Kings and Ex-Colonial Powers “Championing” Democracy
By Prabir Purkayastha
February 12, 2012 "Newsclick" -- February 08, 2012 - The Syrian crisis continues even though the attempt to have a Libyan-style solution through the Security Council failed with Russia and China vetoing this move.
The US, other western powers along with the Arab monarchies – Saudi Arabia, Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Qatar -- this time unfortunately with India also in tow, essentially wanted what amounts to a regime change . The key issue on which the Russia and China differed with US backed resolution were on endorsing the one-sided Arab League plan of January 22nd, 2012. The Arab League plan calls for President Bashar al-Assad to hand over power to a deputy and an interim unity government. Russia and China also linked Syrian Government's withdrawal of armed forces from cities and towns to armed opposition groups also stopping their attacks.
India's siding with NATO and the Arab monarchies is another example of its foreign policy deviating from the earlier independent position. As Syria continues to be linked to the Iran issue, this is a continuation of India strategically tailing the US in West Asia.
The media hype on Syria has reached fever proportions. There are daily reports of massacres by Syrian forces, all based on unverified reports of “activists” given wide coverage in western and Saudi/Qatari controlled media. The Report of the Arab League's Mission in Syria submitted in the last week of January, almost completely ignored by mainstream “international” media, does not bear out these tall tales. It talks of armed attacks of both sides – of the security forces and of armed groups. Amongst 5,000 estimated deaths in Syria, about 2,000 appear to be of security forces. It also talks about gross distortions by the media. While the international media reported that Arab League's Observer Mission failed to curb the Assad regime's repression, the picture that the Mission Report gives is quite different. It showed that it had brought down hostilities in towns such as Homs, helped in getting the security forces to go back to the barracks and lead to some normalcy, all within a scant 23-day period which is all that it had on the ground. The Mission had asked for an extension of its mandate, when the Qatar-lead League foreign ministers decided to pull the plug on the mission. Instead, the Arab League, now almost entirely in the hands of Saudi Arabia and Qatar, came out with its ultimatum of Assad stepping down, or it would move the Security Council. Arab League had already decreed sanctions, which the US backed UN resolution wanted to also be followed by all other countries.
The irony of the Gulf monarchies fighting for “democracy” is not lost on the people. Neither is an Iraqi or Libyan style military intervention for bringing democracy to the region. No wonder that the US and other western countries rejected out of hand Russia's amendments, one of which asked for democracy, not just in Syria but for all of Middle East. As can be seen from the list of co-sponsors Morocco, France, United Kingdom, United States, Germany, Portugal Colombia, Togo, Libya, Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Oman, Turkey – 6 are ex-colonial powers and 8 are still monarchies! So much so for their love for democracy in West Asia.
The US backed resolution with the Russian amendments are now widely available . All that Russia and China wanted is that peace be given a chance, and this be worked out within the country, while calling not only on the Assad regime for stopping armed attacks but also “for all sections of the Syrian opposition to dissociate themselves from armed groups engaged in acts of violence” and also urged “member-states and all those in a position to do so to use their influence to prevent continued violence by such groups.” It also wanted the Arab League's demands to be noted instead of being endorsed as NATO powers and the GCC had proposed.
The reason why calling for attacks to stop is not acceptable is that there is a covert war that has been unleashed by the NATO and the GCC/Qatari combination. This covert war also has the support of the Islamist forces – Turkey is openly sheltering the Free Syrian Army near Iskendrun. The Libyan forces involved in the overthrow of Gaddafi have acknowledged that their people are fighting in Syria. Lebanon has become the major supply route for the rebels, as it has borders near the cities such as Homs and Hama.
We had earlier discussed about the importance of Syria in this region – unravelling of the secular fabric of Syria and unleashing sectarian conflict there as the NATO/GCC/Qatari combination is doing, is dangerous for the region as a whole. Then why this dangerous trajectory?
The US and NATO forces have looked upon West Asia as something that they need to control. Complete military dominance is vital to US interests, as President Carter proclaimed in his State of the Union Address on January 23, 1980, “An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America”. This has been the bedrock of US policies in the region, well before President Carter and has continued after as well. This is also the reason for its unwavering support for Israel, apart of course from its domestic Zionist lobby. The growing power of Iran was never a threat as long the Shah ruled there. The Khomeni revolution changed this equation. For a time, Saddam Hussein and Iraq balanced Iran with US help. The US invasion of Iraq and the subsequent destruction of the Bathist regime has removed the only serious opponent that Iran had within the region.
The consequence of the invasion of Iraq today is that Iran has gained enormous influence in Iraq. The Shia forces hostile to Saddam had lived in exile in Iran. Today, they are the major forces in the Iraqi government. As the US power winds down in Iraq, it is Iran's influence that is growing in the region. It is this rise of Irani power that the US wants to contain. Syria, Hezbollah are aligned with Iran. Consequently, the calculation that their weakening will also weaken Iran.
It in this context that the Shia Sunni card is being played – a policy of divide and rule familiar to all ex-colonial people. We today have imperial powers and Sunni monarchs in a tacit alliance with other Islamic forces – Turkey, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya – coming together to try and divide the region in Shia Sunni terms. If they succeed, they believe they can contain Iran. Otherwise, Iran's influence in the region can only grow – it is the biggest economy in the region and has also the largest population.
A Shia-Sunni divide has extremely serious long-term consequence for the region. We have seen what sectarian strife can do in Lebanon. The creation of confessional politics was a part of France's colonial strategy in Lebanon. It is this Lebanon scenario that the ex-colonial powers and the US would like to create all over West Asia. With of course, the help of the monarchies there.
What stands in the way of the US and the imperialist designs in Syria is that a majority of the people in Syria would prefer an Assad regime than hand the country over to the rag-tag opposition. Just as Russia and China will not fall prey to mission creep again as they did in Libya, the people of Syria know today the consequences of a civil war, external military intervention and sectarian strife. After “liberation”, Libya has a fragmented government and continuing armed conflict. MSF has withdrawn from certain centres as it was asked to medically treat torture victims who were promptly tortured again.
Assad has definitely weakened in the last 12 months, but his army stands relatively united despite rumours to the contrary. It has been under sanctions for a long time, and has a set of countries which would still supply it with what it needs and therefore not dependent unlike other Arab regimes. More the foreign intervention and armed attacks, more the likelihood of people turning away from the opposition. And the opposition still continues to be totally fragmented, surviving only due to Turkish and western support.
While the Bassad regime is still holding, the odds against it are mounting. The crucial issue is how the people react to the violence that is being unleashed on them. A lot will also depend on what happens in the struggle for democracy in Yemen, Bahrain, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, etc. A small shift in any country can change the geo-strategic kaleidoscope completely. Finally, Syria is only one piece of the larger West Asian puzzle; its is the larger dynamic that will decide its fate.