Interview with American political commentator Paul Gottinger

 

Paul-Gottinger

Kourosh Ziabari – Fars News Agency: American author and political commentator Paul Gottinger believes that the United States has become stunningly isolated after it failed to build up international support for attacking Syria, and now the global public overwhelmingly oppose his hawkish rhetoric against Syria, even in such countries as France and the UK.

“The Obama administration was almost completely isolated on its position towards Syria. The US population strongly opposed the attack, and even the US military personnel opposed the attack by three to one. When the British Parliament voted not to play their usual role as faithful servant to the US, it surprised the Obama administration,” said Paul Gottinger in an exclusive interview with Fars News Agency.

Elsewhere in his remarks, Gottinger underlined that the US War on Terror is not a real war to eradicate terrorism and the Al-Qaeda, because it has been seen that following the US invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, terrorism, violence and extremism surged in these countries, and Washington is now overtly supporting and funding the Al-Qaeda terrorists in Syria. So the War on Terror project was simply a plot to exploit the 9/11 attacks as an excuse for intervention in the Middle East.

Paul Gottinger is a writer from Madison, Wisconsin. He writes on the US, South America, East Asia, and the Middle East. He is also the editor of whiterosereader.org, a journal that highlights issues of war and injustice around the world.

What follows is the text of FNA’s interview with Mr. Gottinger.

Q: The Russian initiative that the Syrian government should bring its stockpile of chemical weapons under the UN safeguards in return for the United States’ abandonment of its plans for attacking Syria seems to be gaining momentum across the world and more countries are coming to support it. What do you think about this proposal and its international popularity?

A: Compared to a US military strike, the US-Russia agreement reached on September 14 is a serious improvement; though it still has major problems. A military strike would have killed hundreds or thousands of Syrians. It also would have put many civilians at risk. In fact, on September 7, the LA Times reported the Pentagon was planning “intense attacks over a three-day period” with an expansion beyond the “50 major sites that were part of the original target list”. This would have wrought even more destruction and chaos to an already devastated country. As UN-Arab League Special Envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, has stated, “there is no military solution to this conflict”. Unfortunately, the US still hasn’t ended its illegal threats of violence against Syria. The Pentagon stated just four days ago that, “US military forces were still positioned to strike, if ordered.” These threats by the US against Syria are completely outrageous, but unfortunately not very unusual.

The biggest problem with the US-Russia agreement is that it does nothing to stop the violence in Syria. The civil war has already killed 100,000, with 2 million refugees – women and children making up three-quarters of the refugees, and another 6.8 million people in need of humanitarian assistance in Syria. The UN states food supplies for Syria are “desperately short” and access to health care is declining. Seventy percent of health clinics are damaged or destroyed in the northern contested battle zones. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, stated, “Syria has become the great tragedy of this century.” Sadly, the agreement will likely do nothing to improve the everyday situation for most Syrians.

Another major problem with the agreement is that it ignores Israel’s chemical weapons. A better agreement would have been one, which eliminates the chemical weapons throughout the entire Middle East. In fact, Israel has never ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and does possess chemical weapons. One of the reasons Israel has given for not ratifying the CWC is Syria’s “vast stockpile of chemical weapons”. If Assad surrenders his chemical weapons then, even by Israel’s own reasoning, they should do the same. In fact, there have been articles this week in the Times of Israel and the Financial Times stating that Israel is worried the agreement on Syria may bring pressure on Israel to sign the CWC.

As for the international popularity of the agreement, I think this is a reflection of the extreme unpopularity of another US led military attack on a Middle-Eastern country. In the US, France, and the UK the majority of the population was against the attack. In most other parts of the world the attack had even less support. Compared to a US attack, the U.S/Russia agreement seems much better. Russia and the US also get something out of the agreement. Russia gets a major attack on its ally called off, and the US gets to maintain its credibility by forcing Assad to give up his chemical weapons.

Q: The United States invaded Iraq in 2003 after it nimbly convinced the Security Council members that Saddam Hussein possessed WMDs, an allegation that was proved to be baseless later on. Now, the United States is repeating similar claims about Syria. However, it seems that this time, Russia, China and even some close allies of the United States, including Britain and Germany, haven’t believed the US assertions, and we can conclude that the United States has been somewhat isolated in creating an international coalition for war on Syria. What’s your viewpoint on that?

