidence. But you’re done with opinions & vague, unsupported claims.

        • Dana July 1, 2013, 1:49 PM

          Richard, I’ll take your advise and refrain from commenting on the Syria situation on your blog. It is your right to set limits for commenters here and i understand if it isn’t your desire to provide a forum for raucuous disputes and diverging perceptions on the geopolitical realities in the Middle East.

          If there is anything i learnt about debating anything that touches the middle east, it’s that no matter what links and/or evidence I – or anyone else – will provide to support their contention(s), they will be disputed, their veracity of source questioned and counter-links offered as rebuttal by those on the other side of the argument. So those kind of arguments tend to stretch ad infinitum, and there are other forums that cater to those who wish to carry on such discussions. Indeed, no reason you should offer your blog as venue for those, especially given the fact these can become a major time sink.

          • Richard Silverstein July 1, 2013, 6:41 PM

            I don’t so much mind commenting on Syria as doing so without offering proof, evidence or credible reporting to back up opinions. Further, it would be nice to also acknowledge both sides are evil & not just do so parenthetically.

          • Donald July 2, 2013, 8:27 AM

            In my opinion, one of the best sources on Syria is Patrick Cockburn at the Independent. And yes, both sides are evil, with a lot of innocent people caught in the middle or else siding with one faction out of a greater fear of the other faction.

            Robert Worth’s long piece in the NYT Sunday Magazine in the June 23 issue was also very good.

      • Damien Flinter July 1, 2013, 3:29 AM

        That pretty well fits my understanding..its the same mobilise-the-death-squads for fascist ‘democratic moderates’ that Latin America has been assaulted with to counter the slightest threat to imperial Washington’s diktat. For al CIAda substitute Contra and the programs mesh.
        The tendency towards inclusive solidarity in many Islamic societies seems to be a danger to the uber-competitive ‘creative-destruction’ at the heart of western war economics, which has been gathering momentum and sophistication over centuries, and is currently full spectrum dominant under the economic theolgy of neoliberalism’s ‘invisible hand’ of their ‘free’ market; free only to those with corporate media totalitarian control to such an extent that here in Ireland we get more coverage of Turkish or Brazilian or Syrian protests(often manufactured)than we do of our own anti-austerity(strictly for the suppressed and disemployed) protesters who are airbrushed away. Since the west need no longer keep up its facade of social inclusion to compete with soviet medical, educational and employment systems its full steam ahead for planet sweatshop…by a dictatorial corporatariat disconnected from any national base, except where it suits its long globalised ends, and behind a screen of lobby-fodder professional misrepresentatives masquerading as democratic. Ultimately Israel will be sacrificed as disposably as the US rust-belt. Romney economics has no loyalties other than to ‘the game’ and its aristocracy of capitalist ‘players’, an expedient and Machiavellian loyalty that will indeed devour itself. The Israeli people may just waken to the irony of their ‘chosen’ sacrificial role in time to realise just what is they have chosen in their self-hypnotic tribal exclusivity.

        I see it in terms of arrested development; locked at a pre-human hominid animality magnified even beyond healthy animal natural appetites by our perverted capability to refine even our vices through scientific leverage until we stumble back into the cycle of destruction unleashed twice in the last century, and apparently rolling back down the Sisyphean slope at accelerating pace. The Pentagonian Strangelove wargamers see Moscow, and its vast resource-fat hinterland, as a third-time-lucky challenge to their martial machismo war-worship. Its hardly a healthy prognosis when the hopes of ameliorating this western collective psychosis is the oligarchic Russia coupled to state corporate capitalist China. Einstein’s predicted WW VI being fought with sticks and stones seems increasingly likely. When our modern truth-tellers, Saro-Wiwa, Vanunu, Assange, Manning, Snowden are demonised as traitors for exposing the megalomanic lunacy, and 90% of our populations somnambulate on, optimism is no option.
        I’d love to be corrected but as somebody once said :–
        ‘ Nietzche is dead, and God is still alive and well; but working on a less ambitious project. Elsewhere.’

        • Dana July 1, 2013, 1:34 PM

          damien, looks like you have been reading Cloud Atlas. good book, BTW, if you haven’t.

