While the world is rightfully decrying the continued slaughter of Syrian protesters by their own government, it is tempting to dismiss that troubled nation as just another stubborn domino in the “Arab Spring.” It is tempting to boldly join the chorus calling for the removal of President Bashar al-Assad and his regime from power. It is tempting to describe the whole bloody situation as a tragic but necessary popular rebellion against an oppressive dictatorship. Yet the circumstances surrounding the Syrian uprising differ starkly from coups which have taken place in Tunisia and Egypt, as well as the unrest in Bahrain and Yemen.
Bashar al-Assad is not considered by most to be a western puppet, at least not in the same league as Ben Ali of Tunisia, Egypt’s Mubarak or the still ensconced King Abdallah II of Jordan. Assad never signed a peace treaty with Israel and remains an open critic of both the Jewish State and the United States. However, his predictability served western and Israeli interests for a time. Ayman al-Zawahri, al-Qaeda’s new leader, alluded to this in a warning to Syrian protesters: “America, which cooperated with Bashar al-Assad during his whole regime, claims today it stands with you…Washington today seeks to replace Assad, who sincerely protected the borders of the Zionist Entity, with another regime…that follows America.” Al-Zawahri’s statement is right on both counts.
Since the Israeli military captured Syria’s Golan Heights in 1967, there was only one attempt in 1973 to take back the land. The Israeli government has been building settlements in Golan since the 1970’s and officially annexed the territory in 1981. On May 15, 2011 the Israeli military opened fire on protesters marching towards the village of Majdal Shams in the Golan Heights, killing four and wounding an additional 20. There was no retaliation from Syria, save for some typically blow-hard rhetoric. Syrian bullets were saved for use on their own people.
There is also plenty of evidence to prove the second part of Al-Zawahri’s statement. Western powers have played a big role in the bloodshed that Syria has experienced, the most recent upheaval being no exception. A March 2011 column by Haaretz writer Zvi Bar'el referred to a report appearing on a Syrian pro-government website:
"According to the report....the plan was formulated in 2008 by the Saudi national security advisor, Prince Bandar bin Sultan and Jeffrey Feltman, a veteran US diplomat in the Middle East who was formerly ambassador to Lebanon and is currently the assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs. Dividing Syria into large cities, towns and villages, the plan involved establishing five recruitment networks: ‘unemployed youths, criminals, other young people, and media efforts funded by European countries but not America,’ as well as a ‘capital network of businesspeople from the large cities.’”
Retired Army General and former Democratic presidential candidate Wesley Clark has made numerous public addresses relating his conversation with a Pentagon officer in the weeks following the September 11th attacks. The unnamed officer informed him of a plan to “take out” seven countries in five years: Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Lebanon, Libya and Iran. However, it is no secret that U.S. involvement in the region goes back much farther.
In 1976, Syria saw a rebellion by Sunni militant groups including the Muslim Brotherhood against the regime of Hafez al-Assad. Rifaat al-Assad, brother of the late Syrian President and uncle to Bashar, personally oversaw the Hama massacre in 1982 during which an estimated 15,000-20,000 people were killed, effectively ending the uprising. While catastrophic in terms of human loss, the tragic consequences of the Hama massacre did not end in 1982. The father of a family friend “disappeared” at that time, along with thousands of others: victims of mass detentions and indefinite imprisonments. His whereabouts was not known until 2003, when it was discovered that after 15 years of torture, he had died in prison in 1997.
Rifaat served as Vice President of Syria before going into exile after an internal succession dispute. Despite committing war crimes, he currently lives in Mayfair, England where he enjoys the support of the Saudi royal family.
It is Rifaat al-Assad’s son, Ribal, who confirms U.S. meddling in Syria both then and now. In a September 2010 interview with Robert Fisk, he stated that "Saddam Hussein funded the Muslim Brotherhood; they were trained in Iraq and Sudan. So the Baath party decided that those in the Muslim Brotherhood were traitors." Partially declassified documents regarding then presidential envoy Donald Rumsfeld’s December 1983 meeting with Saddam Hussein confirm the US and Iraq’s common enmity towards Iran and Syria and the need to contain them. Apparently destabilizing Syria had been in both nations’ interests; the Muslim Brotherhood largely responsible for the coup attempt within Syria was trained by Saddam who in turn was receiving funding from the USA for the Iran-Iraq War in that same time period.
Ribal founded the Organization for Democracy and Freedom in Syria (ODFS) and directs Arab News Network based in London, broadcasting via satellite from Morocco to Iran. In the same Fisk interview, he stated "My father left Syria because he didn't want bloodshed. A 'coup' means dictatorship and dictatorship breeds corruption and corruption breeds terrorism. We are campaigning internationally for a new Syria.” Such rhetoric and use of foreign media is a manifestation of the destabilization plan quoted in Haaretz.
Ribal’s pet causes are promoting interfaith dialogue, a two-state solution for Palestine and vilifying Iran. In a speech to London’s Rotary Club, he accused Iran of aiming to “create instability in the region by fueling conflict in Iraq, Lebanon, Gaza, Egypt and Afghanistan.” Such jargon has undoubtedly made him the darling of the West—who is perhaps grooming him to head “the replacement regime” to which Al-Zawahri referred in his speech. Other anti-Bashar figures are equally shady.
Christian Science Monitor Correspondent Nicholas Blanford sums it up well in his May 2011 article “Syrian Leaders Want to Talk to Opposition Leaders, But There Aren’t Any:”
“Opposition leaders consist mainly of aging secular intellectuals, exiled former members of the Assad regime and Islamists from the Muslim Brotherhood, and young, technologically savvy activists who are using social networking sites to mobilize and publicize the protest movement.”
Blanford quotes Rami Nakhle, a leading Syrian opposition activist in Beirut is as saying “There is no one in Syria who can speak on behalf of the opposition and this is better for us. There is no point in negotiating with these people.”
Clearly, the opposition—at least the safely foreign-based contingent—has no more interest in stopping the bloodshed than the regime they so despise. While supporting the current Syrian regime is incomprehensible, still more irresponsible is demanding the ouster of Bashar al-Assad when the only likely replacement is a war criminal, another western puppet or both.