Thirteen months ago, I highlighted how the mass media began softening the public up for yet another illegal military intervention in another sovereign state – this time in Syria. Rupert Murdoch, who has a direct financial interest in regime change in Syria (see below) oversaw some of the more overt forms of anti-Syrian propaganda as the graphic shows:
But, as Media Lens pointed out, a false media narrative against the government of President Bashar al-Assad began to emerge the moment the initial outbreak of violence began in the Syrian-Jordan border town of Daraa on March 17, 2011. This narrative is predicated on the notion that the conflict in Syria is part and parcel of the Arab Spring that gripped much of the region. As the Media Lens article makes clear, it’s a narrative that does not stand up to a moment’s scrutiny. Also lacking credibility is the claim that Western bombing raids into Syria are motivated by the need to destroy ISIS. These kinds of qualifications have been absent throughout the mainstream media. Instead, all evidence that contradicts the pro-Western media narrative is ignored and shunned.
Twelve days after the Western fomented violence at Daraa, tens of thousands of Syrians gathered at central bank square in Damascus in support of their President. But this pro-government rally was wrongly portrayed in the Western media. The Guardian, for example, reported Assad as having engaged in a “military crackdown against civilians”. This kind of misinformation prompted Russia and China to veto a European-backed UN security council resolution threatening sanctions against the Syrian regime “if it did not immediately halt its military crackdown against civilians”.
Regime change/Ghouta & Houla
As was the case in Bosnia, Kosovo, Libya, Afghanistan and Iraq, the key motivations underpinning the foreign policy objectives of Washington and its allies in relation to Syria, have nothing to do with protecting civilians, nor with democracy. Rather, their aim is to create sectarian divisions, ethnic strife and thus political instability as the prelude to initiating regime change in the country. As the former French Foreign Minister Roland Dumas confirmed in 2013, Britain had been planning the war on Syria “two years before the Arab spring” that was to involve the organising of an invasion of rebels into the country. “This operation goes way back. It was prepared, preconceived and planned”, he said.
No surprise, then, that much UK journalism had decided that the West’s current official enemy was responsible for the chemical attacks in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta in the year Dumas made his announcement. On September 16, 2013, the UN published the evidence in its report on “the alleged use of chemical weapons in the Ghouta area”. The UN did not blame Assad, for the attack, but rather, expressed “grave doubts”, despite preempted media claims to the contrary. Just one day after the attacks, for example, a Guardian leader claimed there was not “much doubt” who was to blame, as it simultaneously assailed its readers with commentary on the West’s“responsibility to protect” (see below). The media’s response to the May 2012 massacre in Houla, similarly reported the Assad government as having been mainly responsible for the deaths.
On June 27, 2012, a UN Commission of Inquiry delivered its report on the Houla massacre by concluding that they were unable to determine the identity of the perpetrators. But the gruesome nature of many of the deaths pointed to the kinds of atrocities typical of Al Qaida and their affiliates in the Anbar province of Iraq. Nevertheless, the clear intention of the media was to attempt to cast Syria into the ‘civil war’ of the West’s making. The propaganda offensive continued two months later when Barack Obama announced his “red line.”
Right on cue, in April 2013, the White House claimed that US intelligence assessed “with varying degrees of confidence” that “the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons on a small scale in Syria, specifically the chemical agent sarin”. This was flatly contradicted by former Swiss attorney-general Carla Del Ponte on May 6, 2013. Speaking for the United Nations independent commission of inquiry on Syria, Del Ponte said “We have no indication at all that the Syrian government have used chemical weapons.”
September 16, 2013 UN report
Seemingly undeterred, Washington continued with the accusations following the chemical attacks in Ghouta over three months later, long before the UN published the conclusions in its September 16, 2013 report. The report’s conclusions were cautious in terms of blaming the Assad regime for the attack. Nevertheless, as far as the US administration was concerned, Assad had crossed the ‘red line’ and was pronounced ‘guilty’. As a result, the US President announced on television that he was going to respond with a ‘targeted’ military strike on Syria, despite the fact that there was global public opposition to any such attack.
In response to this public opposition to mission creep and war, the BBC produced the now infamous documentary, Saving Syria’s Children, arguably the most overt propaganda piece ever made. Sequences from the documentary were initially broadcast on the BBC News at Ten flagship bulletin. The subsequent documentary programme was broadcast in full on the day the House of Commons were due to vote for military action in Syria and was clearly intended to influence the vote which the Cameron government ultimately lost. Robert Stuart’s brilliant and meticulous analytical demolition of the documentary can be viewed here.
