by Zainab Cheema (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 41, No. 5, Sha'ban, 1433)
With the gory newsfeed of the Houla massacre, the war in Syria seems to be morphing into the horror movie storyline from a DVD watched too many times on Friday rec-nights.
The top brass of Pentagon Inc. — all the way to Commander in Chief, the Obama-nator — has dubbed the fall of al-Asad’s Syria to be a matter of when, not if. While the geopolitical objectives of NATO’s Syrian campaign have been amply discussed, the Syrian scenario begs to be elaborated on — particularly the strange phenomenon of humanitarian war, where scorch and burn is tricked out as chivalry.
Dirty war has of course long been a staple of Anglo-Saxon militarism — the Crusades are a helpful reference point, particularly the massacres of Acre and Jerusalem, where Franks waded knee deep in the blood of the city dwellers. These days, though, dirty war is exquisitely subtle. In contemporary US military annals, the techniques of dirty war were perfected in South America, particularly the Contras war engineered by the CIA in Nicaragua. To counter the wave of leftist movements that were re-orienting 20th-century Latin America away from the colonial servitude imposed by the Monroe doctrine, the US used dirty war as a means of unleashing mass terror in the public. In the 1980s, the US used Honduras as a base from which to train the Contras who were sent in as paramilitary groups in Nicaragua — grisly death squads sowing mass terror in Nicaragua to unseat the leftist Sandinista government that was bent on wresting the country away from US economic hegemony.
Pentagon Inc. handsomely rewards innovators in the arts of death, mayhem and terror. The architect of the Nicaraguan terror was John Negroponte, the US ambassador to Honduras who was later appointed as intelligence czar during Bush senior’s tenure in the White House. The idea was, after all, a delightfully simple one. Dirty war in Latin America meant taking the weapon of the weak — guerrilla warfare, used by revolutionaries who lacked the hardware to face off against militaries — and harnessing it against them, creating guerrilla death squads that slaughtered whole villages and inflamed towns against each other. After all, social movements for justice and self-determination become expensive enterprises when you are struggling for the bare state of survival.
With the Bush Jr. administration, the neoconservative cabal salivating to launch war in the Muslim East found it expedient to use Negroponte’s playbook. In Iraq, after the secular, Ba‘thist umbrella of Saddam Hussein was ripped away, Pentagon Inc. engineered a vicious sectarian war that pitted Sunnis against Shi‘is. Terrorized Iraqis running for refuge to Syria or huddled in their homes, dosing on sedatives and painkillers could hardly be expected to protest against the crass exploitation of oil wealth by Halliburton and other warlord contractors under the cover of militia gunslingers.
The latest innovation is tricking out dirty war as humanitarian intervention, like girding an old courtesan with the corset of respectability. The US is spinning the rhetoric of popular rights and self-determination, seemingly represented by Syria’s black guerrillas posing as a spontaneous popular movement. Of course, Pentagon Inc. rubberstamped the brutal crackdown of those same principles in Bahrain and Saudi Arabiaearlier in the Arab Spring, when a bona fide popular opposition protested against the US’s handpicked tin pot dictators. But mixing humanitarian rhetoric with death squads like the Free Syrian Army has proven to be as deadly as a Molotov cocktail. In an April 2012 meeting before the House Armed Service Committee, US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta laid out the sophistic spin girding the orchestrated explosions of violence in the Levant.
“We support a political and democratic transition that fulfills the Syrian people’s aspirations,” he declared. “First, we oppose the use of violence and repression against their own people; second, we support the exercise of universal human rights; and third, we support political and economic reforms that can meet the legitimate aspirations of ordinary people throughout the region.” The CIA’s ex-head spook mantles mafia violence with the garb of protectionism. He also notes that the US is unifying “popular opposition” to al-Asad’s government, code words for US role in orchestrating the merchants of death unleashed in the country (a move lifted straight from the Libyan playbook).
Panetta then goes on to describe US tactics in supporting humanitarian objectives in Syria — he notes Washington has been providing “direct non-lethal support, including communications and medical equipment, to the civilian-led opposition” and that “we are providing emergency humanitarian assistance to the Syrian people.” As the Free Syrian Army’s mercenaries and rag-tag “Islamic” militants kindle deadly massacres across Syria — Homs, Hama, Houla, etc. — the Red Cross and other humanitarian missions are bleeding into Pentagon Inc.’s network of material support for militia violence.
While sectarian bloodlust inflames Muslims against Bashar al-Asad — caricatured as a Frankenstein mixture of Iranian political agent and avatar of the brutal Hafez al-Asad — the massacres bear quite a different imprint than Syrian governmental violence. Middle Eastern potentates adore their fancy toys too much and rarely miss an opportunity to show them off. Reports of Syrian villagers brutally hacked to death with knives — women and children raped and dismembered as in Houla — are eerily similar to the Iraqi and Libyan theatres of war, rather than the barrage of hardware Hafez al-Asad was known for in 1982 Hama. The intimate bodily violence, the graphic dismemberment by the militiamen, must instead be traced to the Friends of Syria committee chaired by La Dame Hillary Clinton and US Secretary of Treasury Timothy Geithner. It is the signature of the woman who voiced Colonel Qaddafi’s epitaph over Libya’s ashes with characteristic finesse: “we came, we saw, he died.”
