The ‘Humanitarian’ Road to Damascus

By Maidhc Ó Cathail – November 12, 2011

On November 8, the Foreign Policy Initiative and the Foundation for Defense of Democracies jointly issued a discussion paper that outlines “policy options for the United States and like-minded nations to further assist the anti-regime Syrian opposition.” Entitled “Towards a Post-Assad Syria,” the paper advocates imposing “crippling sanctions” on the Assad government, providing assistance to Syrian opposition groups, and imposing no-fly/no-go zones in Syria.

Founded in 2009, the Foreign Policy Initiative is the successor organisation to the Project for the New American Century, a neoconservative advocacy group that relentlessly pushed for war with Iraq from its inception in 1997. FPI’s board of directors consists of PNAC co-founders, Robert Kagan and William Kristol; Dan Senor, a former intern at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee; and Eric Edelman, a Paul Wolfowitz protégé at the Pentagon who, thanks to support from Richard Perle, succeeded the scandal-ridden Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith in 2005. In a 2004 article entitled “Serving Two Flags,” Stephen Green named Wolfowitz, Perle and Feith as “the principals” in a pro-Israel neocon network who had “demonstrated, in their previous government service, a willingness to sacrifice U.S. national security interests for those of another country.”

Established shortly after the 9/11 attacks to advocate for an aggressive “war on terror,” the Foundation for Defense of Democracies has also demonstrated a preeminent concern for Israel’s security interests. Among its more notable funders are Edgar M. Bronfman, president of the World Jewish Congress from 1979 to 2007; Charles Bronfman and Michael Steinhardt, co-founders of Taglit Birthright which offers free trips to Israel for young Jewish adults as an inducement to go on its pro-Israel indoctrination programme; media mogul Haim Saban, who pledged $13 million to the Brookings Institution in 2002 to found the Saban Center for Middle East Policy in order to influence U.S. politics in a pro-Israel direction; Jennifer Mizrahi, director of The Israel Project; and Dalck Feith, father of the aforementioned “security risk” Douglas Feith. “With the disclosure of its donor rolls,” Eli Clifton wrote in a July 19 report, “it becomes increasingly apparent that FDD’s advocacy of U.S. military intervention in the Middle East, its hawkish stance against Iran, and its defense of right-wing Israeli policy is consistent with its donors’ interests in ‘pro-Israel’ advocacy.”

While Israel’s longstanding interest in destabilising Syria goes unmentioned, the FPI/FDD discussion paper stresses two of the groups’ well-worn themes: fighting terrorism and protecting human rights. “Long a sponsor of terrorism beyond its borders,” the paper asserts, “the Syrian government is now waging an internal war against its own people.”

Acknowledging that the U.N. Security Council is “unlikely to act anytime soon” due to what they decry as “gridlock” imposed by Russia and China, the FPI and FDD take it upon themselves to propose what options they think the United States has for responding to “the Assad regime’s provocations.” Citing a paper by Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institution, which suggests the “military options” of an air campaign, a maritime operation to enforce strong sanctions, a no-fly and no-go zone, and even an invasion to carry out regime change, they propose keeping those options “on the table” while exploring some additional “intermediate steps.”

Critical of the Obama administration’s slow response to the Syrian crisis, the FPI/FDD paper urges the President and Congress to “work to quickly pass legislation for harsher U.S. sanctions on Syria.” As examples of relevant pending bills, the paper cites the Syria Sanctions Act of 2011, originally introduced by Senators Kirsten Gillibrand, Joe Lieberman and Mark Kirk; and the Syria Freedom Support Act, originally introduced by Representatives Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Eliot Engel. While few members of Congress can afford to cross the Israel lobby, it wouldn’t come as a surprise to lobby-watchers to hear that Gillibrand, Lieberman, Kirk, Ros-Lehtinen and Engel were the ones to “introduce” what was almost certainly AIPAC-crafted legislation.

To bolster their case for no-fly and no-go zones in Syria, FPI and FDD point out that “leading lawmakers are now discussing the possibility.” Senator Joe Lieberman, they note, “first suggested looking at military options to protect Syrian civilians in March 2011, and returned to the idea of no-fly and no-go zones in October 2011.” They also refer to Senator John McCain’s October 23 speech before a World Economic Forum meeting in Jordan, when he ventured, “Now that military operations in Libya are ending, there will be renewed focus on what practical military operations might be considered to protect civilian lives in Syria.” As those familiar with the careers of Lieberman and McCain well know, they are certainly “leading lawmakers” when it comes to putting Israel’s interests ahead of America’s.

If the “humanitarians” at the Foreign Policy Initiative and the Foundation for Defense of Democracies succeed in getting the Obama administration to adopt their “options” to assist the anti-regime Syrian opposition, Bill Kristol will soon be celebrating the sixth “war of Muslim liberation” that he and his pro-Israel cronies have induced the United States to wage — with little thought for all the “shed blood and expended treasure.” Unless the Syrian people want their country to be added to Kristol’s dubious roster of “the liberated” — Kuwait, the Balkans, Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya — they had better make it loud and clear that they have no desire whatsoever for the kind of “assistance” offered by pro-Israel groups.

Maidhc Ó Cathail is a political analyst and editor of The Passionate Attachment.

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