Operation Regime Change – some aren’t giving up

Breaking Views | 7 July 2016

Operation Regime Change (as I’ll call it) achieved some of its objectives, particularly the elimination of Saddam Hussein and Muamar Ghadaffi, but has been an unmitigated disaster for the MENA region and for the world at large.

It gave us ISIS in Iraq and Syria, and the disintegration of Libya resulted in a country that now exists only as lines on a map and is about to become a staging post for ISIS metastases as well as being a springboard for illegal mass migration into Europe.

But some people are slow learners. Last month, 51 warmongers in the US State Dept signed a petition calling for the commencement of US air strikes on Syrian government positions as a means of aiding ‘friendly’ rebels to achieve their objective of toppling the regime in Damascus.

The prospect of Syria being taken down the same road as Libya is the stuff of nightmares. ISIS, currently on the back foot, would be able to breathe much easier in the near-certainty of being able to hold onto Raqqa, the loss of which would be catastrophic for them as it would throw their end-game strategy into disarray. Iraq would have to deal with an ongoing insurgency fuelled from across the order, while Lebanon and Jordan, to name just two countries in the region, would come under direct threat.

And yet there are obviously those who want to press on with Operation Regime Change and remove Bashar al-Assad whatever the consequences.

Propaganda played a large part in Operation Regime Change. Contrary to popular usage, the term ‘propaganda’ does not necessarily connote that someone is telling fibs. Some very crude propaganda does indeed consist solely of falsehoods – the outrageous lie about Saddam Hussein’s so-called WMDs, for instance. But propaganda as a genre is about the way a story is told; it’s about spin rather than substance.

The propaganda war against al-Assad continues to focus on what a bad fellow he is. As part of this campaign, we are constantly reminded how al-Assad is “killing his own people” through the use of, amongst other things, ordnances such as barrel bombs that kill ‘indiscriminately’.

UN Security Council Resolution 2139 (2014) demanded “that all parties immediately cease all attacks against civilians, as well as the indiscriminate employment of weapons in populated areas, including shelling and aerial bombardment, such as the use of barrel bombs, and methods of warfare which are of a nature to cause superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering”.

“All attacks against civilians” refers to deliberately targeting civilians – it does not prohibit attacks on areas where civilians may be present, providing there is a clear military objective and the use of force is ‘proportionate’ to the achievement of that objective, i.e. it does not “cause superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering”. But these are moot points when dealing with a foe who is entrenched in civilian areas and uses those civilians as human shields.

The singling out of barrel bombs – ordnances used in the past by, amongst others, the US and Israel – is enigmatic. Barrel bombs are crude devices, but they are dropped from helicopters onto narrowly-defined target areas. That makes them precision weapons compared with conventional artillery, and thereby surely less ‘indiscriminate’.

As for “killing his own people”, if a government is facing an insurrection (whether in cahoots with external entities or not), it is fully within its rights to “kill its own people”. I wonder how many qualms Washington would have about killing traitorous Americans should there be an insurgency in one of the states of the union.

Propagandists tend to ignore positive aspects of the target of their efforts, whom they are after all intent on vilifying. One important and largely glossed-over aspect of the Syrian social order under the al-Assad regime is its inclusiveness with regard to religious communities. This includes Christians, who have been targeted by ISIS and some other extremist groups for extermination. Horrendous accounts of Christians being butchered en masse by various methods including crucifixion and burning alive abound, and there is little reason to doubt their veracity. Syrian Christians overwhelmingly support the al-Assad regime as that is what stands between them and what has been rightly labelled as the ‘Christian genocide’.

The bottom line is, of course, that al-Assad has made an ass of US Middle East regime change policy. He is not only still very much in place – he humiliated them by completely sidelining the West through an alliance with Moscow which saw several months of highly effective aerial bombardment of all his opponents while all the West could do was look on and foam at the mouth.

I think what we will see over the coming couple of years is the US and its lapdogs on the one hand, and [continental] Europe on the other, going their own ways with regard to the MENA region. The Europeans are, on the whole, now decidedly unenthusiastic about overthrowing Bashar al-Assad, and increasingly inclined towards mending relations with Damascus. Let the Americans pursue their vendettas without the complicity of other Western countries while the rest us make our own arrangements with people the Yanks have the pip with for not kowtowing to them.

Barend Vlaardingerbroek BA, BSc, BEdSt, PGDipLaws, MAppSc, PhD is associate professor of education at the American University of Beirut and is a regular commentator on social and political issues. Feedback welcome at bv00@aub.edu.lb

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