For its part, al-Asad’s government has swung between banning “humanitarian” organizations inside Syria and then sheepishly green lighting them, after the global media drums up world censure for locking out charity workers dispensing medicines with one hand and semi-automatic weapons to blood-thirsty militias with the other. Charity, social work and business are the favorite kinds of camouflage used by Pentagon Inc. While it does save lives and make critical kinds of intervention in desperate situations, as an ideology humanitarianism is a tactic of war. Food workers, blanket distributors and educators can only receive the funds they require from Pentagon Inc. if they critique local and regional forms of oppression — patriarchy, racism, nepotism, take your pick. The unsavory cast of characters known to us from the developing world — dictators, rapists, embezzlers and wife beaters — are never linked to the global forms of oppression sponsored by Wall Street and Pentagon Inc. The illegitimate children of Pentagon Inc., they are tied to them with bonds all the more intense for the apparent disavowal.
Dirty war is a Latin American export to the Muslim East — an exemplar of the irrelevance of borders to NATO warlords. According to international observers, the Contras of the Muslim East that overran Libya and are now unleashed on Syria, are those good old Manchurian candidates trained by the US in the Cold War — mercenaries and jihadists wearing the comfy blinders of takfir. Syria also exhibits the Kosovoplaybook, where the paraphernalia of humanitarianism is used to justify NATO’s crass, asymmetrical warfare — elaborate bombing campaigns that accelerated rather than hindered the violence against the Kosovars. In Syria, like Kosovo, the only weapons that can get in are those of Pentagon Inc. — La Dame Clinton recently raised an enormous stink about Russia sending attack helicopters to the Syrian military. (Russia had to recall the ship carrying the ‘copters after the vessel’s insurance was revoked — a tribute to the array of subtle instruments at the disposal of Pentagon Inc).
As the numerous test cases illustrate, dirty war works. For instance, black guerrilla war has paid off handsomely for Pentagon Inc. in Iraq. In recent news, oil production has skyrocketed in Iraq, an influx of crude that the energy overlords running the Bush-Cheney administration alchemize into gold through their unilateral command over prices. Iraq has been crowned the new Saudi Arabia — the largest source of energy within the next few years. Libya’s sweet crude — pure enough to be sipped out of the ground with a straw, as one observer described it — too has been gourmandized. As per recent news, Libya’s reconstruction is being “paid for” with the profits of its cannibalized oil industry. Humanitarian intervention is a favorite trick of Pentagon Inc.’s, where even the destruction that it inflicts is cycled into profit through the “reconstruction” projects contracted to NATO-affiliated multinationals.
For Pentagon Inc., war is an evolving, multifarious art form to be pursued with the discipline of Demosthenes and the wealth of Qaroon. It was in the Iraqi theatre that dirty war capitalized on Shi‘i-Sunni sectarianism as a means of imploding civil society from within — CIA handbooks have helpfully described how to stage violence in Sunni masjids while framing Shi‘is and vice versa. Resistance indeed becomes futile, to paraphrase Star Trek, in a body at war with itself and incapable of even recognizing foreign antigens. And if resource exploitation is a prime objective of dirty war, no less important is guaranteeing Israel’s security. Hizbullah leader Sheikh Hasan Nasrallah was perhaps on target when he described Pentagon Inc.’s ultimate crusade as demolishing the Muslim East into tiny sectarian fiefdoms incapable of challenging Israel.
The Muslim East, as he noted, is to be partitioned into small sectarian states. “There will be small ethnic and confessional states,” Seyyed Nasrallah observed in a May 2012 interview given to Middle East Online. “In other words, Israel will be the most important and the strongest state in a region that has been partitioned into ethnic and confessional states that are not in agreement with each other. This is the new Middle East.”
Humanitarianism is a launching pad for this vision. In Middle East Memo #21, the Brookings Institution said on regime change options inside Syria that charity and refugee aid is part and parcel for the delivery systems of war inside the Levant. The paper stated that the UN mission can be used as cover to establish “safe havens” and “humanitarian corridors” from which further “coercive action” can be dealt: “An alternative is for diplomatic efforts to focus first on how to end the violence and how to gain humanitarian access, as is being done under Annan’s leadership. This may lead to the creation of safe-havens and humanitarian corridors, which would have to be backed by limited military power… From that starting point, however, it is possible that a broad coalition with the appropriate international mandate could add further coercive action to its efforts.”
Humanitarian war — post-Nicaragua, Kosovo, Iraq, Libya — is varnished militarism. By anointing itself the protector of the Syrian people’s freedoms, infiltrating the Levant with cannibalistic militias devouring lives and livelihoods, Syria is being transformed into a textbook case of Pentagon Inc.’s ultimate wish fulfillment — dysfunctional, bloodthirsty, traumatized Muslims. Muslims dependent on NATO breadlines, aid grants, and hand-me downs. Sectarian Muslims stripped of culture, history and memory, who have been primitivized into killing one another. Pentagon Inc.’s handbook of war is pastiche of recycling — fit for the gullible.