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(1) By Stephen Gowans, what’s left
Professing grave concern over Syria’s escalating violence, the United Nations General Assembly on Friday demanded that “all in Syria immediately and visibly commit to ending violence.”
This would be all to the good except that the General Assembly’s idea of what constitutes “all in Syria” and what it means by “ending violence” amounts to one side in the civil war (the Republic) laying down its arms unilaterally, while President Assad steps down and cedes his authority to an interim government approved by the “international community,” which is to say, the very same countries that are furnishing the rebels with arms, logistical support, diplomatic assistance, territory from which to launch attacks, salaries for fighters, lucre to induce government officials to defect, and propaganda.
The resolution is hardly a plea for peace. It’s a demand that the Republic capitulate. (NB: Russia and China along with a dozen other nations denounced the resolution. See addendum below.) Significantly, the resolution’s sponsor, Saudi Arabia, is the rebels’ main arms supplier. No wonder the Bolivian representative to the UN was moved to declare that the aim of the text is not to assist the Syrian population, but to ‘defeat Damascus’.” “Anybody who doesn’t believe that needs only read it,” he said.
Indeed, the text is perfectly clear: peace means regime change and regime change means peace.
“Rapid progress on a political transition,” the General Assembly said is “the best opportunity” to resolve the conflict peacefully. That is: peace equals Assad stepping down. Or, peace, yes, but on the rebels’, which is to say, the United States’, terms. And UN General-Secretary Ban Ki-moon, echoing US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, has underscored the equating of peace with Assad’s departure, defining “political transition” as a necessary condition of peace.
Importantly, the United States—whose efforts to eliminate Syria’s Arab nationalist government antedate the Arab Spring—opposes Assad, not because he is a “dictator” or “kills his own people” as the propaganda has it, but because his government has long charted a course on foreign and economic policy independent of Washington. Assad’s crime, in the view of Washington, is to have tried to privilege the Syrian population over the interests, both immediate and distal, of US banks and corporations.
Significantly, the resolution ignores the political and constitutional concessions the Syrian government has already made in what has turned out to be a fruitless attempt to engineer a peaceful settlement with an opposition that is hostile to peace. With Libya as a model for how a opposition with the backing of only part of the population need not negotiate with the government it opposes if it can enlist the support of the United States and Europe, the Syrian rebels have never had an incentive to sit down with Damascus and work out a modus vivendi. On the contrary, all the incentives are on the side of an intransigent commitment to violent overthrow of the government. The overthrow comes about as a result of the support in arms and political and propaganda backing the United States and its allies provide, and therefore is effectively authored in Washington, but attributed, for political and propaganda purposes, to the rebels’ own efforts. Having the US State Department, CIA and Pentagon on your side can more than adequately make up for the deficiency of failing to win the support of significant parts of the population.
The General Assembly’s text demands that “the first step in ending the violence must be made by the Syrian authorities,” who are called upon to withdraw their troops. It is highly unlikely that a US ally would ever be called upon to withdraw its troops in the face of an armed insurrection. This is a standard reserved exclusively for communist, socialist, and economic nationalist governments—those whose commitment to self-directed, independent development runs counter to the unrestrained profit-making of US banks and corporations. No international body has ever seriously demanded that Saudi Arabia refrain from violence in putting down rebellions in its eastern provinces, or that Bahrain—home to the US Fifth Fleet—cease its use of violence to extinguish its own, local, eruption of the Arab Spring (a military action against civilians ably assisted by Saudi tanks.) Asking Damascus to unilaterally lay down its arms is a demand for capitulation, disguised as a desire for peace.
Parenthetically, the uprisings in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain are regularly depicted in the Western media as “Shia” and backed by Shia Iran and therefore sectarian, not as popular democratic movements against tyrannical monarchies. By contrast, the Syrian uprising, though having a strong sectarian content and being principally Sunni and supported by the Sunni monarchies of Saudi Arabia and Qatar and the Sunni-dominated government of Turkey, is depicted as a democratic uprising against dictatorship, not sectarian.