          • Damien Flinter July 1, 2013, 1:46 PM

            A few years agao, Dana…not sure where you’re making the connection, but I agree on your assessment.. …excellent piece of imaginative juggling….but I hope I’m keeping one toe to Earth.
            Currently reading of the 19-20th century French brutality in Algeria…another colonial chapter with echoes of Irish plantations, Native American reservations, and Zionist settlements…there are patterns…and mindset patterns.

    • Richard Silverstein July 1, 2013, 2:43 AM

      He is silent on the depth of the US participation in fomenting the uprising and arming it through its proxies Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

      Did you even read what I wrote? You couldn’t possibly have done so. In fact, I mentioned all parties to the conflict & noted their roles. I don’t believe Saudi Arabia’s role is as large as Qatar’s & Turkey’s so I didn’t mention it.

      If you have evidence of CIA participation offer it. But I’m not prepared to entertain conspiracy theories. My world is fact-based. So is my blog.

      I’m not impartial. Never said I was. I’m partial to truth & justice & facts.

      For every “documented” report of chemical weapons by the rebels there are equally credible reports of use by the government. This isn’t a one-sided game we’re playing here. Neither side are choir boys. But the overwhelming level of brutality is on the government’s side.

      BTW, has Saudi Arabia or Qatar killed 100,000 of their own citizens & created nearly 2 million refugees? I didn’t think so.

      As for being “off my usual standard,” I beg to differ. I’m proud of it and stand by it fully.

      • Donald July 2, 2013, 8:34 AM

        ” But the overwhelming level of brutality is on the government’s side.”

        I’ve seen that claim, but I’m not sure what their evidence is. Both sides are very brutal–when it comes to numbers I think you’d have to know the full extent of the civilian casualties and we don’t. The government has a monopoly on heavy weapons, but even a US official (in the context of a discussion of no-fly zones) said that only about 10 percent of the deaths could be attributed to air strikes. Of course I don’t know that number is right either.

        As Patrick Cockburn has said (in an early June interview on “Democracy Now”), the Western press often relies very heavily on Youtube films and bloggers. Cockburn thinks the reporting is some of the worst he’s ever seen, based on the differences between what he has seen firsthand and what he reads.

        The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights recently released a figure of 93,000 deaths and if you look at their breakdown you can see it doesn’t make much sense. I’ll go find a link and come back.

        • Donald July 2, 2013, 8:49 AM

          Back with some links.

          http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/foreign-media-portrayals-of-the-conflict-in-syria-are-dangerously-inaccurate-8679937.html

          http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/27/world/middleeast/syria.html

          I went to the Facebook page linked by the article above and found this breakdown–

          The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has documented 100,191 casualties since the beginning of the uprisings in 18/3/2011, from the first casualty in Dera’a, up till 24/06/2013.

          The dead include:

          36,661 civilians (including 5,144 children and 3,330 women aged above 18 years).

          13,539 rebel fighters.

          2,015 defected soldiers and officers.

          25,407 regular soldiers.

          2,571 unidentified casualties (documented with pictures and footages).

          2,518 unidentified and non-Syrian rebel fighters (most of which are non-Syrians).

          17,311 combatants from the popular defence committees, national defence forces, shabiha, and pro regime informers.

          169 fighters from the Lebanese Hezbollah.

          The death toll does not include more than 10,000 detainees and missing persons inside of regime prisons, nor does it include more than 2,500 regular soldiers and pro regime militants held captive by rebel fighters. We also estimate that the real number of casaulties from regular forces and rebel fighters is twice the number documented, because both sides are discreet about the human losses resulting from clashes.
          ——————————————————————-

          Okay, here’s my point–those numbers don’t make sense as they stand. The far more heavily armed Syrian government forces, the people with tanks and artillery and airplanes, lost 25,000, while the rebels, foreign and domestic, lost about 16,000. And then the pro-government militia loses another 17,000. My guess is that a lot of those “militia” or “informant” deaths are just people picked up by the rebels and executed on suspicion. And maybe some of those “soldiers” weren’t really soldiers.

          Anyway, when you have those kinds of figures tossed out and this is what we have to rely on what it tells you is this–we don’t know for sure what’s going on, beyond the fact that a very large number of people are dying.

          • Richard Silverstein July 2, 2013, 8:11 PM

            The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has a clear anti-regime bias. While some of their figures (perhaps the overall 100,000 dead figure) may be correct. Much else may not be.

