Donnelly/My Turn: The Dulles' legacy
News of Syria’s civil war had nearly disappeared, shunted aside by newly developing world horrors. Perhaps the U.S. has been quieter about Syria because its policy has accidentally aligned it with the worst of the Islamic terrorists who are also trying to make regime change in Syria.
In his new book, “The Brothers,” Stephen Kinzer does a masterful job of showing how powerful John Foster and Allen Dulles (respectively Secretary of State and Director of the CIA) were in making the “regime change” option a permanent fixture in American foreign policy.
The brothers’ obsession with anti-Communism led them to a distorted vision that suspected all governments not directly supportive of US interests — including Guatemala, Iran, the Congo, Indonesia, and Cuba. The Dulles Pax Americana required a world safe for U.S. corporate expansion, even though it entailed flouting morality and the law. Dulles’ policy was instrumental in a string of ruthless and fateful mishaps, beginning with advocacy for war in Vietnam. To America’s shame, their foreign policy successors continue to trample American values of freedom and justice on the pretext of preserving them.
Forty years ago, their policy was at work when the Reagan administration secretly backed the “Contras” — the rebels battling the Sandinista government in Nicaragua. Today, the same subversion policy prevails as a different administration backs a different set of Contras, the so-called “Free Syrian Army.” Four decades ago, the U.S. used false allegations of Sandinista “crimes” against its people and supplied illegal, covert aid to the rebels. The U.S. has made almost identical claims against Syria and followed a similar policy of covert CIA aid.
The same right-wing think tanks like the Heritage Foundation and chicken-hawkish neoconservatives like Elliot Abrams that engaged in smearing the Sandinistas, currently disseminate disinformation about Syria. Abrams was convicted of lying to Congress about the CIA supplying illegal arms to the Nicaraguan Contras. Yet, mysteriously the media continue to treat his anti-Syrian claims as credible. The U.S. government — and a lapdog media — present the Assad government as if it had no right to defend itself against its Contra rebels; reports of death tolls regularly imply that the government is to blame for the figures, instead of its foreign-armed armed enemies.
Even an incident that helped catapult demonstrations against President Assad into a violent insurrection was misrepresented. The mass media reported that Syrian police violence in Daraa resulted in the deaths of thirteen “peaceful” demonstrators. Reported elsewhere, but not in U.S. media: seven of the dead were police, killed by violent demonstrators, making the police response unfortunate but understandable. The Dutch Jesuit priest, Frans van der Lugt, who had lived in Syria for half a century, said, “From the start I saw armed demonstrators ... shooting at the police first. Very often the violence of the [Syrian] security forces has been a reaction to the brutal violence of the armed rebels.” Sadly, he predicted, “I expect little good to come from the opposition, which, moreover, has been instigated and paid by foreign interests.”
His candor was rewarded by being shot dead by a rebel gunman this April.
In Nicaragua, the unpopularity of Contras was evident when they failed to arouse popular support. In Syria, rebels have also failed to gain popular support. What keeps the civil war going is an influx of foreign fighters — thousands of radical Muslim jihadists. Meanwhile, to its detriment, the U.S. continues to aid the anti-Assad forces.
Elections that gave huge majority support to the Sandinistas in 1984 and to President Assad in 2014 were dismissed by the Reagan and Obama administrations with exactly the same word, “sham.” The real “sham” election, of course, was the rushed one cobbled together in Ukraine this May, following a coup. The Syrian election had been planned for more than a year in accord with its new, forward-looking constitution. Predictably, the U.S. rejected Syria’s election while accepting Ukraine’s.
What Syria faces is what Iraq’s President Maliki puts in blunt terms: “The alternative to the [Assad] regime in Syria is ... terrorism and slaughter.”
President Obama has acted courageously on several domestic fronts, but he seems to be the captive of the old foreign policy hawks and neoconservatives when it comes to the Mideast (or Ukraine). The policy developed during the fateful Dulles brothers’ ascendency continues its baleful influence on Washington.
U.S. support for the Syrian rebels was a mistake to begin with; to maintain a policy of regime change in Syria even though it now conforms with the aim of the radical jihadists — al Qaeda and ISIS — makes that policy ever more irrational and iniquitous. It’s time to realize what most Syrians recognize — that President Assad is Syria’s best hope.
Jerome Donnelly is a retired university professor who lives in New Salem part of each year.