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    Middle East
     Jul 12, 2012


Page 1 of 3
COMMENT
Covering Syria: The information war
By Aisling Byrne

The narrative that has been constructed by the Western mainstream media on Syria may seem to be self-evident from the scenes presented on television, but it is a narrative duplicitously promoted and coordinated so as to conceal and facilitate the regime-change project that is part of the war on Iran.

What we are seeing is a new stage of information war intentionally constructed and cast as a simplistic narrative of a struggle for human rights and democracy so as deliberately to exclude other interpretations and any geo-strategic motivation.

The narrative, as CNN puts it, is in essence this: "The vast majority of reports from the ground indicate that government forces are killing citizens in an attempt to wipe out civilians seeking [President Bashar] al-Assad's ouster" - the aim being

 

precisely to elicit a heart-wrenching emotional response in Western audiences that trumps all other considerations and makes the call for Western/Gulf intervention to effect regime change.

But it is a narrative based on distortion, manipulation, lies and videotape.

In the first months, the narrative was of unarmed protesters being shot by Syrian forces. This then evolved into one of armed insurgents reluctantly "being provoked into taking up arms", as US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton explained, to defend peaceful protesters.

It was also a narrative that from the outset, according to a recent report in Time magazine, that the US has facilitated by providing training, support and equipment to Syrian opposition "cyber-warriors".

Reports confirmed by leading Syrian opposition leaders in April 2011 reveal that in addition to cyber-training, weapons and money from Syrian exiles, as well as from a "major Arab Gulf country" and a Lebanese political party, were being distributed to "young demonstrators". The former head of Russian intelligence, Yevgeny Primakov, similarly noted that the Syrian conflict "started with armed revolts against the authorities, not peaceful demonstrations".

Ironically, one of the most accurate descriptions of the sectarian conflict we are witnessing in Syria comes from an assessment by the neoconservative Brookings Institute in its March 2012 report "Assessing Options for Regime Change in Syria", one option being for "the United States [to] fight a "clean" war ... and leave the dirty work on the ground to the FSA [Free Syrian Army], perhaps even obviating a massive commitment to Iraq-style nation-building".

"Let the Arabs do it," echoed Israeli President Shimon Peres. "Do it yourself and the UN will support you." This point was not lost on one leading Turkish commentator, who noted that US Senator John McCain "said that there would be no American boots on the ground in Syria. That means we Turks will have to spill our precious blood to get what McCain and others want in the States."

In the wake of the failures at state-building in Afghanistan and Iraq, direct intervention, with all the responsibilities this would entail, would not go down well in cash-strapped Western nations. Better to get others to do the "dirty work" - pursue "regime change by civil war".

"The United States, Europe and the Gulf states ... are starving the regime in Damascus and feeding the opposition. They have sanctioned Syria ... and are busy shoveling money and helping arms supplied by the Gulf get to the rebels," Joshua Landis, director of the Center of Middle Eastern Studies, wrote in Foreign Policy in June.

With regional allies prepared to do the "dirty work" of providing increasingly sophisticated weapons clearly geared for purposes other than "self-defense", and the FSA and its jihadist allies doing the "dirty work" within Syria (their salaries paid by Saudi Arabia), the US and European nations can proffer their clean hands by limiting support to communications equipment, intelligence and humanitarian aid, and of course to providing the moral posturing required to topple the Syrian system and implant a regime hostile to Iran and friendly to Israel. Having "clean hands" enables the US, France and Britain to pose as abiding by UN standards, while at the same time flouting the UN Charter by promoting an attack on a member state.

Time magazine reported last month that the administration of US President Barack Obama "has tiptoed across an invisible line. [It] said it will not actively support the Syrian opposition in its bid to oust Assad ... [but] as US officials have revealed, the administration has been providing media-technology training and support to Syrian dissidents by way of small non-profits like the Institute for War & Peace Reporting and Freedom House.

"Viral videos of alleged atrocities," noted Time, "have made Assad one of the most reviled men on the planet, helping turn the Arab League against him and embarrassing his few remaining allies almost daily."

It is a position that reeks of hypocrisy: as US columnist Barbara Slavin notes, "Without a UN Security Council mandate, the prospects for US military intervention in Syria are minimal ... the provision of communications gear frees up others to provide weapons."

A US official quoted by Associated Press was more frank: Washington's equipment and medical supplies to the opposition "can now be easily augmented with weapons from other donors. Smuggling lines are smuggling lines. We use the same donkeys," he said, pointing out that routes are in essence the same for bandages as they are for bullets.

And while various Western governments are helping "document crimes" committed by Syrian forces, these same governments have refused to investigate their own killings of civilians in attacks by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in Libya. NATO "created its own definition for 'confirmed' deaths: only a death that NATO itself investigated and corroborated could be called confirmed", enabling the alliance to conclude: "We have no confirmed reports of civilian casualties."

Britain was the only country involved in the bombings to conduct its own inquiry. Its report accepted "that coalition forces did their best to prevent and minimize civilian casualties ... We commend them for this approach."

For every tragic story like journalist Marie Colvin's final dispatch before she was killed while embedded for British media with the FSA ("In Babr Amr. Sickening. Cannot understand how the world can stand by. Watched a baby die today. Shrapnel: doctors could do nothing. His little tummy just heaved and heaved until he stopped. Feeling Helpless"), there are other similar tragedies, committed by the insurgents, that are rarely reported in the mainstream Western press.

You won't read in the mainstream press of foreign jihadists increasingly pouring into Syria to fight their holy war; you won't read that some ultraconservative Salafi sheikhs in Saudi Arabia are running their own military network inside Syria; you won't read how Assad's support during the 14-month crisis has if anything increased in light of the insecurity gripping the country; you won't read comments like those of the Lebanese Christian Maronite patriarch who said that while "Syria, like other countries, needs reforms which the people are demanding ... the closest thing to democracy [in the Arab world] is Syria".

You won't read how the head of the opposition in Turkey, a former ambassador to Washington, Faruk Logoglu, has said that what Turkey is doing hosting armed FSA fighters and allowing them to carry out attacks in Syria is "is against all international norms; against all neighborly relations ... It is a basic rule that countries must respect the sovereignty of others."

You won't read how armed insurgents used the Arab League observer mission's ceasefire to "reinforce themselves and bring supplies from Lebanon, knowing the regime would be limited in its ability to obstruct them at that time", or how they have used the Kofi Annan plan to prepare for larger attacks.

While we have seen extensive demonization of Assad, his wife and family, with the president depicted recently in the British press bathing in blood, you won't read articles demonizing the Saudi or Qatari regimes, or highlighting the hundreds of millions of dollars they have poured into political parties and groups, particularly Salafists, across the region in their "counter-revolution" against change; or the recent declaration by the official Saudi Mufti for all churches in the Arabian Peninsula to be demolished (which was not covered by a single Western mainstream news outlet); or as a senior Sunni political figure told me recently, the more than 23,000 detainees in Saudi prisons, a majority of whom (a recent report notes 90%) have degrees (to be fair, Chatham House did comment on this in a recent report that this "is indicative of the prevalence of a university education"). 

Continued 1 2 3






There will be hell to pay for NATO's Holy War (Jul 10, '12)

Halting Syrian chaos (Jul 7, '12)


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(24 hours to 11:59pm ET, Jul 10, 2012)

 
 



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