Interview with American author Jason Hirthler


Jason-HirthlerKourosh Ziabari – Fars News Agency: American writer and journalist Jason Hirthler says that the United States has adopted a hypocritical approach by claiming that the Syrian government has crossed a red line by using chemical weapons against the rebels in the Ghouta district of Damascus and should be punished for this alleged crime.

“I haven’t seen any media in the States point out that America’s own allies in this conflict have crossed the red line themselves. If it wanted to be logically consistent, the United States should have bombed the rebels for using WMDs, then attacked itself for associating with al-Qaeda. Of course, consistency has never been a hallmark of American foreign policy… A false flag operation in this instance wouldn’t be surprising. We have a history of deceptive provocations, dating at least to the Mexican-American war,” said Jason Hirthler in an interview with the Fars News Agency.

Jason Hirthler is a writer and 18-year veteran of the communications industry. He worked at CNN during the first Persian Gulf War before moving into digital communications, where he published weekly columns about the Babri Masjid communal riots in India in 1992, and firsthand accounts of the WTO protests in Seattle in 1999. He has written about current events, international business, and digital media during his career, and won a One Show award for his editorial work on architecture in 2006. His essays on politics and media appear regularly in CounterPunch, Dissident Voice, NY Times and eXaminer.

According to Hirthler, US President Barack Obama is calling for a war against Syria simply in order to be praised by the extremist neo-conservatives in the United States and avoid being called a “weak on terror.” Given the history of US wars against different countries in the previous decades, President Obama is going to revive their legacy by attacking Syria and proving that the US Empire is invincible.

What follows is the text of FNA’s interview with American journalist Jason Hirthler.

Q: Recent Wikileaks cables revealed that the US government has been funding the anti-Syrian rebels and terrorist groups since 2006 and the active arming of the opposition began as far back as 2007. So the allegation that it started to recognize the Free Syrian Army as the representative of the Syrian people because of the government’s “crackdown” on the peaceful protesters in 2011 or because of the recent chemical attack on the rebels in Ghouta seems to make no sense now. Do you agree with the notion that the United States has long been after a regime change in Syria? What objectives does it seek there?

A: Yes, I think what’s happening in Syria is part of a larger scheme to destabilize American enemies in the region. According to a plan spelled out by Donald Rumsfeld early in the Bush administration, and revealed later by General Wesley Clark, the goal is, or was, to attack seven countries in five years. Nominated “regimes” included those of Iraq, Lebanon, Somalia, Sudan, Libya, Syria, and Iran. Afghanistan was a side project. Notice that the task of Libya and Syria have fallen to our supposedly peace-loving Democrat, Barack Obama. The fact is, Democrats and Republicans are in lockstep on this. There’s real military continuity between administrations. I think the ultimate goal is to isolate its arch nemesis, Iran. If Syria falls, that leaves Lebanon and Iran in the Middle East. Israel could be engaged on the Lebanese front, instigating another showdown with Hezbollah. Meanwhile, America could take on Iran. Oil and natural gas are behind it all. Iran sits between the Caspian Sea and the Persian Gulf, on the edges of what one of our national security documents once called “the greatest material prize in history.” Naturally, the United States military wants to claim the prize.

Q: Secretary of State John Kerry had said that Washington’s red-line for Syria is the use of chemical weapons. Now, it seems that the red-line has been crossed. But why didn’t the United States and its allies take action when the rebels used chemical weapons in Khan al-Assal on March 19 against the unarmed civilians? Why didn’t the US politicians consider the attack on the supporters of President Assad a crossing the red-line? Isn’t this policy hypocritical and duplicitous?

A: Interesting that you mention the likely rebel use of chemical weapons as a “crossing of the red line.” I haven’t seen any media in the States point out that America’s own allies in this conflict have crossed the red line themselves. If it wanted to be logically consistent, the United States should have bombed the rebels for using WMDs, then attacked itself for associating with al-Qaeda. Of course, consistency has never been a hallmark of American foreign policy. Isn’t it interesting, though, that whenever a US leader draws a red line, somebody crosses it? A false flag operation in this instance wouldn’t be surprising. We have a history of deceptive provocations, dating at least to the Mexican-American war.

Q: Recent polls show that an insignificant minority of only 9% of the American citizens support a military action against Syria. So, it’s clear that President Obama does not have the popular support at home to go into war with Syria. What do you think about the prospects of a possible US attack on Syria? Will he take action if the Congress gives him the permission, having in mind the strong opposition to such a war both at home and abroad?

A: We can’t know for sure, but I think he’d take action with or without Congressional support. I think when he talks about maintaining American “credibility,” he’s really talking about his own credibility. He’ll need to do something to avoid being branded as “weak on terror” by the Republicans. Sadly, I think these personal stakes can affect foreign policy. Christopher Hitchens argued that Bill Clinton bombed Sudan in an effort to distract attention from the Lewinsky scandal. Every modern president seems to have his war. Franklin D. Roosevelt had WWII. Eisenhower had Korea. Kennedy had Cuba and Vietnam. Lyndon B. Johnston and Nixon had Vietnam. Reagan had Granada, Libya, and armed the contras in Central America. Bush had Panama and Iraq. Clinton had Kosovo. Bush had Afghanistan and Iraq. Now Obama has Afghanistan, Libya, and possibly Syria.

Q: Some political commentators believe that attacking Syria would pave the way for the weakening and derailing of Iran’s power and influence in the Middle East, even if President Obama has abandoned his plans for attacking Iran, he had vowed not to take any option off the table in dealing with Tehran’s nuclear program. What’s your viewpoint on that? Is Washington really looking for objectives further than punishing President Assad for the alleged use of chemical weapons “against his own citizens”?

