The Western corporate media that for 12 years have cheerled the brutal regime-change project in Syria are still sore about the fact that the project failed and that the other Arab states have agreed to reinstate Syria into the Arab League. So in what they’ve been publishing about Syria in recent days—whether “news” or “opinion”—they still clearly embody the deeply one-sided way they have been “covering” Syria for many years now.
(Other voices can be found—if you know where to look. I’ll come to one of them a little lower down here.)
The story in today’s WaPo that purported to tell us how “Syrians” feel about Pres. Bashar al-Asad’s participation in last Friday’s Arab League summit was a classic. “Syrians”, the headline tells us magisterially, “feel anger, hurt as Assad is welcomed back to Arab League.” But no attempt was made by the two reporters bylined there to, um, actually go to Syria and ask that majority of Syrians who live in areas under the government’s control. Instead, they are writing with no dateline, that is, presumably working the phones and the WhatsApp lines from Washington, to the three named sources whom they quote. One of those sources is described as currently located in Qatar, one in Germany, the other, not located.
The reporters make a couple of references to them as “Syrian activists“, a deliberately vague descriptor that is usually understood to mean “Syrian pro-regime-change activists”… But then they also, several times, build on those quotes to conclude that “Syrians” (meaning, presumably, all Syrians) feel that same way.
That is exactly how, through lazy writing based on a barrow-load of wishful thinking, pro-war propaganda gets ever more deeply embedded into the minds of readers. It really makes you wonder. If all “Syrians” feel exactly that same way, how on earth did the Syrian government manage to survive the 12-year-long regime-change campaign?
Elsewhere in today’s WaPo, the slightly more analytical Ishaan Tharoor gives this bleak and very opinionated take on Syria’s reintegration into the Arab League. Tharoor does admit some important truths about the situation:
A decade ago, officials in the Gulf monarchies were conspiring on ways to oust Assad. They poured resources and arms into the civil war raging in Syria, backing a motley grouping of anti-Assad rebels…
But Assad is in de facto control of the majority of his country, while Syrian rebel forces and their supporters are subdued and scattered. The regional powers once invested in his removal have shifted their attention and priorities elsewhere.
He then mixes in some of the “Syrian activist” quotes from the other WaPo piece and offers a bit of additional, marginally deeper analysis about the impact of Syria’s Arab League reintegration. (He mentions the impact the 10-week-old Iran-Saudi reconciliation had on de-escalatiung the horrendous conflict in Syria… But notably fails to mention the huge role China played in cementing that deal.)
Tharoor closes with a string of quotes from “experts” in think-tanks. The two latter of these are staffers at the Middle East Institute and the Atlantic Council, one of whom tells us he knows what is and is not “in Assad’s DNA”(!) But for some reason Tharoor fails to tell his readers that both the DC-based institutions where these “experts” work have been the recipients of massive funding from the UAE and other Arab petro-states over recent years.
A month ago, I asked whether, in light of the 180-degree turn these petro-states have made in recent weeks on the question of Syria, we might now expect the “experts” at the think-tanks they’ve been so generously funding to also switch on a dime and start extolling the benefits of de-escalation in Syria? I guess that has yet to happen. (And to be honest, regarding the deeply anti-Asad shill Charles Lister at MEI, I doubt if it will ever happen… What will UAE-funded MEI do with him then, I wonder?)
Anyway, if you’ve read this far, then I guess you will have gotten my drift. As I’ve explained numerous times over the past decade, the regime-change operation in Syria consisted not only of massive amounts of money and weapons being channeled in to the opposition forces in Syria—and it also consisted of massively funded “information operations” (propaganda) being continually bombarded against Western publics. And sad to say, a vast proportion of that propaganda proved effective and has taken deep root even among (or especially among) leftist or “progressive” circles within Western society.
Here in the United States, I’d estimate that maybe three or four times as many people who consider themselves “progressive” have long been (and probably still remain?) strong supporters of the regime-change project in Syria as were ever convinced, 20 years ago, that Saddam Hussein had any WMDs or “WMD programs” in Iraq. Pro-war propaganda has become much more far-reaching and effective for its disseminators in the 20 years since 2003.
