"This "arc of dominance" makes it impossible for the imperialists in Washington to isolate Iran and bring about their long-desired war against Tehran and the Islamic Revolution. Syria presents an impossible obstacle on the path to the destruction of Iran, so for that reason, Washington decided that Syria had to be destroyed," said Eric Draitser in an interview with Fars News Agency.
Eric Draitser is based in New York and hosts the Stop Imperialism radio show. He has interviewed several prominent authors, academics and politicians for his radio show and his writings have appeared on such news websites and magazines as Global Research and Counter Currents. He has also appeared on Press TV, Russia Today and other TV stations across the world.
What follows is the text of Fars News Agency's interview with Eric Draitser about the 2-year-long crisis in Syria and the reasons why the United States and its allies would like to depose President Bashar al-Assad who in recent decades has been an integral role-player in resistance against Israel and the United States in the region.
Q: What's the basic reason why the United States wages so many wars around the world? The United States has focused its military expeditions in the Middle East and seems to be looking for dominating the vast oil reserves of the region. What's your idea? Is it that Washington is after its energy-related interests in Syria which is said to have enormous offshore gas reserves?
A: The reason for US imperialism and unabashed militarism is complex in nature. I think first we should remember back to what Lenin wrote about imperialism, calling it "the highest stage of capitalism". There is much truth in this. Though Lenin was referring primarily to the advanced capitalist state's need for ever more resources, today we can broaden this understanding to include also markets and labor. At its most basic, the United States has become a corporate-financier oligarchy, one that must sustain itself with said resources, markets, and labor. As the economic crisis deepens and becomes, as many keen observers have repeatedly pointed out, an existential crisis for Western capitalism, the need for an ever-expanding military presence only grows. The United States has many reasons for waging countless wars, particularly in the Middle East. Naturally, there's the obvious point about oil, gas, and access to vital energy resources. Moreover, it is not merely control of those resources, but the monopolization of them, controlling access to energy and being able to deprive competitors such as China from gaining access.
However, US imperialism goes much deeper than simply oil and other raw materials and resources. In fact, the United States is also primarily concerned with strategic engagement in a number of key regions. We've seen the Obama administration trumpeting the "pivot" to Asia, centered around access to the South China Sea. This is a way of countering Chinese strategic development and ensuring the continued dominance of the US imperial system in the Asia-Pacific region. Elsewhere, the US presence in the Persian Gulf (naval base in Bahrain, bases in Saudi Arabia, alliance with Qatar, etc.) is used to menace Iran but also to control the critical chokepoints of the Strait of Hormuz as well as the Bab al Mandeb/Suez Canal. US military campaigns in Yemen and Somalia demonstrate quite clearly the degree to which US war planners have understood the strategic necessity of controlling access to the Red Sea and the African continent more generally.
When examining the motivations of imperialists in Washington, one must be careful not to explain away this or that conflict simply by a singular goal. Very rarely is a US war of aggression carried out for one strategic reason. Rather, it is a confluence of interests that perpetuates the endless war posture of Washington.
Q: Syria is an integral part of the resistance front against Israel. Are the United States and its European allies trying to eliminate this important element of resistance in order to enfeeble Iran in the wake of the international threats and sanctions it's facing over its nuclear program?
A: Though Israel always plays a crucial role in US strategy, it is not the central motivation for the destabilization of Syria. Rather, it is the critical role of Syria within what I call the Shiite "arc of dominance" which stretches from Tehran to Baghdad, through Damascus and into Southern Lebanon with Hezbollah. This "arc of dominance" makes it impossible for the imperialists in Washington to isolate Iran and bring about their long-desired war against Tehran and the Islamic Revolution. Syria presents an impossible obstacle on the path to the destruction of Iran, so for that reason, Washington decided that Syria had to be destroyed. However, as I mentioned earlier, US wars of aggression are, with very few exceptions, never about a singular goal.
