Those occupying seats of power in Western capitals and their complicit film editors of politics and history in the mass corporate media, who decide when the narrative begins, how it proceeds and where it inevitably ends, have provided the world with a crude but consistent account of the current Syrian crisis. It is a sequel to, or better a remake of, last year’s Libyan crusade, a six-month NATO bombing onslaught and naval blockade culminating in the gruesome slaying of the nation’s head of state and the securing of Western control of the country and its resources.
The script reads as follows, with a signal absence of subplots, reversals, believable characterizations, political verisimilitude and the merest hint of complexity or subtlety:
Peaceful demonstrations by Syrian opposition forces last year met with a disproportionate and ruthless crackdown by government security and military personnel, who embarked on a gratuitous bloodbath against the Syrian population as whole. A scenario that might evoke, for the uninstructed observer, the situations in Bahrain and now Saudi Arabia, but which is to be applied exclusively to Syria for the moment…until it’s revived for the next targeted government in the Middle East or elsewhere.
One of the myriad problems with that version of affairs is that U.S. and allied attempts to effect regime change in Damascus precede by several years what NATO powers portray as its opening scene.
From President Dwight D. Eisenhower dispatching the U.S. Sixth Fleet and 15,000 troops to Lebanon in 1958 to counteract Syrian influence in the nation to the 2004 move in the United Nations Security Council by the U.S. and its NATO allies to secure the withdrawal of Syrian armed forces from Lebanon, there is plentiful thematic material for what in contemporary cinema lingo would be deemed a prequel.
The campaign for overthrowing the Syrian government is part, is the current phase, of the relentless project to supplant ruling powers and substitute a new generation of political vassals and military clients in what Washington has alternatively referred to as the Greater, Broader and New Middle East – from Mauritania on the Atlantic Ocean to Kazakhstan on the Chinese and Russian borders.
Syria being only one of four Mediterranean Sea littoral and islands nations not a member of NATO and its Partnership for Peace and Mediterranean Dialogue programs – the others are, though for how long is not certain, Libya, Lebanon and Cyprus – its incorporation into the U.S.-led military bloc is a necessary Western objective. Libya is on its way to joining the Mediterranean Dialogue, Cyprus is being pressured to join the Partnership for Peace and Lebanon will follow Syria into the Mediterranean Dialogue if Western plans proceed as planned, thus completing the transformation of the Mediterranean into a private NATO preserve.
Russia will lose its only military facility outside former Soviet space and its only firm ally in the Arab world; Iran will lose its only governmental ally in the Arab World as well. Both will be driven out of the Mediterranean, which will be patrolled uncontested by the U.S. Sixth Fleet and NATO’s Operation Active Endeavor naval forces.
Almost eight years ago the U.S. and France, Syria’s former colonial master, introduced a resolution in the United Nations Security Council which called on "all remaining foreign forces to withdraw from Lebanon."
NATO allies Britain, Germany, Romania and Spain voted for what became Resolution 1559 in September 2004 and Russia, China and Algeria were among six Security Council members abstaining.
Five months later former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri was killed in a bomb attack against his motorcade in Beirut, which his supporters and the West attempted to blame on both Hezbollah and Syria and which resulted in the so-called Cedar Revolution which brought about the collapse of a pro-Syrian government.
By April 26 Syria had withdrawn all 14,000 troops it had stationed in Lebanon, ending a 29-year mission. Israeli troops remain in the Shebaa Farms area in Southern Lebanon and fifteen months after the last Syrian troops departed the nation Israel launched 34 days of air and artillery attacks and a ground invasion in Lebanon, as there were then no "remaining foreign forces" in the country.
A week and a half later after the completion of the Syrian withdrawal then-President George W. Bush extended sanctions against Syria, claiming the nation of slightly over 20 million people continued to present a threat to American national security by allegedly "supporting terrorism" and "by continuing its invasion in Lebanon, and weapons of mass destruction and missile programs." Bush could not have been unaware of the fact that no Syrian forces remained in Lebanon as he issued his denunciation and barely veiled threat, all the more serious and urgent because of its mention of weapons of mass destruction, along with "supporting terrorism" the pretext employed to invade neighboring Iraq only two years before.
As an indication of what has since become a major U.S.-Russian conflict over the fate of Syria, later in the same month, May, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Saltanov met with Lebanon’s prime minister, foreign minister and parliamentary speaker in Beirut and they collectively warned that exerting further pressure on Syria after it had withdrawn it troops from Lebanon would endanger security and stability in the region.
