Muslim Press has conducted an interview with Professor Alan Nasser, author of United States of Emergency American Capitalism and Its Crises, to discuss Syrian war and Washington's role in it.
Here's the full text of the interview:
Muslim Press: Prof. Nasser, what's your take on the U.S. propaganda against Assad and the Syrian government and its link to the American people's support for strikes against Syrian government?
Alan Nasser: It is absolutely essential for an adequate grasp of U.S. foreign policy to recognize that Washington is committed to the achievement of “Full Spectrum Dominance,” i.e. political predominance on a global scale. Recent U.S. accusations that China constitutes a “threat” to U.S. interests is justified by noting that China expects to be the “predominant influence” in its own neighborhood. The same argument is used to demonize Putin, Washington’s “Hitler” du jour. The current extensive war games that the U.S./NATO is conducting along Russia’s borders and near and sometimes within China’s waters is a response to these nations’ resistance to Washington’s Olympian and very dangerous ambitions.
Global hegemony requires that in every geopolitically strategic part of the world, which in Washington’s understanding means in every part of the world, the U.S. may insist that every nation must pursue policies that promote the U.S.’s perceived interests. When this demand encounters inevitable resistance, which of course it does, Washington may back its demand with military power. U.S. elites perceive the two greatest threats to their ability to call the major political shots globally to be China and Russia, the only countries whose economic and military power can equal that of the U.S. Washington has not merely threatened any country whose military power exceeds that of the U.S.; it has declared, as part of the War on Terror, that any nation whose military prowess so much as equals Washington’s is in principle a legitimate object of U.S. military intervention. This immediately puts China and Russia in Uncle Sam’s crosshairs.
Syria and Iran have established friendly relations with Russia and are potentially influential players in the region. And, very importantly, they insist on their independence relative to U.S. policy. That developed and potentially influential nations in a geopolitically strategic region should insist upon both friendly relations with nations Washington perceives as the greatest threats to its hegemony and political-economic independence is anathema to Washington. Hence Syria and Iran are declared threats to U.S. national security and menaces to peace in the region. An avalanche of lies and distortions ensues. Let me offer a few examples:
You mentioned the American people’s support for strikes against Syria. Americans’ political opinions are based almost entirely on mainstream media reporting. A devastating assessment of official foreign-policy journalism has been offered by Stephen Kinzer, who was for decades one of The New York Times’s most distinguished foreign correspondents, covering Latin America and serving as bureau chief in Berlin and Istanbul. His book All the Shah’s Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror is a widely heralded and penetrating study of the U.S. role in the installation and policies of one of the twentieth century’s most vicious dictators. In February 2016,Kinzer wrote “Coverage of the Syrian war will be remembered as one of the most shameful episodes in the history of the American press… much of the American press is reporting the opposite of what is actually happening.” (“The media are misleading the public on Syria,” The Boston Globe, February 18, 2016 – readers can find details in this easily accessible article) Because most American broadcast networks, magazines and newspapers have dispensed with most of their foreign correspondents, almost all news about the world comes from reporters based in Washington, whose access to government officials depends on their accepting uncritically the stories told by the Pentagon, the State Department, the White House and establishment think tanks. Thus, Americans seeking information and analysis of world events read tales told by professional stenographers of power. It is no wonder that many Americans have believed Washington’s charges against Assad.
Behind Americans’ unwitting acceptance of mendacious propaganda are the falsehoods spoken by prominent political leaders. The virtually certain next president of the United States, Hillary Clinton, who has promised to escalate the aggression against Syria after November, claimed earlier this year that she was largely responsible for United Nations peace efforts in Syria. These initiatives were, she claimed, based on “an agreement I negotiated in June of 2012 in Geneva.” Kinzer shows that the opposite to be the case. In 2012 Kofi Annan proposed a peace plan that would have accommodated Iran and kept Assad in power, at least temporarily. But then-Secretary of State Clinton, in collaboration with Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Israel, mounted a successful effort to defeat the Annan plan. As usual, no member of the U.S. press challenged Clinton’s factual falsehood.
MP: How would you describe the consequences of Washington's "humanitarian intervention" in Syria?
Alan Nasser: Clinton’s coming escalation of the carnage in Syria is cause for great concern. Putin is known to be responsible for Obama’s retraction of his intention to intensify the war. Russia has joined and rendered more effective the war against al-Qaeda-affiliated “rebels” fighting to establish a future Syrian caliphate. In doing so, Russia foils Washington’s efforts to unseat Russia’s ally, Assad. Clinton’s coming escalation will, in aiming to depose Assad, alienate Russia in a strategy Russia will correctly perceive as part and parcel of Washington’s unparalleled current extensive military provocations along Russia’s borders. Keeping in mind that prominent think tanks and journals closely associated with top U.S. policymakers have recently released a barrage of studies announcing a “new nuclear age” in which nuclear war against Russia and China are winnable (a repudiation of the conviction of U.S. elites since the late 1960s that Mutual Assured Destruction precludes nuclear war), the coming to executive power in America of the undisputed war hawk Clinton poses the real danger of a major regional nuclear confrontation escalating to a more far reaching war. Syria is a major flash point. This is an ominous global consequence of the intervention in Syria.
