Few would dispute that Syria’s Al-Assad regime has to go; it’s crossed too many red lines soaked in innocent blood to be a credible leadership — and just about everyone from all sides of the political spectrum want the killing to stop. Likewise, the governments of almost all regional countries, unsure about Tehran’s avowal that it does not intend to develop nuclear weapons, would breathe easier if Iran relinquished its uranium enrichment program. In that case, on a superficial level at least, Western intervention in terms of sanctions as well as financial and military aid to rebels is the morally responsible way to go. Isn’t that right? Viscerally, most of us would answer ‘yes’ but, when the big picture is examined the situation isn’t quite as black-and-white.
Besides the fact that the U.S. and its Western allies tailor their respective foreign policies based on their own interests rather than morality, it’s worth considering whether they may harbor less than altruistic motives for their keenness to overthrow or destabilize Middle Eastern regimes. In the case of Syria, are they really concerned about Syrian civilians when the U.S. didn’t even bother to tally the deaths of Iraqis or Afghans killed at the hands of their ‘finest’ estimated at over one million? Let’s agree that there aren’t too many Mother Teresa-type decision-makers strolling along the corridors of power in Washington, London and Paris and examine the bottom line.
The first question worth asking ourselves is whether the G.W. Bush era’s neoconservative vision of a new American century has been binned as a failure or has it merely been left simmering quietly somewhere out of sight? The revelation of former 4-Star General Wesley Clark was echoing in my memory when I revisited one of his book launch speeches delivered some years ago.
“We had a policy coup; some hard-nosed people took over U.S. policy and didn’t bother to inform any of us. I went through the Pentagon ten days after 9/1...and an officer from the Joint Staff called me into his office and said, "I want you to know sir that we are going to attack Iraq." I asked ‘why?’ He said, ‘We don’t know’…I came back to the Pentagon six months later. I saw the same officer. I said, ‘Why haven’t we attacked Iraq? Are we going to attack Iraq?’ He said, “Oh sir, it’s worse than that. He pulled up a piece of paper from his desk saying ‘I just got this memo from the Secretary of Defense’s office. We’re going to start with Iraq and move to Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Iran — Seven countries in five years.”
Gen. Clark said he “sat on this info for a long time” before linking it with a 1991 meeting with then US Undersecretary for Defense Paul Wolfowitz. “I said, ‘Mr. Secretary, you must be pretty happy with the performance of our troops in Desert Storm.' ‘Well, yeh, but not really. The truth is that we should have got rid of Saddam Hussein and we didn’t. But one thing we did learn is that we can use our military in the region, in the Middle East, and the Soviets won’t stop us. And we’ve got about five or ten years to clean up those old Soviet client regimes — Syria, Iran, Iraq — before the next great superpower comes on to challenge us."
That conversation may have taken place decades ago, but keeping a resurgent Russia out of the loop is still pertinent from the American perspective no matter who has the top job. In the event the Syrian and Iranian regimes fell, the region would be almost completely within the West’s sphere of influence. Both Moscow and Beijing would lose out big-time strategically, economically and geo-politically.
Secondly, it won’t have escaped your notice that hobbling Syria and Iran would automatically quell Israel’s existential concerns and reduce incentives for Israel to swap land for a comprehensive peace treaty with the Palestinians and all 22 Arab League member countries. A US-dominated region would guarantee Israel’s security and impunity without Tel Aviv being obliged to make concessions.
The little-publicized H.R. 4133 Enhanced Security Cooperation Act of 2012 passed by the House of Representatives earlier this year by a vote of 411-2 — and drafted with AIPAC’s in-put — reaffirms the “enduring commitment of the United States to the security of the State of Israel as a Jewish state” and the provision to Israel “of the military capabilities necessary to deter and defend itself by itself against any threats.” The act also urges the US vetoing of “any one-sided anti-Israel resolutions at the United Nations Security Council and to ensure that Israel retains a “qualitative military edge.” For some unknown reason, the US mainstream media took the view that the act wasn’t newsworthy.
If the proof is in the pudding, then the neoconservative’s grand plan is still alive and well. Iraq and Libya have been defanged. The Syrian regime’s longevity is unlikely to be long and Israeli — and to a lesser extent, US — war drums are beating against Iran. A major obstacle on Israel’s doorstep Hezbollah must also be tackled before any Iran strike when Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has threatened missile attacks on Israeli cities should Iranian nuclear sites be targeted. It’s notable that the UK and the EU are currently considering designating Hezbollah as a terrorist organization and are pushing for anti-Hezbollah sanctions, ostensibly for its role in Syria.
For now, the U.S. appears to be on the same side as the majority of Syrians, those who dream of a free and democratic Iran, not to mention Gulf States for which a nuclear-armed Tehran as an anathema. But for every action there’s a reaction, and often unintended consequences. So before we loudly applaud countries that just a few years ago had an invasion of Arab countries to-do list (and may still), it’s worth pausing to reflect long and hard on the shape of the day after.
(Linda Heard is a columnist for the Saudi-based Arab News, where this article was first published Sept 11, 2012)