Syria\’s Bushar al Assad, a second generation dictator, hasn\’t hesitated in commanding a brutal and oppressive strategy to crush the grassroots, Egypt-style uprising in the country. For three weeks, Assad and his regime have murdered hundreds of protestors.
Al Jazeera has reported that thousands of troops backed with tanks have swept into the southern city of Daraa, setting up snipers on rooftops and killing over twenty civilians. The state security forces have also stormed the large Damascus suburb of Douma. These latest developments follow protests on Friday that ended with over an hundred people killed in the deadliest day since what should rightfully be called a revolution began.
Assad has had an interesting relationship with the U.S, and has publicly claimed that the U.S has played a role in instigating protests against the regime since 2005. Does he have evidence?
There\’s an enormous amount of evidence that the U.S hates Assad, and it dates back to Syria\’s support of Hamas and its opposition to the invasion of Iraq. Traditionally, the U.S hasn\’t tolerated relatively defenseless countries that attempt to act independently of U.S foreign interests, in the Middle East or anywhere else. The government acted according to the usual game plan, starting in 2005.
In 2005, Congress voted an undeclared sum of money to fund anti-Assad groups and invited them to Washington. It helped create and organize the Damascus Declaration, a so called “pro-democracy” group named after the document of the same name, penned in October 2005 by Michel Kilo. Its guiding principles spoke vaguely of “democracy” and “oppositional unity” in a manner that fit in perfectly with Washington’s requirements, while making no mention of an economic program to address the Syrian population\’s social grievances.
The U.S continued inviting Syrian dissidents, including prisoners and political enemies of Assad\’s administration, all the way through 2007. The White House invited a Damascus Declaration leader, Dr Kamal al-Labwani, who had been jailed for three years in Syria for organizing an anti-Assad movement. In January 2006, Washington hosted a group of Syrian dissidents, including the Damascus Declaration groups and exiles.
An Israeli publication, Ha\’aretz, has published details of a separate US-inspired plot against Syria. It reported that in 2008, the Saudi national security advisor and long time ambassador to Washington, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, and Jeffrey Feltman, a veteran US diplomat in the Middle East and assistant secretary of state for Middle East Affairs, hatched a $2 billion plot to destabilize the country and overthrow the Assad regime. It will always be unclear whether this plan was put into operation, but some of the features in the recent populist unrest bear a striking similarity to its proposals, which were designed to foment ethnic and sectarian tensions.
However, despite some of these similarities, it\’s unlikely the U.S had anything to do with the recent upheaval. For one thing, the Obama administration is less aggressive than the radicals in Bush\’s West Wing, despite my friends on the left saying otherwise. Obama may not be deviating from standard Western statist violence in foreign policy (I had no expectations in this respect), but he\’s more civilized than his predecessor.
What will be interesting to look for in the coming weeks is what form the revolution in Syria takes, and it\’s largely based on circumstances. If the U.S government enforces strict economic sanctions like it did on Saddam Hussein\’s Iraq in the 1990\’s, there may be no hope for a real democratic movement in Syria to exist. When the public is destitute and starving, its democratic seeds cannot historically germinate. This has been exemplified not just in Iraq, where the public had to subordinate itself to power (Saddam Hussein), but in Cambodia as well.
The most likely outcome of U.S intervention will be an attempt to install a more pliant regime than Assad\’s administration. It won\’t matter whether the new government is oppressive, or for that matter, democratic, as evidenced by the U.S attempts to remove Assad in the past. The key will be whether the new regime is compliant and non-resilient to U.S interests and activity in the region–a dangerous outcome for both Syrians and the Arab world.
The protests in Syria especially hit home for me, as I myself am of Syrian descent. As we wait to see how the U.S reacts to the circumstances as the unfold, I\’ll be anxiously watching the casualty counts and public opinion polls to see what\’s at stake for the Syrian people.