Syria: When Destruction is a Foreign Policy Objective

On issues pertaining to the Middle East, in Washington and many major European capitals, it is often impossible to tell where policies end and religious concerns begin. Accordingly, this has often resulted in deepening human suffering, perpetuating conflict, and threatening world peace and stability. Whether in Iraq or Sudan, Syria or Libya, destruction becomes an end game.
On May 12, 1996, Lesley Stahl of CBS’s “60 Minutes,” in an interview with Madeleine Albright, then US Ambassador to the UN, pointed out that economic sanctions in Iraq had resulted in the death of half a million children and asked her, “is the price worth it?” Albright was blunt in her answer: “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price – we think the price is worth it.” Iraq of course was incapacitated and still has not recovered from the barbaric economic sanctions imposed on it and the subsequent invasion.
In recent months, destruction and bloodshed have become the norm in Syria. Policymakers in Washington have been unapologetic in perpetuating the suffering and spreading chaos. The Wall Street Journal (July 22, 2012) has reported that the Central Intelligence Agency, the State and Treasury departments, and the military have mounted “behind-the-scenes efforts” pointing to “a broader American role in the campaign . . . than previously acknowledged” to change the regime in Syria.
Washington’s intervention in Syria, like in the rest of the Arab World, is driven primarily by the wish to enhance Israeli supremacy and marginalize the progressive forces in the region. Consequently, turmoil and chaos, rather than economic vitality and growth, top the priority list of many policymakers. In fact, Syria, after the invasion of Iraq, was considered the next target for fragmentation.
The excuse for the destruction of Syria has been that it will weaken Iran. Writing in Foreign Policy (June 4, 2012), James Rubin, US Assistant Secretary of State under Bill Clinton, articulated this rationale when he stated that Washington intervention in Syria is a “risk worth taking” because Iran "would no longer have a Mediterranean foothold from which to threaten Israel." Previously, Efraim Halevy, former head of the Israeli Mossad, in an interview with the Los Angeles Times, (February 18, 2012) argued that “If the regime falls in Syria . . . , this is going to be a horrendous defeat for Iran.”
On February 17, 2012, influential neoconservative thinkers and former policy makers, including John Hannah, Liz Cheney, Michael Ledeen, and Dov Zakheim, sent a letter to President Obama urging him to hasten the demise of the Syrian regime in order to effectively counter Iran and make the Middle East safe for Israel. This immediately was translated into a policy directive. The New York Times (February 25, 2012) reported that the argument in Washington and inside the White House these days is “if the Assad government cracks, Iran’s ability to funnel weapons to Hezbollah and Hamas will be badly damaged — and its influence will wither accordingly.”
On July 12, 2012, the Congressional Research issued a report entitled “Armed Conflict in Syria: U.S. and International Response.” The report concluded that “The prospect of weakening Iran’s regional influence also makes regime change attractive to some policy makers. The Obama Administration and some in Congress have already made the strategic choice . . . While regime change in Syria may benefit the United States and its allies by weakening Iran, seeking it also may complicate efforts to achieve an immediate ceasefire and protect Syrian civilians.”
The Report underscores the threat to civilians and to stability in the region. However, for policymakers motivated by religious fervor, the catastrophic consequences, rephrasing James Rubin, is a necessary risk. The death of Arabs in any part of the Arab Word is not a concern. In 2002, Michael Ledeen, former under Secretary of State, articulated this goal by stating that
“Stability is an unworthy American mission, and a misleading concept to boot. We do not want stability in Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and even Saudi Arabia.” Ledeen, too, was frank when he declared, “we will not be sated until we have had the blood of every miserable little tyrant in the Middle East, until every . . . last drooling anti-Semitic and anti-American mullah, imam, sheikh, and ayatollah is either singing the praises of the United States of America, or pumping gasoline, for a dime a gallon, on an American military base near the Arctic Circle.”
It is saddening to think that the Arab intellectuals have failed in either countering the neoconservatives’ racist schemes to destabilize and further fragment the region or to sensitize and organize the masses to take the initiative to reverse the downfall of the Arab civilization. More frightening is the fact that many Arab intellectuals are not only inciting sectarian discord and tribalism but are whole heartedly submitting to the will of the Arab rulers and justifying oppression, freedom deficit, and violence against civilians.
Washington has been effective in directing the Arab uprisings in general. Earlier they effectively steered the uprisings away from their patriotic and progressive messages. In Syria, in particular, Washington is credited with transforming peaceful and legitimate popular protests into an armed conflict, thus creating a sea of blood and paralyzing the Arab Syrian society.
The ongoing slaughter of civilians in Syria by both sides in the conflict and the escalating deaths in the government and the opposition camps manifest irresponsibility, lack of moral clarity, absence of patriotism, and the subordination of the Arab cause by dictators in the region to that of their protectors in Washington. Indeed, the scope of destruction and the exodus of Syrian civilians is a loud indictment of those who have prevented a peaceful solution to the crisis and who have gone along with the western scheme to deepen the sufferings of the Syrian people.
Burning Syria to save it is illogical. It was tried in Iraq and after ten years the Iraqi dream of regaining political stability and normalcy is still remote. The downfall of Syria is a tragic outcome of Washington’s high jacking of a peaceful protest and catapulting it into a vicious civil war. It is a menace to civility and a victory of extremism and barbarianism over decency and moral conduct. Abbas J. Ali is a Professor and Director, School of International Management, Eberly College of Business and IT, Indiana University of Pennsylvania.