The scales seem to have tipped once again over the Syria crisis, this time weighing on the side of a possible diplomatic solution, instead of imminent US military strikes on the Arab country that many fear the White House is determined on pushing.
In a televised address to the nation this week, US President Barack Obama said that he would ask Congress to delay a vote authorizing American forces to launch missiles on Syria because of a proposed Russian plan to place all of Syria’s chemical weapons under international control.
While not sounding convinced that the Russian proposal would work – and still urging the American public to back his military strike plans on Syria – nevertheless President Obama said that he was willing to explore the diplomatic alternative.
The Russian tender for Syria to hand over its chemical arsenal for verifiable destruction was enthusiastically received by the Syrian government. Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem, who was in Moscow this week, immediately endorsed the plan set forth by his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov.
The Syrian government also declared that it would sign the 1993 international convention banning the use of chemical weapons. “We want to join the convention on the prohibition of chemical weapons.
We are ready to observe our obligations in accordance with that convention, including providing all information about these weapons,” Muallem said, adding: “We are ready to declare the location of the chemical weapons, stop production of the chemical weapons, and show these [production] facilities to representatives of Russia and other United Nations member states.
” Only days before, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had reiterated his country’s official position in a primetime American TV interview when he said that he would not confirm or deny the possession of chemical weapons.
However, in that interview Assad categorically denied that his government’s forces were responsible for the alleged chemical weapons atrocity on 21 August near the capital, Damascus, which resulted in hundreds of deaths.
The US and its Western allies, Britain and France, have vociferously accused the Assad government of being the perpetrator of the 21 August incident and of having used chemical weapons on several previous occasions. The American military assault plans on Syria, which gathered pace in the days following 21 August, have been presented as a “punitive” measure against Assad forces for having ostensibly breached international norms with the use of prohibited chemical weapons.
Given the American armada hastily assembled off the coast of Syria, including four destroyers capable of launching 200 Tomahawk cruise missiles, it is not surprising that the Syrian government grasped the diplomatic alternative to avert aggression. Following Obama’s announcement this week that he was prepared to explore the Russian gambit of decommissioning Syria’s chemical weapons, there was palpable relief among ordinary citizens on the streets of Damascus. One man, with tears in his eyes, told media reporters of how his children had been living in terror for the past week, fearing that their city would be destroyed by American bombardment.
It is not just the people of Syria who are relieved at the prospect of a political way-out of the tense standoff. Millions of others around the world were aghast at the collision course that Washington was (and still is) pursuing in a powder-keg region, which could trigger a global conflagration between nuclear powers. Reflecting this sense of respite, the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon issued a welcoming public statement within hours of the Russian proposal to eliminate Syria’s chemical munitions.
The innovative move to remove Syria’s chemical weapons from the equation was also backed by China and Iran, both allies of Moscow and Damascus. And, seemingly increasing the prospects of success, the proposal was given a cautious welcome from Britain, France and Germany.
Despite this emerging diplomatic common ground, what are the chances of a chemical weapons deal working?
On the optimistic side, some analysts have averred that the Obama administration will seize the opportunity as a way of avoiding an embarrassing No vote in the Congress on his military plans in Syria. The possible rejection by US lawmakers of military action in Syria seems to have taken Washington by surprise. When Obama first announced on 31 August that he was taking his case for punitive strikes to the Senate and House of Representatives, he did so while also confidently reminding the public that he retained the sole right to authorize military action as Commander-in-Chief. During early briefings of Congress last week, Secretary of State John Kerry said that the president was “not counting on a No vote”.
That White House confidence has ebbed markedly in subsequent days as the austerity-stricken American public mounts nation-wide rallies denouncing any military strike on Syria. The latest poll shows that some 70 per cent of Americans are vehemently opposed to the president’s call for military action in the Levant. That political backlash has no doubt made waves on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers are mindful of retaining their seats in forthcoming elections. The national anti-war mood is such that the White House is now suddenly leery of winning a Yes vote in Congress, where only last week it was expecting the usual rubber-stamp acquiescence to its bellicose plans.
Thus, this line of thought goes, Obama is quietly backing off his earlier militarism and is only too glad to avail of a possible get-out-of-jail card in the form of Russia’s proposal to decommission Syria’s chemical stockpile.
So, if all goes well in this scenario, everyone stands to gain some kudos in stepping back from the brink of a possible all-out war. Obama is seen to act as the reasonable Western leader who “gave peace a chance” and redeeming his tarnished Nobel Laureate status; Russia gets kudos for having initiated the diplomatic rescue of a dire dynamic; and the Assad government in Syria obviously gains from not being bombed back to the Stone Age and being over-run by marauding Jihadists with a death-wish.
The problem with this optimistic conjecture is that it is based on a false premise. The issue is not really about purported Western concern over the Syrian government’s alleged use of chemical weapons. It is fundamentally about regime change, and no matter what the Assad government does with its chemical weapons it will never be enough to appease the Western agenda…
Obama reprised the faux Western concern in his nation-wide address this week when he asked: “What kind of world will we live in if the United States of America sees a dictator brazenly violate international law with poison gas and we choose to look the other way?” The litany of criminal chemical weapons use by the US and its allies over several decades, from Vietnam to Iran, from Iraq to Palestine, is too long to go into in detail here. But suffice to say that the belated Western sanctimony over alleged chemical weapons in Syria is so replete with double standards and hypocrisy that it can be quickly dismissed.
