Back in October I wrote a post in which I discussed diplomatic manoeuvres in the Security Council concerning Syria and said that they showed that there is a definite agenda for regime change involving external military action in that country. Here is a link that post.
In that post I predicted that the defeat of the western powers in the Security Council in October did not mean that the agenda for regime change in Syria had been abandoned. Recent events confirm this.
Since the Security Council meeting in October the focus has switched to the Arab League. This is the regional organisation to which Syria belongs and of which it is a founding member. Importantly none of the BRICS states that blocked the Resolution drafted by the western powers in the Security Council is a member of the Arab League. The Arab League is instead dominated by Saudi Arabia and its allies in the Gulf notably Qatar.
Both Qatar and Saudi Arabia are close allies of the US. Qatar hosts a large US military base and the relations of its ruling family to the US are traditionally close. Qatar and Saudi Arabia both control the Arab world’s two biggest satellite television stations, Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya, which have in recent years displaced the newspapers of Beirut and Cairo as the main source of Arab news. Qatar and Saudi Arabia are also key aid providers to poorer Arab states such as Egypt, Sudan and Oman, which can therefore be relied upon to follow their lead. As conservative Sunni Arab monarchies they are the deadly enemies of the radical Shiite republic in Iran and their hostility to Iran’s main Arab ally Syria is something that can therefore be taken for granted.
The Arab League played a crucial role in providing a cover of legitimacy to the western attack on Libya. In the light of its domination by Saudi Arabia and Qatar, who can be relied upon to follow a pro US and anti Syrian line, it was therefore entirely unsurprising that following the events in the Security Council in October attention should have switched to it.
So far events have followed the prescribed course. A meeting of the Arab League was called, which Syria attended. A peace plan was agreed with Syria’s agreement. This called for an end to the violence, the opening of a dialogue between the Syrian government and the protesters, the release of prisoners and an Arab League mission to be sent to Syria to monitor the implementation of the agreement and to assist in the dialogue.
Though reliable evidence about the situation in Syria is impossible to come by it seems that in the weeks before the Arab League meeting the protests and the violence were starting to die down. News reports of the protests though deriving entirely from the opposition and therefore unreliable suggested a significant fall off in the number of people being killed as compared with the situation at the start of the violence a few months ago. There is some evidence that resistance to the regime is now largely confined to a few places, notably Homs and some border areas.
Exactly as might have been predicted, the announcement of the peace plan was followed by a flood of reports in the western press speaking of an escalation in the violence. It is impossible to say whether these reports are true. On the one hand the announcement of the pleace plan does give the protesters a reason to step up their protests. Since it is clear that they cannot overthrow the Syrian government by themselves they have every incentive to step up their protests and blame the government for any resulting violence and the failure of the peace plan if this brings external intervention closer.
However, as I said in my earlier post, given the bias in the western press, reports of protests and violence effectively do the same thing irrespective of whether they are true or not. Given that this is so and given that all the reports of further protests and more violence originate with the Syrian opposition there is good reason to exercise caution before assuming that these reports are true. The one experienced western journalist who is reporting the conflict, the Independent’s Robert Fisk, appears to be developing doubts. The fact that similar reports that came out of Libya in February at the start of the conflict there turned out to be false is further reason for doubt.
Needless to say no such caution or doubt has been in evidence. The western media uncritically reproduces the reports as true and has put all the blame on the Syrian government. Within days of the plan being announced and purely on the strength of these reports the Arab League hurriedly reconvened, declared Syria in breach of the plan and announced that Syria would be suspended from the Arab League unless it “fully complied” with the plan by 16th November 2011. Importantly this decision was made before a single member of the mission whose despatch was part the plan had been to the country to assess the situation for himself.
In the meantime the western media has been up to more of its usual mischief, misrepresenting comments made by a Chinese official and by King Abdullah of Jordan that implied that China and Jordan had both turned against Syria and the regime of President Assad.
The Chinese official in question was none other than China’s Deputy Foreign Minister. Certain comments he made have been misrepresented as supporting the Arab League’s decision to suspend Syria’s membership. Supposedly this represents a change from China’s position at the Security Council meeting in October when China joined Russia to veto the Resolution that had been proposed by the western powers.
Careful reading of the Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister’s comments show that his words have been completely misrepresented. He was not referring to the Arab League’s decision to suspend Syria’s membership. His comments were about the Arab League’s peace plan to which Syria had agreed. Whilst misreporting his comments the western media has ignored an article published by the official Chinese News Agency Xinhua and the People’s Daily, which shows the Chinese government’s frustration and annoyance at the latest turn of events following the Arab League’s decision to suspend Syria’s membership.
As for King Abdullah’s comments, the BBC which interviewed him has reported him as saying that President Assad should resign when in fact he said no such thing. What King Abdullah actually said was that if he was in President Assad’s position he would resign but that nothing would be achieved if Assad were to resign and be replaced by another regime hardliner and that in King Abdullah’s opinion Assad was someone who genuinely believes in reform and who should carry it out. In other words King Abdullah properly speaking was not telling Assad to go but was asking him to stay.
The latest news is that Syria has managed to obtain a new meeting of the Arab League to reconsider its threatened suspension. Meanwhile the mission that was to be sent to the country in accordance with the peace plan is apparently now on its way. It is unlikely however that the decision to suspend Syria will be reversed. The fact that Syria is apparently being excluded from the meeting that will decide the question of its suspension even though it has not in fact so far been suspended is itself a bad sign.
Syria’s suspension from the Arab League will pave the way for further action. Over the next few weeks we are likely to see attempts made to recognise a rival government formed by opposition factions along the lines of the Transitional National Council that was formed in Libya. There will probably be more economic and political sanctions on the country. Arms supplies to the rebels through Lebanon will be stepped up. There may be incursions into Syrian territory from Turkey. At some point there will doubtless be fresh demands for a Resolution from the Security Council of the sort that was vetoed in October. Whether this succeeds or fails the way will then be open for military action “to protect Syria’s civilians”. As was the case in Libya the true objective will be regime change.