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    Middle East
     Jan 5, 2012


Page 1 of 3
A mistaken case for Syrian regime change
By Aisling Byrne

"War with Iran is already here," wrote a leading Israeli commentator recently, describing "the combination of covert warfare and international pressure" being applied to Iran.

Although not mentioned, the "strategic prize" of the first stage of this war on Iran is Syria; the first campaign in a much wider sectarian power-bid. "Other than the collapse of the Islamic Republic itself," Saudi King Abdullah was reported to have said last summer, "nothing would weaken Iran more than losing Syria." [1]

By December, senior United States officials were explicit about their regime change agenda for Syria: Tom Donilon, the US National Security Adviser, explained that the "end of the [President Bashar al-]Assad regime would constitute Iran's

 
greatest setback in the region yet - a strategic blow that will further shift the balance of power in the region against Iran."

Shortly before, a key official in terms of operationalizing this policy, Under Secretary of State for the Near East Jeffrey Feltman, had stated at a congressional hearing that the US would "relentlessly pursue our two-track strategy of supporting the opposition and diplomatically and financially strangling the [Syrian] regime until that outcome is achieved". [2]

What we are seeing in Syria is a deliberate and calculated campaign to bring down the Assad government so as to replace it with a regime "more compatible" with US interests in the region.

The blueprint for this project is essentially a report produced by the neo-conservative Brookings Institute for regime change in Iran in 2009. The report - "Which Path to Persia?" [3] - continues to be the generic strategic approach for US-led regime change in the region.

A rereading of it, together with the more recent "Towards a Post-Assad Syria" [4] (which adopts the same language and perspective, but focuses on Syria, and was recently produced by two US neo-conservative think-tanks) illustrates how developments in Syria have been shaped according to the step-by-step approach detailed in the "Paths to Persia" report with the same key objective: regime change.

The authors of these reports include, among others, John Hannah and Martin Indyk, both former senior neo-conservative officials from the George W Bush/Dick Cheney administration, and both advocates for regime change in Syria. [5] Not for the first time are we seeing a close alliance between US/British neo-cons with Islamists (including, reports show [6], some with links to al-Qaeda) working together to bring about regime change in an "enemy" state.

Arguably, the most important component in this struggle for the "strategic prize" has been the deliberate construction of a largely false narrative that pits unarmed democracy demonstrators being killed in their hundreds and thousands as they protest peacefully against an oppressive, violent regime, a "killing machine" [7] led by the "monster" [8] Assad.

Whereas in Libya, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) claimed it had "no confirmed reports of civilian casualties" because, as the New York Times wrote recently, "the alliance had created its own definition for 'confirmed': only a death that NATO itself investigated and corroborated could be called confirmed".

"But because the alliance declined to investigate allegations," the Times wrote, "its casualty tally by definition could not budge - from zero". [9]

In Syria, we see the exact opposite: the majority of Western mainstream media outlets, along with the media of the US's allies in the region, particularly al-Jazeera and the Saudi-owned al-Arabiya TV channels, are effectively collaborating with the "regime change" narrative and agenda with a near-complete lack of questioning or investigation of statistics and information put out by organizations and media outlets that are either funded or owned by the US/European/Gulf alliance - the very same countries instigating the regime change project in the first place.

Claims of "massacres", "campaigns of rape targeting women and girls in predominantly Sunni towns" [10] "torture" and even "child-rape" [11] are reported by the international press based largely on two sources - the British-based Syrian Observatory of Human Rights and the Local Co-ordination Committees (LCCs) - with minimal additional checking or verification.

Hiding behind the rubric - "we are not able to verify these statistics" - the lack of integrity in reporting by the Western mainstream media has been starkly apparent since the onset of events in Syria. A decade after the Iraq war, it would seem that no lessons from 2003 - from the demonization of Saddam Hussein and his purported weapons of mass destruction - have been learnt.

Of the three main sources for all data on numbers of protesters killed and numbers of people attending demonstrations - the pillars of the narrative - all are part of the "regime change" alliance.
The Syrian Observatory of Human Rights, in particular, is reportedly funded through a Dubai-based fund with pooled (and therefore deniable) Western-Gulf money (Saudi Arabia alone has, according to Elliot Abrams [12] allocated US$130 billion to "palliate the masses" of the Arab Spring).

What appears to be a nondescript British-based organization, the Observatory has been pivotal in sustaining the narrative of the mass killing of thousands of peaceful protesters using inflated figures, "facts", and often exaggerated claims of "massacres" and even recently "genocide".

