by Ben Schreiner – Monthly Review February 9, 2012
Still stinging from the “travesty” of their defeat in the United Nations Security Council over the weekend, the United States and the “international community” have already begun to hatch their next ploy for intervention into Syria.
On Monday — with the Security Council, and ostensibly diplomacy as well, having been deemed “neutered” by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton – the U.S. shuttered its embassy in Syria. However, as a State Department official told Reuters, former Syrian ambassador Robert Ford “will maintain contacts with the Syrian opposition.”
As the Los Angeles Times (2/7) elaborated, Washington’s “current focus is to organize a ‘contact group’ to build stronger ties with Syrian opposition and pressure Assad with tightened economic sanctions.” The idea being, in the words of President Obama, to “tighten the noose around the regime’s neck.”
The problem with any strategy of imposed isolation, though, is twofold. First, as brutal as Assad may be, he still retains a strong measure of internal support. (Perhaps as many as 55% of Syrians wish for him to remain in power.)
Second, even with tightened economic sanctions, Syria remains far from economic isolation. As The Independent‘s Robert Fisk keenly observes:
[L]ook east, and what does Bashar see? Loyal Iran standing with him. Loyal Iraq – Iran’s new best friend in the Arab world – refusing to impose sanctions. And to the west, loyal little Lebanon refusing to impose sanctions. Thus from the border of Afghanistan to the Mediterranean, Assad has a straight line of alliances which should prevent, at least, his economic collapse.
With the limitations of isolation fully understood, the clamor for arming the “Free Syrian Army” (FSA) has begun in earnest. U.S. Senators (and brethren war hawks) John McCain and Joseph Lieberman have both emerged to call for “all options, including arming the opposition” to be employed in toppling the Assad regime. It won’t be long before such a cry comes from the American punditry as well.
The White House has so far rebuffed such calls in public. As Press Secretary Jay Carney has stated: “We are not considering that step right now.”
However, CNN (2/7) reports that “the Pentagon and the U.S. Central Command have begun a preliminary internal review of U.S. military capabilities [within Syria] . . . in the event President Barack Obama were to call for them.”
The idea rapidly taking hold, we see, is for the West to scuttle any efforts afoot by Russia to mediate a diplomatic resolution to the crisis by “quietly” funnelling arms to the FSA via Washington’s Arab client states. Of course, such a calculus presumes Russia will somehow remain none the wiser to the entire scheme. Guess it’s time to toss that much-celebrated U.S.-Russia reset to the dustbin of history.
But, the risk of a Cold War era proxy war pales in comparison to the ultimate prize a Syrian triumph would entail for U.S. imperialism. As Pepe Escobar writes, “The bulk of Washington elites see regime change in Syria as a crucial way to hurt Iran. So this goes way beyond Syria. It’s about shattering the Iranian regime.”
Indeed, as the New York Times (1/31) has reported, American officials “see the possible downfall of Mr. Assad as an event that could further undermine Iran as its economy reels under the sanctions imposed to get Tehran to suspend its nuclear program.”
Former Mossad chief Efraim Halevy argues much the same in a recent Times op-ed. Efraim writes, “If Mr. Assad goes, Iranian hegemony over Syria must go with him. Anything less would rob Mr. Assad’s departure of any significance.” He continues: “The current standoff in Syria presents a rare chance to rid the world of the Iranian menace to international security and well-being.”
And never prone to shy away when opportunity beckons, the West now clamors for intervention in Syria. All the while, its eyes remain transfixed upon Tehran.
So, as American officials and media continue to feign disgust over the violence in Syria and to decry Russia’s seeming indifference, don’t be deceived. Such cries are displays of nothing but contrived moral outrage. After all, where was all the disgust as Israel slaughtered Palestinians in Operation Cast Lead? And where is all the moral outrage as U.S. drones continue to target the innocent? And we can, of course, go on.
Thus, such manufactured piety is nothing but a ruse, cynically employed to garner support for a Syrian “regime change.” A “regime change,” it is quite clear, that would serve to bring the crown jewel of Tehran closer at hand.
The targeting of Iran, then, appears poised to play out on a Syrian battlefield.
Ben Schreiner is a freelance writer based in Oregon. He may be reached at email@example.com.