A: The Obama administration was almost completely isolated on its position towards Syria. The US population strongly opposed the attack, and even the US military personnel opposed the attack by three to one. When the British Parliament voted not to play their usual role as faithful servant to the US, it surprised the Obama administration. The British population and Parliament was wary of entering another US led war in the Middle East after the War in Iraq. A few days after Britain said they would not go along with the US, Obama stated he would seek congressional approval. It then quickly became clear Obama would not get congressional approval.

The only major country that agreed to go along with the US was France and that was despite the majority of its population being against the attack. People around the world, and even in the US, find the incessant violence of the US military outrageous, and the world wouldn’t go along with Obama this time.

Q: US Secretary of State John Kerry and President Obama had categorically announced that the “surgical” and “limited” strikes on Syria will surely take place. But now the Russian proposal has seemingly held them back, and President Obama has asked the Congress to postpone voting on the attack until the Russian proposal is implemented. Don’t you consider this retraction a setback or a diplomatic failure for the United States government and the extremist elements inside its political structure?

A: Actually today in the New York Times there was an article about how Obama’s former defense secretaries, Robert Gates and Leon Panetta, publically criticized the Obama administration’s handling of the Syria crisis. Gates went as far to state that military strikes on Syria “would be throwing gasoline on a very complex fire in the Middle East”.

The way Obama handled the possible attack on Syria is one in a long line of Obama’s political failures. I do think the US- Russia agreement provided Obama with a way out of the crisis and saved him from an even larger political failure. Obama made the “red line” threat against Assad and then was forced to back up his threat. But Obama was in a difficult position. He wanted to punish Assad for his disobedience, but not overtly empower Al-Qaeda affiliated rebels. He wanted to attack Syria, but not bring Assad down because the US and Israel are afraid of what a post-Assad government may look like. He was attempting to do this with almost no popular or political support, and without his usual Western allies.

In regard to the extremist elements in US politics: they exist. But unfortunately, the political elements in favor of military force in the US are not considered extremists. The US is a very violent country, and has a very long history of the use of violence. The US has bombed over 20 countries since 1950 leaving many countries in utter devastation. Just in the last ten years the US waged brutal wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and led a NATO attack on Libya. George W. Bush may have been a bit of an extremist in American politics, but Obama is mainstream and has continued Bush’s policies. He’s also greatly accelerated the drone wars, which are completely illegal acts of terrorism.

Q: The United States launched its War on Terror project with the intention of dismantling international terrorism and eliminating Al-Qaeda. However, it’s now overtly supporting the Al-Qaeda mercenaries in Syria who fight the forces of President Assad. Isn’t this policy of helping the Al-Qaeda terrorists a duplicitous attitude?

A: I don’t think the War on Terror was ever really about ending terrorism or eliminating Al-Qaeda. As Hans Blix, head of UN weapons inspections, pointed out “Al-Qaeda in Iraq didn’t exist in the country until after the invasion”. In fact, a letter from CIA director George Tenet to the Senate Intelligence Committee chair stated the invasion of Iraq would lead to an increase in terrorism. So Washington knows its wars are creating terrorists.

Another example is the NATO bombing of Libya in 2011. Libya is now the headquarters for Al-Qaeda in the Maghreb. Obama’s drone wars are also certainly creating many more terrorists. So eliminating Al-Qaeda and terrorism can’t be the motive behind the US War on Terrorism.

The War on Terrorism is the exploitation of the attack on 9/11 to justify brutal military actions, which allow the US to maintain control over the Middle East and its oil resources.

The foreign support for the rebels in Syria is certainly duplicitous. The rebels are simply pawns in game of political chess for the West and the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council (Persian Gulf States).

The US has a long history of supporting brutal dictators and supporting rebels as long as they act in the interest of the US. But the US has no ideals and can change its mind at any time. For example, in 1991 George H. W. Bush encouraged rebellions in the South of Iraq (Shaaban Intifada), but then failed to intervene to prevent Saddam Husain from brutally crushing the rebellion. Colin Powell states in his book “My American Journey” that the US intention in the 1991 Persian Gulf War was to leave Saddam with “enough power to survive as a threat to Iran.”

However, the US clearly doesn’t want the rebels to gain power in Syria, as they are not providing substantial support. The US simply wants Assad weak and has no problem with thousands of Syrians dying in the process. The US continues to do nothing to help bring about a political settlement and Obama has allowed an increase in the violence to continue. The result is Syria being ripped to pieces.

Q: There are neoconservative figures in the US power structure, including the White House, the Congress and Senate who don’t consider Syria as a country inhabited by human beings, but rather as a piece in a board game which can be moved at will in any direction. This is the argument of anthropologist Hugh Gusterson who has criticized Edward Luttwak for his suggestion that unrest in Syria should be maintained manually in order to save the American interests in the region. These neoconservatives continue supporting the arming of insurgents and rebels who seem to be intent on killing the innocent civilians, and the loss of life apparently makes no difference to them. Why are some American politicians so merciless, while they always brag about their concern for the human rights?