… So here, for a change of pace, is a very smart little article by Peter Ford, who was the UK’s ambassador to Syria, 2003-2006, and then the chief representative of the head of the UN agency UNRWA to the Arab world. (Ford was also a featured participant in two of the webinars Just World Educational presented back in 2020, in our “Commonense on Syria” series.)
Ford’s latest piece is headlined, “Never mind who lost Syria, Who the hell lost Saudi Arabia?” I admit that the whole discourse of Western states “losing” in global-power contests in the Global South is one I find hard to deal with on those terms. (“Who ‘lost’ China?” “Who ‘lost’ Vietnam?”, and so on…) However, the headline is eye-catching; and in his piece Ford makes the excellent point that Syria’s readmission to the Arab League has “significance … way beyond Syria itself.”
Let’s get straight to the point. It’s a massive blow for the US and its allies. No wonder the commentary from the Washington think tanks and publications like the Financial Times is so sour. It’s not just that the hated Assad is breaking out of US-imposed isolation, and that the world is being reminded of US policy failure in Syria.
More importantly, it’s absolutely gobsmacking that a previously fully aligned top US client, Saudi Arabia, should take the lead in flouting America’s wish to keep Syria isolated. For it was indeed Saudi Arabia, fresh from showing the US the finger by coming to a Chinese sponsored tension-reducing agreement with Iran, which followed up by corralling other Arab League members into accepting the return of Syria. This also came after Saudi Arabia refused to pump more oil to help Biden get lower gas prices in the US…
He then has a smart bit of analysis about the event that he considers precipated the Saudi turnabout:
The moment of awakening may actually have come in 2019 but went unnoticed at the time. This was when, according to reports, Iran directed massive drone attacks on the Abqaiq refinery in Saudi’s Eastern Province, and went unpunished. Iran was sending a message to the US : mess with our oil exports (which the US navy was indeed doing) and your local guy gets it in the neck. The US certainly got the message: it quietly pulled back. But the local guy, Saudi, got the message too. ‘Hey, I thought I was paying for
protection. Instead I take the hit for you!’
The aftermath of the Khashoggi assassination and Prince Mohammed Bin Salman’s resulting temporary weakness probably delayed the working out of the Gulf naval debacle. But MBS ‘s own isolation may have increased his fellow feeling for Bashar Al Assad, especially as Khashoggi had been an opponent of both.
At all events arrogant US politicians and diplomats failed to see what was brewing and piled humiliation on humiliation on Saudi. Now thanks to the US response to Ukraine, with all those sanctions driving up energy prices in the West while making oil producers’ day, the worm has turned.
They still don’t get it in Washington. They think it’s a temporary Saudi tantrum and still talk of bringing Saudi Arabia into the Abraham Accords with Israel. This is about as likely as the cow jumping over the moon. It’s cataclysmic, guys. You have lost your linch pin in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia is off the reservation and starting to whoop it up with Russia and China and other leading lights of the big new act, the Global South.
Losing Syria could be shrugged off. But losing Saudi is disastrous, as will become more and more clear in the coming weeks and months.
I think Amb. Ford has hit the nail on the head. The only thing I’d add to his analysis is to underline just how much of a surprise Beijing’s ability to nail down the last stages of the Iran-Saudi rapprochement was for the Americans. In the essay I published March 11, one day after the “The China-Iran-Saudi handshake seen around the world”, I noted that, “One news report had a seemingly befuddled Pres. Joe Biden, on being asked about this diplomatic breakthrough, responding with boilerplate that didn’t even mention the three countries involved, but only ‘Israel and the Arab neighbours’.”
I’ve been thinking a bit more about the impact of that surprise, since then. For many decades now, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has occupied a central position in all U.S. policymaking both for its security planning in West Asia and for its financial planning at the global level. So of course the United States’ security agencies and their partners in Israel’s security agencies have had (or thought they had) all the communications nodes of the Kingdom’s key decisionmakers deeply surveilled for many decades now. But then, this? The fact that China was able to create and use, over a period of quite some time, a secure communications network involving both Saudi Arabia and Iran, without Washington or Tel Aviv ever getting wind of it?
That indeed, must have come as a huge shock to the nat-sec Blobs in both the United States and Israel.