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Donnelly/My Turn: The push for regime change

The shift in U.S. policy toward Syria that will provide its rebels with military weaponry is only the latest — and unfortunate — development in a long-standing U.S. and Israeli hope for a “regime change.”

The war has lasted more than two years and rather than retreating, the Assad government has been winning back places won by the rebels earlier in the fighting. The government has not collapsed because it continues to have public support. Charges that government troops have used chemical weapons have become a pretext for equipping rebels with U.S. weapons.

Rebel support is largely from outside the country. The Syrian opposition elected as its “interim prime minister,” Ghassan Hitto, a Syrian-American Dallas business executive, who has lived in the U.S. since he was a teenager. Money and weapons have also come from foreign sources, principally the family dictatorships of Qatar and Saudi Arabia. The U.S. has been instrumental promoting the war from bases in Turkey. Israel has intervened most obviously by bombing missile sites around Damascus.

After a fact-finding mission in Syria, Nobel Peace Prize winner, Mairead Maguire, concluded that it is incorrect to use the term “civil war” and says that it is “a proxy war led by foreign countries and directly financed and backed mainly by Qatar, which has imposed its views on the Arab League” and involves “serious breaches of international law.” The pretext of regime change to make Syria more democratic is strictly window-dressing; the main object is to remove a government seen as an obstacle to outside interests.

The media have lost interest in the charges that Syrian government forces used sarin gas—the excuse for supplying U.S. arms to the Syrian rebels — even though questions about their accuracy remain. The allegations recall those made by former New York Times reporter Judith Miller, whose 15 minutes of fame became ignominy when her reports about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq turned out to be false. This time, allegations came from Le Monde reporter, Jean-Phillipe Remy, who transported what were claimed as “evidence” of sarin gas use to France from Syria, where it had been collected weeks earlier and kept in unrefrigerated, degrading conditions. Even assuming that the claims of sarin gas use are accurate, it is still not clear who used it. Remy himself admitted that wasn’t clear, but he could not “imagine” that rebels would use such weapons. Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff for Secretary of State Colin Powell, has said that U.S. intelligence officials have told him that allegations that the Syrian troops used sarin gas were “really flaky” and could well have been “an Israeli false flag operation.” U.N. inspector Carla del Ponte has also been skeptical: “According to the testimonies we have gathered, the rebels have used chemical weapons, making use of sarin gas.” She added, “This is not surprising since the opponents have been infiltrated by foreign fighters.” Even the U.S. statement included a disclaimer as to “who was responsible for the (gas) dissemination.”

Syria, like other Mideast countries, does not have the same tradition of open societies like those in Europe and America; nonetheless, Syria has a freer society than the Islamic-dominated governments of some of its neighbors. Syria is a secular society and Assad has a much better record of protecting religious minorities, including Christians, who are now often attacked in other countries like Egypt, where the so-called “Arab Spring” succeeded. Assad is accused of not being part of the Sunni majority and giving members of his Muslim-Alawite group too much power. Alawites are overrepresented in the military and politics, but that has not resulted in abuses of other groups.

Assad’s critics don’t mention that Syria’s prime ministers are invariably members of the Sunni majority. (So is Assad’s wife.) Alawites make up about the same percentage of Syria’s population as do African-Americans in the U.S., where only bigots find a problem with a minority president. Terrorist bombings of Alawite neighborhoods by Syrian rebels — most recently in the city of Homs — indicate that a rebel victory could easily spell genocidal revenge against the Alawites. Eruptions of sectarian bloodshed continue in Iraq and Libya following their “liberation” by U.S .military force.

Despite a Syrian presidential election set for next year, the U.S .continues to oppose this democratic approach and insists that Assad must go now. Calls by the U.S or the rebels for negotiations have insisted on a pre-determined outcome—the removal of Assad, which means the installation of a government more compliant toward Israel and toward American business, including oil and pipeline interests. A slight but potentially key shift: At the Group of Eight meeting, the leaders’ joint statement on Syria contained no demand for Assad’s removal.

Jerome Donnelly is a retired university professor who lives in New Salem part of the year.

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