June 25, 2012 · 0 Comments
Above: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, left, and Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin, in 2005. Pool photo by Sergei Chirikov
By Michael McGehee:
On the New York Times website in the “Room for Debate” section of “The Opinion Pages” is a current debate titled “Would Russia Help Oust Assad?”
Judging by the homepage of the debate alone, the pretense is absurd. There is no real debate going on. After describing the situation as one of where “Efforts to end the Syrian government’s bloody repression of its opponents have increasingly come down to a standoff between the West and Russia with Russia sending defensive missile systems and helicopters and C.I.A. officers operating in southern Turkey, helping direct arms to opponents of President Bashar al-Assad,” the NYT asks the mother-of-all loaded questions: “Is there a way that Russia can be persuaded to abandon Assad?”
To date the so-called “debate” consists of three nearly identical views that are anti-Russian, puts the onus on the Syrian regime to “end the Syrian government’s bloody repression of its opponents,” and are essentially in favor of the West’s interests, and one view that has a fair amount of sanity in it.
Starting with the sole piece of sanity by a writer the Times describes as “senior associate at St. Antony’s College, Oxford University, and a writer for Al Akhbar English,” Sharmine Narwani argues in her article “Fear of What’s Next Makes Russia’s Help Unlikely,” that we should question whether getting rid of a dictator is itself valid. Narwani notes that “the external parties that are demanding Assad’s ouster are the same handful of interventionists that brought us chaos in Libya under the cloak of humanitarian intervention,” and that Russia “will go to great lengths to prevent the same scenario in Syria.” For Narwani, she answers the Times’ question with the word “unlikely.”
What is interesting to note in Narwani’s article is that on the home page of the debate the Times inaccurately describes Narwani’s view as being that, “As armed conflict escalates, Russia’s motivation to help oust Assad will be further reduced, not encouraged.” This presents Narwani’s view as favoring armed escalation, which is hardly the case. While she does say that Russia would could abandon Assad under such conditions she also stresses that, “Without a plausible alternative to Assad, Syria could quickly crumble into a failed state with broad spillover into the region and beyond” — something which Russia is aware of since, as Narwani writes, they “argue that Syria needs an urgent de-escalation in violence — under the watch of U.N. monitors — followed closely by a genuine process of political reconciliation, at the end of which Syrians can decide on the fate of their president.” This is starkly different then the presented view of Russia abandoning Assad if “armed conflict escalates.”
It should be noted that the attempt to appear impartial by the New York Times is further ruined by the fact that one of the debaters is Radwan Ziadeh, who is billed as “the spokesperson for the Syrian National Council, and a fellow at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding.” There is no space provided by the Syrian government, or its allies in Russia.
In his contribution titled “Power Play That’s Hard to Overcome” Ziadeh writes that “Russia has been complicit in the Assad regime’s slaughter of its own people,” but there is no mention of the West being “complicit” in the rebels “slaughters of its own people.”
Ziadeh also writes that “Russia is unabashedly pursuing the protection of its national interests in Syria, and that means unconditional support of the current regime.” And of course, there is no mention of the U.S.
One could look at how many times in the last eighteen months the U.S. has pushed for or tried to facilitate some sort of negotiated settlement. But they won’t find any.
Instead we find — thanks to Wikileaks — that the U.S. has been supporting the Syrian opposition groups since at least the days of former President George W Bush, and that the Wikileaks release of Stratfor emails written in December of 2011 shows that the West “are already on the ground focused on recce missions and training opposition forces,” and that the plan ”is to commit guerrilla attacks, assassination campaigns, try to break the back of the Alawite forces, elicit collapse from within.” Even the New York Times reported in early April of this year (see “U.S. Joins Effort to Equip and Pay Rebels in Syria“) that the U.S. State Department “announced an additional $12 million in humanitarian assistance for international organizations aiding the Syrians, bringing the American total so far to $25 million.”
To answer the Times’ question on how “Russia can be persuaded to abandon Assad,” Ziadeh says “the Syrian opposition as well as the international parties involved should guarantee stability in Syria post-Assad so as to protect Russian interests.”
Ziadeh’s suggestion is a bit naïve considering the “international parties involved” are in it to “unabashedly” pursue the augmentation of their “national interests in Syria.” For the U.S., with its strong military presence in the Middle East, one less obstacle to regional domination (and isolating Iran) is the purpose.
