On the interests of the parties involved in the Syrian conflict and the role of the media
In the event of major military conflicts that risk considerable humanitarian and economic consequences, it is useful to examine the interests of all parties involved as well as the role that the media plays in reporting the events.
The most visible of all the parties that have a stake in the Syrian conflict are the rebels. This group is an amalgam of approximately 1200 smaller and larger factions, ranging from jihadist fighters to Chechen rebels to, most prominently, Al Qaida. It remains unclear as to where the loyalty of these foreigners lies. Are they primarily concerned with the welfare of the Syrian people, or are they more focused on drawing a pay check or improving their future standing? Given the interests that are at stake for the rebels, it is just as legitimate to take a critical look at them as it is to examine the regime of President Assad.
Was the chemical weapons attack carried out by Assad, or by the rebels?
All parties involved in the Syrian conflict are aware that the use of chemical weapons constitutes the crossing of a red line for U.S. President Obama, with all that this entails. In an possible reference to Obama's stance, this line was indeed crossed on 21 August 2013, a year and a day after he made his statement on this issue. It is as if the Syrian regime is committing suicide. What’s more, this attack took place right in the vicinity of where a team of UN inspectors had been staying. This team had arrived a few days earlier there with the permission of the regime in order to investigate a previous attack. A third factor to consider in this confluence of events is the seemingly credible argument made by the Syrian regime that the Syrian army “was ‘winning the battle against the rebels’ and there was no need for chemical weapons.”
So while he had nothing to gain, Assad is alleged to have carried out the attack, which in the process played right into the hands of the rebels. Also worth noting is the fact that the UN inspectors, who were in a position to uncover evidence linking the poison gas attack to Assad’s troops, were seriously hampered in their efforts when they took fire from snipers. Their mission was also endangered by the request that was made by the Obama administration to the UN to halt the investigation - a request that was subsequently rejected by the Secretary-General of the UN, Ban Ki-moon.
A poison gas attack on civilians that is accompanied by shocking images could work to the favor of the anti-Assad coalition. This is something that was established back in 2011 during a conversation held between the intelligence company Stratfor and strategists of the U.S. Air Force: “They [USAF] don’t believe air intervention would happen unless there was enough media attention on a massacre, like the Gaddafi move against Benghazi.”
John Kerry and the media
A ‘massacre’ could work to the advantage of those who desire a different Syria, as long as President Assad is the one implicated in such a massacre. And this effort is now in full force, often expressed in a roundabout sort of way: “If you believe him [Kerry] and if you listen closely to him, what he says sounds quite convincing.” These are references which are continually repeated and which invoke images of smoke clouds rising from chemical weapons fired by the Syrian army. The question remains as to what John Kerry is basing his stern statements on, statements which are given such broad coverage in the media. One of the evocative examples that Kerry cites (5:40) is a photo showing the horrible consequences of the attacks carried out by Assad’s forces. The only problem with the photo is that it was taken in Iraq back in 2003. The person who took the photo, Marco Di Lauro, wrote to tell me: “I am concerned to learn my work has been misrepresented in this way without the proper due diligence.” Kerry’s statements are reminiscent of those made by Colin Powell in his appearance at the UN, an appearance which he has since come to view as a blot on his record.
What is the record of the U.S. when it comes to the use of chemical weapons?
During the Vietnam War, American forces used Agent Orange, which was manufactured by Monsanto. There is also the use during the war against Iraq of white phosphorus, a variant of napalm, which also saw use in Vietnam. The U.S. attack on the Iraqi city of Fallujah was preceded by a pep talk from President Bush: “Kick ass! [...] Stay strong! Stay the course! Kill them! Be confident! Prevail! We are going to wipe them out! We are not blinking!” Previously, the U.S. had sold Saddam Hussein anthrax, botulism, brucella melitensis and clostridium perfringens. The Americans eventually used the existence of these weapons of mass destruction as a pretext for invading Iraq. In addition, the White House knew that Saddam had used chemical weapons against Iran, the country with which he had started a war at the urging of the U.S. Like so many dictators, Saddam was a creation of the U.S., and he made use of chemical weapons with the knowledge of the U.S. A comparable list of facts can be recited in the case of Britain. All of this is not strengthening the credibility of the argument that says that Syria should be liberated from a cruel dictator on humanitarian grounds. Yet this is still what fills the headlines. Filmmaker Oliver Stone: “As we inch closer to another intervention, our media beats the drum for war in search of ratings.” All available means are being brought to bear, up to and including the Alyssa Milano Sex Tape.
