Opinion » Lead

Updated: July 28, 2012 13:34 IST

The familiar drumbeat of war

Atul Aneja
Comment (23)   ·   print   ·   T  T  

The rhetoric on the dangers posed by Syrian chemical weapons is similar to the false charges trumped up against Iraq in the run-up to the 2003 U.S.-led invasion

For legions of well networked field activists, think tank strategists, intelligence operatives and hands-on diplomats who have been plotting the termination of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad’s regime, Wednesday (July 18) was a day to remember. That fateful day, a powerful bomb — the jury is still out on whether it was triggered by a suicide bomber or planted by an insider — ripped through the interiors of the high-security National Security Bureau in Damascus, where a top secret meeting was under way. The blast decapitated the Syrian security establishment; Defence Minister Dawoud Rajha was killed as was Assef Shawkat, his deputy who was also President Assad’s brother-in-law. The deadly strike also claimed the life of Hassan Turkmani, a former Defence Minister and point man who was steering the fight against the anti-regime revolt. A couple of days later, the badly wounded Hisham Ikhtiyar, National Security Adviser to the President, also succumbed to his injuries.

For many working on the frontlines and behind the scenes, a decisive moment arrived in Syria’s anti-regime rebellion that had commenced nearly 17 months ago. The coup de grace had been delivered and the collapse of the regime was now imminent. Hopes of the end of an era that resonated with the rise of Arab socialism — which began in Syria with the arrival of strongman Hafez Al Assad, the incumbent President’s father — animated Cabinet meetings, briefing halls and television studios in far corners of the globe. In neighbouring Israel, the core group of Cabinet Ministers, sensing the arrival of a truly historic moment, met and President Shimon Peres envisioning a post-Assad scenario spoke, perhaps prematurely, about Tel Aviv’s intention to “maintain good relations with Syria.” Despite the heavy blow the Assad regime has suffered, prophesies of its imminent doom may still be far-fetched. But as revealed by some excellent investigative reportage in recent weeks, the government is under grave threat from powerful international forces that are bent on seeing a humiliating collapse of the regime.

Devastating exposé

A devastating exposé, “The Syrian Opposition: who’s doing the talking?” by Charlie Skelton in the Comment is free column of The Guardian is one such clear-eyed piece that refuses to buy the mushy media rhetoric that the regime has to go because it is killing babies in incubators, slaughtering children and raping women. Instead, its narrative suggests that Syria may be the victim of an intricate plot, which took root in 2005 during the Bush presidency to topple the Syrian regime — a strategic ally of Iran and core supporter of the Lebanese Hizbollah. Consequently, the ongoing conflict is likely to be the result of an intense geopolitical contest of one-upmanship and may have nothing to do with a “pro-democracy movement.”

The project was woven around a network of high-profile Euro-American think tanks, the State Department and American neocons who together marshalled copious reserves of soft power in their bid to achieve regime change in Syria, preferably through a well executed “humanitarian war.” At the front end of this exercise was the Syrian National Council, the well-funded anti-Assad coalition, whose telegenic luminaries are now the toast of the international media.

Mr. Skelton has dug deep into the background of some of the most quoted stars of the SNC, including Bassma Kodmani, Radwan Ziadeh, Ausama Monajed, Michael Weiss and Rami Abdulrahman, the primary source behind the high-sounding Syrian Observatory of Human Rights. What emerges from his findings is a fascinating tale of interlocking think tanks, media outfits, and government funded institutions that have been working feverishly to convince the world that the annihilation of the Syrian regime is necessary because it poses an existential threat to its own people.

