Kourosh Ziabari – Iran Review: Syria has become a battlefield for the face-off between the forces of government, Al-Qaeda terrorists and foreign-backed mercenaries that are hell-bent on removing President Bashar al-Assad from power. So far, more than 100,000 Syrians have been killed in the civil war which has extricated the Arab country.
After a chemical attack in the Ghouta district of Damascus killed around 1,400 people, as claimed by the United States, the White House announced that it intends to launch a “surgical”, “limited” military strike against Syria, and that the attack would certainly take place. It later postponed its plans after the Russian government presented a proposal that would demand Syria to destroy its arsenal of chemical weapons. Washington accepted to withdraw its war plans, and as some political analysts noted, suffered a great political setback.
To discuss the ongoing crisis in Syria, the reasons why the United States abandoned its plans for attacking Syria and the future of civil war in the embattled Arab country, Iran Review conducted an exclusive interview with prominent political scientist Prof. James Petras.
James Petras is a renowned progressive American philosopher and political scientist and a retired professor of sociology at Binghamton University in Binghamton, New York and adjunct professor at Saint Mary’s University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. He has published over 2,000 articles in such magazines and newspapers as the New York Times, The Guardian, The Nation, Christian Science Monitor, Foreign Policy and Le Monde Diplomatique. His latest book titled “The Arab Revolt and the Imperialist Counterattack” was published in 2011 by the Clarity Press.
What follows is the text of Iran Review’s exclusive interview with Prof. James Petras.
Q: U.S. President Barack Obama had categorically announced that his country will be launching surgical, limited attacks on certain sites in Syria. However, after the Russian proposal was set forth, he retreated from his position and postponed the strike. Don’t you consider this retreatment a diplomatic failure for the United States?
A: I think it was more a political debacle. Let’s put the decision of Obama in context. First, all the opinion polls in the United States indicated that the public, around 65% of the U.S. citizens, opposed a new war involving the United States and only 20% to 25% were in favor and the rest were, at the time, undecided. That’s one big fact. Secondly, the number of Congressmen opposing the war ran close to 9 to 1. So the Congress people themselves in a strong majority were going to vote against Obama’s authorization to engage in a war. For Obama to proceed to bomb Syria in that context, it was a dire consequence impending, I think it would have been a tremendous political defeat and it would have discredited his government at a time when the U.S. government faces a fiscal crisis as it faces the possibility that the debt limit would not be raised which would send turmoil in the financial market. Now, Obama was in an extremely weak domestic position which no president in the recent history has faced.
In that context, he also faced the defeat in the British Parliament and the strong opposition by the European public opinion which was running about 3 to 1. Public opinion in Turkey also strongly opposed. The only ally that Obama really had internationally was Saudi Arabia which is an autocratic dictatorship, Israel which is a racist, anti-Muslim state, and of course the decrepit socialist Hollande in France who has the lowest popularity among the presidents of the recent history. So internationally Obama was also in an extremely difficult situation and actually we look at it from that perspective. The Putin initiative which Obama quickly agreed to, was a life-saver because it allowed Obama a formula for saving face at least in that particular conjunction. But I do want to raise this question; the recent diplomatic moves by the Secretary of State Kerry indicates that the military, aerial attack is still on the agenda as Kerry tries to push through a clause on the agreement which would allow the U.S. to determine circumstances under which it could launch an air attack. So it may be the case that Obama agreed to this diplomatic initiative of Putin in order to neutralize international and domestic opposition and once the opposition subsided, he may take advantage of that to launch an aerial attack using as pretext that Syria is not destroying the chemical weapons fast enough or that the inventory is incomplete, etc. We cannot discount that because the U.S. has signed a previous international agreement, in the recent case with Russia, and in the UN Security Council, on overflight to Libya which turned into full-scale aerial assaults which destroyed President Qaddafi’s army. And the second case is the agreement between Clinton and Mihailović which was followed by U.S. bomb attacks for several weeks.
So, the United States has a history of making agreements and then violating them. We have to keep that historical precedence in mind.
Q: How could the United States justify a possible military strike against Syria, while Syria had never threatened the U.S. national interests or security? The only pretext they could resort to was that the Syrian government has used chemical weapons against the rebels, but they couldn’t substantiate this claim. What’s your take on that?
A: The international law, as far as the United States is concerned, doesn’t exist. It invaded Afghanistan with no logical, factual basis, accusing them of sheltering Al-Qaeda. The U.S. violated international law by invading Iraq despite the fact that it used fabricated evidence of Weapons of Mass Destruction. The U.S. supported Israel’s invasion and bombing of Lebanon and Gaza despite the fact that it was a clear violation of international law and the Geneva Conventions. So, the imperial countries have a history, and especially the United States, a recent history of not abiding by the international law. They have refused to accept Iran’s enrichment of uranium despite the fact that dozens of countries enrich uranium and it has based its attacks on the possibility that Iran could develop a capacity to convert enriched uranium into a weapon, based solely on the Israeli fabricated intelligence. The U.S. intelligence agencies have several times issued reports indicating that there’s no positive evidence involving Iran in the conversion of enriched uranium into a single nuclear weapon. So, I think that to be surprised that the United States is violating international law is equivalent to being very naïve.