The US seeks to create in Syria, a terrorist safe haven similar to the one they created in Libya. If they can destroy the nation, with all of its institutions, and open the door for a jihadi, extremist takeover, it will fundamentally change all relations with Syria, especially the longtime strategic alliance with Russia. By creating a failed state, NATO and the imperial powers can launch attacks into neighboring countries, provide aid and refuge to jihadis in the Caucasus attacking Russia, and use it as a base of operations to wage war against Iran. There is also, of course, the economic question. Syria has vast energy reserves and has had long relationships with regional players such as Turkey, Iraq, Jordan etc. The US will be able to control the flow of energy and investment, thereby maintaining their regional hegemony for another few decades.
Q: What's your viewpoint regarding Israel's January 30 airstrike against a research center in Jamraya near Damascus? Wasn't the airstrike an act of aggression and illegal under international law? Why did Israel launch this attack in such an unexpected and sudden manner? Why didn't the UN Security Council react to the attack and condemn Israel?
A: Israel's airstrike of January 30th should not have come as a surprise to anyone. In the days and weeks leading up to the strike, Israel had been making public comments about their "right" to strike any movement of chemical weapons within Syria. Naturally, based on the naked aggression that Israel has shown countless times before, this was a de facto declaration that they would strike within Syria. This is something Israel has done a number of times before, though not in circumstances of full-scale civil war as is currently the case. In my judgment, the primary reason for the attack was to galvanize the so-called rebels. The US-NATO command saw that the assault against Assad was failing, that there was no unity, let alone cohesion among the jihadis and Al-Qaeda style extremists they had imported into and unleashed on Syria. So, they bring in the battering ram of Israel, always sure to unite extremists against them, as a mechanism by which they could unify. Furthermore, the attempt was made to demonize Assad for his "inaction" against the Israeli aggression. This is an utterly transparent construct, forcing Assad into a "no win situation". Israel is the bad cop to the US's good cop in the Middle East, able to do the dirty work (i.e. flagrant transgression of international law) of the US imperial system.
Q: The United States and its European allies claim that Bashar al-Assad is killing his own people, and they want him deposed in order to protect the rights of the Syrian people. If they're really honest in their claims, then why have they dispatched thousands of mercenaries, including Al-Qaeda members and dangerous prisoners and convicts from the Arab countries to Syria to take part in battles against the Syrian army forces?
A: The notion that the US and the Western powers want Assad deposed because of his purported "killing of his own people" is completely fraudulent. In fact, as I previously mentioned, there are myriad economic and geopolitical reasons for why the imperialists want regime change in Syria. The use of jihadis and other terrorist elements in the destabilization of Syria illustrates two fundamental points. First and foremost, the US and its allies have no interest in peace in Syria. If they did, then they would have backed the National Coordinating Committees or any of the other peaceful opposition groups inside Syria. Instead, they chose to import foreign militants to use as mercenaries in the service of NATO. Many of the mercenaries distinguished themselves to their imperial benefactors in Libya and/or places as far flung as Kosovo, Chechnya, Afghanistan, and elsewhere.
The second important point that must be noted here is that the importation of these mercenaries shows the insidious and integral role played by Qatar and Saudi Arabia in these aggressions. The Persian Gulf monarchies provide the financing and human capital necessary to take on such a strategy. It was through the extensive terror networks of the Saudis, and with the financial backing of the al-Thani regime, that this attack was able to move forward.
The use of terrorists, prisoners, and convicts that you mentioned also serves multiple purposes. It creates a fighting force that knows it has no choice but to continue fighting lest they end up back in prison. These are not normal fighters who have the option of abandoning the fight and returning home. Moreover, many of them are hardened killers, the type of individuals who would kill innocent women and children with impunity and who know that the crimes they are committing will never be tried in court. They are part of "death squads" unleashed on Syria the way the contra death squads were unleashed by the US on the nations of Central America in the 1980s, targeting innocent civilians as a way of instilling fear in the people, preventing their resistance to colonial aggression and fascist puppets.
Q: What do you think about Western states' complicity in igniting and provoking sectarian conflict in Syria? Many Christians of Syria say that they freely practice their religious ceremonies and rituals without being persecuted by the Muslims. But it seems that certain states are after stirring up sectarian conflict in Syria and pitting Muslims and Christians against each other. What's your take on that?