The United States and Israel, in backing the General Assembly resolution, denounced Syria’s use of “heavy weapons, armour and the air forces against populated areas”—though Washington’s concern for using overwhelming military force against populated areas stops at Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya. Populated areas of Gaza, the West Bank and Lebanon have felt the heavy hand of Israeli heavy weapons, armour and air force. And Turkey’s rulers—who allow their territory to be used by the rebels as a launching pad for attacks on Syria—continue to kill their own people in their longstanding war against Kurd nationalists.
Ban Ki-moon warned the Syrian government that its actions “might constitute crimes against humanity or war crimes, which must be investigated and the perpetrators held to account,” words he never uttered in connection with Nato’s assault on Libya nor Saudi Arabia’s and Bahrain’s use of violence to quell uprisings in their countries. Nor have his predecessors uttered similar words in connection with the United States’ and Israel’s frequent and undoubted crimes against humanity and war crimes. Moreover, Ban hasn’t warned Syria’s rebels that they too will be held to account for their crimes. (The Libyan rebels haven’t been.)
Thirteen countries opposed the resolution, almost all of them committed to independent self-directed development outside the domination of the United States. These include Cuba, North Korea, Venezuela and Zimbabwe.
Against this axis of independence are the sponsors and chief backers of the resolution: the US-vassal Sunni petro-tyrannies—champions of a Sunni rebel movement that’s supposed to be (improbably) galvanized by democratic, not sectarian, ambitions—while the United States, its Nato allies, and Israel—authors of the gravest humanitarian tragedies of recent times, hypocritically profess concern over escalating violence in Syria. The resolution can hardly be seen as a genuine expression of humanitarian concern. It’s a demand for the Republic’s, which is to say, the non-sectarian Arab nationalists’, capitulation, disguised as a plea for peace, and a blatant taking of the imperialist side in a civil war.
Stephen Gowans is the founding editor of What’s Left, a leading Canadian political events column.
UN General Assembly targets Syria as US proxy war escalates
By Alex Lantier
4 August 2012
The UN General Assembly voted 133-12, with 31 abstentions, to endorse a resolution denouncing the Syrian government yesterday, as fighting escalated in the US-led proxy war in Syria. The vote was the focus of a massive propaganda campaign, aiming at placing blame for the bloody proxy war waged by the US and its European and Middle Eastern allies on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Having been blocked by Russian and Chinese vetoes at the UN Security Council from passing resolutions condemning Syria and giving a legal fig leaf for a US-led invasion, the US and its allies proceeded to organize a vote at the UN General Assembly.
The resolution effectively blamed Assad for the fighting, stating that “the first step in the cessation of violence has to be made by the Syrian authorities.” It denounced “the increasing use by the Syrian authorities of heavy weapons, including indiscriminate shelling from tanks and helicopters, and the failure to withdraw its troops and the heavy weapons to their barracks.”
This is nothing other than a demand that the Syrian government commit political suicide, by unilaterally disarming in the face of an international Islamist insurgency armed, financed, and organized by the US and its allies.
The vote came only days after reports emerged confirming that US President Barack Obama had previously signed a “finding” ordering US intelligence agencies to give covert aid to anti-Assad forces. It had already been widely reported that Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar are arming oppositional forces in Syria, which include a large number of foreign fighters recruited by Al Qaeda-affiliated groups. Their operations are directed from Adana, the site of the United States’ Incirlik air base in nearby Turkey.
Yesterday British Foreign Secretary William Hague confirmed that Britain is also giving covert support to anti-Assad forces. He said, “I do not ever comment on intelligence matters, but I can say that we are helping elements of the Syrian opposition, but in a practical and non-lethal way. We have helped them with communications of that kind, and we will help them more.”
