Regime Change in Syria

Arming the rebels and employing a hypocritical chemical weapons 'red line' only makes things worse

by , May 06, 2013
President Obama discusses Syria with King Abdullah II of Jordan

President Obama discusses Syria with King Abdullah II of Jordan

For well over a year, the US has pursued a policy of regime change in Syria. This policy is rooted in Washington’s broader regional interest: maintaining obedient client states and eliminating states that challenge US hegemony. More specifically, the US is interested in breaking the “Iranian sphere of influence” in which Syria is key. In pursuit of regime change, the US has been supporting the rebels. This support includes hundreds of millions of dollars in aid; the facilitation of arms transfers to the rebels; the training of rebels in Jordan; and the provision of actionable intelligence to select rebel factions.

This policy is opposed to one that would seek to mitigate the violence. Opposed, because the US-funded rebels, like the Assad regime, have committed serious war crimes and human rights violations (and owe much of their gains to Jihadist factions). Therefore, the US’s policy is a policy that promotes war crimes and human rights violations.

An intervention in Syria, whatever form it might take, will simply mark an escalation of tactics in a pre-existing policy. And it doesn’t take a degree in international relations to understand that increased support for war criminals will only increase violence.

Unfortunately, it looks as if the Obama administration is pushing for some sort of intervention. In order to sell this intervention, Obama has used the chemical weapons “red line” as a pretext. As with any intervention, a pretext is necessary, as the American public would immediately reject the administration’s real hegemonic aspirations.

This pretext can be easily exposed as a load of junk by examining Washington’s own record with chemical weapons and support for chemical weapon’s users. For ten years during the Vietnam War, the US dumped millions of gallons of Agent Orange on Vietnam. Agent Orange is a herbicide containing the carcinogen dioxide, and was meant to rout out the Viet Cong. In reality, Agent Orange poisoned an estimated 3 million Vietnamese and caused hundreds of thousands of birth defects, destroying much of the land. A legacy that continues to this day.

The mass poisoning of Vietnamese (and US veterans) seemed to sit well with the United States as it continued to support indiscriminate chemical weapons use through the 80s in its support for then close ally Saddam Hussein. As early as 1984, the US State Department publicly acknowledged that Iraq had been using chemical weapons in its war against Iran. That same year, however, the CIA began to provide Iraq with intelligence that was used to target Iranian troops for mustard gas attacks. The US would provide Iraq with billions of dollars in aid and exports that included helicopters (used for chemical attacks) and chemical and biological agents (including anthrax). Saddam killed thousands of Iranians and Kurds with chemical weapons during the 80s, all with US support.

The US’ support for chemical warfare continued through the last decade. Under Plan Colombia (1999), the US has provided billions of dollars in mostly military aid as a part of Colombia’s longstanding counter-insurgency war against its own population (officially called a “war on drugs”). A central tactic of the government has been its aerial fumigation campaign, officially designed to eradicate coca crops with herbicides. The consequences of dumping chemicals from planes on 3 million acres of rural Colombia are highly predictable, and therefore can’t be labeled ‘unintended:’ over 10,000 farmers have reported food crop destruction, thousands have complained of sickness, and hundreds of thousands have been displaced; again, all with enormous US support.

Washington continued its embrace of chemical warfare in its war against Iraq. The US used white phosphorus; it also developed and used a new version of napalm; the depleted uranium packed in US bullets coated Iraq with a thin layer of low-level radioactive dust. The depleted uranium now appears to be the most insidious: The University of Michigan’s department of obstetrics and gynecology studied 56 families in Fallujah between 2007 and 2010 and found that over half of babies born had birth defects, i.e., missing limbs, heart defects, brain defects and so on. Prior to 2000, the birth defect rate was under 2 percent.

Besides the inherent double standard packed into Washington’s condemnation of chemical warfare, the “redline” pretext still doesn’t make sense. Why are chemical weapons the exclusive “redline”? It is very arbitrary. 70,000 people have already been killed in the civil war by conventional weapons (a death toll far greater than a single incident of chemical weapons is likely to cause). Why not mark guns and missiles as a “redline?”

All this raises serious questions. Is the US really interested in an intervention? If so, why now? And what kind of intervention? But the unknowns don’t change the fact that the chemical weapons “redline” is a lie; that Washington has been fueling the violence by supporting the warmongering rebels; and that any escalation of tactics (that includes more support for the rebels) will only escalate the violence and is therefore a very bad idea. Those who value human lives won’t tolerate the support of one group of human rights abusers over another.

Jane Powers is a Seattle-based activist. She contributes to No Flag.

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