Now that the US has had a few days to rejoice or despair over Obama’s re-election, here’s one area where the candidates agreed—and what you may have missed over the past two months--in the (barely) covert war on Syria.

One thing you didn’t hear during the presidential debates was any questions about why the United States and its allies are involved in an undeclared war against the government of Syria.  That’s right: not efforts to “end the violence there,” as the public is told, but rather stoking the violence, as a means of ejecting the long-running Assad regime.

As we’ve noted here at WhoWhatWhy again and again, the effort to remove first Muammar Qaddafi in Libya and now Bashar al-Assad in Syria, as well as the urgency to isolate and pressure the Iranian regime, have little if anything to do with the publicly-stated reasons.

Now, while all attention has been on the presidential race, events have continued to unfold in Syria to little public attention. Here’s a roundup of things you probably didn’t hear over the past month or two:

First, we have the fact that the United States has increasingly abandoned any pretense at principally being peacemakers. New York Times:

The United States indicated…that it was undertaking its most aggressive attempt yet to reshape the Syrian opposition, with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton dismissing the current leadership as a bunch of out-of-touch exiles who should be replaced with a group more representative of the fighters on the ground…..


“We’ve made it clear that the S.N.C. can no longer be viewed as the visible leader of the opposition,” Mrs. Clinton said, referring to the Syrian National Council. It can participate, she added, “but that opposition must include people from inside Syria and others who have a legitimate voice that needs to be heard.”

Consider that: “We’ve made it clear” about what will go on regarding a sovereign country. Truly astonishing, and the most the media will do is report these statements as the normal and rational pronouncements of responsible US officials.

Clinton, on a trip to Croatia, also told reporters: “There has to be representation of those who are on the front lines, fighting and dying today to obtain their freedom.”

While Hillary Clinton was so concerned about Syrians trying to obtain their freedom from their dictatorial government, the US ally Bahrain has banned all protests due to “repeated abuse” of freedom of speech. And a Bahraini has been sentenced to six months in jail for insulting the King in a tweet. None of this upsets the US government.

And in China, a café owner has been given an eight-year sentence for online messages that criticized the Chinese government and proposed that an opposition party be established.

So at a minimum, the US government is very, very selective about where it “supports democracy” and where it does not (Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and other oil-rich or strategic and cooperative Gulf states.).

The evidence suggests that prevailing forces in Washington are far more rational than they’re given credit for being. Thus, when administration spokespeople mention “national security interests” in the Middle East, they mean just that. They may also mention democracy, and women’s rights, and human rights, but any advances on those fronts are merely a welcome byproduct if they happen to be achieved in the places where the US is ostensibly on the side of reformist forces seeking to overthrow the established order.

The national security interests are (ready?)—oil for your car, beryllium for your insulation, lithium for your computer battery. That sort of thing. So….your government really is looking after your interests. It’s just that the details are better left… unmentioned. Of course, such a policy focus also benefits the corporations that fund political campaigns, so everyone gains, everyone here, at least, in the short run, at least. The messy side of war, all that death and destruction, is left to historical retrospectives.

Let’s Talk Turkey

Meanwhile, NATO announced it would protect Turkey against Syria. What it didn’t mention is that Syria is not attacking Turkey. In fact, Turkey is simply the surrogate for the US and Western allies in the effort to overthrow Assad. So, Turkey is constantly provoking Syria and trying to make it out to be an aggressor, which is preposterous on its face as the Syrian regime devotes all of its efforts internally—to its own survival. Disinformation of the most time-tested sort.

As part of its total cooperation in this charade, Turkey forced down a Syrian commercial jetliner, and announced that it had impounded Russian munitions found on board that were intended for the regime in Damascus. To be sure, Turkey is impacted by the thousands of Syrian refugees fleeing across its border, and by the unsettling of Kurdish populations in the region. But it is the agitation against the Syrian government that is causing the regional instability in the first place. Also, it’s hard to understand the justification for blocking Russian arms shipments to a standing government in the area seeking to defend itself when Turkey has purchased billions in armaments from the United States, ostensibly for the same purpose.

Speaking of Turkey, how remarkable is the following? The Turkish television network NTV quoted a US general, Mark Hertling,throwing water on Western-Turkish propaganda accusing Syria of lobbing shells into Turkey.

“We are not sure if these shells are from the Syrian army, from rebels who want to get Turkey involved in the issue or from the PKK [Kurdish Workers’ Party],” he said.

Did we hear that bracing candor in the Western media? Nope. Had the Western media paid attention to what its own general told the Turkish media, Western audiences would realize that Turkey was being made to go along with a charade designed to further tar Assad and justify further Western military efforts to overthrow him.

Meanwhile, on October 9, the New York Times reported that

The United States military has secretly sent a task force of more than 150 planners and other specialists to Jordan to help the armed forces there handle a flood of Syrian refugees, to prepare for the possibility that Syria will lose control of its chemical weapons, and to be positioned should the turmoil in Syria expand into a wider conflict.

