The first part of this two-part series looked primarily at how some elements of the U.S. anti-war movement are assessing the current situation. In it I argue that the maneuvering going on behind closed doors needs to be better appreciated and that it is a mistake for the anti-war movement to now be claiming a victory at "preventing a war." This second part looks at why Obama might be calling for regime change in Syria. Understanding that is critical to the anti-war movement finding its way in the midst of a situation fraught with difficulties and high-stakes.
Those who rule us are incapable of truly understanding the conditions in which they operate and where they seek to call the shots, not because they lack intelligence and information (they have plenty of that) but because their understanding is warped by their worldview of treating people and other governments as objects to be manipulated. It is always shocking to those who approach the world that way when the conscious dynamic role of the people is unleashed. Our rulers think that people will be intimidated by brute force and not dare to rise up against seemingly impossible odds. They think that way partly because they themselves lack that kind of courage and determination: to face those with fierce weapons and still fight them even when your chances look slim to none. I mean that both in the literal sense and in the largest metaphorical sense.
It’s worth looking at what Zbigniew Brzezinski said in June of this year about the Syrian situation. Brzezinski was National Security Adviser to President Jimmy Carter and author of the U.S. policy of backing the Afghan mujahedeen against the Soviet invasion and occupation of Afghanistan from 1979-1989. This policy gave birth to al-Qaeda whose revenge for having the rug pulled out from under them after the U.S. got what it wanted with the Russian withdrawal is most spectacularly known as 9/11. Thus, Brzezinski knows what he speaks of when he warns about the dangers of unintended consequences.
Brzezinski begins his interview at The National Interest this way:
Jacob Heilbrunn: Here we are five years into the Obama administration, and you’re stating that the West is engaging in “mass propaganda.” Is Obama being drawn into Syria because he’s too weak to resist the status quo? What happened to President Obama that brought us here?
Brzezinski: I can’t engage either in psychoanalysis or any kind of historical revisionism. He obviously has a difficult problem on his hands, and there is a mysterious aspect to all of this. Just consider the timing. In late 2011 there are outbreaks in Syria produced by a drought and abetted by two well-known autocracies in the Middle East: Qatar and Saudi Arabia. He all of a sudden announces that Assad has to go—without, apparently, any real preparation for making that happen. Then in the spring of 2012, the election year here, the CIA under General Petraeus, according to The New York Times of March 24th of this year, a very revealing article, mounts a large-scale effort to assist the Qataris and the Saudis and link them somehow with the Turks in that effort. Was this a strategic position? Why did we all of a sudden decide that Syria had to be destabilized and its government overthrown? Had it ever been explained to the American people? Then in the latter part of 2012, especially after the elections, the tide of conflict turns somewhat against the rebels. And it becomes clear that not all of those rebels are all that “democratic.” And so the whole policy begins to be reconsidered.
I think the problem with Syria is its potentially destabilizing and contagious effect—namely, the vulnerability of Jordan, of Lebanon, the possibility that Iraq will really become part of a larger Sunni-Shiite sectarian conflict, and that there could be a grand collision between us and the Iranians. I think the stakes are larger and the situation is far less predictable and certainly not very susceptible to effective containment just to Syria by American power.
Brzezinski goes on to say:
They [U.S. neocons] hope that in a sense Syria would redeem what happened originally in Iraq. But I think what we have to bear in mind is that in this particular case the regional situation as a whole is more volatile than it was when they invaded Iraq, and perhaps their views are also infected by the notion, shared by some Israeli right-wingers, that Israel’s strategic prospects are best served if all of its adjoining neighbors are destabilized. I happen to think that is a long-term formula for disaster for Israel, because its byproduct, if it happens, is the elimination of American influence in the region, with Israel left ultimately on its own. I don’t think that’s good for Israel, and, to me, more importantly, because I look at the problems from the vantage point of American national interest, it’s not very good for us.
Three major things can be drawn from Brzezinski’s comments here. (The rest of his comments are well-worth reading.)