As for the consequences for Syria itself, we have the unfortunate precedents of Iraq and Libya. These interventions resulted in the destruction of these countries as functioning nation states. Widespread deaths, immiseration and disease now threatens Syria. Clinton’s obsession with demonstrating American “resolve” will require that she sustain the promised intensified warfare to the point of rendering Syria a “failed state,” a decimated country riven by factional warfare and unable to function as a viable nation state. Facilitating the potential “Libyanization” of Syria is the ongoing Saudi funding of Jabhat al-Nusrah and ISIS.
A potentially encouraging note is that Saudi support for the most destabilizing forces in Syria may diminish, not because of weak Saudi resolve but because of current constraints on the Saudi budget. Glutting oil markets in an attempt to damage Russia and Iran by driving down oil prices has backfired by driving up Saudi Arabia’s budget deficit. In response the Saudis have cut back their already niggardly social programs, further fanning the flames of the public’s frustration and discontent. This could, however generate one of two very different outcomes: either the legitimacy and power of the Saudi regime will decline, with emerging rebellion jeopardizing its existence, or the increasingly precarious position of the monarchy will cause the leadership to dig in its heels with fiercer resolution. The outcome will be determined by the Saudi people, not by political analysis alone.
MP: What about US support of Saudi Arabia in Yemen war?
Alan Nasser: It was U.S. policy after the Second World War to offer military and/or economic aid to every right-wing dictatorship on the globe, since all of these were anti-Communist and the overarching impetus behind the Cold War was to defeat communism everywhere (and, I might add, to overthrow social-democratic and socialist leaders such as Juan Bosch, JacoboArbenz, Salvador Allende, Kwame Nkrumah, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and Mohammed Mossadegh, among others). The House of Saud was both anti-communist, thoroughly undemocratic and a major supplier of cheap oil to the U.S. Every criterion for U.S. support was met. In February 1945 president Franklin Roosevelt made an agreement with King Abdul Aziz (Ibn Saud) to suppress by military force any challenge to the hereditary monarchy’s rule in exchange for a guarantee of enduring U.S. access to cheap Saudi oil. More recently, the Saudis have participated in Israel’s U.S.-facilitated suppression of Palestinians. The result has been that Washington has adhered to the Saudi regime as an indispensable ally in the region and rubber-stamped just about every Saudi policy. And major U.S. and Saudi interests coincide in Yemen.
In the case of the Saudi aggression in Yemen, the Saudis’ actions coincide with U.S. interests relevant to the pursuit of Full Spectrum Dominance. Saudi and U.S. control of key strategic areas is central. Yemen shares an extended border with Saudi Arabia. It has access to major waterways: the Red Sea, the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Aden. And Yemen’s proximity to Africa and Somalia, which major oil companies believe may have considerable oil and possibly gas reserves, make it critical to Western interests in “stability and “security.” This means that Washington and Riyadh will persist in their efforts to bring Yemen into what used to be called their “sphere of influence,” where ‘influence’ is tantamount to control.
The Saudis’ intervention is also motivated by the leadership’s awareness of the historically anomalous character of the Saudi regime. Rule by birthright is a round peg in the square hole of the modern world. The ruling family is despised by the very many Saudis whose potential threat to the regime was driven home by the Arab Spring uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia. Surely the House of Saud fears for similar uprisings in the kingdom, and has expressed this in the conspicuous intensification of its domestic repression. The Saudi rulers are thus motivated to preempt similar upheavals in its neighborhood, especially on its borders. Hence the pummeling of Yemen in response to popular uprising there. The result has been the deaths of thousands and the impoverishment of millions.
The consequences bode ill for all parties. Yemen contains one of the most tenacious and mobilized young resistance forces in the world, who have inherited a two thousand year history of defeating invaders. While the various forces of resistance are by no means in political accord on all major issues, solidarity emerges in the face of external aggression. In the January 2011 struggle against Saleh, mass protests in major Yemeni cities were largely non-violent. It is not evident that non-violence will be the watchword if Saudi/American aggression persists. This is because the major politically organized elements that have been bolstered in Yemen, the northern-based tribal Houthi, the main targets of the Saudis’ war and who aspire to sovereignty, and the Saudi-supported al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in the south, are not committed to non-violence.