One of the show-stoppers of the SNC behemoth is Ms Kodmani, research director at the Paris-based Academie Diplomatique Internationale. The Academie is headed by Jean-Claude Cousseran, former chief of the DGSE — the French foreign intelligence service. Ms Kodmani wears several hats. Since September 2005 — the year when relations between the U.S. under the Bush presidency and Syria plummeted — she has been made director of the Arab Reform Initiative, a research programme initiated by the Council on Foreign Relations, the heavyweight U.S. lobby group. Specifically, the ARI was part of the CFR’s “US/Middle East Project,” which was steered by pretty powerful people. Advising the “US/Middle East Project” is an international board chaired by Brent Scowcroft, former National Security Adviser to the U.S. President; Zbigniew Brzezinski, geo-strategist of patriarchal stature; and Peter Sutherland, chairman of Goldman Sachs International. Together, they form a formidable combination.

Opposition to dialogue

Backed by powerful friends, Ms Kodmani opposes any dialogue with the Syrian regime, and supports the country’s shift to a “different political system.” She actively advocates imposition of Chapter VII measures of the United Nations Charter that would allow “use of all legitimate means, coercive means, and embargo on arms, as well as use of force to oblige the [Syrian] regime to comply.” Ms Kodmani is not the only one repeating the regime change mantra. Radwan Ziadeh, director of foreign relations of the SNC, joined super hawks James Woolsey, former CIA chief; Karl Rove, top adviser of the former President George Bush; and Elizabeth Cheney, former head of the Pentagon’s Iran-Syria Operations Group, in signing a letter exhorting President Barack Obama to intervene in Syria.

Another top lieutenant of the SNC is Ausama Monajed, who specialises in slamming the Assad regime with allegations of compulsive bestiality during his frequent appearances on satellite television. Mr. Monajed is “the Founder and Director of Barada Television,” a pro-opposition satellite channel beamed out of Vauxhall, south London. His links with the U.S. State Department are well recorded. Back in 2008, it recognised Mr. Monajed as “the director of public relations for the Movement for Justice and Development (MJD), which leads the struggle for peaceful and democratic change in Syria.” A WikiLeaks cable picked up by The Washington Post last year makes a formidable case about financial flows from the State Department to Mr. Monajed’s MJD. According to The Washington Post story: “Barada TV is closely affiliated with the Movement for Justice and Development, a London-based network of Syrian exiles. Classified U.S. diplomatic cables show that the State Department has funnelled as much as $6 million to the group since 2006 to operate the satellite channel and finance other activities in Syria.”


Mr. Monajed is also connected with the Henry Jackson Society, an ultra-hawkish neoconservative think tank, which has on its board famous neocon honchos James Woolsey, William Kristol, Joshua Muravchick and Richard Perle. Mr. Monajed’s links with the neocons are well serviced by Michael Weiss, a committed member of the Syria war party, who also happens to be director of communications and public relations at the HJS.

News reports about the supposed atrocities, shelling and extensive human rights abuses by the Assad regime are incomplete without extensive quotations from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Its statistical record about the “massacres” perpetrated by the regime is central to the advocacy of a humanitarian war in Syria. However, Mr. Skelton’s investigations reveal that the Observatory, the so-called authoritative source documenting Mr. Assad’s depravity, is a one-man show, led by its director Rami Abdulrahman, who lives in Coventry and, apparently, runs a clothes store with his wife. His revelation, if confirmed, begs the question: Is the Observatory really an organisation of unimpeachable credentials as it is made out to be, or, instead, a fig leaf behind which hide powerful forces determined to make a false case for a military attack against Syria, under the questionable post-Cold War doctrine of Responsibility 2 Protect (R2P)?

While the pressure on Mr. Assad to quit, after the recent bombing, is bound to intensify, all is not yet lost for him. His army is not cracking up and the regime’s core allies — Iran, Russia, China and the Lebanese Hizbollah — are rallying behind him. Russia and China have effectively blocked the Security Council channel to mount a regime change attack on Syria. The firmness shown by Beijing and Moscow has forced the U.S. and its allies to explore the more difficult option of manoeuvring, outside the U.N. framework, the 100-odd countries that comprise the mostly pro-western Friends of Syria grouping.