Q: The United States is continuing to support the rebels, Al-Qaeda terrorists and other foreign-backed mercenaries in Syria. It’s seems hypocritical that the U.S. is supporting terrorists while it has launched a global War on Terror since the 9/11 attacks. How do you explain this dual-track policy of supporting terrorists who are carrying out operations in their favor while fighting other terrorists elsewhere?
A: I think you can’t use abstract criteria here. Washington has an imperial perspective on this. They use strictly imperial-based criteria. In the case of Libya, the U.S.-backed terrorists fought against the nationalist regime of Gaddafi. That has backfired, of course, because many of the Libyan terrorists are now engaged in subversive activities toward the region including the Sub-Sahara Africa. The U.S. supported Sunni terrorists in Iraq for a substantial period of time after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and the rise of the Shiite government in Baghdad. So we have look back at the Afghan war. The U.S. provided over $5 million arms and logistical support to the Islamic extremists in overthrowing a secular government in Afghanistan. So the question is, what side are the terrorists on? If they’re fighting against the U.S. adversaries, then Washington supports them. If they fight against a U.S. puppet regime, they’re opposed to it. So, you have to separate here any notion of anti-terrorism as a principle. It is terrorism when a country opposes the United States and it is anti-terrorism when the same forces oppose a U.S. adversary. These terms become meaningless in terms of a cognitive meaning.
Q: It’s a logical demand to call on Syria to declare its chemical weapons and bring them under the UN safeguards. However, we also know that Israel possesses not only chemical weapons, but a large arsenal of nuclear weapons, and is the sole possessor of WMDs in the Middle East. Why doesn’t the United States ask Israel to join the international conventions for the prohibition of Weapons of Mass Destruction?
A: Israel is an ally of the United States. Zionists have enormous influence within the administration of Obama. We have Dennis Ross is a notorious advocate of Israel who was appointed by Obama to be the U.S. representative in the Israel-Palestine talks. Dennis Ross is known in Washington to be the attorney for Israel. His partisanship is so blatant. You have some of the leading advisors allied with Israel. The head of the Treasury Department who is organizing sanctions against Iran is David Cohen and his predecessor was Stewart Levy, life-time Zionists who are in most delicate positions in pressuring countries to uphold sanctions against Iran. One could go down the list and identify the power of Zionism in the United States. I wrote a book about the power of Israel in the United States which has been translated in Farsi. But in any case, I think that the criteria that Washington uses in deciding when the nuclear weapons and chemical weapons are good and bad is based on that country’s relationship. Israel and the U.S. worked close together and Iran is a critic of the U.S. imperialism and Zionism and therefore any effort to create nuclear power becomes a pretext to weaken Iran and strengthen Israeli military superiority in the Middle East.
Q: And the final question. We know that the United States has abandoned its plans for attacking Syria, or at least has postponed such an attack. What do you think is the best and most viable solution for ending the crisis and civil war in Syria? What role can the international community play in bringing to an end this violence and bloodshed?
A: Well, I think the Syrian government has taken some very positive steps. First of all, it called for elections in which the domestic, internal opposition, and not the armed opposition, participated and made a substantial impact in the electoral process. Secondly, Syria has agreed to negotiate with the non-terrorist opposition. Thirdly, the terrorists are assassinating the pro-Western opposition and recently in a village on the Turkish border, we saw cases of assassinations and seizure of power by them. So I think one has to see that any reasonable settlement would follow the lines of negotiations between Syria and the opposition without prior conditions. You cannot exclude Bashar al-Assad from the procedure. I think out of these negotiations, a free election could be called. Once a ceasefire is in place, I think an election in which the terrorists are excluded would probably have to be enforced by the Syrian army and those groups who are calling for a peaceful settlement. Washington cannot play a bubble role here, talk about peace and ship arms to the terrorists and the opposition. Either there has to be a ceasefire, or there has to be a stopping of arms transfers; there has to be a meeting in which the U.S.-backed opposition sits down and negotiates. There has to be a ceasefire and a subsequent election and probably a power-sharing agreement in which the supporters of Bashar al-Assad are going to have an important role. The U.S. strategy is to isolate Iran, encircle Iran and dictate Iran to surrender its nuclear program. It wants to have a platform for aerial assaults in collaboration with Israel.
This interview was originally published by Iran Review.