Friday 19 March 2021

Looking At Syria Through Ten-Year-Old Lenses.

Familiar Images: Through our carefully fashioned Western lenses all we have ever seen of the Syrian civil war are a succession of skilfully contrived horrors attributed to the “vicious Syrian regime and its Russian allies” by a complacent (and complicit) Western media.

EARLIER THIS WEEK I visited the optometrist. Making the appointment, I was stunned to discover that it had been ten years since my last appointment. That’s a long time for my eyesight to be corrected by a single set of lenses. When I finally made it to the clinic, the receptionist was surprised to learn that I was still wearing the same glasses. “Usually,” he told me, shaking his head, “people go through three or four pairs in ten years. They either lose them or break them. You must be a very careful person.”

No more than the country I live in. This week also marked the tenth anniversary of the outbreak of a vicious civil war in Syria. Through that whole grim decade of conflict, however, New Zealand’s view of events has not changed. My country, no less than myself, has been careful to protect the lenses through which it views the terrible tragedies of the Middle East.

The moment we put on our new Syrian eyeglasses ten years ago, our perception of that country’s ruler, Bashar al-Assad, was profoundly changed. Prior to the escalation of the widespread protest activity of 2011 into full-scale military conflict, New Zealand, like the rest of the West, had been fĂȘting Assad and his glamorous British wife as encouraging emblems of those tightly wound Middle Eastern regimes that were slowly but unmistakably unwinding into something looser – something which, in time, might even be described as democratic.

But then came the clamorous upheavals of the so-called “Arab Spring” (2010 – 2012). Reacting with the opportunistic and predatory instincts common to all successful imperialists, the United States, Britain and France immediately abandoned the slow and uncertain processes of diplomacy and seized upon the turmoil in Middle Eastern streets to effect some long overdue regime changes and settle some old scores.

If Hosni Mubarak and Muhammar Ghaddafi could be brought down by the Arab “Street”, then why not Bashar al-Assad?

Contacts were made. Meetings were arranged. Crateloads of weapons were loaded on to trucks. Satellites were repositioned. All the talk was about the “democratic Syrian opposition”, but that was just window-dressing. Democrats, especially those with the welfare of their people at heart, cannot be relied upon to perpetrate the sort of mayhem demanded by the boys and girls at Langley, Virginia. The idealistic students and genuinely “moderate” patriots of the “democratic Syrian opposition” proved easy meat for the highly-trained and battle-hardened jihadists the CIA were actually backing.

The problem was, Assad’s army – unlike Mubarak’s – was not ready to overthrow him. The complex religious and ethnic equations out of which the modern nation of Syria had emerged in the 1930s had left its armed forces vulnerable to the Sunni majority. Unwilling to put their faith in the forgiving instincts of their compatriots, Assad’s soldiers fought back and, to the fury of the West, Syria’s long-time allies, the Russians, fought alongside them. What should (and could) have been a peaceful evolution towards democracy, was transformed by Western cynicism and impatience into a bloody civil war.

Not that we here in New Zealand ever saw it that way. Through our carefully fashioned Western lenses all we saw were a succession of skilfully contrived horrors attributed to the “vicious Syrian regime and its Russian allies” by a complacent (and complicit) Western media.

We recoiled in disgust from alleged “poison gas attacks” and other “war crimes” inflicted on “innocent Syrian civilians”. Images of their broken bodies and frothing mouths, captured for maximum propaganda effect by white-helmeted videographers, broke our hearts.

Deemed unfit for Western consumption was news of the thousands of adults and children condemned to slow, painful, and needless deaths by Western sanctions. Not even life-saving pharmaceuticals were excluded from these blunt instruments of coercion – directed at the Assad Government, but whose principal victims were, overwhelmingly, “innocent Syrian civilians”.

Presumably, the US Secretary of State for the first two years of the civil war, Hillary Clinton, was convinced, like her predecessor, Madelaine Albright (another Democrat) that the tragically high human cost of these interventions “was worth it”. Presumably, it’s also why President Joe Biden, determined, like his own predecessor, Donald Trump, to “protect” Syria’s US-occupied oil-fields, recently authorised air-strikes against targets operating on Syria’s sovereign territory?

Maybe I’m not the only short-sighted observer in need of a new pair of glasses?

This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 19 March 2021.


John Hurley said...

What should (and could) have been a peaceful evolution towards democracy, was transformed by Western cynicism and impatience into a bloody civil war.
So what are the parameters in which democracy will take hold?
Syria had a gigantic population explosion post 1950, while climate change had an effect.

Syria now has a population of 20 million people, with a growth rate that remains one of the world’s highest at about 2.4 percent. But it has declined since averaging 3.2 percent from 1947-94, according to the Syrian Commission for Family Affairs.

“We have a population problem, no question,” said Nabil Sukkar, a Syrian economist formerly with the World Bank. “Unless we cope with it, it could be a burden on our development.”

Wayne Mapp said...

You seem to have overlooked the brutal crackdown by Assad's police and army on the peaceful demonstrations in Syria, that occurred at beginning of the Arab Spring. Assad was following the lessons of his father. Any dissent, no matter how peaceful, had to be brutally put down. It was only after the Assad regime showed zero capacity to allow a more open society that the civil war broke out.

While the dissidents may well have been funded and supported by western governments, to suggest that they essentially started the civil war is to rewrite history. It was Assad's initial brutal reaction to the peaceful demonstrations that set in chain the subsequent events.

