. The Road to Damascus | London Progressive Journal
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The Road to Damascus

Wed 19th Jun 2013

The front page headline in last Friday’s London Evening Standard declared: “Cameron: We must act over Syria Gas Attacks”. The accompanying article conveyed the British Prime Minister’s support for the “candid assessment” performed by US intelligence services that ‘proved’ Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the latest Middle Eastern leader to find himself in NATO’s crosshairs, had crossed the “red line” by using “chemical weapons…against his own people”.

In the same article, Washington’s ‘humanitarian’ aspirations were juxtaposed by the more demure comments of a senior advisor to Russian President Vladimir Putin who commented that the dossier compiled by American spooks “does not look convincing”.

In recent weeks Russia has come under fire from the United States and its allies after voicing misgivings about Western intervention in Syria.

These powers, eager for further involvement in the Middle East, cynically accuse Russia of having a personal interest in backing Assad, pointing to the presence of a small Russian naval base at the Syrian port of Tarsus.

According to the Transnational Institute, part of the Institute for Policy Studies based in Washington DC, evidence shows that whereas in 2009 the US could boast having “some 1000 military bases and installations” spanning across the globe, Russia is thought to host around 25 military installations outside its borders, all of which are in former Soviet republics with the exception of the lone site in Syria. One also wonders whether Russia, China and other nations feel threatened surrounded hundreds of NATO military bases housing thousands of NATO troops.

It is unsurprising that the upper echelons of Russia’s leadership, or anyone else for that matter, should question the veracity of the most recent dossier to be churned out by the American secret services. Anyone old enough to remember the invasion of Vietnam will recall Nixon’s famous ‘Domino effect’ which theorised that if the people of Vietnam were allowed to freely elect ‘communists’ the ‘free world’ would soon be fighting the Reds here, there and everywhere. Fast forward to recent memory and post 9/11 Bush, Blair and the neo-cons preached about the threat of dirty bombs and mushroom clouds laying waste to major cities. Remember the forged papers purporting that Iraqi agents tried to obtain Yellowcake, a Uranium ore, from Niger, alongside the ‘evidence’ that Saddam Hussein could unleash weapons of mass distraction upon an unsuspecting Europe and North America within 45 minutes.

The faulty intelligence embroiled numerous Western powers in the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq which resulted in millions killed, maimed and displaced. Sectarian conflicts were reignited too. Another side effect was a surge in terrorism by the Islamic fundamentalists who had been earmarked as the raison d’être for invasion. The most recent foray into Libya in 2011, which was sold as essential for removing a dictator killing his own people, has led to the disintegration of that country into fiefdoms led by warlords, groups that sympathise with Al-Qaeda and, God knows who else. The military hardware thrown into the conflict by certain Middle Eastern states led to the arming of Al-Qaeda affiliated groups such as the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group which in turn caused instability to spread across Libya’s porous borders into surrounding countries such as Algeria and Mali. Now British intelligence report that the vast arms caches present across Libya are serving as “Tesco” for various belligerent groups. A quote from an article in the Sunday Times underscores the severity of the situation:

It is understood MI6 estimates there are a million tons of weaponry in Libya — more than the entire arsenal of the British Army — and much of it is unsecured.” - MI6 warns Libyan arms dumps are ‘Tesco for world terrorists’ (Sunday Times 16th June)

If one did not know better, it would not be difficult to imagine NATO having an agenda creating discord in mineral rich regions of the globe.

Nevertheless, whether through stupidity or scheming, NATO powers can ill afford to destabilise yet another country in an already volatile region.

The casus belli doing the rounds at present proclaims that the forces of Bashir al-Assad have used chemical weapons against the Syrian people.

However, there is no firm evidence to date that verifies this accusation. When several months ago Obama warned Assad that the use of chemical weapons would be a “red line”, the traversal of which would invite American intervention, I began to wonder how long it would take before ‘evidence’ of said chemical weapons would suddenly appear.

Conversely, Carla Del Ponte, a member of the UN Independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria, has suggested that the Syrian rebels, lauded as ‘the good guys’ by some authorities within NATO member states, used sarin gas against the Syrian people. (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/uns-carla-del-ponte-says-there-is-evidence-rebels-may-have-used-sarin-in-syria-8604920.html)

While Bashar al-Assad has undoubtedly caused pain and suffering to his people and bears the responsibility for any war crimes committed by his forces, the Syrian people alone ought to be the ones who decide the fate of their country and leader. The ‘defensive’ alliance known as NATO passed its sell by date following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the existence of which long provided a handy excuse for militarisation and endless wargames. It is also worth pointing out the easily discernible reality that NATO, via the command of its main player the United States, cares not about civilians or their oppressors. An expanding sphere of influence is the top priority- an indirect yet clear message to Moscow, Beijing, Tehran and others not in the club.

The accusation of chemical weapons use and calls for arming the Syrian rebels and/or creating a ‘no-fly zone’ come suspiciously hot on the heels of a number of victories by al-Assad’s forces, who in recent months have succeeded in recapturing a significant amount of Syrian territory formerly held by rebels armed and funded by Saudi Arabia, the UAE and others.

Another statistic that throws a spanner in the works of those advocating support for the rebels emerged from research conducted by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, based in London, who calculated that of the 96,000 individuals killed in the Syrian conflict so far, over 43% of the deaths are accounted for by security forces fighting on behalf of the Syrian government. It was also reported that over 2,000 foreign fighters have been killed after joining the ranks of the rebels. The figures suggest a two sided conflict as opposed to a one sided bloodbath. http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2013/06/03/192881/assad-backers-reportedly-make.html

Undoubtedly a number of Syrians fighting the forces of Bashar al-Assad have legitimate grievances against the regime and genuinely wish for the birth of a more democratic nation. However, the coalition comprised of the Free Syrian Army, the Syrian National Council and numerous other groups include a significant proportion of unsavoury individuals, such as those belonging to the Al-Qaeda linked Al-Nusra front. The impulsiveness of supporting the enemy of an enemy has produced disastrous results for Western nations in the past.

Sensible commentators have stated from the outset of the conflict that a peaceful solution requires getting all parties around a table. The US led approach of excluding Bashar al-Assad from any negotiated solution and the refusal of sections of the Syrian rebels to attend peace talks in Geneva prolongs the stalemate and adds succour to the cause of those calling for an escalation in the conflict.

Let us hope that Western leaders undergo their metaphorical road to Damascus before it is too late and we witness full scale war in the Middle East. Or perhaps that is the very aim of the game...

Dr Tomasz Pierscionek is a psychiatrist and editor of the London Progressive Journal

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