Hague added that the British government aims to “isolate the Assad regime from its remaining associates, or friends, in the world.”
The UN General Assembly resolution also criticized the UN Security Council for its “failure” to act against Syria, in a barely veiled attack on Russia and China. They have voted against Security Resolutions criticizing Syria, fearing that such resolutions could allow Washington to openly attack Syria, the way NATO used UN resolution 1973 last year to justify its aggression in Libya. Both Russia and China voted against the resolution at the General Assembly.
With the lopsided General Assembly vote and its enthusiastic reception in the American and European press, the UN and the media functioned as lackeys of imperialism. Were it not for the deadly seriousness of the situation—the Syrian war alone has already cost over 10,000 lives, with 200,000 Syrians fleeing their country, and over 1 million turned into refugees inside Syria—the absurdity of the UN resolution would be laughable.
The UN resolution was drafted by the Saudi, Qatari, and Bahraini absolute monarchies. News reports presented the handiwork of these ultra-right Sunni-sectarian regimes, freshly covered in blood from their crushing of last spring’s mass protests in Bahrain, as part of a democratic US campaign to protect civilians from authoritarian governments!
Nor did anyone seek to explain what principles make the Assad regime’s use of heavy weapons in a proxy war with Washington more reprehensible than the Turkey’s bombings of Kurdish villages, as part of its long-standing military suppression of Turkey’s Kurdish minority.
All of these points are well known to the diplomats who gathered at the UN and voted for the resolution. One suspects that for many governments, their decision on how to vote was quickly settled by their financial dependence on US subsidies. The rest heeded the examples of heads of state who crossed Washington—Libya’s Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, murdered in the streets of his bombed-out home town after being sodomized with a bayonet, or Assad, for whom the Washington Post recently predicted that the “only exit may be [a] body bag.”
In its slavish hypocrisy and propaganda, special mention must be reserved for the role of the American media, which is moving into full war mode. On Friday morning, the New York Times published a lead article by C.J. Chivers, which opened by declaring that “diplomatic efforts [are] dead and the future of Syria [is] playing out on the battlefield.” The announcement by Kofi Annan on Friday that he will resign as UN negotiator for Syria is seen as confirmation of the end to all negotiations with the Assad government.
The US media has enthusiastically endorsed the anti-Assad forces, even after it has been widely reported that Al Qaeda is active among them. This ranges from the sympathetic portrayal on last night’s ABC News show of anti-Assad youth, armed with Kalashnikovs and driven to fight by faith in Allah, to Chivers and the Times praising anti-Assad insurgents’ use of roadside bombs.
In the Orwellian world of American bourgeois politics, no one stops to ask how to resolve the crying contradiction between US policy in Syria and its claim it is fighting a “war on terror.”
If the media cannot answer or indeed even ask such questions, it is because the answer is too explosive: the “war on terror”—ostensibly the basis of US politics for over a decade—is a pack of lies. Washington makes or breaks de facto alliances with Al Qaeda purely based on the cynical calculation of its imperialist interests.
Why is Washington fighting Assad and backing the brutal regime of Afghan President Hamid Karzai? The answer has nothing to with democracy or a fight against Islamist terrorism. It is that the US and its allies have first pickings of Afghanistan’s mineral wealth and enjoy the advantages of controlling its highly strategic location. Syria, however, is as an ally of Iran and Russia. It is considered a threat to Israel and, more broadly, to US hegemony in the Middle East.
As a result, the anti-Assad forces are lionized by US officials and the media, even as reports emerge of their hostility to the Syrian population and their mass killings of political opponents.
Thus yesterday Abu Ahmed, an official in the Syrian town of Azaz near the Turkish border, told Reuters: “The Free Syrian Army is causing us headaches now. If they don’t like the actions of a person, they tie him up, beat him, and arrest him. Personality differences between brigade members are being settled using kidnappings and force.”