Perception, representation and facts
It would seem that, for the warring parties, perception and representation form a higher priority than facts or reality. This is a recurring theme. Take for example the aforementioned case in which Kerry compared Assad to Hitler. These sorts of chilling comparisons are often made during the escalation of conflicts. In my book on Iran, I cite numerous examples in which the U.S., and in particular Israel, have compared Iranian leaders to Adolf Hitler. This type of representation is even more explicit in cartoons: during the wars against Iraq, Saddam was regularly depicted wearing a skull and crossbones, while at the same time George Bush and now John Kerry are walking about at all times with a golden pin depicting a skull and crossbones underneath their clothing as a token of their sacred vow to the secret society known as Skull & Bones. This example shows that it is not just the facts, but also the images which are distorted. The same is true of our perception of Iran as an aggressor nation, a country that has not started a war since 1862. This stands in contrast to the beacon of democracy America, which since WWII has managed to initiate seventy different conflicts (21:40) and is now on the brink of openly engaging Syria in battle.
‘Syria’ is about power, money, influence and energy
When you peek below the surface, it becomes clear that Syria is under attack due to the interests of the parties involved. ‘Syria’ is about power, money, influence and energy.
For all of the actors involved in the Syrian conflict, there are two primary interests at stake: influence and energy. The parties that are currently engaged in the battle want to shift the current balance of power. To this end they are employing all available means, from information to weapons to fighters. As shown in this DeepJournal series on Syria, the interests of these parties are widely divergent, despite the fact that they are all pursuing the same goal.
Europe is seeking to become less dependent on Russia for its energy supply, the U.S. wants to cut off China’s access to Middle East energy sources, a Syria without Assad is one step closer to the liberation of Syrian energy reserves (and most importantly those of Iran) and a liberated Iran also ensures that Israel - and thereby the West - will be able to maintain its dominant position in the Middle East. At the same time, military conflicts with Syria and Iran feed a long-standing desire to divide and conquer by fomenting internecine warfare among all sorts of factions and reducing what were once large countries/concentrations of power to a patchwork quilt of conflicting interests.
- The pipeline
One component of the conflict deals with energy and its transport - preferably through Syria via a pipeline carrying gas from “the largest gas field in the world, which is located in the Persian Gulf and is split between two adversaries: Iran and Qatar. Both countries are seeking a land route over which to transport the natural gas, and both envision a route stretching over Syrian territory which would be used to transport the gas onward via the Mediterranean Sea to Europe,”writes Ludo De Brabander for Uitpers. In deference to Russia, Syria rejected a contract with Qatar and signed a memorandum of understanding with Iran and Iraq. A “direct slap in the face to Qatar,” according to OilPrice.
Qatar wants to quash the plans of its competitor in favor of its own pipeline, which may or may not need to run through Syria. As such, Qatar’s interests are squarely in line with those of the West plus Israel, which are seeking to isolate Iran. They are also in line with the interests of Turkey, which is not a party to the deal between Iran, Iraq and Syria. “Europe wants to become less dependent on Russian natural gas. Qatari natural gas would therefore be more than welcome,” writes De Brabander, who goes on to explain that Qatar invests a great deal of money in Europe and can thereby count on some sympathy. The problem in the meantime is Saudi Arabia, which has no interest in a pipeline running from Qatar. Another possibility is that the lack of cooperation ends up driving up the price for future negotiations.
- The energy
And then there is the energy itself. Currently, Qatar must share these gas reserves with Iran. Both countries are tapping from the same barrel: the world’s largest gas field is divided into North Dome (Qatar) and South Pars (Iran). If Syria falls, Iran will lose a key buffer, and the main prize will then be within reach for all those seeking to overthrow the current Syrian regime: an Iran that will no longer be able to defend its own interests. But this would also mean that South Pars would become available. The clock is ticking, because Iran is working to develop nuclear energy, and when the time comes that it is capable of producing a nuclear weapon - even without revealing it - the chances of ‘liberating’ the country will be lost. This is an unacceptable notion for anyone currently devoted to the interim goal: Syria.