A: I don’t think Iran is off the table. The administration and Pentagon have perhaps decided to deal with Syria first, and possibly Lebanon. Ultimately, the administration has made no indication, to my knowledge, that it doesn’t intend to address Iran’s nuclear capabilities. It is already employing harmful sanctions, cyber-warfare, assassinations, and the same propagandistic language it used to successfully attack Iraq.

Of course, Iran is fully within its rights as a signatory of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. But the IAEA has already been manipulated into making additional demands of Iran beyond those required under the NPT. Still, Iran is country with a full-fledged military, unlike Iraq, which had been defanged by UN inspections, and weakened by the first (Persian) Gulf War as well as years of sanctions and no-fly zone bombings. The American public has no interest in spending more American blood and treasure on another power grab thousands of miles from home. It will have to be trumpeted as a dire national security threat.

Q: Can we interpret Washington’s calls for war against Syria as an indication that the United States is trying to eliminate all the forces challenging Israel’s political, nuclear and military hegemony in the Middle East and eternalizing its illegal occupation of the Palestinian lands? Is it the case that Syria is paying the price for its resistance against Israel and its struggling for the cause of Palestine?

A: No, Syria is paying the price for challenging American hegemony in the region. Israel is dependent on American economic and military assistance. Anyone who challenges or defies from US policy is immediately labeled a pariah in Washington. Look at Venezuela. The media here attacked Hugo Chavez relentlessly for a decade before his death. He was always characterized by the clichés of the Latin American “strongman” or called a “dictator,” when in fact he was implementing a hugely populist socialist economic program that lifted millions out of poverty, illiteracy, and powerlessness. He was democratically elected in four consecutive elections. The election system was so free and fair that Jimmy Carter called it the “best in the world.” Of course, the Bolivarian Revolution is a challenge to the US neoliberal economic philosophy. Just like Cuba. So we freeze Cuba out of the biggest economic market in the hemisphere and we back a coup in Venezuela. However, I don’t think the US is acting in the Middle East principally on Israel’s behalf. I think the US is self-interested. The US wants control of fossil fuels in the Middle East for itself. Israel is its regional proxy. I think the belief that Israel controls Washington is overblown. American institutional wealth controls Washington.

Q: To validate their claims that the Syrian government used chemical weapons against the rebels, the White House people cite a phone intercept that purportedly shows two Syrian officials talking about a government order to fire rockets carrying chemical agents of Sarin gas on the insurgents hiding in the Ghouta district. But it was further revealed that the exchange was between two low level government staff, and no senior commander or official was involved in the conversation. Moreover, Mossad’s Unit 8200 which is said to have disclosed the information is known for its previous attempts to forge fake and groundless information about Syria and Hezbollah. What’s your viewpoint on that?

A: The entire report that the White House issued on the 29th of August made plenty of claims, but didn’t provide evidence to back them. The claims have to be verified. The US government has a habit of concealing its “evidence” for “security” reasons. That’s always the excuse. We can’t show you the evidence because it might imperil our people in the region. Listening to this feels so patronizing, as though the government sees us as little children who can be fobbed off with simplistic lies.

There is no obvious motive for the Assad government to use chemical weapons while UN weapons inspectors were in country, and after President Obama made chemical use his famed “red line.” Assad would have to be either crazy or suicidal to do that. It’s the same with Benjamin Netanyahu’s scaremongering idea that Iran would instantly attack Israel if it ever obtained a nuclear weapon. Why would Iranian leadership subject the country they love to being devastated by Western nukes? If Iran did pursue a weapon, I’m convinced it would do so entirely as a deterrent. In the last century, it and its neighbors have been repeatedly attacked and interfered with by Western imperial powers and their proxies. But Iran hasn’t started a war in centuries, and there is simply no evidence that it is pursuing nuclear weapons, only nuclear power, which is not only within its international rights but supported by the United States when the Shah was still in power. I think the Iranian government is like any other government—it will act in its own interests. Sometimes that is hard for people in the United States to see since the propaganda system here is so powerful that it can convince people that entire nations are crazed. Most people seem to think all of Pakistan is a hotbed of Islamic insanity. My experience tells me that most people around the world are moderate. Radicals are almost always a minority group. Most people want peace, prosperity, and a family. I don’t think those desires change across borders, creeds, or ethnicities.

Q: It seems that the United States is making fun of international law and global legal institutions. In the run-up to the 2003 Iraq war, it didn’t pay any attention to the inspections of the UN rapporteurs who revealed that Saddam Hussein didn’t possess WMDs. Again, the UN chemical weapons inspectors haven’t released their report about the possible use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government yet and are studying the evidence they’ve gathered, but the US President has made his mind for attacking Syria and is just waiting for a Congressional approval. Why does the United States treat the international law and legal institutions in such a disdainful way?

A: I think because the United States is an empire. Even if the empire is collapsing economically and in terms of its influence, it is still basically an imperial power. I think as a power of considerable military might, it feels restricted by international law and by international political institutions. Less powerful states, such as developing nations, might look at—or ideally want to look at—international institutions as instruments of global justice that offer a degree of protection against empire. Empires never see it that way. They don’t think they need protection; they can defend themselves. They don’t think they need justice; they can make their own justice. Of course, the United States likes to maintain the illusion that it abides by international law and that it actually uses its might to enforce international ethical standards. That’s what it is doing right now with Syria—telling the world it must uphold the universal ban on chemical weapons. In fact, the US has used chemical weapons over and over again. Maybe not sarin, but depleted uranium, white phosphorous, napalm, and so on. Its position is hypocritical. Certainly, whoever launched the attack in Ghouta has committed an atrocity and deserves to be prosecuted. But the United States sadly has no moral authority in this realm.

This interview was originally published by the Fars News Agency.