This so-called revelation of “secret” operations was based on a briefing from “American officials familiar with the operation.”

The next day, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta (could he be one of those “officials familiar with the operation”?) announced at a NATO conference that he was sending troops to the border between Jordan and Syria, masking both the fact that US troops had previously been sent there with no public notice as well as the true reason they were being sent. The Associated Press did a better job than most traditional news organizations of getting to the core of the matter:

…Speaking at a NATO conference of defense ministers in Brussels, Panetta said the U.S. has been working with Jordan to monitor chemical and biological weapons sites in Syria and also to help Jordan deal with refugees pouring over the border from Syria. The troops are also building a headquarters for themselves.

But the revelation of U.S. military personnel so close to the 19-month-old Syrian conflict suggests an escalation in the U.S. military involvement in the conflict, even as Washington pushes back on any suggestion of a direct intervention in Syria.

The truth is that invasions have long been planned throughout the Middle East, as confirmed both by the stated goals of entities such as the Project for a New American Century, and by the assertions of Gen. Wesley Clark. See this regarding the background to the invasion of Iraq under similar claims of purely defensive motives.

That Panetta would announce the deployment of American troops in the fall of 2012 just as the nation was distracted by the presidential horserace is significant. In fact, American troops have been operating out of the same Jordanian base for almost a year and a half, a tell-tale sign of the West’s direct involvement in supporting if not creating the Syrian uprising in the first place. By making this long-delayed announcement when few were paying attention, the Obama administration could still claim that it was being forthright, and by ascribing the most benign of motives to this action the Pentagon could avoid criticism of yet another (how many have there been now?) undeclared war.

The true reasons for getting rid of Assad are multiple—but none of them are being shared with the public. The foremost one is that Syria is an important ally of the Iranian regime—getting it out of the way makes the big prize of removing Tehran’s ayatollahs more attainable. Then there is the fact that Syria offers Iran access to European waterways. Another surely has to do with concerns in Saudi Arabia over a restive Shiite minority living in its oil-bearing Eastern Province, a minority with ties both to the Shiite leadership of Syria and that of Iran. Finally, and perhaps most importantly: with the US dialing down its military presence in Iraq while oil companies dial up their production there, it’s essential to base Western troops nearby to protect the budding industry. What better than next-door Syria?

How Do Those Syrian Citizens Feel?

Meanwhile, reports from primarily non-American journalists that ordinary Syrians have very mixed feelings about the uprising—and that many are indeed opposed but coming around to the inevitability of it because they are so exhausted by the violence—get little play in the United States.

Nonetheless, after many, many months in which WhoWhatWhy has cast doubts on the balance and fairness of Western reporting that was quick to pin atrocities squarely on the Assad regime (see for example this, this and this), we are finally starting to hear the establishment coming around.

For one thing, the United Nations has declared that the Syrian rebels may be guilty of war crimes based on a video showing them summarily executing captured, helpless government troops. A front-page article in the Nov. 9 New York Times about “rebel missteps” may signal a reappraisal of the situation by mainstream media.

Yet instead of calling for an end to the US role in fomenting violence , a Times editorial has declared that the “political way out” of the “stalemate” in Syria is the “pragmatic” new proposal from Hillary Clinton, i.e., the “most aggressive effort yet to reshape the Syrian opposition.” Rather than showing what it might have learned after decades of US interventionism have led to disaster here and abroad, the Times criticizes China—because “it still refuses to join Western and Arab nations in pressuring [Assad] to give up power.”

And what comes with the end of Assad’s regime? Well, look at Iraq and Libya. Not exactly a cakewalk for democracy, stability, women’s rights, are they?

This goes to show that we have every reason to be as wary of leaving foreign policy in the hands of anonymous newspaper editorial-writers as in the hands of their “expert” friends high up in Washington.

There’s too much at stake for the rest of us to just ignore.

Item: Suicide bombers on the same side as the United States in the Syrian conflict. And the rebels threatening to attack Hezbollah in Lebanon if they don’t stop supporting their longtime ally, the Syrian regime. Imagine Hezbollah as a victim in all this—that’s how crazy this can get.

In fact, here’s Assad himself, in a program airing November 9, speaking on the prospects and consequences of an outright foreign invasion, a la Libya. It’s notable that Assad’s comments were not sought by US media, but by Russia’s English-language equivalent of CNN, RT:

The price of this invasion if it happened is going to be more than the whole world can afford. Because if you have a problem in Syria—and we are the last stronghold of secularism and stability in the region and coexistence, let’s say—it will have a domino effect that will affect the world from the Atlantic to the Pacific. And you know the implication on the rest of the world. I do not think the West is going in that direction, but if they do so, nobody can tell what is next.

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  • Russ Baker

    Russ Baker is Editor-in-Chief of WhoWhatWhy. He is an award-winning investigative journalist who specializes in exploring power dynamics behind major events.

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