Part I of this post discussed Iraq. He fingers the invasion of that country as the root cause of ISIL and hence the atrocities in Paris:
‘ISIS is the progeny of those in Washington, London and Paris who, in conspiring to destroy Iraq, Syria and Libya, committed an epic crime against humanity. Like Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, ISIS are the mutations of a western state terror dispensed by a venal imperial elite undeterred by the consequences of actions taken at great remove in distance and culture. Their culpability is unmentionable in “our” societies, making accomplices of those who suppress this critical truth.’
The invasion created these forces and thus ISIS. He downplays that sectarianism was a force in Iraq before the invasion. The sectarian fanaticism that drives the movement is a novel phenomenon, of recent provenance. But we found no plausible reason for accepting his claims. ISIS’s anti-Shia fanaticism cannot be explained if we make no reference to sectarianism in Iraq as a fact of life in the country before 2003. Indeed, Pilger’s refusal to accept the power of sectarianism in Iraq mirrors that of the US invaders, who likewise ignored this reality, to their cost. The invasion unleashed these forces rather than created them but that is not an argument Pilger wants to accept as it leads to the inevitable conclusion that only dictator can keep these forces in check. But since Pilger condemned the US and UK for backing Saddam in the 1980s, he cannot bring himself to accept that.
Iraq and Syria are linked. In the first, we overthrew a dictator and many Muslims died. In the second, we have not overthrown a dictator. But many Muslims are dying. But we are responsible for that, too, citing a ‘leaked’ UK-US intelligence file, the chaos is down to our making:
“In order to facilitate the action of liberative [sic] forces… a special effort should be made to eliminate certain key individuals [and] to proceed with internal disturbances in Syria. CIA is prepared, and SIS (MI6) will attempt to mount minor sabotage and coup de main [sic] incidents within Syria, working through contacts with individuals… a necessary degree of fear… frontier and [staged] border clashes [will] provide a pretext for intervention… the CIA and SIS should use… capabilities in both psychological and action fields to augment tension.”
Never mind the alleged document was written in 1957 (!), according to Pilger, ‘it could have been written yesterday. In the imperial world, nothing essentially changes. In 2013, the former French Foreign Minister Roland Dumas revealed that “two years before the Arab spring”, he was told in London that a war on Syria was planned. “I am going to tell you something,” he said in an interview with the French TV channel LPC, “I was in England two years before the violence in Syria on other business. I met top British officials, who confessed to me that they were preparing something in Syria… Britain was organising an invasion of rebels into Syria. They even asked me, although I was no longer Minister for Foreign Affairs, if I would like to participate… This operation goes way back. It was prepared, preconceived and planned.”’
This is a strange claim. Why would senior British officials have asked Dumas ‘to participate’ in an organised rebel invasion of the country? Him personally? He’s no spring chicken (he’s 93). Pilger gives the impression that Dumas had power and authority. That is what one is lead to believe if he was asked ‘to participate.’ But, in 2009, he was a political nobody. He had nothing to offer. He had neither men nor money to hand to support such a scheme. He was last Foreign Minister in 1993 and left the French government in 1999. What resources did he have which the British would have wanted him to contribute in 2009? Apart from that, Dumas doesn’t name the senior officials concerned and gives no explanation for why it took him four years to go public (and two years after the civil war in Syria broke out). Pilger, a veteran investigative reporter, seems remarkably credulous when repeating Dumas’ claims.
The claim that the Syrian civil war is nothing of the kind but an invasion of terrorists has met widespread acceptance on the left. Assad brands all his opponents as terrorists and Pilger agrees.
‘The only effective opponents of ISIS are accredited demons of the west – Syria, Iran, Hezbollah and now Russia. The obstacle is Turkey, an “ally” and a member of Nato, which has conspired with the CIA, MI6 and the Gulf medievalists to channel support to the Syrian “rebels”, including those now calling themselves ISIS.’
Why would they do that? Because: ‘Supporting Turkey in its long-held ambition for regional dominance by overthrowing the Assad government beckons a major conventional war and the horrific dismemberment of the most ethnically diverse state in the Middle East.’
There has indeed been western interference in Syria’s civil war. The Americans admitted they had spent $500 million dollars training ‘moderate’ Assad rebels only to have them melt away in their first fire fight with ISIS, leaving their expensive American kit behind for good measure. How many rebels are we talking about? Fifty – not exactly the sort of numbers to raise hell. Against that, ISIS has some 30,000 fighters. There is no doubt foreign interference has added fuel to the fire but it did not necessarily light the fire in the first place. Pilger doesn’t agree all foreign interference is bad. We are told that Iran, Hezbollah and Russia are the only ‘effective’ opponents of ISIL. So, presumably, some foreign interference is a good thing. Pilger is not only inconsistent here but just plain wrong in downplaying the role of these powers play in making the war worse. But we will deal with this in our final post.