A: The fomenting of sectarian war is one of the principal weapons of the imperialist powers. Throughout history, powerful empires have exploited ethnic, sectarian, racial, or religious divisions within a society in order to conquer or otherwise control it. The US strategy in Syria is no different. Because Syria is such an ethnically and religiously diverse society, it was undoubtedly part of the war plan to exploit these differences and drive a wedge, primarily between the Alawite/Shiite community and the Sunni community in Syria. However, as we know, the attempt to divide Syria did not stop there - we've seen attacks against Kurdish communities, the Druze population as well as Christians. The goal of the imperialists is to smash the Syrian state, destroy it as a nation. In order to do so, they must upset the social fabric, exposing whatever latent conflicts existed between the groups just below the surface. In the absence of a strong central government, Washington figured that centuries-old rivalries would reemerge.
Because Syria is a secular state, there are protections for religious minorities. We know from first-hand testimony that the Christian population in Syria not only is allowed to practice freely, they are actively protected by the state. The fears about their future expressed by leaders in the Christian community in Syria demonstrates quite clearly that they understand fully well what a future Syria would be like for them if the Assad government is deposed and the country is overrun by Islamic extremists who would undoubtedly launch ethnic cleansing and genocide against the Christians and everyone else they deem "enemies of Islam."
Q: So far, Russia and China have firmly withstood the pressures by the United States and its European allies so as not to allow them to impose sanctions against Syria or authorize a military strike on the country. How do you evaluate this confrontation? Does it reflect broader conflicts between them on different international issues?
A: Syria has become a focal point of international diplomacy in the last two years, acting as a rubric by which we can evaluate the balance of power in the world and the relations between the imperialist West and the emerging powers, particularly Russia and China. The roles of these two countries, though similarly aligned, are vastly different. In contrast, Iran has direct interests being threatened by the destabilization and subversion of Syria and so, has taken a more active political posture.
Russia, never shy about taking the lead internationally, has been the most vocal opposition to the imperial aggression and subversion of Syria. Having maintained their position as the defender of international law, Russia has attempted to hold the moral high ground throughout the conflict, always correctly pointing out the destructive nature of the US meddling. Naturally, the Russians are self-interested in their defense of Assad and Syria. First and foremost is the Russian naval base at Tartus on the Syrian coast. This is Russia's foothold in the Mediterranean and a crucial strategic port for Moscow. To lose access to the Mediterranean would put Russian defense capabilities in a far weaker position. Moreover, Syria has long been a fertile market for Russian arms and technologically advanced weapons systems, one of the most lucrative sources of trade for Moscow. In addition, Russia cannot afford to lose a key ally that they have maintained for decades, understanding that Syria would become a haven for terrorists, particularly Islamic extremists from the Caucasus who would use Syria as a base of operations for continued terrorism and destabilization of Russia.
Perhaps most important of all, Russia understands that the loss of Syria would merely be a prelude to a Western imperialist attack on Iran which would put the US-NATO forces on the Caspian Sea and right on the doorstep of Russia. Putin understands this better than anyone, and so, has taken diplomatic counter-measures. Moscow is much more comfortable being called "obstructionist" in the UN than they are with military forces mounting on their borders.
Unlike their Russian partners, China has taken a less vocal position regarding Syria. The Chinese, traditionally cautious in their diplomatic dealings, have focused on the need for dialogue throughout the conflict. The Chinese understand all too well the imperialist tactics of the US and its partners. China has watched the Obama administration "pivot" its forces to Asia, beginning a military buildup in the Chinese sphere of influence in hopes of checking China's rise. So, China's posture on Syria is, in one way, a counter-measure against an ever-encroaching US military presence. Also, China continues to desire land-based oil/gas access in the Middle East. This means a continued positive relationship with Iran and, consequently, Syria, as the Chinese look to the Shiite countries of Iran, Iraq and Syria in combination with their predominantly Sunni partners in Pakistan. China maintains their somewhat balanced posture because of the vast investments it holds in the US economy, owning an incredibly large amount of US debt. Therefore, the Chinese are mostly concerned with stability and, from their perspective, one way of attaining this stability is to continue to veto Security Council action, and perpetuate the stalemate.