A: All brutal countries have claimed to be driven by human rights and a great moral duty. This shouldn’t be surprising. Hitler, and Japan during World War II used this type of rhetoric. The European powers talked this way about their imperial conquests. The rhetoric is predictable, so we have to look at the actions of the countries. The actions of the US have been pretty ugly.

What is depressing to me is that many Americans believe the US government is guided by human rights when even a cursory look at the history shows the US is a terrorist state and has been involved in some of the worst crimes of the twentieth century.

Q: In 2001, a classified plot was revealed by the US Army General Wesley Clark that the United States government intends to attack and destroy the governments of 7 nations, namely Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Somalia, Sudan and Iran. What do you think about this plot? Won’t such a plan, even if it’s not carried out, run counter to the principles of the UN Charter and other internationally recognized conventions which stipulate peace and stability in the world? Does the US government have the right to act as a policeman and attack any country it desires?

A: No country has the right to intervene in the affairs of another country. According to article 2 of the UN charter, “All members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force.”

The US has attacked many countries militarily, but they also attack countries economically through sanctions and economic strangulation. The sanctions can often times be as violent as a military attack. As Noam Chomsky stated, “The number of Iraqi people who died [due to the UN sanctions on Iraq in 1990s] exceeds the death toll due to all weapons of mass destruction used in human history.” The UN sanctions are believed to have killed 500,000 children alone. The sanctions simply amounted to the mass murder of Iraqis.

The sanctions have taken a heavy toll on Syria as well. According to Reuters, Syria has not exported any oil since 2011 due to the sanctions. Oil production has fallen from 370,000 barrels per day to 50,000 barrels per day. There are fuel and electricity shortages, stagnation of the economy, and incredible inflation. There are estimates that real GDP fell by 50-80% in 2012. All this is making life in Syria unbearable for many people.

Q: Are the opposition groups logical and rational enough to sit at the negotiation table with the representatives of President Assad government and hold a meaningful and constructive dialogue to end the hostilities? Overall, what do you think the most important demands of the opposition groups are? Can these demands be fulfilled without foreign intervention and armed conflict?

A: From the latest reports there seems to be a serious fracturing taking place between the various rebels groups in Syria. Just today Al-Qaeda linked rebels took the town of Azaz, near the Turkish border, from the more moderate rebels. There was an article in the LA Times on September 14 about a Free Syrian Army commander being killed and beheaded by an Al-Qaeda affiliated group. So the situation seems to be becoming quite dire.

There are different estimates about what percentage of the rebels are Al-Qaeda affiliated, but there is no doubt that the lack of a unified rebel alliance is another step towards Syria’s decent into hell. The fighting between the rebels will devastate a population already trying to live among the ruins of what was their former country.

A unified rebel alliance is also needed in order for any negotiations brokered by the UN, US, and Russia to have any legitimacy. Negotiations are the only way to stop the violence. If the US cared about the Syrian people they would not be threatening more violence, but trying to bring peace to Syria through a political settlement. People like Nicholas Noe have voiced proposals of a cease-fire and a de facto, temporary partitioning of the country to stop the violence. It seems that if there is a possibility to stop the violence it will come from a proposal such as the one Noe has presented.

Q: What do you think about the role China can play in the settlement of disputes in Syria and bringing an end to the 2-year civil war there? Why have they kept silent in the recent weeks, especially following the US announcement that it would be launching a military strike against Syria? Is this the case that they have retreated from their previous position in supporting Syria against its numerous regional and international adversaries?

A: China has substantial economic connections with Syria, though their influence is not as large as Russia’s. China wants stability in Syria and a growing influence in the Middle East as its oil requirements continue to increase.

Ideally China, like Russia, should do what they can to bring Assad to negotiate a political settlement. The Western countries should do what they can to pressure the rebels to negotiate as well. This is easier said than done as both sides have different ideas of what they want Syria to look like.

China had made statements critical of the US led plan to attack Syria, though they didn’t go nearly as far as Russia did when it moved naval ships to the eastern Mediterranean. Though Russia has more at stake in Syria, China is not retreating from its previous position of defending Syria. It is just trying to hold the difficult position of defending its ally in Syria while maintaining good relations with the US, with which it has strong economic connections.

This interview was originally published by the Fars News Agency and republished on Counter Currents website.