America and the house of Assad: Scylla sometimes but mostly Charybdis! – Subhi Hadidi
America and the house of Assad: Scylla sometimes but mostly Charybdis! – Subhi Hadidi
Article translated to english by: Ullin Hope
Arab “anti-imperialists,” members of the pro-Syrian regime gang, believers in an integrated American-Zionist-Saudi-Qatari-Turkish “plot” targeting Syria’s “steadfastness” and working to detach the country from the “axis of resistance”… They have got in to a bad fix. Truth be told no-one would envy them, as they listen to official regime media endorsing the air raids and rocket strikes carried out by a United States led coalition in which five Arab countries – some of them members of that universal “conspiracy” others not – are participating. A state of affairs no less confusing to these “anti-imperialists” has been created by Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem’s philosophy on “national sovereignty.” The authority of the state, he suggests, is not violated if the violator (the coalition) makes sure to ask the permission of the violated (the Assad regime) before proceeding to roam Syrian airspace striking where it sees fit, provided the raids are “going in the right direction,” as regime press puts it!
But on the other hand, words spoken to a brick wall go unheard. If just one burst of life or shame remained in that gang – that for three and a half years has been singing the praises of a child killer and a regime that has used every deadly weapon available without hesitation, including chemical weapons – its members would have swallowed their tongues at least, or at most perhaps; no-one would ever expect them to reconsider themselves in light of such groveling before the forceful appropriation of “national sovereignty.” How could they demand their rights, object or protest in any way? On the contrary, as expected they first of all engaged in eager competition to invent additional conspiracy theories, then proceeded to pretty-up the ugly picture. The strikes were a victory for the regime over its adversaries…a concession on their part… especially as the pentagon, they chimed, had “briefed” the regime on when the raids would take place!
Apart from all this, Syrian memory preserves a record chock full of instances where the Corrective Movement regime has involved itself – the father Hafez like his heir Bashar – in such rounds of submission. The first, second and tenth goals have always been to rescue the regime and allow it to continue, under the patronage of Washington and her greater and lesser allies, from Israel to Bahrain. Recalling the past has its uses, now as ever; political science, which in all its branches places no consideration above the service of interests, has forced Washington to maintain a push and pull position with the Syrian regime, within strict limits. The regime can go wherever it wants in rhetoric. The same applies to enforcing embargos, sullen behavior and suggestions of isolation or boycotting… but it can never make so bold as to pour oil on a burning fire, even if that fire is only burning under the ashes.
For Washington – which was occupying Iraq, is still occupying Afghanistan, and is now forced to confront both the “jihadist industry” it created and the battle fronts of its conflict with entire peoples and a multitude of enemies – what interest could there possibly be in hastening the downfall of a tottering, disjointed and corroded regime, the slow demise of which has numerous benefits while the opposite situation could have damaging consequences? It may conceivably be said that the Syrian regime is not a friend to America in the way Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Egypt are, but is it also conceivable to digress into portraying the regime as one of the US’s fiercest enemies? Certainly not, a number of America’s most experienced diplomats have always answered, and they are people well versed in reading the maps of the Middle East, especially when it comes to the characteristics of rulers and rule, society and creed, or tyranny and corruption.
Their arguments have never been in need of a heated debate, as the record is too clear and too rich in facts to bear denial. On the contrary, they have argued, the regime set up by the Corrective Movement is one of the best regimes ever to have ruled Syria as far as American higher interests are concerned; from the Sa’sa agreement of 1974, which paved the way for the Agreement on Disengagement and made the Golan an area of utmost calm for the Israeli occupation and complete safety for settlers, to the close cooperation on security between the Syrian and American intelligence agencies in what Washington calls the “war on terror.” The most recent happenings in this cooperation were reported by Assad sympathizer Seymour Hersch himself in The New Yorker at the beginning of 2010. Also important to mention is the Syrian military’s official inclusion among the forces that formed the Hafr al-Batin alliance shortly before the launch of operations in 1991’s Desert Shield campaign.
At the beginning of 2002, when he was in his second year after inheriting power, Assad junior received a delegation from the US senate. Discussions focused on the effects of September 11 – which was a hot and fresh topic – as well as methods for combatting terrorism. Meanwhile, official media carried Assad’s statement that the US could benefit “from countries that have successfully combatted terrorism, especially Syria.” It is true that he did not specifically refer to the “experience gained” in the Hama massacre, but the ghost of the incident – especially as the twentieth anniversary was coming up – did not slip people’s minds. Only someone making a premeditated attempt to hide one of the vilest incidences of war crime, collective punishment and terrorism could fail to mention it directly.
The truth is that the regime’s “recipe” for combatting terrorism relies on state terrorism, both against its own citizens and outside the national borders, at a more horrifying, violent and bloody rate than any individual terror act. It includes the option of assassination and employs various forms of open and direct repression against all manifestations of protest or opposition. Militarization of the state is pursued on all levels, as well as the elimination of political activity, through exemplary punishment, detention and removal from office; parties are either emptied out or society is impoverished to the degree where the search for sustenance becomes the only concern; incitement of fear is employed on some occasions and greed on others; preference is shown to citizens on the basis of their sect or region, and a culture of loyalty, obedience and informantism is encouraged.
In the spring of 2007, then speaker of the American House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi visited Syria. She was actually giving a signal that the Democrats did not agree with Former President George Bush’s technique of putting “pressure” on the regime. However, she was also emphasizing that a high degree of firmness should be observed in meeting – in their entirety – the same demands the White House had stipulated for improving relations with the Syrian Regime. By making sure to meet with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice just before her plane took off for the Middle East, Pelosi was in some way receiving a list of verbal messages that she would later deliver, just as former Secretary of State Colin Powell and his assistant Richard Armitage did before the invasion of Iraq, and as members of Congress visiting Damascus have done ever since.
Executive order 13338 – which Bush signed in May 2004, decreeing that the Syria Accountability Act should be put in to action – was the peak of that policy of “pressure.” The accompanying tokenistic “siege” included an embargo on exportation of ammunition and dual use materials, banned Syrian airways flights from touching down or taking off at American airports, and terminated transactions between the US Department of the Treasury and the Central Bank of Syria. As for the political side of the “siege,” a number of senior American congressmen made sure to render it meaningless (republicans and democrats equally) whenever dictated by the public interest (of the US then Israel) or the personal interests of this or that congressman (democrat Senator Bill Nelson like republican Senator Arlen Specter, without neglecting to mention John Kerry… presidential candidate at the time and current secretary of state.)
The results of this policy have varied between what Scylla devours in some instances and what Charybdis swallows in most. Meanwhile, the regime’s discourse has remained full of an undiluted verbal clamor on “anti-imperialism,” “resistance,” “steadfastness” and “defiance;” even when the house of Assad participates in negotiations with Israel, secretly or openly, directly or under the patronage of an intermediary; despite, and perhaps assisted by the uproar of the “anti-imperialists” and the cries of the “resistance.”