In another contribution to the “debate” by Mona Yacoubian, who the NYT says is the ”project director for Pathways to Progress: Peace, Prosperity and Change in the Middle East at the Stimson Center” (i.e. an imperialistic and pro-Western think tank), titled “International Conference Could Be Crucial,” readers are subjected to bias expected from the “paper of record.” For Yacoubian, it is Russia who has “has engaged the West in a dangerous game of ‘chicken’ on Syria.” The facts that the West is behind the rebellion, and their goal is “is to commit guerrilla attacks, assassination campaigns, try to break the back of the Alawite forces, elicit collapse from within,” or that the Assad regime has the legitimate right under international law to protect itself from such criminal activity, be damned.
Yacoubian claims that, “With recent developments, both Russia and the United States may feel a stronger imperative to set aside their differences and work toward building a consensus on Syria,” at the upcoming Geneva Conference. But considering she also says Syria’s shooting down of a Turksih jet violating Syrian air space was a “most dramatic misstep,” the kind of consensus she may favor would hardly be fair and just. What Yacoubian would like to see is Russia capitulate to the West’s side and “work for President Bashar al-Assad’s ouster.”
In the next installment of the “debate,” we are treated to yet another imperialist think tank for the West. This time by Ed Husain of the Council on Foreign Relations. In his piece titled “Assad Should Be Seen as Moscow’s Greater Threat,” Husain tells us that “Russia has an opportunity to provide leadership and maintain continued influence in Syria by ensuring that the generals it helped train, and the Baathist officials with whom it has decades-long ties, remove Assad but maintain the Syrian state infrastructure.”
If this sounds familiar you might be reminded of another New York Times article written twenty years ago by Thomas Friedman, where the columnist argued (in the aftermath of the Persian Gulf War) for what he called “an iron-fisted Iraqi junta without Saddam Hussein.” In the article “A Rising Sense That Iraq’s Hussein Must Go” Friedman points out that when former President George HW Bush called for an Iraqi uprising he did so in hopes that “Washington would have the best of all worlds: an iron-fisted Iraqi junta without Saddam Hussein,” but the uprising failed to be that “Mr. Hussein’s generals [attempting] to bring him down,” so Saddam was allowed to stay in power, for the moment.
Friedman also went on to write that “for a variety of reasons the Bush Administration was prepared to live with the Iraqi leader,” and that, “Few in the Administration, though, want to admit that stark conclusion publicly, because to speak the words aloud would require doing something about them, and the fact is that President Bush has been ambivalent about Mr. Hussein’s fate since the day the war ended.” The reason we are told, is that the Persian Gulf War “fought to restore the status quo. And, as every American policymaker knows, before Mr. Hussein invaded Kuwait he was a pillar of the gulf balance of power and status quo preferred by Washington.”
Husain is essentially calling for the same thing, but for Russia to deliver the goods by “remov[ing] Assad but maintain[ing] the Syrian state infrastructure.” This is an interesting position to take since if “the Syrian state infrastructure” is preferred, what exactly is it about Assad that is opposed?
Of the four views presented in this “debate,” three are disturbingly biased in favor of the West’s interests, silent on the crimes of the rebels, and largely ignore, or distort, Russia’s position on the issue. While the one sane voice is treated with misrepresentation. The debate itself was fixed from the outset. The topic, “Is there a way that Russia can be persuaded to abandon Assad?,” is a loaded question which implies Assad is the source of violence and instability, and must be abandon. Even while acknowledging that “C.I.A. officers operating in southern Turkey, [are] helping direct arms to opponents of President Bashar al-Assad”—see the New York Times’ recent article “C.I.A. Said to Aid in Steering Arms to Syrian Opposition” for more details—there is only enough space provided to highlight and discuss “Efforts to end the Syrian government’s bloody repression of its opponents.” The arms the C.I.A. are directing don’t get any description of being “bloody repression.” By default they are virtuous and are aiding noble “efforts.”
There is a questionable George Orwell quote circulating the internet lately which claims the writer of Animal Farm and 1984 of having said that, “Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed: everything else is public relations.” While the authenticity of the quote has to be verified, the logic and wisdom of the quote is sound. The function of the media should be to inform the public and sound the alarms of crimes and corruption in power. In the absence of performing such a duty whatever news they provide should be treated as public relations. Thomas Jefferson, our third president, agreed and argued, “The only security of all is in a free press. The force of public opinion cannot be resisted when permitted freely to be expressed. The agitation it produces must be submitted to. It is necessary, to keep the waters pure.” Were Jefferson alive today he might note that the complicity of the media in serving as “public relations” agents for the American Empire and the Lords of Capital is a threat to the “security of all” and muddies the water.