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How rivalry destroyed a country

Oct 18,2016 - Last updated at Oct 18,2016

“The United States has the power to decree the death of nations,” wrote Stephen Kinzer in the Boston Globe.

Kinzer’s article was titled “The media are misleading the public on Syria”.

In his piece, the scholar at a Brown University Institute contested that his country’s media misinformation on Syria is leading to the kind of ignorance that is enabling the American government to pursue any policy, however imprudent, in this war-torn Arab country.

The US government can “decree the death of nations” with “popular support because many Americans — and many journalists — are content with the official story”, he wrote.

Kinzer, in principle, makes a strong point. His article, however, was particularly popular among those who sees the Syrian government entirely innocent of any culpability in the ongoing war, and that Iran and Russia are at no fault whatsoever; better yet, their intervention in Syria as entirely morally guided and altruistic.

That said, Kinzer’s assertion regarding the US government’s dangerous meddling in Syria’s affairs, renewed Cold War with Russia and ill-defined military mission in that country, is all true. 

The US and its Western and other allies are not following rules of war nor adhering to a particularly noble set of principles aimed at ending a most devastating war that killed well over 300,000 people, rendered millions displaced and destroyed the country’s wealth and infrastructure.

So what is the truth on Syria? 

In the last five and a half years since a regional uprising turned into an armed rebellion — turned into civil, regional and international war — “the truth on Syria” has been segmented into many self-tailored truths, each promoted by one of the warring party as being the one and only, absolute and uncontested reality.

But since there are many parties to the conflict, the versions of the “truth” communicated to us via many media are numerous and, most often, unverifiable.

The only truth that all parties seem to agree upon is that hundreds of thousands are dead and Syria is shattered. But, of course, each points to the other side for culpability for the ongoing genocide.

An oddly refreshing, although disturbing, “truth” was articulated by Alon Ben-David in the Israeli Jerusalem Post last year.

The title of his article speaks volumes: “May it never end: The uncomfortable truth about the war in Syria.” 

“If Israel’s interest in the war in Syria can be summarised in brief, it would be: That it should never end,” Ben-David wrote.

“No one will say this publicly, but the continuation of the fighting in Syria, as long as there is a recognised authority in Damascus, allows Israel to stay out of the swamp and distance itself from the swarms of mosquitoes that are buzzing in it.”

Of course, Israel never truly stayed out of the swamp, but that is a separate discussion. 

Aside from the egotistical, unsympathetic language, Israel’s “truth”, according to the writer, is predicated on two premises: the need for an official authority in Damascus and that the war must continue, at least until the fire burns the whole country down, which is, in fact, the case.

Russia’s supporters, of course, refuse to accept the fact that Moscow is also fighting a turf war and that it is entirely fair to question the legality of Russia’s actions in the context of US-Russian regional and global rivalry while, at the same time, attempting to underscore Moscow’s own self-seeking motives.

The other side, which is calling for greater American firepower, commits an even greater sin, not least that since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the US has not only scarred, but truly devastated the Middle East — killing, wounding and displacing millions — and has no intention of preserving Syria’s territorial integrity or the rights of its people.

That group’s plausible hatred for Bashar Assad’s regime has blinded them to numerous facts, including that the only country in the region that Washington is truly and fully committed to in terms of security is Israel, which has recently received a generous aid package of $38 billion.

Keeping in mind Ben-David’s reasoning, it is no surprise that the US is in no rush to end the war in Syria, if not intentionally prolong it.

The American “truth” on Syria, reiterated by its European cheerleaders, of course, is largely centred around demonising Russia, never about saving lives, nor even — at least not yet — about regime change.

For the US, the war is largely pertinent to American regional interests. After suffering major military and political setbacks in the Middle East, and considering its ongoing economic misfortunes, the US military capabilities have been greatly eclipsed.

It is now, more or less, another powerful Western country, but no longer the only dominant one, able to “decree the death of nations” on its own.

So, when Secretary of State John Kerry called recently for a war crime investigation into Russian bombings in Syria, we can be certain that he was not sincere, and his impassioned appeal was tailored only to win political capital.

Expectedly, his accusations were parroted in predictable tandem by the French, the British and others. 

Then, soon after, they evaporated into the augmenting, but useless, discourse in which words are only words, while the war grinds on, unabated.

So why is the truth on Syria difficult to decipher?

Despite massive platforms for propaganda, there are still many good journalists who recognise that no matter what one’s personal opinion is, facts must be checked and that honest reporting and analysis should not be part of the burgeoning propaganda war.

Yes, these journalists exist, but they fight against many odds. One is that much of the existing, well-funded media infrastructure is part of the information war in the Middle East.

And good journalists are either forced to toe the line, albeit begrudgingly, or stay out of the discussion altogether.

But the problem is not entirely that of media manipulation of facts, videos and images. 

The war in Syria has polarised the discourse like never before, and most of those who are invested in that conflict find themselves forced to take sides, thus, at times abandoning any reason or common sense.

It is rather sad that years after the war in Syria ends, and the last of the mass graves is dug and covered, many unpleasant truths will be revealed. But would it matter, then?

Only recently, we discovered that the Pentagon had spent over $500 million in manufacturing propaganda war videos on Iraq. The money was largely spent on developing fake Al Qaeda videos.

Unsurprisingly, much of the US media either did not report the news or quickly glossed over it, as if the most revealing piece of information of the US invasion of Iraq — which has destabilised the Middle East — is the least relevant.

What will we end up learning about Syria in the future? And will it make any difference, aside from a sense of moral gratification for those who had argued all along that the war in Syria is never about Syrians?

The truth on Syria is that, regardless of how the war ends, the country has been destroyed and its future is bloody and bleak. And that, regardless of the regional and global “winners” in the conflict, the Syrian people have already lost.



The writer,, has been writing about the Middle East for over 20 years. He is an internationally syndicated columnist, a media consultant, author of several books and the founder of His books include “Searching Jenin”, “The Second Palestinian Intifada” and “My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story”. He contributed this article to The Jordan Times.

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