The Houthi present a clear and present danger to the monarchy. The knowledgeable commentator Mike Whitney has pointed out that this has been overlooked by the media because the Houthi have not “played all their cards.” They have not chosen to close the strategic Strait of Bab al-Mandeb, preventing millions of barrels of oil from reaching buyers, a move entirely within their power. And they have missiles which could target key facilities in Saudi Arabia. The Houthi could also seek to sabotage the Abqaiq complex, the world’s largest oil-producing facility. A portentous question mark hovers over the ruling family.
The Saudis suffer a double disadvantage: the Houthi are among the world’s most effective resistance fighters and far more effective than Saudi soldiers, who have thus far gained no advantage over the Houthi. And the Saudis have felt obliged to support AQAP, the enemy of their enemy, while seemingly oblivious to ASAP’s goal of replacing the Wahhabi royal family with “more authentic” Muslims. The House of Saud may have created its own Vietnam in Yemen. Yemen will suffer terrible devastation and the Saudis are likely to gain nothing. In fact, a protracted war may well be a major contributing factor to the ultimate demise of a freakish regime on history’s skids.
MP: Accusing Assad of using chemical weapons has been one of the main reasons that Washington has to fight against him. What could you say about this? Is there enough evidence to support such claims?
Alan Nasser: One of the most widely publicized cases of Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons is suspicious on the face of it: one deployment of sarin occurred at the same time that international inspectors expected by the Syrian regime arrived. How likely is it that Assad would stage a sarin attack coinciding with the arrival of chemical weapons inspectors? The natural conclusion is that this was a clumsy and transparent attempt by “the rebels” to discredit Assad.
Independent reporting on Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons has been suppressed in the United States. Seymour Hersh is one of America’s most respected investigative reporters. His ongoing reporting on the follies of U.S. policy in Iraq and Afghanistan has appeared frequently in the prestigious The New Yorker and the The New York Review of Books. Hersh composed a detailed report showing that Obama ignored information, provided by his own intelligence agencies, undermining the administration’s claims of Assad’s alleged atrocities. Hersh’s piece was rejected by both The New Yorker and The New York Review. The article was published in the April 14, 2014 issue of the London Review of Books. Here are some facts from Hersh’s report that no U.S. media would publish:
“The joint chiefs also knew that the Obama administration’s public claims that only the Syrian army had access to sarin were wrong… analysts for the US Defense Intelligence Agency issued a highly classified five-page ‘talking points’ briefing for the DIA’s deputy director, David Shedd, which stated that al-Nusra maintained a sarin production cell: its programme, the paper said, was ‘the most advanced sarin plot since al-Qaida’s pre-9/11 effort’… From the beginning of the crisis, [a] former intelligence official said, the joint chiefs had been sceptical of the administration’s argument that it had the facts to back up its belief in Assad’s guilt. They pressed the DIA and other agencies for more substantial evidence. ‘There was no way they thought Syria would use nerve gas at that stage, because Assad was winning the war,’ the former intelligence official said.”
The principal evidence for Assad’s responsibility was the sarin attack at Ghouta, just outside Damascus, on August 21, 2013. British intelligence acquired a sarin sample from Ghouta and determined that it was not the kind of sarin stocked by Syria. Hersh was able to determine that it was most likely that Turkish intelligence and the “rebels,” not Assad, were complicit in the attacks. Evidence was available to the Obama administration that Assad should not be the prime suspect re chemical weapons: in late 2013, Hershreleased evidence that the al-Nusra Front, a jihadi group affiliated with Al Qaeda, had learned how to makesarin. This should have made them a prime suspect. But it did not. This agitated intelligence analysts. Hersh noted that they became so upset with “the administration cherry-picking intelligence” to “justify” a strike on Assad that the analysts were “throwing their hands in the air and saying, ‘How can we help this guy [Obama] when he and his cronies in the White House make up the intelligence as they go along?’”
The chemical weapons issue is now off the table. Russian President Vladimir Putin persuaded the Syrian government to destroy its chemical weapons, which Assad did. This destroyed the administration’s major excuse for a full-scale attack on Syria. But chemical weapons were never the real reasons behind the U.S. assault on Syria. Former CIA intelligence analyst Ray McGovern reminds us that Syria had been on the neocon “regime change” list well before 9/11 and that an attack was planned to follow the 2003 Iraq invasion.That the Iraq bombing did not turn out to be the “slam dunk” predicted by the neocons put the Syria invasion on the shelf… for a while.
After November Clinton will certainly remove the Syria assault from the shelf, as she has promised. Her foreign policy is thoroughly neoconservative and we can expect regime change to be one the leitmotifs of her reign. It is reasonable to expect that, among other military actions, Clinton will recapitulate the Libya debacle in Syria. One can only hope that a significant portion of war-weary Americans will mobilize en masse in opposition to what is certain to be one of the most globally belligerent presidencies in American history.