Russia did make a realist calculation that Assad would win, based on the fact that the Army, to a greater or lesser extent, stayed loyal to Assad. If Assad lost, Russia would have definitely been removed from the Middle East, and in particular from their Mediterranean base, so backing Assad was a logical choice for them. They were much, much more effective in doing so, supplying a greater range of weapons and supplies, than was the West for the anti Assad rebels. One of the major complaints from the rebels was the paucity of support they were actually getting from the US. Lots of supportive words, not so much for weapons, especially heavy antitank weapons.

The big western step up occurred when ISIS became a force in eastern Syria and northern Iraq, but that was a couple of years later, around 2012. The western military effort from 2012 onward was mostly against ISIS, not Assad. Largely because of the Russians, who did cooperate to some extent against ISIS. The price the Russians extracted for that co-operation was the end of any effective support for the anti Assad rebels.

Yes, ISIS did have its origins in the defeated remnants of Saddam Hussein's Iraqi army, so in that sense the US can be said to have created the conditions for ISIS, but that is not the same as starting the Syrian civil war.

rivoniaboy said...

Well said Chris, - The Americans should get the hell out of Syria.

Chris Trotter said...

To: Wayne Mapp.

I suspect I have an advantage over you, Wayne, when it comes to the Syrian Civil War, inasmuch as I encountered personally a member of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood seeking NZ allies in his struggle against Bashar al-Assad. Having listened to him speak for over an hour, it became very clear to me that the progression from violent street protests to a Sunni-dominated state would have been seamless without the harsh measures adopted by the Syrian Government.

We here in New Zealand have nor real understanding of the level of political and religious fanaticism which so disfigures the states of the Middle East - especially those with secular constitutions (which also just happen to be the ones the Americans are at such pains to destroy).

May I add, Wayne, that I am constantly surprised by your willingness to go on believing the stories fed to us by our Five Eyes "partners". Having been on the receiving end of a campaign of deliberate falsification by the NZ military, I thought you might have learned to look at the world through a different set of lenses.

But, apparently not.

greywarbler said...

This excellent The Atlantic piece gives a good view of why Syria crops up in the news. It can be seen it is inevitable as the state has been thoroughly done over by invaders of late.

Nick J said...

The Russians basically shut down the Wests attempt to remove Assad by destroying ISIL funding that came via illicit oil sales through corrupt Turkey.

No wonder Biden, who was then in league with Killary ("we came, we saw, he died") Clinton hates Putin. They got outplayed despite all of their imperial hubris.

That may illuminate Bidens accusation that Putin is a killer.

Wayne Mapp said...

I did take responsibility for my own errors in respect of Operation Burnham. Personally, I think the Inquiry was too harsh on Chris Parsons, who was the main conduit of information about the operation back the HQ NZDF. If I was being misled, then so was Joint Force HQ in Trentham, and by extension Lt Gen Mateparae. I don't believe Chris Parsons would do that deliberately.

I got all sorts of information about Syria at the time. In fact the Israeli Ambassador told me that the "West" was making a gross error in Syria. He said the small amount of military aid being provided to the rebels was worse than useless. It prolonged Assad's campaign, but was never enough to have any hope of defeating Assad. He basically said, "You people in the West don't understand what you are doing. Assad is more ruthless than you know, you either need to accept that he will win, or provide such a massive amount of aid that the rebels will win. But be careful what you wish for, who are these rebels?".

Interesting at two levels. First, Israelis, although ostensibly western, don't actually see themselves as such. Second, they live in the world of real politik and much preferred the devil they knew (Assad) than the unknown quality of the rebels.

Phil said...

Really? Which part of Syria should the Americans leave?
Idlib enclave?
The Kurdish part?
The Turkish controlled bits?
Eastern Syria, that was liberated from ISIS with USA help, no, wait, Trump already ratted on them...

John Hurley said...

Good rebuttal from the member for Mapp and reply from the member for Trotter. You get as sense of what went on.

These days I don't watch TV, don't listen to RNZ. Basically the news has got so toxic I don't trust any of them.

I used to devour The Press and Time magazine and I trusted the in depth programs on TVNZ. They were enough for the average person.

These days they are no better than student newspapers.

Anonymous said...

Chris you really need to repost this to The Daily Blog

Antipodean Collections said...

Those against Assad were in most cases Islamacists, one look at the high proportion of bearded men etc in news coverage shld have convinced people who know the Middle East. But no Western eyes cld only yet again see that despite the insights of The Strong Horse, Syria too had to have democracy in western form, whatever the actual local culture wanted. As if Western powets' removing other ME dictators didnt expose the internecine/ traditional inter-tribal rivalries always present in ME societies enough, yet again we were told he must go as he was a dictator and to Hell with the likely consequences. And that when the West was already courageosly engaged against Isis across the border, but nobody cld dare suggest that Syrian rebels were strongly related in their ideals. Only the sadly late lamented Robert Fisk dared speak similarly and for that was cast into purgatory as a hetetic and worse. He with one of the most illustrious and longterm pedigree of journalism in the ME. Shame again on the hoodwinked Western media! Every word Fisk wrote seemed to me to ring with truth. (I lived in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain between 1981 and 1995). Craig

sumsuch said...

We were more interested in foreign affairs before our own affairs consumed us. I can't solve Fiji nor can I solve Syria. Frank Bainimarama is even an ideal in m'head for America -- same level of democracy. An army stamping their heel in for the underdog seems right. The American elite from Dem to Rep has no legitimacy. All divide and no rule. It's against my fur to speak against pure democracy though.

We're past party politics, thank fuck. Tho' I'd prefer Disraeli's new conservatives. Just reality in a good honest country. Thinking these 30 years I know we need a strong people's party to lead us. We seem to have pressured Jace and Grant. Congrats ... to us!