Meanwhile, in the real world, as opposed to the Western-propaganda constructed one, Syria has been targeted for the past 30 months in a US-led geo-strategic criminal campaign of regime change. This has involved the US and Western and regional allies fuelling a covert war of aggression in Syria to topple the Assad government, beginning in mid-March 2011 under the guise of the Arab Spring popular revolts. The US-led dirty war in Syria has relied primarily on fielding an international mercenary army of Jihadists, with Al Qaeda links and influenced by Saudi Wahhabist extremism. This long-standing proxy arrangement harks back to the creation of Al Qaeda during the 1980s in Afghanistan by American, British and Saudi military intelligence to destabilize the then Soviet-backed government in Kabul.
The Western agenda for regime change in Syria goes as far back as 2001, and possibly before that, when the Washington establishment adopted the neoconservative foreign policy goals of re-writing the geopolitical map in the vital oil-rich Middle East. Assad is a particularly plum prize because of his close alliance with the West’s geopolitical rivals, Russia, China and Iran. The Syrian government is also closely allied with Lebanon’s Hezbollah resistance movement, which has proven to be a recalcitrant opponent to Western imperialism in the Middle East since it defeated Israel in the 2006 war in Lebanon.
It’s worth restating that this Western rolling plan for regime change across the Middle East was disclosed by former NATO General Wesley Clark in 2007. He revealed that when Washington was embarking on its war on Afghanistan in late 2001 under the “war on terror” pretext, it had already drawn up a plan to target seven other countries, namely, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Iran. There is every reason to believe that these objectives are still driving US intervention in the region.
It is this geo-strategic calculus that defines Washington relation to Syria, and it certainly offers a substantial explanation for the conflict that has been raging in that country for the past two and half years, resulting in a death toll of more than 100,000 and a refugee population of more than six million in a nation of just 22 million.
There is a danger that the adopted framework may bolster Western political leverage over Syria – a leverage that is wholly illegitimate in the first place. Recall that the US, Britain and France have accused the Assad government of using chemical weapons based on negligible hard evidence. Yet, on the basis of secret and uncorroborated allegations, the US has mobilized a veritable war machine ready to strike at Syria in a manner that is outside of the UN Charter and the Security Council. In other words, through use of gunboat diplomacy and state terrorism, the US and its allies are in effect intimidating Syria into surrendering its sovereign right over chemical weapons.
After all, the US, Britain and France are believed to possess huge stockpiles of chemical weapons, as is their ally, Israel. But no one is forcing these states to disarm unilaterally under the threat of imminent attack.
Adding insult to irony is the probable fact that the suspected chemical weapon attack near Damascus on 21 August was carried out by the Western-backed militants in order to provoke a red line for foreign intervention. There is a growing body of credible evidence to support this claim, including official Russian government reports, admissions by the Western-backed militants, and more recently testimony by a Belgian researcher and Italian journalist who were released from militant captivity in Syria and who vouch that the chemical attack was carried out by this group.
If the 21 August attack near Damascus was indeed a false flag perpetrated by the Western-backed Jihadists, then there is good reason to suspect that these groups will repeat the provocation in the future, with Western governments and media reiterating the same false allegations against the Syrian government. The problem will be compounded for Damascus if this occurs after it has officially decommissioned its stockpile of chemicals and signed up to the international convention banning such weapons. Then the Western-imposed pariah status on Syria will be elevated even further.
It is notable that the French government this week proposed that Syria has 15 days to put its chemical weapons beyond use or it faces military action. Also, France added other tendentious conditions, such as insisting that any deal must be predicated on the Syrian government accepting blame for the 21 August attack, and calling for state prosecutions in the International Criminal Court for past alleged atrocities, going back to the start of the Syrian crisis in March 2011. Russia rightly rejected this French proposal for implementing a chemical weapons deal in Syria. But the French move indicates how Western states will seek to politicize the chemical issue to a point where it could become unworkable, with the Syrian government unduly getting the blame for it not working, much like the hobbled Geneva II political process.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has also called on Washington to explicitly drop its threat of military action on Syria while the parties try to work out an acceptable modality for the chemical weapons decommissioning.
Putin said: “It’s hard to make any country – Syria or another country, any other state in the world – disarm on a unilateral basis if an attack is being prepared against it.” And he added a fair point: “It is well known that Syria has a certain arsenal of chemical weapons and Syrians have always considered it to be an alternative to Israeli nuclear weapons.” Indeed, the lopsided focus of false allegations against Syria rather than the egregious irrefutable crimes of Israel, illustrates the warped, self-serving framework that the West is permitting itself to impose.
The upshot is that there is a danger the Western states will use the chemical weapons issue as just another lever to pile unwarranted pressure and constraints on the Syrian government. The Western states are brazenly pushing their propaganda line that it is the Syrian government that is guilty over the use of chemical weapons in spite of substantial evidence to the contrary. Obama told American citizens this week: “If we fail to act, the Assad regime will see no reason to stop using chemical weapons.” By complying with any surrender of chemical weapons, there is a risk that the Syrian government inadvertently lends credence to the audacious Western disinformation.
The final irony is that the crisis of imminent war on Syria and the Middle East – an act of outrageous aggression – has been created by Washington and its allies colluding in murderous provocation. Yet these powers are using that criminality to extract unfair concessions from Syria, and in a way that might give them legitimacy to follow through with threats of military attack – if they “show” that Syria is not complying with their twisted terms for handing over chemical weapons.