The rhetoric in the U.S. and Israel has sharpened on the dangers posed by Syrian chemical weapon stockpiles — reminiscent of the dangerous drumbeat of war against Iraq, which was falsely accused of possessing weapons of mass destruction to justify an attack that toppled the Saddam Hussein regime.

While a lot of the verbiage emerging from Washington and Tel Aviv may amount little more than scaremongering, the Syrian government may well have to watch out for covert action, including fresh assassination attempts, in order to effectively survive the relentless clamour for regime change from the Americans and their allies.

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@Raghurama Bondalapati: I know it is fashionable and easy to pick on the US, after all people are always jealous of the successful guy in the neighborhood because his success reminds us our own failure. So if it is oil that the US is after in Iraq or Libya what is it after in Afghanistan, not to mention the low regard you have for the ability or the desire of the Libyan people to oust their one family dictatorial regime of Gaddafi! Do you remember the Taliban regime that ruled the Afghanistan and that regime's anti-India stance that was utilized by Pakistani military to train the terrorist proxies to launch anti-India 'jehad'! Do you remember one of the most shameful incident in Indian history when Indian FM had to escort dreaded terrorists released from Indian custody to Afghanistan to free hijacked Indian Airlines plane sheltered by Taliban regime! Even now India is terrified of the US leaving Afghanistan and Pakistan/Taliban making it an anti-India front as it was pre-9/11.

from:  Jitendra Dutta
Posted on: Jul 29, 2012 at 03:58 IST

Excellent article. World politics is an interesting arena and not many who have commented here have depth of knowledge to make judgements. When many see the West and the US as liberators and for Freedom and Democracy they are living in a world of illusion. When many in here are willing to overthrow a Government by mercenaries there is no hope for legitimacy and truth.

from:  Sundar
Posted on: Jul 28, 2012 at 21:35 IST

The author seems to be pro Syria and anti US. Having said that it is disconcerting to read his comparison of the alleged WMD of Iraq by the Bush administration with that of the chemical weapons of Syria. Hasn't he read the threat of Syria that it will use such weapons against any external aggressor? One is naturally inclined to disagree with his analysis based on this.

from:  Swami D Francis
Posted on: Jul 28, 2012 at 13:49 IST

The hegemony of America is proven in any war it fought under the flag of
western countries or UN, it is for oil only and dislocation of the
present government and to see its interests are secured. let it be Iraq,
Afghanisthan or Libiya and now it is Syria.

from:  Raghurama Sarma Bondalapati
Posted on: Jul 28, 2012 at 10:00 IST

An independent and true Media should be able to see the unseen.. and
show the courage to correct the people of their illusions. This has
become very important as the Western propaganda tools to achieve their
geopolitical ends gets ever stronger and unchallenged these days. One
does not need to waste no more time to talk of the control the US and
party holds over the international media. In our country not many
media has proved to have potential to resist this dangerous trend. And
this is why the survival of and encouragement to media firm like The
Hindu becomes necessary.

from:  Sabith
Posted on: Jul 28, 2012 at 06:24 IST

What we are seeing in Syria is a preview of the demise of the Iranian
The regime sees it too -- though it looks the other way.
Nonetheless, the writing is on the wall.
And it was put there with the blood of the Iranians killed while
peacefully protesting the Ahmadinejad election.
It is the shedding of innocent blood that started the Arab spring, and
it will be the shedding of far more Iranian blood that will end it.
Such is the fate sealed by the brutality of that regime in 2009.

from:  kafantaris
Posted on: Jul 28, 2012 at 04:55 IST

Assad categorically stated that Syria’s chemical weapons would be used only against foreign invaders. Any government has the right to defend against foreign occupation. Can Washington promise that it won’t use nuclear weapons if it is attacked? It is the only country which has used a nuclear weapon to win a war. The fate of Syria will be decided by the citizens of that country, not outsiders.
Arun Sree

from:  arun sreenivasan
Posted on: Jul 27, 2012 at 22:06 IST

US design in middle east and West Asia is as clear as a crystal ball.Attack on Iraq on false pretext, US hand in Passing in of

country's administration in Egypt to military following Tahrir Square uprising,blatant interference in Libya by USA via