Although it claims to be based in its director's house [13], the Observatory has been described as the "front office" of a large media propaganda set-up run by the Syrian opposition and its backers. The Russian Foreign Ministry [14] stated starkly:
The agenda of the [Syrian] transitional council [is] composed in London by the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights ... It is also there where pictures of 'horror' in Syria are made to stir up hatred towards Assad's regime.
The Observatory is not legally registered either as a company or charity in the United Kingdom, but operates informally; it has no office, no staff and its director is reportedly awash with funding.

It receives its information, it says, from a network of "activists" inside Syria; its English-language website is a single page with al-Jazeera instead hosting a minute-by-minute live blog page for it since the outset of protests. [15]

The second, the LCCs, are a more overt part of the opposition's media infrastructure, and their figures and reporting is similarly encompassed only [16] within the context of this main narrative: in an analysis of their daily reports, I couldn't find a single reference to any armed insurgents being killed: reported deaths are of "martyrs", "defector soldiers", people killed in "peaceful demonstrations" and similar descriptions.

The third is al-Jazeera, whose biased role in "reporting" the Awakenings has been well documented. Described by one seasoned media analyst [17] as the "sophisticated mouthpiece of the state of Qatar and its ambitious emir", al-Jazeera is integral to Qatar's "foreign-policy aspirations".

Al-Jazeera has, and continues, [18] to provide technical support, equipment, hosting and "credibility" to Syrian opposition activists and organizations. Reports show that as early as March 2011, al-Jazeera was providing messaging and technical support to exiled Syrian opposition activists [19] , who even by January 2010 were co-ordinating their messaging activities from Doha.

Nearly 10 months on, however, and despite the daily international media onslaught, the project isn't exactly going to plan: a YouGov poll commissioned by the Qatar Foundation [20] showed last week that 55% of Syrians do not want Assad to resign and 68% of Syrians disapprove of the Arab League sanctions imposed on their country.

According to the poll, Assad's support has effectively increased since the onset of current events - 46% of Syrians felt Assad was a "good" president for Syria prior to current events in the country - something that certainly doesn't fit with the false narrative being peddled.

As if trumpeting the success of their own propaganda campaign, the poll summary concludes:
The majority of Arabs believe Syria's President Basher al-Assad should resign in the wake of the regime's brutal treatment of protesters ... 81% of Arabs [want] President Assad to step down. They believe Syria would be better off if free democratic elections were held under the supervision of a transitional government. [21]
One is left wondering who exactly is Assad accountable to - the Syrian people or the Arab public? A blurring of lines that might perhaps be useful as two main Syrian opposition groups have just announced [22] that while they are against foreign military intervention, they do not consider "Arab intervention" to be foreign.

Unsurprisingly, not a single mainstream major newspaper or news outlet reported the YouGov poll results - it doesn't fit their narrative.

In the UK, the volunteer-run Muslim News [23] was the only newspaper to report the findings; yet only two weeks before in the immediate aftermath of the suicide explosions in Damascus, both the Guardian [24], like other outlets, within hours of the explosions were publishing sensational, unsubstantiated reports from bloggers, including one who was "sure that some of the bodies ... were those of demonstrators".

"They have planted bodies before," he said; "they took dead people from Dera'a [in the south] and showed the media bodies in Jisr al-Shughour [near the Turkish border.]"

Recent reports have cast serious doubt on the accuracy of the false narrative peddled daily by the mainstream international press, in particular information put out by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the LCCs.

In December, the mainstream US intelligence group Stratfor cautioned:
Most of the [Syrian] opposition's more serious claims have turned out to be grossly exaggerated or simply untrue ... revealing more about the opposition's weaknesses than the level of instability inside the Syrian regime. [25]
Throughout the nine-month uprising, Stratfor has advised caution on accuracy of the mainstream narrative on Syria: in September it commented that "with two sides to every war ... the war of perceptions in Syria is no exception". [26]

Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and LCC reports, "like those from the regime, should be viewed with skepticism", argues Stratfor; "the opposition understands that it needs external support, specifically financial support, if it is to be a more robust movement than it is now. To that end, it has every reason to present the facts on the ground in a way that makes the case for foreign backing."

Continued 1 2 3


Israel in the midst of the Arab winter
(Dec 22, '11)


1.
Enter the year of the Taliban

2. Maybe that war with China isn't so far off

3. Japan delivers Lockheed some cheer

4. Playing chess in Eurasia

5. Iran feels the squeeze

6. The life and death of American drones

7. Angels and inquisitors

8. Fear reigns as Jong-eun stamps authority

9. Iran ends 2011 with a blaze of intelligence

10. Angels and inquisitors

(24 hours to 11:59pm ET, Jan 3, 2011)

 
 



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