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Syria: America’s new war, and maybe NZ’s too

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Just two weeks ago, the International Committee for the Red Cross defined the situation in Syria as a ‘civil war’. This was widely reported in the media as a turning point in the situation there, but the name belies the international power politics at play within the country and the high stakes being sought. The people of Syria are right now being massacred and killed in vast numbers in a sick political game being waged by the United States and its allies Saudi Arabia and Qatar. It all seems a tragedy far away from quiet life in New Zealand, but there is a very real possibility of much greater US troop involvement in Syria. Consequently, there is a much greater likelihood of New Zealand Special Air Service (SAS) and even NZ Naval frigate deployments in support of a full-blown US war on Syria.

WikiLeaks cables revealed in 2011 that the US State Department has been secretly financing Syrian opposition groups and other opposition projects for at least five years. (1) Much more recently, Barack Obama authorised the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to get involved in supplying communications equipment and intelligence to assist the rebel cause, enabling the fighters to avoid concentrations of Syrian soldiers.(2) US agents are working closely with a clandestine command centre based in Turkey, believed to be in Adana, a city 60 miles from the Syrian border. Incirlik, a US airbase, is also in the city.(3)

Interestingly, the New York Times has reported that the CIA is in Turkey to ensure the weapons and other materiel destined for the rebels does not fall into the hands of al-Qaeda operatives (4). But as more than one commentator has noted, al-Qaeda has been there for some time (5), and they have a similar objectives in destabilizing the Assad regime. They are effectively on the same side, if not actually directly working together.

The question for us in New Zealand is will the State be led to supporting yet another American (albeit covert) invasion of yet another Muslim country under the guise of supporting democracy and freedom? Will our political masters manage to convince the populace once again that it is doing a humanitarian ‘peacekeeping’ mission as they so successfully did in Afghanistan and Iraq? The propaganda campaign has begun in earnest in the United States; we can expect a similar drumbeat here.

In June, the US Marine Corp undertook a massive ‘hearts and minds’ campaign here. Under the guise of celebrating the 70th anniversary of the US troops in NZ, Marines and members of the NZDF trained together for the first time in decades in scenarios that were barely concealed preparations for more Middle East battlegrounds. This was the hallmark of serious re-engagement by the US State Department and Pentagon to make sure that NZ is on side. While in terms of ‘firepower’ New Zealand ranks well down the list, its reputation as an ‘honest broker’ and ‘peacekeeper’ means that its involvement in US wars continues to lend a degree of legitimacy. Moreover, the SAS, while a small unit, delivers precisely the kind of autonomous, independent and flexible fighting unit the US needs to wage its wars.

It must be understood that this is in no way a vote of support for Assad’s regime in Syria. Without a doubt, he is an authoritarian dictator. But is there a popular revolt going on in Syria for some form of democratic change? Or has whatever popular revolt there was morphed into an international power struggle by the US and its Sunni-Salafist conservative mates as a precursor to destroying Iran? The high stakes involved are resources and control essential to American hegemony: oil along with control of the Persian Gulf, Straits of Hormuz and Central Asia more generally.

Given the nefarious role of the United States in the Middle East over many decades, it is impossible to believe that the aspirations of the US State coincide with the aspirations of ordinary people in Syria or anywhere else for that matter.

Further reading: Robert Fisk. Further War of lies and Hypocrisy

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1. Ariel Zirulnick. “Cables reveal covert US support for Syria's opposition” Christian Science Monitor. 18 April 2011
http://www.csmonitor.com/World/terrorism-security/2011/0418/Cables-reveal-covert-US-support-for-Syria-s-opposition

2. Philip Giraldi . ‘NATO vs. Syria.’ The American Conservative December 19, 2011. http://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/nato-vs-syria/

3. Amy Willis. “CIA authorised to offer intelligence support to Syrian rebels” The Telegraph. 2 August 2012. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/syria/9445649/CIA-authorised-to-offer-intelligence-support-to-Syrian-rebels.html

4. Eric Schmitt. C.I.A. Said to Aid in Steering Arms to Syrian Opposition. 21 June 2012. New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/21/world/middleeast/cia-said-to-aid-in-steering-arms-to-syrian-rebels.html?pagewanted=all

5.Greg Miller. “Al-Qaeda infiltrating Syrian opposition, U.S. officials say” Washington Post. 17 February. http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/al-qaeda-infiltrating-syrian-opposition-us-officials-say/2012/02/16/gIQA9LDJIR_story.html