‘Bitterly disappointed’ lobby resort to ‘tried and trusted arguments’ to bomb Syria
RT:Are there valid indications that Damascus is trying
to keep some of its chemical stockpiles - or is this just
Washington's distrust that's fuelling these rumours?
Mark Almond: Well, the hopes in Washington, people like Susan Rise, the US ambassador to the United Nations, were bitterly disappointed by the deal to resolve the chemical weapons question peacefully. And they are resorting if you like to the tried and trusted arguments used against Saddam Hussein twelve years ago. That is to say saying that even though he seems to be going along with the inspectors, even though inspectors are not finding any evidence of cheating he must be cheating somehow, because that’s what a dictator would do. And also you want to use force, and I think there is a lobby in United States that was bitterly disappointed that they were not able to bomb because Assad agreed to renounce any weapons that he had of mass destruction and also because of course it enabled a country like Russia to play a role.
And the irony of the current situation is that Obama has around in his national security team a number of people who are as unilateralist as ever George Bush was, it’s just that they use the rhetoric of humanitarianism to justify bombing whereas George Bush and Dick Cheney essentially said: “America is in a position to do it so we are going do it to Iraq.” These days’ people say we are going to do it for humanitarian reasons in Syria. But in essence it’s really an exercise in brutal power politics dressed up with the milky human kindness, concern for refugees as well outrage at alleged use of chemical weapons.
RT:Washington previously praised Syria's disarmament - why this sudden scepticism?
MA: It is not absolutely impossible but after all this argument was used about Iraq at the beginning of 2000s. And as with Saddam Hussein, Assad will be very foolish to try to cheat because if caught out it would legitimize a massive military intervention against him in essence. The Security Council has said that if they were cheated then what the Americans wanted to do would be justified. So he hasn’t any incentive to cheat. Of course if we look at what has happened over the last 12-13 years in the Middle East we might be inclined to say just as observers if you disarm as Saddam Hussein did and as Muammar Gaddafi did in Libya then sooner or later the West will attack you because you have no way of deterring them. That I think is a potential risk for Syria down the line.
But the immediate risk to Assad’s regime was precisely that if he refused to disarm, it would have been attacked by United States and its NATO allies. Which would have been calamitous for the regime and hence also for Syria.
RT:This happens as Geneva 2 peace talks have been postponed. Western powers have committed to persuading the opposition to take part - why has it proven impossible to deliver?
MA: This is partly because their opposition is deeply split. There are several oppositions some of whom are more reasonable than others. But also their sponsors are very unhappy about any compromise. If there is a compromise then people like the King of Saudi Arabia, the unlikely proponent of democracy in Syria, might find that trouble can come to their door. Equally in the United States and in Britain there are people in the defense and intelligence world, hard-liners who really don’t want any kind of peaceful settlement, because the danger is from their point of view that it won’t produce a government in Syria which will be subordinate to what they want. And after all we have seen that Assad has survived, primarily because enough Syrians continued to support him, but the idea that Assad regime has no popular basis has I’m afraid been exploited in the conflict in the last two years. And in fact the only effective way to remove it if you are not going to compromise with it is to use force. So the hard-liners who don’t want to admit that their own side does not have enough support in legitimacy don’t wish to see any kind of a will discussion because it will not produce the result they want, they see it as the winner takes it all situation.
RT:So is there still a chance that peace talks will actually happen?
MA: Well it’s really difficult because very powerful influential countries with a lot of money like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and so on, backing the hardliners in the NATO countries. On the other hand there are people in the NATO countries including in Washington who say: ‘The recipe for regime change that we were sold on Syria hasn’t worked. The costs of trying to introduce it regardless are too high.’ That after all is in part why Obama backed down from launching unilateral military action in the end of August against Syria over the chemical weapons.
So it is possible that there are voices in Washington who may be able to recover the influence to say: ‘Some kind of negotiations, some kind of compromise is both from a humane point of view preferable but also from a practical political point of view the best way out.’
There are still as I say those people who think that Shia brute force will produce a kind of regime change they want, because they see the events in Syria as a kind of precedent for rolling on to Iran.
So we have in the background the negotiations with Iran over the nuclear question. And there are those people who would like to see the Iranian question resolved peacefully and the solution to the dispute over Iran’s nuclear polices resolved without violence. But of course there are people who think that they would like to resolve that by use of force, even though many people would say it’s not clear what the force required would be, that would be commensurate with dangers that would result in NATO military attack on Iran. But we have to see that there are people who are not just looking at Syria, but are looking at the whole wave of regime change across the Middle East. And those people are not totally concerned about the cost to ordinary people in these countries. But there are people in Washington and even in London, I think, who recognize that pushing this agenda is a very cruel pursuit of so-called democratization, where you won’t have too many people left to enjoy the fruits of it.