WAR CLOUDS OVER SYRIA

 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.

https://mercouris.wordpress.com/2011/10/11/syria-and-the-security-council/

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.

2 thoughts on “WAR CLOUDS OVER SYRIA

  1. Dear Alexander,
    The Syrians are fortunate that the Russians have learned from the Libyan ‘experience’ that a vote of ‘neutrality’ even is tantamount to siding with Western intentions. If the Russians stick to their views on Syria, I’d expect the Chinese to follow the same. If the West does not wish the world to see it as an act of ‘unilateralism’, there would still be some time before the West attempts its ‘regime-change antics’ again.

    sinotibetan

  2. I agree. In my opinion it is Russia’s position, which is crucial. The Chinese do not like to veto Resolutions on the Security Council by themselves. If Russia have been prepared to vote against Resolution 1973 (the Resolution the west used to justify its attack on Libya) I am sure the Chinese would have voted against it as well.

    Like you I do not think the Russians will this time let themselves be blackmailed into allowing a Resolution on Syria that can be used to justify military action. Medvedev was publicly criticised in Russia for allowing Resolution 1973 to go through and Putin made it fairly clear that he agreed with the criticism. I very much doubt that the same thing will happen again. My one concern is that in the weeks leading up to the vote on Resolution 1973 the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov made a succession of comments that appeared to signal that Russia would veto that Resolution. To many people’s surprise including I must say my own at the last moment Russia did a volte face and abstained. Whilst I do not think the same will happen again the fact that it happened once before makes me cautious.

    There is one more point I want to make. This is that the western powers have shown in the past that where they are determined on military action they will not let the lack of a Resolution from the Security Council get in their way. The attacks on Yugoslavia in 1999 and on Iraq in 2003 were carried out without the authority of a Resolution from the Security Council. In the weeks running up to the attack of Libya the Times of London was publishing editorials that were saying that an attack on Libya would be legal and justified without a Resolution from the Security Council. There has been a recent sinister development whereby the western powers have tried to promote regional organisations like NATO and the Arab League as possessing the same sort of legal powers in their particular regions as the Security Council. There is no legal basis for this but this argument was used for example to justify the attack on Yugoslavia in 1999. If the Arab League could be induced to call on the western powers to intervene in Syria they might treat this as providing sufficient justification by itself. Significantly Syria’s Arab allies (Iraq, Yemen, Algeria and Lebanon) apparently managed to get the Arab League to agree at its meeting yesterday a declaration ruling out outside military intervention in Syria. In my opinion this is a more important decision than the decision to suspend Syria from the Arab League. The fact that such a declaration had to be made at all is however a clear sign that some people are worried that the Arab League might at some point be induced to issue an invitation to the western powers to carry out such an intervention.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s