(It is worth mentioning that one of the elements of Washington’s payback for Putin’s sabotaging of Obama’s Syria assault was the coup d’etat staged in Ukraine six months later, with its accompanying vilification of Putin and preposterous allegations of Russian “aggression” and attempted “expansion.”)
MP: How would the Saudi involvement in Syria and Yemen war benefit the monarchy?
Alan Nasser: As noted above, it is difficult to see how the royal family’s involvement in Syria and Yemen would work to its benefit. The monarchy has characterized the Houthi as puppets of Iran, and its contribution to U.S. aggression in Syria is no doubt motivated in large part by Syria’s friendly relations with Iran. I have identified other motivations above. Even the mainstream American news network CNN reports that “The kingdom’s real motives seem clear if one looks at the Saudi monarchy’s history of… consistently combatting efforts to build democratic governments that empower the people… The Saudi goal is simple: prevent the rise of any popularly supported government in the region that seeks self-determination.”
The result will be to drain the Saudi treasury and to intensify popular loathing of the monarchy in the Arab countries. And should the devastation of Yemen prove to be protracted, the Houthi may well decide to deploy the devastating tactics described above. I wager that the monarchy’s struggle to protect itself from history will come to naught. In a recent interview the very perceptive Secretary General of Hezbollah, Sayed Hassan Nasrallah, said “I am absolutely certain that Saudi Arabia will undergo a major defeat. And its defeat will impact its internal situation, the royal family… and the entire region.” Don’t sell Nasrallah’s forecast short.
MP: Could you elaborate on what Washington would achieve through ousting Assad?
Alan Nasser: What Washington would achieve through ousting Assad would be to rid the world of another regime that does not pledge allegiance to the U.S. project of Full Spectrum Dominance. Ridding the world of every such regime-recall Bush’s dictum: “If you are not with us, you are against us.”-has been the neoconservative strategy since the early 1990s. But it is no longer the aim of right-wing extremists like Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz. It has become the shibboleth of the political mainstream. And no one holds it more dearly than Hillary Clinton. Washington also imagines that destroying Syria weakens Russia by eliminating a major ally in the region.
MP: How has Washington's policies in the Middle East changed after Obama was elected as the president of the United States?
Alan Nasser: It’s not clear that Obama’s Middle East policies have veered from those of his predecessors. He is the only two-term president in American history to have presided over wars during every year of his tenure. The Middle East has not been spared.
MP: How do you think these polices would change if Hillary Clinton becomes president?
Alan Nasser: On this question there can be no doubt. Clinton has already promised to intensify and expand the war in Syria. She has never seen a new weapons system or a war she didn’t like. As Mark Landler stated in his New York Times Magazine (April 21) cover story “How Hillary Clinton Became a Hawk”:“For all their bluster about bombing the ISIS into oblivion, neither Donald J. Trump nor Senator Ted Cruz of Texas has demonstrated anywhere near the appetite for military engagement abroad that Clinton has.” Clinton has perhaps the most itchy trigger finger in Washington. The provocations of China and Russia will be amped up. U.S. global hegemony will be emphatically and threateningly announced yet again. The likelihood of more war is great. To my mind, the real danger emerges against this background: The administration and administration-linked think tanks have recently produced inflammatory documents and pronouncements about the alleged threat to “national security” posed by Russia and China. The U.S. and NATO are currently conducting unprecedented war games in the immediate vicinity of these nations. There has recently emerged the notion in elite circles that we live in a “new nuclear age,” meaning that the use of nuclear weapons is, contrary to the old fears of Mutually Assured Destruction, feasible and that nuclear wars are “winnable.” Scenarios are elaborated in key documents detailing alternative strategies of nuclear war with Russia. Against this background, and with Clinton as president, one cannot but fear for a new Cuban Missile Crisis. Clinton provides more to worry about than we have experienced since John F. Kennedy’s 1961 face-off with Nikita Khrushchev. Beware.
MP: How has the American Imperialism affected the lives of civilians living in the Middle East?
Alan Nasser: Oh my goodness. So many Middle East men, women and children have functioned as so-called “collateral damage” in the face of U.S. imperialism. The death and destruction wrought upon the people of the Middle East, Africa and Central Asia by Washington’s hunger for hegemony is virtually immeasurable. At the same time, the wages and living standards of Americans have been driven down by the politics of austerity. The median wage in the U.S. has been declining since 1974, even as the very wealthy have never had it better. We might call this domestic imperialism. As effective as overseas resistance to American imperialism can be-remember Vietnam-the brutal ambitions of American imperialism can be defeated in the end only by the organized mobilization and resistance of the American people.
Alan Nasser is professor emeritus of Political Economy and Philosophy at The Evergreen State College. His website is: http://www.alannasser.org. His book, United States of Emergency American Capitalism and Its Crises will be published by Pluto Press next year.