Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

September 10, 2013

Lion and the Lamb: The story behind the Syrian headlines

By Ted Braun
Chronicle contributor

CROSSVILLE — In the midst of all the reports and pictures of chemical warfare in Syria and the push for going to war against Syria, the background part of the story has been missing.

For a number of years the U.S. has been worried about protecting its access to the vast oil and gas resources in the Middle East region. According to retired NATO Secretary General Wesley Clark, a memo from the Office of the U.S. Secretary of Defense a few weeks after 9/11 revealed plans for a "Long War" to attack and destroy the governments in seven countries in five years: Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Iran. One of the unmentioned contexts of this plan was our strong support for Israel which has been receiving billions of dollars each year in military aid and has been serving as our empire's main outpost in a hostile region.

One of our strategies for this long war has been to exploit the fault lines between the various Muslim and jihadist groups, turning them against each other and dissipating their energy on internal conflicts. Our efforts to do this have included covert action, information operations, unconventional warfare, and support for indigenous security forces. Pipeline geopolitics has also introduced a factor of competition and contention into the Middle Eastern political scene.

In Syria an even more sinister disruptive factor has entered the mix: climate change. Between 2006 and 2011 drought has devastated that country. In some areas farming has ceased, causing farmers to flee to the cities and towns where jobs and food are already scarce. Between two and three million of Syria's ten million rural inhabitants have now been reduced to extreme poverty and riots have broken out around the country. The government has failed to help them and has been cracking down on protesters as subversives, attempting to quell them with military force. Money and weapons from Muslim "freedom fighters" outside Syria have been pouring into the country to add fuel to a growing civil war.

This brings us to the sarin gas attack in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta on August 21 that killed over 400 people. The U.S. administration has been using this event to help build support for war against Syria to remove, or at least punish, its president, Bashar Assad, as the one who supposedly ordered this attack. Various correspondents not in our corporate media, however, are reporting a different scenario: that Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi intelligence chief, had supplied some al-Qaida rebels of the Jabhat al-Nusra group in Syria with chemical weapons that were subsequently misused. In the way of offering some correlating information, an Istanbul newspaper on May 30 reported that Turkish police had apprehended al-Nusra rebels with sarin gas that they had planned to use in an attack on Adana.

Our government's response to this Syrian crisis has been described as a "hammer-and-nail" approach. If you're a hammer, everything looks like a nail; if you're a military leader, everything looks like it needs a military solution. A growing percentage of Americans, however, have come to realize that Syria's bloody civil war can be solved only by political means, not by the application of military force. As General Martin Dempsey, Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, admitted in a letter to Rep. Eliot Engel (NY) in late August, U.S. military action risks killing more people and has a low probability of effectively deterring the future use of chemical weapons.

Sarah van Gelder, co-founder and executive editor of Yes! Magazine, has shared an interesting suggestion: "Instead of launching an assault on Syria, the United States could lead a 'coalition of the willing' in rebuilding the tattered foundation of international law. This would lay the groundwork for peace, not only in Syria, but in all the lawless regions of the world. And it could do so without adding to civilian casualties, further destabilizing the Middle East, breaking the budget of the United States, and requiring yet more sacrifices by those who serve in the armed forces."  Another one of her suggestions: providing humanitarian aid desperately needed by the millions of displaced people.

What are some other ideas that would help promote peace rather than war in this critical moment?