NATO,perpetuation of Israel-Palestinean conflict,US hand in the present conflict in Syria and other middle eastern and West-ASian

countries are but a few example of US highhandedness to control world politics.US Navy's presence in the Pacific,Atlantic,Indian

ocean,Arabian sea and the Mediterrenean are designed to not only to rule the waves but also to blackmail all countries of the world

except the pliant West European countries.But this is not all. That USA also has a plan to have a stranglehold on all countries of the

world through economic intervention via WTO,IMF,World Bank and other similar UN agencies are all too clear to overlook. USA's

hand in Syrian conflict by all accounts is the handiwork Us conspiracy is all too transparent to overlook.Aim being to have a

stranglehold on the administration of these oil rich countries There may be more to it than meets the eye presently.

from:  Anil Kumar Choudhurya
Posted on: Jul 27, 2012 at 19:04 IST

The first few comments seems to be given by the propaganda machinery of the 'liberators'. At one side the western media and regimes are disowning the popular uprising against monarchy in Bahrain and at the same time supporting opposition activist. If democracy is induced from outside, Syria will go the Libya way.

from:  Jose P
Posted on: Jul 27, 2012 at 17:00 IST

They work with the arrogant philosophy that they can fool all the people all the time! And they
are right! Who dares to say that the emperor has no cloths! The hegemony of the powerful
will continue and the powerless will only watch in disgust!

from:  Saratchandran
Posted on: Jul 27, 2012 at 16:43 IST

I see how polarized your readers are - this is true about the people
in Syria too. This is exactly the kind of atmosphere that allows
dictators around the world, stay in power.

So we have uncle sam - the Unites States as the villain of the piece,
according to Mr. Aneja. The US is waiting in the wings to invade
Nothing can be farther from the truth. If the US wanted, it could have
invaded Syria long back, much against world opinion. It did not
because, despite all the shortcomings in it's foreign policy, the US
stands for liberty and equality - Only someone who lives here would
know that.

We in India have a muddled foreign policy. We support dictators, be it
Burma or Syria. All we care is - can we do business with the juntas or
dictators, and whether that will go to line the pockets of our elected
rulers. When the US liberates the people from the tyranny of the
dictators, we are the first to do business in the freed countries,
like we did in Burma. Some hypocrisy, it is!!

from:  Rama Goutharaju
Posted on: Jul 27, 2012 at 16:38 IST

Didn't Mr. Assad just declare that Syria would chemical weapons against foreign invasion or was I reading it wrong! I don't understand Mr. Aneja's writing that the West would chemical weapons pretext to attack Syrian regime if the regime itself is declaring its possession of chemical weapons... May be I'm missing something here.

from:  JItendra Dutta
Posted on: Jul 27, 2012 at 15:57 IST

Irrespective of whether the allegations of chemical Wepons are there are not, U.S. stand on change of the regime by use of force, either economical, military or even deployment of soft powers, cannot be justified. Its soverign rigt of the people of Syria to decided who should rule them.It should be people of Syria what is in their best intersts.

from:  Ritvij
Posted on: Jul 27, 2012 at 15:31 IST

Its a close call for all arabs, especially the motive is unknown on uprising; Talks of war sounds every where and "peace" has no call nor heard! Let the colonization history not be repeated again by so called super powers.

from:  scsraj
Posted on: Jul 27, 2012 at 15:05 IST

Its very interesting, observing the last few of such articles around similar topic the first few comments are in opposition to the article and by seemingly Western audience. Are the same people at play to drive public opinion here?
Peace can't be achieved by war, so the agenda is not peace but something else !

from:  Krishna
Posted on: Jul 27, 2012 at 12:53 IST

I read Charlie Skelton's original article, as it appeared on 12th
July. The following day, I read Julian Borger refer to Charlie (again
in the Guardian) as "a comedy writer, journalist and olive farmer" . .
and later rubbish the original as a bundle of innuendo.

