April 15, 2003
Aiming at Syria
Stop Them Before They Kill Again
by RON JACOBS
It wasn't but three or four hours after the statue of Saddam Hussein was pulled down by the US Marines (and a few dozen Iraqi extras) in the center of Baghdad before the maddest man on the Potomac, Donald Rumsfeld, issued a warning to the nation of Syria. In effect, Rumsfeld told Syria that its fate would be the same as the Iraqis unless it did his bidding. Further remarks from Rumsfeld and Colin Powell have clarified this threat while simultaneously ratcheting it up.
According to the words of the Bush Imperium, Syria is harboring former members of Saddam's government, has chemical weapons, and aided the old Iraqi military in its ill-fated battle with the US Army, Air Force and Marines. Nobody in the ruling oligarchy down in Washington, D.C. has presented one shred of evidence for these accusations, nor does it seem likely that they plan on doing so any time soon. One can safely assume (based on their presentation of "evidence" against Hussein's Iraq) that they haven't manufactured the evidence they need yet.
Meanwhile, Damascus insists that it has no chemical weapons and has no intention of developing them, and that it has not knowingly harbored any former members of Saddam Hussein's government. It does acknowledge that some may have fled to Syria and may be hiding there, but has stated repeatedly that these Iraqis are in Syria (if they are in Syria) of their own volition and without the help of the government in Damascus. Interestingly, the Yemeni government provided asylum to a former Iraqi diplomat on April 13th without a single comment from Washington.
When it comes to providing asylum to government officials who are wanted for crimes against their own people, the United States has certainly compiled a stellar list of its own in this category. Ask the people of Vietnam where the torturers trained by the CIA went. Or how about the former head of the Saigon government, Nguyen Van Thieu, who fled with millions of dollars worth of gold and moved to California. Maybe we could ask the Iranian people about the American puppet and torture chief, Shah Reza Pahlavi? If Washington hadn't been so insistent on helping him flee justice in Iran, it is quite likely that the Embassy hostages would never have been taken and US-Iranian relations would be on a friendlier basis. Indeed, I would probably not be writing this piece. Unfortunately, we can't rewrite history.
Syria is an urbane and fairly advanced technological society. Its civilization is older than the Bible. Like Iraq, its major source of revenue is oil, although its resources are considerably smaller than other Middle Eastern nations. Its economy is socialistic in nature, although in recent years it has adopted some free market reforms. After World War One and the defeat of the Ottomans by the British and other allied forces, it was an independent nation for a brief time. In 1920, it was made a French mandate, much in the same manner that Iraq was made a British one. To put it simply, when the victors of the First World War divided the spoils, Syria went to France. After the Second World War, it became an independent nation that merged with Egypt and Yemen in 1958 to form the short-lived United Arab Republic under the tutelage of the Arab nationalist Gamal Abdel- Nasser. Upon the breakup of the Republic, Syria once again became a separate country.
Since that time, it has fought two wars with Israel, taken part in peacekeeping operations in Lebanon, supported the US-Kuwaiti position during the first Gulf War (even providing 20,000 troops to the effort) and agreed to various US proposals for peace with Israel that began in 1991. Those peace talks broke off in 1996 and resumed in December 1999. After what appeared to be initial progress, the negotiations stalled in January 2000, when a secret draft treaty with Syrian concessions was published in Israel, leading to a public hardening of Syria's position with respect to the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. The Golan is Syrian land that was captured by Israel in the 1967 war. It is part of the territory that the UN has ordered Israel to return under Resolution 242 and is currently the site of several illegal Israeli settlements. In 2000, Hafez al-Assad, the leader of Syria, died and was replaced by his son, Ba'ashar.
Since the 1967 war and the Israeli occupation of the Golan (along with the West Bank and Gaza), Syria has helped a number of Palestinian resistance groups by providing them with office space and a place to train. Foremost among these groups is the popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). This assistance has kept Syria near the top of Israel's enemies list. Consequently, it has also remained near the top of Washington's list, as well. If Israel and Washington have their way, there is nothing Damascus can do or say short of surrender that would prevent a war. This is exactly the same scenario the world saw unfold in Iraq. Since it worked so well there, one can project that Washington will use it again.
Already, suggestions are emanating from the Pentagon and US State Department that sanctions be levied against Syria. As the world knows, this has become a step towards war. In what should probably be perceived as an attempt to head off armed conflict, spokespeople for the Syrian government have already suggested that they would open up their weapons production and stockpiles to any UN inspections regime. Indeed, as we learned in Iraq, this is another step on the way to war. In Washington's mind, sanctions and inspections are merely the opening forays in a process that will weaken a government to the point where it will either forsake its sovereignty and surrender, or it will go to war no matter what the odds. In short, sanctions and inspections are the first shots fired across the bow. They are no longer a prelude to war, they are part of war itself.
If the global antiwar movement does not want to see another exercise in mass murder and imperial destruction, it must insist that no sanctions be levied against Syria. Ideally, it should also insist that any inspections of Syrian WMD capabilities be accompanied by comparable inspections in the United States, Israel and every other country that supports the US actions against Damascus. This is not a question of supporting the past totalitarian excesses of the government of Syria, nor does it even mean supporting the current regime. It only means, and this is most important, that we oppose the unwarranted threats and unfounded accusations against Syria. They are nothing but a pretext for a war that should not occur. As the past few weeks have proven, the primary threat to peace in the Middle East is not Syria or Iran, it is the United States.
Ron Jacobs is author of The Way the Wind Blew: a history of the Weather Underground.
He can be reached at: rjacobszoo.uvm.edu