In Mafia terms, it’s called «making an offer that can’t be refused». The «offer» is not one of free choice between options that may benefit the object party. In reality, it is about setting up a scenario of duress, under which the object party is coerced to capitulate to detrimental terms of extreme prejudice determined cynically by the other party.
This is the scenario that Washington and its NATO allies are contriving for the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad…
The so-called international peace conference that may take place in the coming weeks, at the behest of Washington and Moscow, is ostensibly aimed at finding a negotiated end to the conflict in Syria that is now in its third year and which has resulted in up to 80,000 deaths. At least half of these deaths are believed to be civilian.
Russian officials have confirmed that the Syrian government is willing to participate, in principle, in the conference with factions of the Syrian «opposition» – provided, says Damascus, that the latter participants do not have «blood on their hands».
That criterion may yet turn out to make the forthcoming conference a non-runner since the main opposition group – the Western-backed Syrian National Coalition (SNC) – is entwined with a host of mercenary forces on the ground that are drenched in blood from a relentless campaign of terrorism and sabotage.
However, it is not even clear if the fractious and mainly exile-based SNC has any authority over the motley crew of militant groups – more than 75 per cent of whom are foreign self-styled jihadi extremists that emanate from 30 or more Arab and other countries, according to United Nations reports.
Chief among these groups that comprise the so-called Free Syrian Army is the Al Nusra Front, the main fighting force, which is aligned with the Al Qaeda-affiliated network that stretches from Russia’s Caucus region, through Afghanistan and Iraq, to Libya, Mali and Niger.
It has to be said that Russia’s intentions for a negotiated peace settlement seem to be honourable – and based on the principle of arriving at some kind of internal Syrian consensus. To that end, Russia maintains the position of not setting preconditions about the political fate of the incumbent President Assad. Russia is supported in this view by Iran and China. It is not, they say, for foreign governments or their regional allies and proxies to determine the outcome of the conference and in particular the political future of Assad.
Contrast that with the position of the other broker – Washington. At a preliminary meeting in Jordan this past week, the US Secretary of State John Kerry insisted, along with NATO allies, Britain, France, Italy and Germany, as well as the Persian Gulf Arab sheikhdoms, that Assad «must go».
Kerry told the assembled «Friends of Syria» that the US was not dictating the outcome of the planned peace conference, but then contradicted himself flatly by repeating the assertion that President Assad would not be part of any Syrian political transition.
«Can a person who has used artillery shells and missiles and Scuds and tanks against women and children and university students – can that person possibly be judged by any reasonable person to have the credibility and legitimacy to lead that country in the future?» asked Kerry.
The veracity of these allegations against the Assad regime is more than a moot point. There is substantial evidence that the violations Kerry was attributing to Syrian government forces, such as the rocket attack on Aleppo University in January that resulted in more than 80 deaths, were in fact committed by Western-backed militants. The use of chemical weapons near Aleppo in March has also been shown recently by Russian RTR journalists to be the work of Western-backed militants, not the regime, as Western governments have been insinuating.
But that aside, the immediate point here is that Kerry and his «Enemies of Syria» coalition are very much trying to dictate terms on the anticipated political process. That same Western intransigence was largely why the Geneva accord reached last June by the UN Security Council came unstuck – and tens of thousands more Syrian deaths followed.
Adding to the warped framework of negotiations, the US, Britain and France are also insisting – in contrast to Russia and China – that Iran should not be permitted to take part in the process. Of course, the NATO powers can rely on their Sunni allies among the Persian Gulf monarchies of Saudi Arabia and Qatar to endorse that stipulation. Why the Western powers and their Arab dictator friends have any more right than Iran – an ally of Syria with vital interests at stake in the conflict – is beyond their permitted rationale or discussion.
So, the upshot is that Assad is being offered a poisoned political chalice. On one hand, he is being told to forfeit the sovereign rights of his people to have him as their leader, and by all accounts a leader with a popular mandate, to give way to a negotiation with «opposition» parties who are solely designated, funded and patronised by foreign powers.
The SNC’s Ghassan Hitto, a Texas-based Syrian businessman, is designated by Washington, London and the former colonial power Paris as Syria’s premier-in-waiting. It is fair to say that Hitto, as with many other American-accented members of the SNC, has negligible popular support within Syria. That is, without any mandate from the Syrian population, these exiles are being foisted to negotiate the political future of Syria – a future that is extremely prejudicial in favour of Western geopolitical interests.
On the other hand – and this is where the Mafia analogy takes hold – the Western powers are making thinly veiled threats that if Assad does not conform to the warped political framework, that is, drink from the poisoned chalice, then all hell will break lose on this country with an even greater escalation of Western-backed violence.
«The United States is lobbying European governments to back a British-led call to amend [lift] the EU arms embargo on Syria,» reported the British Guardian this week, as Washington and its friend were gathering in Jordan.
Up to now, Washington has at least been maintaining the fiction that it is not arming the anti-Assad militants. It has, of course, been plying the mercenaries covertly with weaponry and logistics, along with its NATO allies and the Gulf Arab dictatorships.
Militant commander Brigadier General Salim Idriss has been pleading for Washington to begin openly supplying anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles – not just the assault rifles and explosives that have come so far through the clandestine CIA/MI6 conduits of Turkey, Jordan, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
Since last month, Washington officials have begun briefing media outlets, such as the Washington Post and the New York Times, that the Obama administration is moving towards more direct military intervention in aid of the militants in Syria. «We’re clearly on an upward trajectory,» a senior US official said somewhat cryptically on 30 April. «We’ve moved over to assistance that has a direct military purpose.»
Days later, in the first week of May, US Secretary of Defence Chuck Hagel hosted a press conference at the Pentagon with his British counterpart, Philip Hammond. «Arming the rebels, that’s an option,» said Hagel, indicating an apparent reversal of White House policy of ostensibly only sending «non-lethal aid».
And this week a US Senate committee voted in favour of Washington arming the «rebels» in Syria.
Secretary of State John Kerry is adding to this increasingly articulated threat. Voice of America reported from the Jordanian meeting last week: «Kerry says the Obama administration hopes President Assad ‘will understand the meaning of that’ [shift in US military policy towards Syria].»
This latent threat of greater aggression against Syria by the US, if it does not toe the political line as ordained by Washington, is not a new tactic in America’s underlying objective of regime change.
Last month, the Iranian FARS news agency reported that Syrian envoy to Iran, Adnan Mahmoud, disclosed that as far back as March 2011 – when the conflict was kicking off in Syria – that the then US Secretary of Defence, Robert Gates, had starkly told the Damascus government that it faced «a choice».
The Syrian envoy to Iran was quoted by FARS as saying: «Of course, in the very first weeks of the conflict in Syria, the US Secretary of Defence [Robert Gates] sent a message to the Syrian government, and said we should have cut our ties with the Islamic Republic of Iran if we wanted to stop the war, and stressed that if we did so, they [the US] would provide us with whatever we want». In other words, Washington was making Syria back then «an offer it couldn’t refuse». Well, Syria did refuse back in early 2011 to comply with US demands to cut its strategic ties with Iran, and as time has shown Damascus has since paid a heavy price in terms of human lives and the destruction of the country.
Now again, as the American-backed «peace conference» is being dangled in front of Damascus, Washington is replaying that same cynical offer. Either, drink from this poisoned political chalice – or «we’ll send the boys around to do their worst».