It’s not just Iran; Syria is also about energy. In 2010, Houston-based Noble Energy discovered huge gas reserves along the coasts of Israel, Lebanon and Syria. Israel has already begun producing and expects to become an energy exporter. Some of this gas is located along the coast of Syria, and according to geologists, it’s a gold mine. Syria also possesses proven oil reserves of 2.5 billion barrels: "That’s more than all of the nation’s neighbors except Iraq." It also has an estimated 50 billion tons in oil shale deposits. The oil, and especially the gas, are interesting to the new rulers in Syria: “this is the thing to watch as the end game for the Syrian conflict unfolds,” writes OilPrice.
- The religion
Another factor that is playing out in the background is the religious motive. Saudi Arabia is ruled by a Sunni monarchy and Qatar is a pro-Sunni emirate. Both support the battle being waged against Syria, the population of which is three-quarters Sunni. President Assad belongs to the minority Alawite sect and he has the support of a Shiite Iran. Yet British MP George Galloway is correct when he says (4:45) that the conflict is not about 'prophets’, but 'profits'. And speaking of money, there is also a financial angle to the conflict. The countries which now find themselves under attack have a banking system that exists outside the bounds of the banking system in which the rest of the world operates. This puts these countries largely out of the range of Western financial weapons and control.
“We are going to learn some terrible and extremely serious lessons here”
A war against Syria is intended to radically alter the relationships in the Middle East to the detriment of Syria, Iran, China and Russia. Because the interests which are at stake are so large, and because everyone, including organisations such as Hezbollah and Hamas, are armed to the teeth, this conflict has the potential to take on global proportions. Former Secretary General of NATO Jaap de Hoop Scheffer: “We are going to learn some terrible and extremely serious lessons here.” What Obama is considering is relatively small-scale, but “taking that first step would almost surely lead to other steps that in due course would put American troops on the ground in Syria as a similar process did in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan,” states Middle East expert William R. Polk correctly. There is a great deal of opposition to military intervention, even in Western military circles, but at this point the forces in favor of an attack are quite strong. And just as with previous wars, opposition efforts are being sidelined by means of emotional arguments. Jon Stewart of the Daily Show discovers a pattern.
Syria and the manufacturing of consent
The debate is now centered on a potentially false accusation concerning the use of chemical weapons. Between 281 and 355 people lost their lives in this attack. Thus far, a total of approximately 100,000 people have been killed in the Syrian conflict. The fact that we are currently focusing on whether or not a red line has been crossed - instead of whether 300 deaths from a chemical attack are worse than 100,000 deaths from conventional weapons, or what the role of the West in the conflict is, or what the underlying objective of the escalation of the conflict is - is te result of what is called framing. The framing is a component of what linguist and critic Noam Chomsky has called themanufacturing of consent. As indicated in previous parts of this DeepJournal series, as well as by research carried out by Anthony Dimaggio, the mainstream media plays a guiding role in this effort. For instance, if you pay close attention, you will notice that when John Kerry and Senator John McCain cite an expert in order to underscore their own argument that the support given to Al Qaida is negligible, it turns out that this source works for both the Syrian lobby and the neoconservative Institute for the Study of Wars. This is a fact that has little effect on the framing and the manufacturing of consent. This is a process that targets the emotions of the public, while the facts tell a completely different story: one that is full of victims and potentially serious consequences for the global economy.
Identifying and publicizing manipulations which are in turn further magnified by the mainstream media is a step in the right direction - a direction which represents more than just the interests of a small group. The next step is to think about ways to change this. The above-mentioned retired General Wesley Clark reflects on possible solutions: “Forces of big oil are the most powerful economic forces in the world. If you look at the entire wealth of mankind, the value of oil reserves in the ground is like 170 trillion dollars. It’s the most valuable commodity as currently priced in the world. You’re going against people who control those reserves. So this can only be done through a mass movement that overturns the established structure of energy markets. It can’t be done in a smooth transition.”