But Pilger misses the point. There is massive evidence that what started as a peaceful uprising in Syria in 2011 swiftly degenerated into a civil war. It may be that some of these protests were violent but Assad meted out violent relation against peaceful and violent dissidents alike. Assad is not besieged by foreign terrorists but many of his own people. Outside powers have interfered. Foreign fighters/terrorists have flocked to the anti-Assad cause. But they have taken advantage of a situation Assad created – namely, his merciless attempt to crush all opposition, peaceful or otherwise.
Before 2011, Syria’s repressive reputation and its intolerance of any form of dissident was notorious. It’s not difficult to imagine that the slide in to civil war was a lot down to the regime’s failure to contain internal dissent, despite its fearsome security apparatus. Pilger would have us believe that sectarianism in Iraq was irrelevant or marginal before the 2003 invasion. In Syria, he would have us believe that the regime presided over a placid, contented population before 2011. If that is so, then that means that outsiders can whip up Iraqis and Syrians into a murderous rage against their fellows, in the absence of any real grievance or divisions to exploit.
Any theory, including Pilger’s own, needs to explain what’s going on. If there is some master plan to overthrow Assad, then how come the American military effort in Syria has mostly been directed against ISIS, one of the rebels which it allegedly has been ‘conspired’ to ‘channel’ support? Thousands of sorties have been flown and not one Syrian government or military target has been hit. This leaves a hole in Pilger’s theory. Not he seems to notice. It’s not the only one.
As for the conspiracy to aid and abet Turkey in its alleged drive for regional dominance? Then how come the greatest US effort in Syria made so far was in defending the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobane, an effort Erdogan refused to support, clearly preferring the town to fall to ISIL rather than the Syrian Kurds, refusing even to allow US planes to use Turkish airbases.
Pilger and Assad claim that NATO backs ‘terrorists’, the catch-all term for Assad’s opponents. But NATO is not a homogenous entity. In Kobane, the US and Turkey, nominally part of the same alliance, were at loggerheads with one another. The US bombed ISIS (Assad’s opponents) to support the Kurds (also Assad’s opponents). ‘NATO’ here was simultaneously backing and opposing the Kurds, the Americans by bombing ISIL and the Turks by refusing to throw a lifeline. ISIS and the Kurdish Peshmerga militia are both enemies of Assad but in Kobane were the deadliest of foes.
The complexities don’t end there. Pilger overlooks that Turkey’s relationship with Assad was cordial and it was Assad’s violent crackdown which estranged Erdogan from the Assad regime. To speak of Turkey seeking regional dominance overlooks its tendency to pursue good relationships with western rivals like Iran and its refusal to participate in the American invasion of Iraq.
None of these nuances receive the proper attention they deserve. The simple, binary ‘Assad v terrorists’ narrative simply does not capture the myriad complexities of an intractable conflict. In any conflict, especially in the midst of a civil war, especially this civil war, it is impossible to draw a neat partition between the good guys and the bad guys. Many Syrians are prepared to fight and die for Assad, after all. But Pilger seems to make no effort to think the issues through and instead constructs a narrative where the black hats, like a good old fashioned western film, are worn by the West and its allies and the white ones perched unconvincingly on the heads of Assad and Putin.
Pilger’s blind spot is his failure to acknowledge that actors like Turkey and ISIS are local actors with local motives. He doubtless accepts that description of Assad (as I do) not but not of his opponents. This depends on the fallacy that allies of the West are puppets of the West. We saw in the second post how Turkey has not toed the Americans’ line. The same goes for puppets like Israel and Saudi Arabia. For years the left postulated the inevitability of a US led war against Iran. This had some plausibility under the Bush administration but precious little under Obama, who has made strenuous efforts to broker a settlement regarding that country’s nuclear programme. This was in the teeth of opposition from Israel and Saudi Arabia, to the extent that Israeli premier Netanyahu lobbied the US Congress and Senate to undermine the agreement Obama brokered.
How does Pilger account for this? He doesn’t. He ignores it, presumably in the interests of creating a Manichean analysis. Instead, he posits the existence of a cabal of imperial plotters working in ruthless, coordinated unison, ignoring contrary evidence of real and serious divisions among the West and its allies which are not just tactical but principled.
Nonetheless, it is true that we nearly did bomb Assad in 2013. But that doesn’t actually do much for Pilger’s case. When we consider the matter, using the logic Pilger uses, then we will see that perhaps by failing to bomb Assad, we made a massive mistake. We’ll discuss that in the final post.