A widely circulated video also appeared on YouTube showing the interrogation of Ali Zein al-Abidine Berri, a pro-Assad leader of an Aleppo clan who was captured by anti-Assad forces. The video shows him, his arm bandaged and his mouth bloodied, answering questions and shielding himself with his arms. He was reportedly executed after the interrogation.
Alex Lantier is a senior political analyst with WSWS.ORG.
BBC News/ Middle East
Russia says UN vote undermines peace efforts in Syria
BBC UN correspondent
Russia has said a resolution on Syria passed by the UN General Assembly undermines peace efforts there, as fighting continues on the ground. Moscow’s UN envoy, Vitaly Churkin, told reporters the resolution was one-sided and supported the armed opposition.
Western nations praised the resolution, which passed by 133 votes to 12 with 31 abstentions. It criticises both the UN’s own Security Council and the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The assembly debated the resolution, which was proposed by Saudi Arabia, shortly after the resignation of UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan and the failure of his six-point peace plan.
In Syria, government forces backed by tanks launched a new assault in Damascus while shelling continued in the country’s largest city, Aleppo.
The resolution condemning the Syrian government and calling for a political transition is not legally binding, but its Arab and Western sponsors see the overwhelming “Yes” vote as proof that they have world opinion behind them, despite the deadlock in the Security Council, which they harshly criticised.
Even so, the massive majority came at a price: the text had to be watered down in an attempt to win over many states, dropping explicit calls for Bashar al-Assad to step down and for member states to support Arab League sanctions.
And even though the opposition was small, it again included China and Russia. Moscow opposed the resolution as unbalanced, making clear that it believes the UN is taking one side in a civil war. So the General Assembly intervention will do nothing to bridge the fundamental divides in the Security Council, and may widen them.
Activists say more than 20,000 people – mostly civilians – have died in 17 months of unrest.
Russia voted “no” on Friday along with China, Syria, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Belarus, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Burma, Zimbabwe and Venezuela. Among those states abstaining were India and Pakistan.
Mr Churkin told the UN that the Saudi-drafted resolution concealed “blatant support for the armed opposition”.
He said his country regretted the resolution which “only aggravates confrontational approaches to the resolution of the Syrian crisis, doing nothing to facilitate dialogue between the parties”. It was “written as if no armed opposition existed at all”, he added.
Mr Churkin pointed out that the resolution called on the UN envoy to work towards a transition to democracy in Syria, yet the envoy’s task had been to arrange dialogue, not regime change.
Chinese deputy UN ambassador Wang Min said pressuring Syria’s government would “cause further escalation of the turmoil” and allow the crisis to spread to neighbouring countries.
Russia and China have blocked three attempts in the UN Security Council to impose sanctions against Damascus.
Syria’s UN ambassador Bashar Jaafari spoke of ”blatant hypocrisy” by those who co-sponsored the draft resolution
Syria’s UN ambassador, Bashar Jaafari, suggested Saudi Arabia and fellow resolution sponsor Qatar were trying to act as both “a fireman and an arsonist at the same time”.
The resolution expresses “grave concern” at the escalation of violence in Syria and deplores “the failure of the Security Council to agree on measures to ensure the compliance of Syrian authorities with its decisions”.
It says it is up to the Syrian government to take the “first step in the cessation of violence”.
Susan Rice, the US envoy at the UN, welcomed the passing of the resolution. The UN General Assembly “sent a strong message today: the overwhelming majority of nations stand with the people of Syria”, she wrote on Twitter.
Britain’s UN ambassador Sir Mark Lyall Grant said a “colossal majority” had supported the resolution.
UK Foreign Secretary William Hague said: “This resolution… sends a clear signal that the world stands together in condemning the Syrian regime’s systematic human rights violations and in calling for accountability.”
During the assembly’s session, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said the conflict in Syria had become a “proxy war” and called on powers to overcome their rivalries in an effort to end the violence.
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