        • Damien Flinter July 2, 2013, 8:52 AM

          Assad has learned from Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya that there is no dialoguing with the full spectrum Nato proxy reconfiguration to ensure USroil controls the region unchallenged…he realises he either pulls no punches and returns the serve, or gets the Gadafi dagger in the arse…he knows its a total war of elimination.
          Nothing to lose leads to no holds barred.
          And the Syrian people can hardly relish the swap for the devil they can see replacing the Saddam monstrosity next door.
          I figure GHB and Cheyney still have more clout than Obama ever could…the Pentagonian coup is permanent. Thats why whistleblowing is treason. The lie must not be deviated from.

        • donald July 2, 2013, 8:55 AM

          And here’s the Robert Worth piece I recommended.

          http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/23/magazine/the-price-of-loyalty-in-syria.html?pagewanted=all

          It’s also worthwhile googling Patrick Cockburn and Syria and reading a lot of his stuff.

  • cerebrex June 30, 2013, 2:08 PM

    This is not Iraq, the mistakes Iraq are too many to talk about here.
    The only power that has the ability to flip the current war of attrition going on in Syria and the region is actually, Israel. The question is however, does Israel really care to change the equations? The answer is not easy but the dream in my opinion should go like this: the Palestinian-Israeli conflict (the key to all the lucked doors in the Middle East if used correctly) ends with the establishment of a Palestinian state that acknowledges Israel. Meanwhile Israel meets with the Syrian opposition showing support to the outgunned rebels that were dwarfed by Iran’s supply and they now are giants. The scale is tipped in favor of the “revolution”. Next: Assad is gone, Hezbolla is gone, Iran’s cord is severed, Russia and China are kept suppressed by the USA and a new Syrian democracy is created. Syria shakes hands with Israel; Lebanon has absolutely no reason not to do the same, next comes Jordan, Egypt (already done it but superficially) and the rest of the Arab world. The intellectuals of the Arab/Islamic worlds focus on the teachings of the closeness between the Arabs and the Jews and on importance of co-existence, so do the same on the Jewish side. Everyone is happy and there is a good economy and a Middle Eastern or a Levant Union, Israel part of it and a soccer tournament is played regularly with Israel having an active team. Will this happen? Probably not! If not, what are the consequences? We are in those already up to our ears. So, were did the dream start? Israel stops the settlements and the PA says: we acknowledge the right of the state of Israel as the Jewish state. They figure out the capitol, split Jerusalem in half, they all will love each other anyway!
    Dream on.. this may happen one day.

    • Richard Silverstein July 1, 2013, 2:28 AM

      THis is so Israel-centric it’s both bizarre & characteristically full of Israeli self-regard. Israelis have this belief the entire Middle East revolves around them. Indeed, almost the entire world. NOthing can happen without Israel enabling it to. It’s touching, if it weren’t so grandiose.

      I did like the soccer tournament especially. That’s important. Don’t forget that. Maybe the flag of your “Levant Union” can be a soccer ball?!

      • Noam July 1, 2013, 12:24 PM

        @ Richard, funny but it seems to me that the most of the arab world is trying to put the blame for their internal problems on israel or the zionist regim or some other form of zionist forces infiltrating their countries. why deal with the real horrible things you’ve done to your people when you can blame someone else for it? or even sometimes use Israel to justify what you have done…

        another example:
        As of 2010, Israel had been condemned in 32 resolutions by the United Nations Human Rights Council since its creation in 2006. The 32 resolutions comprised 48.1% of all country-specific resolutions passed by the Council.

        so in many aspects the world does revolves around us – sometimes us without even knowing about it.

        • Damien Flinter July 1, 2013, 1:50 PM

          ‘..most of the Arab world..’, Noam???

          My, what big EARS you have.

        • Richard Silverstein July 1, 2013, 6:44 PM

          Such nonsense. There is plenty to blame Israel for in its relations with the Arab world. If they blame Israel for something, they probably have good reason.

          This sort of stupid comment is hasbara filler. Not serious, not substantive. And published here scores of times before. If you want to publish hasbara, make it original. If not, you will bore me & others here to death & become old & stale quite quickly.

          Consider yrself warned. I have little to no patience with such drivel.