First, calculations by U.S. policy-makers are far more complicated than the rationales they offer publicly via the POTUS. When Obama talks about humanitarian reasons for his plan to bomb Syria, it’s a surrogate for the actual White House calculations. Those calculations put in center place the U.S. Empire’s ability to dictate economic, military, and political affairs across the planet. When policy-makers like Obama and Brzezinski say “American national interest” that is what they mean – what is in the Empire’s interest, and not the American citizen’s, still less the world’s population’s and planet’s, interests.
Second, the Obama Administration’s views about Syria and its stand on Syria are strongly tied to Israel’s views and that of its strongest proponents in the U.S., the neocons. As Brzezinski notes, all of a sudden in 2011/12 the White House and CIA decided that Syria’s government had to be overthrown, well before the alleged Sarin gas incident. Sarin gas is merely the pretext, as even this major proponent of U.S. Empire interests admits.
Third, Brzezinski is very concerned that Syria could become a source of profound destabilization and that U.S. power via bombing and other measures to fund opposition groups to Assad will not be able to contain the contagion unleashed by U.S. efforts to bludgeon its way in the region. He anticipates that this will lead to a kind of Fortress Israel and some undeterminable cataclysm/bloodbath.
Brzezinski’s remarks provide insight into the sharp debates going on in U.S. ruling circles over what to do. Those debates are all occurring within the parameters of their shared understanding that what needs to be protected and advanced are imperialist interests and that the public needs to be manipulated in order to best pursue those aims. None of those in these ruling circles speaks for the people’s interests. The people of Syria, the American domestic population, and the people within the Middle East and beyond are merely pawns to these men and women who make decisions on behalf of the Empire.
U.S. and Israeli foreign policy is governed by what could be characterized as the same reasoning behind antibacterial soap and antibiotics and their overuse – a belief that anything done in the name of eradicating their adversaries is necessary and wise. The way that our bodies remain healthy is not through our complete insulation from unfriendly bacteria but the fact that our friendly bacteria fight off and contain unfriendly bacteria. It is not possible to live lives completely isolated from any source of contamination. The rebound effect of antibacterial soap and antibiotics is that bacteria adjust to measures designed to wipe them out – antibacterial soap and antibiotics kill both friendly bacteria and bacteria that you want to eliminate – and their overuse produces supergerms that have become more potent precisely from their being exposed to antibacterial soap and to antibiotics.
A clear instance of this with respect to Israeli policy was its attack upon Southern Lebanon in 1982 and infamously the Sabra and Shatila Massacre of Palestinians and Lebanese Shiites that Israeli forces purposely enabled. Wikipedia describes the context for this:
By expelling the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), removing Syrian influence over Lebanon, and installing a pro-Israeli Christian government led by Bachir Gemayel, Israel hoped to sign a treaty which Menachem Begin promised would give Israel "forty years of peace". However, the long occupation that followed Israel's 1982 invasion had repercussions for Israel with Hezbollah being conceived to offer resistance to the Israeli occupation.
Hezbollah and its dreaded suicide-bombing tactic, in other words, grew directly out of Israel’s attempts to destroy the PLO. Hezbollah is a more virulent and militant version of the PLO that Israel inadvertently created through its pursuit of “forty years of peace.”
What Brzezinski describes in his interview with TNI is his belief that the U.S. neocon in alliance with Israel’s view is going to prove disastrous for the very proponents of this policy. What we can infer from the Obama Administration’s moves in relation to Syria and Obama’s insistence that Assad must go, even if it means a drastic escalation through a U.S. bombing campaign, is that the Bush Doctrine towards the Middle East – a belief that they could sweep up and topple government after government in quick succession – is the paramount view in the Obama White House.
In 2007 Amy Goodman interviewed Gen. Wesley Clark in which he revealed that he was told by a Pentagon general in September and October 2001 that the Bush White House had decided to take out seven countries in five years – starting with Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Iran – documented in a memo that Clark asked the general not to show him. We know how well that neocon lightning plan has worked out. But the dreams of this kind of clean up in U.S. interests continue under Bush’s successor.
Let us hope that those Americans who still believe that Obama represented change wake up from their dreams and begin to act accordingly, based on reality rather than on wishful thinking.
Dennis Loo is a member of the steering committee of World Can't Wait. His website is dennisloo.com.