by Zainab Cheema (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 41, No. 4, Rajab, 1433)
NATO’s Chicago summit, which concluded on May 21 proceeded like clockwork — for war is merely business.
According to most reports, the top brass of Pentagon Inc. met after the Windy City had been transformed into the Windy Fortress by Homeland Security and checked off items from a list compiled since the 2011 Arab Spring. While the main order of business was the War in Afghanistan — and its capillaries in Central Asia and Pakistan — the battlefields of the Levant were also high on the agenda. Syria’s killing fields are engineered using the latest technological advances of covert war.
Since the Summit, articles and media reports on Syria have been expressive of a certain exasperation. If the recipe for Libya’s regime change was a barrage of “shock and awe” carpet-bombing, unrolling the landscape for paid mercenaries, NATO now contends with a far more complex enterprise. The delicate task at hand is to camouflage war as “civil war,” represented as domestic unrest between a tyrannical government and groups jockeying for power. That is, a stage-play where the directions for violence ricochet from the hands of the master-planners and stage directors to the actors carrying out the mayhem.
Besides the political support provided by Iran and Hizbullah, Syria is bolstered by what Bashar al-Asad was doing right. “Before I visited Syria in 2003 and 2004, I expected it to look like North Korea with souks,” remarks New York Times writer Adam Davidson in a recent article. However the prosperous suburbs in Damascus and Aleppo conveyed a different tale. “Many locals drove sports cars, wore fancy watches, ate at top-notch restaurants and generally made me feel like a broke hick.” The paradox of Syria is that the absence of super-resources through most of its history like oil or natural gas has encouraged the sort of development to be envied by media reporters with a wish fulfillment to see the Muslim East as deserts and lascivious casino paradises. Al-Asad’s policies have encouraged the growth of a thriving middle class making the project for covert regime change a far more complicated one than with Libya.
The ultimate goal behind economic warfare is social destabilization, where the social body has become too weak and fragmented to muster resistance to Pentagon Inc. Syria was an integral part of the economic bloc cultivated by Iran with Lebanon, Turkey, and other adjoining powers — the distribution of wealth enabled by the circulation of tourists, investors, merchants, and others created a thriving middle class that offered a stark departure from petro-dollar welfare doused by Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states. NATO’s strategy is to “take Syria down from inside,” targeting that middle class — a cocktail of domestic insurrection, illegal arms proliferation, and economic sanctions spurring the country to implode from within.
Economic sanctions have proven to be one of the most damaging lynchpins of Pentagon Inc.’s program. The oil embargo slapped on Syria has cost the country $4 billion in damages to date — Syria’s oil exports previously earned the country from three to four million dollars a day. Turkey has long since rejoined NATO and poses an acute geostrategic threat rather than a political or economic advantage. In late May, Erdogan accused Bashar al-Asad of harboring Kurdish rebels suspected of terrorist attacks in Turkey. Goods and services are locked within the country’s borders, subjecting local businesses to slow starvation. Syria’s economic isolation is mirroring Iran’s, which has been weathering the increased pressure through its far more developed agricultural, energy and manufacturing sectors. Prices have soared in Syria, evaporating local wealth — YouTube videos are infamously depicting long lines of civilians waiting to buy bottles of cooking oil.
NATO’s other prong of attack is covert militarization of the borders inside Syria. The Syrian army is battling heavily armed militias inside Syria, currently fighting pitched battles in Rastan and other urban centers. The battle for Homs is by now, legendary — and the desolation wreaked in Rastan is a demonstration of how viable urban communities are being transformed into ghost towns. Syrian civilians, as well as Palestinian and Iraqi refugees inside Syria, are escaping with their lives from cities, towns, and communities that are no longer operable — the shelling in Rastan has knocked out the electricity grid and damaged the water supply.
As with Afghanistan during the Cold War, the US-Saudi nexus is flooding heavily armed militias into the country, tipping Syria toward civil war. The Free Syrian Army (FSA) — Pentagon Inc. displays a taste for oxymorons — has arrested the country in a wave of violence, in recent news kidnapping 13 Lebanese pilgrims to Shi‘i holy shrines. Even as Sheikh Hasan Nasrullah intervened to save the pilgrims, Riyad.
al-Asad, head of the Free Syria Army, refused any responsibility in the kidnapping and placed the blame on shadowy “mafias.” “We demand that Nasrullah distance himself from the Syrian revolution,” he declared in a press conference, and then went on to portray NATO Inc.’s officially sponsored militia as the protector of the Syrian “revolution.”
The complex, interconnected geography of the Levant means that fanning sectarian tensions in the normally placid Syria will have repercussions in volatile Lebanon. Fears of sectarian violence sparked in Beirut — a city that continues to struggle with the nightmarish legacy of the 1975–1990 civil war — as some Shi‘i neighborhoods burnt tires and marched to protest the kidnapping.
While NATO is using the FSA to crumble the edifice through social unrest and psychological trauma, the ultimate goal is military occupation of the region. Only Iraq-style garrisons could secure the country as a reliable base from which to launch military campaigns against Iran and Lebanon, guarantee Israel’s holdings in the spectacular natural gas deposits off the coast of the Red Sea, and guarantee Israel’s phantasmagoric security.
Accordingly, Turkey and the regional Arabian countries under NATO leadership are providing a platform from which the militias can be armed, supported, and trained. The US is quietly sending its latest anti-tank missiles to Qatar and Saudi Arabia, who will then transport them to the FSA. Jordan has recently announced that it will conduct a training exercise with hundreds of men in the FSA, in preparation for a US-led international drill involving 12 countries. The training is designed to destabilize the government through terror tactics and actualize the “worst case scenario” (another oxymoron, deflecting desire into repulsion) — gaining control of Syria’s weapons arsenal, which endangers Israel.
But perhaps the most potent weapon leveraged by Pentagon Inc., more so even than economic embargoes and militia terrorization, is the most improbable of rhetoric being used to hamstring Syria’s ability to use counter violence with a military response. The murkiness of a simulated civil war means that democratic ideology will transform a government struggling against foreign-injected anarchy into an oppressor on par with Louis XVI — (on the side, there have been attempts to portray al-Asad and his wife as a luxury-drenched French King and Marie Antoinette advising their populace to eat cake when no bread is available).
If the FSA is indeed a principled civilian organization — an American Revolutionary army led by George Washington — then the government is a brutal tyrant. And while al-Asad cannot be exonerated from brutality, this view too simplistically ignores the flow of arms, funds, and intelligence from Pentagon Inc. to a desired base in the Muslim East. But to demand that a ruler demonstrate nonviolence in the face of dramatic, shocking injections of violence in the Syrian body public by NATO, is rather an outlandish bit of duplicity. This is precisely what the Kofi Annan plan — named for the UN Secretary General who presided over Pentagon Inc.’s acquisition in Bosnia in another “humanitarian” war — amounts to.
The rhetoric of democracy means different things on different shores. In the US and European orbit, it means a mechanism for social control to manage the hegemony of capitalism and the rentier class (Wall Street et al). A case in point is Greece, where banker Lucas Papademos was summarily appointed as head of state with a mere promise of elections down the road, in order to manage the bankers’ deals facilitating Greece’s integration in the Eurozone. In Israel, it means the stagecraft of a “modern” state for a country that is, in reality, funded by US taxpayers and generous US corporate donations. And in the Muslim East it means bondage gear tricked out as liberalism and humanitarianism, which essentially forbids responding to wholesale occupation with social or political violence. The killing fields of Syria are yielding yet another bitter harvest of the Muslim body public’s ignorance of the politics of war.