People walk along a war-torn street filled with debris in Deir al-Zor, Syria on Wednesday. Reuters/Khalil Ashawi
The intention is evident and the plan of action is all too familiar. The aggressor, taking cover behind the undefined and un-codified doctrine of Responsibility to Protect, has teamed up with the embedded media to set the Middle East on fire.
To the discerning reader, television viewer and radio listener, the embedded media’s collaboration with the war party is evident. The evidence is in the words they use. In a subtle move, several Western and Israeli media groups have begun to describe the Syrian security forces as “forces loyal to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad”.
The impression they give is that the Syrian armed forces are Assad’s private army and they lack legitimacy to crush the rebellion. Soon, the embedded media may even drop the word “President” and refer to the Syrian armed forces as “forces loyal to Assad”, thus giving the impression that Assad is no more the legitimate president but only a warlord.
This happened during the Libyan war. The western media referred to the Libyan security forces as forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi after referring to them as Libyan government forces during the early days of the civil war. The media’s behaviour poses a question of ethics. Frequent use of the phrase “forces loyal to Assad” by sections of the Western media, the Reuters news agency being chief among them, is probably aimed at turning the public opinion in favour of military action against Syria. Such prejudice by the embedded media that have joined the imperialist war has been aptly described by critics as ‘presstitution’.
With British lawmakers effectively blocking Prime Minister David Cameron’s move to attack Syria or to emulate Tony Blair who earned the sobriquet the lapdog of imperial America, the Barack Obama administration has found its war policy hard to sell to the war-weary Americans. As opinion surveys show that 60 per cent of Americans oppose a war on Syria, the Obama administration with the help of the presstitute media, has launched a rigorous campaign to sell its war plan.
Defenders of the embedded media may argue that the media are only playing their role of promoting democracy, social justice, human rights and freedom. But they forget that such a role should be played without compromising the independence and impartiality of the media. Just as democracy in the West is only a deception that hides its imperialistic agendas -- the West’s support for the coup in Egypt is a striking example -- the so-called media freedom in the West is also a charade. The war party uses the media to vilify Assad as a modern day Hitler and mislead the Americans into believing that the so-called evidence to implicate the Syrian forces in the chemical weapon attack is beyond doubt.
With a submissive media on its side, President Obama is now trying to seek Congressional approval or political cover for his unpopular Syrian War, which he projects as a military response with a limited scope. In 2003, at least, the then Secretary of State Colin Powell came before the United Nations Security Council with a PowerPoint presentation. Although what he showed has now been discredited and become a black spot on his otherwise distinguished political and military career, Powell tried to convince the world body that Iraq’s President Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.
But it appears that the so-called evidence which Obama and his Secretary of State John Kerry talk about is not enough to prepare even a single-slide PowerPoint presentation. How can the Obama administration say that the Syrian troops used chemical weapons on August 21 near Damascus even before the United Nations team which went to Syria to inspect the site releases its report?
The Obama administration says the evidence was gathered by US intelligence. How can the world believe US spy agencies when they were well off the mark in their intelligence on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction? The US spy agencies’ weapons of mass deception are all too well-known. For instance, they deliberately floated a story that Saddam Hussein’s agents had gone to Niger to buy ‘yellowcake’ uranium although they knew the then US ambassador to Niger had carried out a thorough investigation and found no evidence.
Their manipulation is evident in the case of Syria too. Soon after the August 21 chemical weapon attack, reports said the death toll was around 350. This was the figure Cameron presented to the House of Commons. Then suddenly Secretary Kerry claimed that the death toll was more than 1,400, a figure which even the pro-rebel Syrian Observatory for Human Rights dismissed as “propaganda”. Probably the US was adding some special effects to its disinformation campaign to win over the sceptical Americans.
Adding to the lack of credibility of the US claims, Russia on Wednesday released what it called key findings of a probe it carried out at Khan al-Assal -- the site of a chemical weapon attack on March 19. The findings showed the chemicals used in this attack did not belong to standard Syrian army ammunition, and that the shell carrying the substance was similar to those made by a rebel fighter group.
A Russian foreign ministry statement on the findings drew attention to the “massive stove-piping of various information aimed at placing the responsibility for the alleged chemical weapons use in Syria on Damascus, even though the results of the UN investigation have not yet been revealed.”
Yesterday, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned the US and its allies against taking one-sided action in Syria, and said any military strikes without UN approval would be “an aggression”.
Putin admitted that chemical weapons were used on civilians on August 21 but the video clips posted on YouTube gave no evidence as to who the perpetrators were. “If there is evidence that chemical weapons were used, and by the regular army... then this evidence must be presented to the UN Security Council. And it must be convincing,” Putin said.
Earlier, he warned that Russia would be forced to send its powerful S-300 missiles to Syria’s allies in the region if the US and its allies take military action on Syria without UN approval.
Syrian President Assad in an interview with Le Figaro, a well-respected French newspaper, said anyone making the allegation that his government used chemical weapons should be responsible enough to provide the evidence to substantiate the allegation.
“We have challenged them to present a shred of legitimate evidence. This they have not been able to do. Since their foreign policy should be tailored to suit the interests of their own people, we have challenged them to present legitimate evidence to their own public opinion to substantiate their claims; again they have not done so.
“Secondly, where is the logic in us carrying out an attack of this nature: two years into the crisis I can confidently state that the situation on the ground is much better now than it was a year ago; how is it conceivable then that an army making significant advancements on the ground through conventional armament would resort to using weapons of mass destruction?”
With all eyes now on the UN report and next week’s vote in Congress, Syria prepares for US military strikes and warns of a fitting response. A limited and tailored attack which Obama speaks of will not change the ground situation in favour of the rebels, who are being trained by the US in bases in Jordan, unless the attack is sustained throughout the 60-day timeframe which Congress is expected to grant. Syria has in the past exercised restraint when Israel attacked its nuclear sites and weapons dumps. If the US attack stops with one or two missiles, Syria may absorb them. But if the attack continues for too long, Syria will be forced to attack US targets in the region -- even Israel and America’s Arab allies -- with its Russian-supplied advanced missiles. Such a situation may lead to a US ground invasion which Syria will resist together with its allies – Iran and Hezbollah. This may warrant a US attack on Iran or Hezbollah. For, the Authorisation to Use Military Force (AUMF) resolution to be passed by Congress is so broad that the Obama administration could interpret it anyway to attack any target anywhere.
It is amidst such a powder keg situation that Obama has gone to Russia to attend the G20 summit where Syria is not on the agenda though it is expected to dominate the talks on the sidelines. On his way to St. Petersburg, Obama visited Sweden where he said the world should stick to its own “red line” against the use of chemical weapons.
“The international community’s credibility is on the line,” Obama said. “America and Congress’s credibility is on the line, because we give lip service to the notion that these international norms are important.”
But in St. Petersburg he is unlikely to find more allies. Only France under François Hollande is gearing up to join Obama’s war coalition to achieve its neocolonial objectives in its former colony Syria just as it did recently in Mali. Unless there is a national interest gain, no country with self-respect will endorse a course of action based on dubious intelligence and willfully violate the UN Charter since the Iraq war has taught many countries the lesson that those who blindly followed the US only ended up with their reputation tarnished and their investments in the war bringing only meagre returns. Besides, unlike Iraq, Syria has no oil to plunder.