Later in the month Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov issued a similar warning, recalling that "Significant progress has been made in implementing Resolution 1559, in particular the withdrawal of Syrian troops and security forces from Lebanon, the formation of a government there on the basis of a consensus, and organization of parliamentary elections on a date prescribed by the constitution."
In fact the Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon was heralded in Western circles at the time as the beginning of the end of the government of President Bashar Assad.
A May 1, 2005 article in the Financial Times disclosed American plans at the time, which have now reached full fruition. Reporting from Washington, Guy Dinmore wrote:
"The US will keep up pressure on Syria long after the withdrawal of its forces from Lebanon, US officials say, outlining a policy that analysts believe is aimed at destabilising the regime led by President Bashar al-Assad."
The feature quoted former President George H.W. Bush administration official Flynt Leverett stating the new U.S. policy toward Syria was “basically regime change.”
Leverett, at the time an official at the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center for Middle East Policy, was paraphrased as adding "US officials were now inclined [to accept] that forcing Syria out of Lebanon would cause the regime to start to unravel" and that Washington could spare itself the expenditure of blood and treasure the Iraq model – attack, invasion and occupation – entailed, as it "believed regime change could be done ‘on the cheap’ through destabilisation."
During the summer of 2005 U.S. troops in Iraq engaged in several skirmishes with Syrian counterparts near the two countries’ border, according to the New York Times resulting in the deaths of several Syrian soldiers.
As another portent of current developments, in June Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Washington to meet with President Bush in the White House, where the two heads of state emphasized the "important strategic relation" between their nations.
Among other commons concerns discussed – the counterinsurgency war against the Kurdistan Workers Party and Cyprus – Bush praised Erdogan for "strong support" of the Broader Middle East Initiative.
Already indicating Turkey’s new intended role in the Arab world in general and in Syria in particular, Erdogan stated: "Syria is our neighbor and we have a 800 km border with them. We talked about how we will bring Syria to our own line of action. [The prime minister had recently completed visits to Syria, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia.] They talked with our President about a troop withdrawal from Lebanon. They said, ‘we will pull them out’ and they did."
The month before, Bush had visited Georgia and his speech there contained words that were unfortunately ignored at the time and have been since, though their pertinence need hardly be stressed.
Referring to the U.S.-backed "Rose Revolution" of late 2003 and early 2004, the prototype for the so-called color revolutions in Ukraine in 2004 and in Lebanon and in Kyrgyzstan in 2005 (to be followed by the Twitter Revolution in Moldova in 2009 and attempts to replicate the model in Armenia, Belarus, Iran, Myanmar, Uzbekistan and Venezuela), Bush ticked off and celebrated his geopolitical victories:
"Your courage is inspiring democratic reformers and sending a message that echoes across the world.
"Now, across the Caucasus, in Central Asia and the Broader Middle East, we see the same desire for liberty burning in the hearts of young people.
"In recent months, the world has marveled at the hopeful changes taking place from Baghdad to Beirut to Bishkek [the Kyrgyz capital]. But before there was a Purple Revolution in Iraq, or an Orange Revolution in Ukraine, or a Cedar Revolution in Lebanon, there was the Rose Revolution in Georgia."
On November 11, 2005 President Assad delivered a speech at Damascus University in which he reflected on the retreat from Lebanon and what even then was the challenge his nation would face in the future.
His comments included these:
"A number of international circles, and their agents in our Arab establishment, have been trying to promote their destructive political schemes under exciting names which touch people’s feelings and emotions and
have been targeting people’s minds and souls before targeting their countries and invading their cultural identity and national existence before invading their national borders."
"The danger lies in the fact that they target the intellectual, psychological and moral structure of Arabs, within the framework of a media, cultural and scientific war which targets our young generation in particular with the aim of separating them from their identity, heritage and history and making them lose confidence in themselves and their capabilities, and consequently pushing them to surrender to the illusion of certain defeat at the first attempt to confront and stand fast before outside pressure put on the whole region, and on Syria in particular."
Washington announced and Damascus understood years in advance what the intended endgame in Syria would be. The past sixteen months’ unrest and violence in Syria is both partially the result of and the opportunity to complete the Broader Middle East strategy of the U.S. and NATO. And to escalate the most dangerous diplomatic and political, perhaps ultimately military, confrontation with Russia and China since the Cold War.