Two weeks on, The Hindu devotes 'lead' space to something on this and
about half of that space to buttressing Charlie's position. People are
dying in Syria and that's for sure and very sad. With that happening
and distress all around, can The Hindu not do without - what a
Malayalam idiom roughly translated says: 'lick the lips of a
dishlicker', and that too, stale stuff of a couple of weeks?

What a contrast from Pravin Swami's op-ed article of 26 Aug. last
year, on the genesis of the problem in Syria . . . and his original,
independent hypothesis.

from:  Devraj Sambasivan
Posted on: Jul 27, 2012 at 11:38 IST

A brilliant Article!! An other side of what's happening in Syria.

from:  Monisha
Posted on: Jul 27, 2012 at 11:28 IST

The cold war may be over but a new conter balance to the US is emerging, with Russia and China acting in tandem in the Security Council. Clearly, the larger play in Syria is a desire to use Saudi Arabia to use this opportunity to strengthen Sunnis, which would simultaneously dent the influence of Shia Iran. This new strategy plays perfectly for Israel too, that has its focus on Iran. The sudden disclosure by Obama about Syria's chemical weapons is deja vu! Did we not hear the same story about Saddam!. The world has changed since Bush and the US has its own problems. What India should do is to push for a secular regime, not dominated by Islamists

from:  gita
Posted on: Jul 27, 2012 at 04:31 IST

The history cannot predict the future. History can guide the future.
The insinuation that the US and Israel is drum beat about the dangers
of chemical weapon in Syria is wrong. The discussion of the Syrian
possession of chemical weapons came to light when a defected Syrian
General reported that Syria possesses huge arsenal of chemical
weapons. The statement of the General was confirmed when Syria
announced that they will use chemical weapons if any foreign forces
attack Syria in support of the opposition. Russia and US condemned the
Syrian reference to the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian dictator
Abdul Al Assad in case of foreign attack. Why did Syria announce the
possible use of Chemical weapons? The Syrian intention may be to
prevent foreign attack. May be Syria is bluffing the presence of
chemical weapons. This is the same mistake that happened in Iraq. The
question of chemical attack by Assad does not arise because his days
in power is limited without any foreign attack.

from:  Davis K. Thanjan
Posted on: Jul 27, 2012 at 03:43 IST

Are you trying to make a case against overthrowing an illegitimate regime which is bombing its own cities with fighter planes? Simply put, when a government has to use helicopter gunships, fighter planes and tanks just to stay in power, it is time to go. Whoever is 'plotting' to remove this government is on the right side of history.

from:  Kumaar
Posted on: Jul 27, 2012 at 01:11 IST

It is not clear if Mr. Atul Aneja is writing from inside Syria or is just paraphrasing a Guardian article. I have no idea what the establishment in US is plotting nor if their plotting is effective. But reports from non-conservative sources like New York Times and NBC, with boots on the ground in Syria, that there is significant discontent against Assad and desire for regime change is far far more convincing than the above article. And similar evidence has been presented that the Syrian government has slaughtered its own people. It is somewhat shocking that this paper applies one logic for the Gujarat massacre and another for the one in Syria.

from:  ara
Posted on: Jul 27, 2012 at 00:56 IST

The author is obviously anti-America and anti-Israel. It was "faulty intelligence" and NOT "false charges trumped up" that led to the liberation of Iraq and removal of the tyrant Saddam Hussein.

from:  Navi
Posted on: Jul 27, 2012 at 00:53 IST

"The rhetoric in the U.S. and Israel has sharpened on the dangers posed by Syrian chemical weapon stockpiles — reminiscent of the dangerous drumbeat of war against Iraq, which was falsely accused of possessing weapons of mass destruction to justify an attack that toppled the Saddam Hussein regime."

Expect, that, in Syria's case, Assad himself has admitted their existence, and commented on the conditions of their use.

from:  Walt Peterson
Posted on: Jul 27, 2012 at 00:40 IST
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