Iran has a number of pressing concerns related to Syria which have forced the Islamic Republic into an active, rather than passive, support for the Assad regime. The most obvious point here, being that Syria is a critical strategic ally of Iran and their main connection to Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. Syria is also an important trading partner and, as should be obvious, a fellow Shiite-dominated state that is part of the resistance to Israel and the United States. Most important of all, Tehran understands all too well that Syria is merely the prelude to a US-NATO-Israel war on Iran. It is an existential threat for Iran, and the Islamic Republic knows it.
Q: In one of your interviews, you've described the Al-Qaeda as an important and integral element of the U.S. imperial system that is at work in Syria. The United States and coalition forces invaded Iraq in 2001 in the name of fighting the Al-Qaeda, but today, they are cooperating with the terrorist group so as to destabilize and disintegrate Syria. How do you analyze this duality?
A: Terrorism is one of the most potent weapons in the imperialist arsenal. It is a convenient enemy when it's necessary to legitimize military aggression, and an important ally when it's necessary to use terrorism to destabilize and "enemy" nation. This dual-purpose of terrorism has always been at the core of US policy going back, at the very least, to the creation of Al-Qaeda from the mujahedeen in Afghanistan.
At the time, the US thought it prudent to use terrorists to bait the Soviet Union into the quagmire of an Afghan war then, once that use was no longer necessary, transformed them into enemies known as the Al-Qaeda. We see this same strategy employed today. In Mali, we see the Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Ansar Al Dine, MUJAO and other militant Islamist groups who are designated as the enemy and, in fact, the precise pretext for a Western military aggression. So, in Mali, terrorists served the function of providing the political cover for imperialism. Conversely, in Libya, the US and the NATO employed the very same types of terrorists in the destabilization and ultimate destruction of the Gaddafi regime. Terror organizations such as the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) formed the core of the so-called "revolutionaries" and "freedom fighters" who were in the vanguard of the assault on Tripoli and the destruction of Free Libya. The group's leadership was made up of terrorist veterans who had gained experience in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere. We see the exact same scenario in Syria, as the terrorist elements are disingenuously labeled "Free Syrian Army" while other terror groups such as the Al Nusra Front are used as a foil, an attempt to portray the FSA terrorists as the "good guys". So, what becomes evident is that Al-Qaeda and terrorism in general is a powerful tool of the imperialist ruling class. It is used as a potent fighting force, but also as a wickedly successful propaganda tool, legitimizing the wars Washington needs, and fighting the wars Washington cannot fight.
Q: The UN has reported that currently 2 million people in Syria are in dire need of food and humanitarian assistance and around 4 million people have been displaced since the outbreak of the crisis in the country. How is it possible to help Syria get out of the current humanitarian calamity it's facing? What's the responsibility of the independent and non-aligned nations?
A: In order to solve the humanitarian crisis in Syria, first and foremost, the Western imperial powers need to cease all subversion and destabilization of the country. Stop arming the terrorists, using the Persian Gulf monarchies to fund them, and neighboring countries (Israel and Turkey primarily) to create conflict along the borders.
Once the security situation is handled and any sanctions removed, then the horrific humanitarian catastrophe can be addressed. In attempting to deal with this problem, the Syrian government must first tend to the most pressing humanitarian concerns such as getting medicine to the sick and moving them to hospitals while providing basic services such as food and water and shelter in the immediate term. Then, along with regional and international partners, Syria will need to embark on a massive economic development program to rebuild the shattered infrastructure of the country and provide necessary services and programs, particularly to the displaced. Roads, schools, hospitals, water systems, etc. will all need to be rebuilt along with the oil and gas infrastructure which has also been attacked repeatedly.
However, going even further, the Syrian government will need to address some of the economic grievances which gave rise to the initial protests in early 2011. This means more affordable housing, constant, low-cost access to heating oil, water, staple foods, etc. In other words, economic progress is what will ultimately solve the crisis in Syria. Here, the role of international actors such as Russia, China, Iran, Venezuela and others will be crucially important. The financing for such programs will have to come from oil revenue but also from international financing which would, in a perfect world, come from outside the structures of the World Bank-IMF system dominated by the imperial powers.
Interview by Kourosh Ziabari