          • Noam July 2, 2013, 1:28 PM

            @ Richard and Damien
            you are both fooling yourselves if you think these sort of behaviour isn’t going on… most of the links i’ve shown were from the same sites you richard get your info.
            and the next link i’d put is your most recent thread ‘Israel and Arab Spring’. you can see there exactly the type of idiotic and out of touch blame of israel for the barbaric behaviour of the syrians forces on both sides.

            “If they blame Israel for something, they probably have good reason.”
            than i guess that if the Yemen leader is blaming israel for the arab spring he is right.

            “NOthing can happen without Israel enabling it to. It’s touching, if it weren’t so grandiose.”
            i’m sorry richard but you live in world with many inner conflicts you need to resolve. these two sentences can’t co-exist. israel is enabling or not? do the arab leaders always tell the truth to their people and never spread lies just to divert the anger and critic away from them?

  • Noam July 1, 2013, 2:22 PM

    well not big ears but just the ability to read…

    assad regim:
    “http://www.timesofisrael.com/syrian-opposition-leader-asks-international-community-for-weapons/”

    nassrallah:
    “http://www.yourish.com/2009/05/22/7597″

    turkey:
    “http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/senior-turkey-official-says-israel-behind-wikileaks-release-1.328373″
    “http://www.jpost.com/Middle-East/Erdogan-pokes-at-Israel-in-reaction-to-protests-316480″
    “http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4392414,00.html”

    yemen:
    “http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/yemen-president-unrest-in-arab-world-is-pro-zionist-conspiracy-1.346469″

    Gaddafi:
    “http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3770025,00.html”
    “http://www.haaretz.com/news/gaddafi-israel-not-sudan-to-blame-for-crisis-in-darfur-1.270859″

    ahmadinejad (not arab but still)
    “http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3369992,00.html”
    there are many here so i’ll spare you.

    anyway i can continue on and on by i’ve got to start studying for a test tomorrow. wish me luck…

    • Richard Silverstein July 1, 2013, 6:39 PM

      @Noam: Way, way off-topic. I detest this sort of list of incendiary alleged anti-Israel Arab propaganda media list meant to prove whatever your prejudices happen to be. Whenever someone does what you’ve done, my antennae go way way up. So if you want to remain as a commenter here don’t do this again.

      Next, you’ve quote 2 of the worst pro Israel shmatehs known to Jew or man, Yourish & Times of Israel. Don’t do that again. I don’t allow foul publications which have lied shamefacedly about me to be linked here.

      Don’t break the comment rules again.

    • Damien Flinter July 2, 2013, 2:11 AM

      You just failed the perception test…my reference to your big EARS was your extraordinary capacity to encapsulate ‘..most of the Arab world..’ in your audition.
      The follow up is just an attempted blizzard of probably further tendentious blather. You’ve already blown your biased cover, whatever the detail to elabourate your scattergun racist smear tactic.

      GOOD LUCK.

      Cerebrex blows his cover with his reference to his ‘Jewish state’…unless he can get back and justify such a tribal/racist sectarian entity.

  • Blabbaer July 1, 2013, 5:48 PM

    Not sure whether it is kosher to quote others, but this is the start of a recent piece by Patrick Cockburn (another Irishman). Pretty much parallels my take on reporting out of Syria.
    “Every time I come to Syria I am struck by how different the situation is on the ground from the way it is pictured in the outside world. The foreign media reporting of the Syrian conflict is surely as inaccurate and misleading as anything we have seen since the start of the First World War. I can’t think of any other war or crisis I have covered in which propagandistic, biased or second-hand sources have been so readily accepted by journalists as providers of objective facts.”

  • Noam July 2, 2013, 2:25 PM

    @richard, after re-reading my last post i need to clarify that i ment the comments made by some commentators on your last thread as ” the type of idiotic and out of touch blame of israel for the barbaric behaviour of the syrians forces on both sides.”

  • jg July 21, 2013, 10:07 AM

    Brave, adorable little girl. She cannot grasp the enormity of what has happened, being so tiny.
    People talk of caring about children. They don’t think of them, when they are bombing, shooting at one another.
    All the guns and violent incursions into human existence worldwide are a bane to society.
    ( I think, and hope that is the right word) but violence has always existed among humans,” civilized” as some say we are.

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