Yet another cynical piece of anti-Assad propaganda that passed the chattering media class by, was the BBC distorted interpretation of a report commissioned by the Qatari government which claimed that the Syrian government had“systematically tortured and executed about 11,000 detainees since the start of the uprising”. Craig Murray described the BBC presentation of the report as “a disgrace” that again, was clearly intended to influence public opinion in favour of war. The media war-drive was averted after Obama agreed to a Russian proposal at the UN to dismantle Syria’s capability for making chemical weapons after having been exposed for his deceptions.
Based on interviews with US intelligence and military insiders, Seymour Hersh, the journalist who revealed the role the United States played in the My Lai massacre in Vietnam, was unequivocal in his assertion that Obama deceived the world in making a cynical case for war. This assertion was supported in April this year by former CIA analyst, Ray McGovern, who argued that the Turkish government, at the behest of Washington, engineered the chemical attacks in Ghouta in order to draw the United States into Syria. McGovern stressed that one of the Turkish journalists who exposed Turkey’s involvement in the alleged false flag attack has (as part of president Erdogan’s crackdown on independent journalism) been imprisoned and charged with treason.
Arms company profits
The prospect of a lengthy war against Syria provides a boost to the profits of the arms and weapons companies while simultaneously reining in Russian and Iranian influence in the region. As Craig Murray argued:
“The West don’t really want democracy in Syria, they just want a less pro-Russian leader of the power structures.”
But this aim cannot be achieved without the aid of ISIS on the ground who have gained access to weapons allegedly exported by the UK to the Middle East in the wake of the 2003 US-led Iraq invasion.
But gaining access to weapons is not possible without access to money to purchase them. It is now generally accepted that the main source of ISIS funds is from the sale of oil from nearly a dozen fields in northern Iraq and Syria’s Raqqa province. It then passes through Turkey and Iraq’s Kurdistan region. In September 2014, in a briefing to the European Parliament Foreign Affairs Committee, EU Ambassador to Iraq, Jana Hybaskova, conceded that some European countries have purchased crude from ISIS from the areas in northern Iraq and Syria they have captured. This does, of course, aid the West’s strategy to wreck the relatively secular and stable nature of Syrian civic society.
Black market oil/Arab allies funding ISIS
In 2014, David Cohen, US Treasury under-secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, claimed that middlemen from Turkey and Iraq’s Kurdistan region buy black market oil from ISIS that earns the terror group some $1m a day. If Western governments were serious about obliterating the existential threat they claim ISIS represents, they would not be aligning themselves with 70,000 unidentified ‘moderates’ who, as Patrick Cockburn contends “are weak or barely exist”. On the contrary, they would be aligning themselves with the forces on the ground that are resisting ISIS most effectively. These groups are the Syrian Kurds, the Syrian National Army, Hezbollah and Iran – all of whom were, and to some extent still are, being backed by Russian air power.
Nafeez Ahmed notes that in his testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee in September 2014, General Martin Dempsey, the-then chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, was asked by Senator Lindsay Graham whether he knew of “any major Arab ally that embraces ISIL?” Dempsey replied: “I know major Arab allies who fund them.” In other words, the most senior US military official at the time had confirmed that ISIS were being funded by the very same “major Arab allies” that had just joined the US-led anti-ISIS coalition.
The ‘Responsibility to Protect’ Doctrine
On September 28 the following year, in a speech to the UN General Assembly in New York, President Obama alluded to the ‘responsibility to protect’ (R2P) doctrine as the justification for Assad’s overthrow and, in the name of democracy, the bombing of Syria. Earlier that day at the Labour Party Conference in Brighton, Hilary Benn, was more explicit by actually citing the R2P doctrine by name as the justification to attack Syria. Formulated at the 2005 UN World Summit, the version of R2P currently in vogue and proposed by the [Gareth] Evans Commission, authorises “regional or sub-regional organisations” such as NATO to determine their “area of jurisdiction” and to act in cases where “the Security Council rejects a proposal or fails to deal with it in a reasonable time”.
Often described as an “emerging norm” in international affairs, but in reality has“been considered a norm as far back as we want to go”, R2P has – with the accompaniment of lofty rhetoric about the solemn responsibility to protect suffering populations – been used to illegally overthrow a series of sovereign states, most recently in Libya. The version of the R2P doctrine formulated at the UN World Summit will almost certainly be used to justify the illegal dismembering of Syria.
From the Iraq debacle onward, there has been an attempt by the Western powers to circumvent the consensus view of what constitutes illegality among the world’s leading international lawyers. The individual who has been instrumental in the interpretative reconfiguration of international law for the benefit of Western interests, is the international lawyer, Daniel Bethlehem.
The Caroline Principle
Bethlehem had represented Israel before the Mitchell Inquiry into violence against the people of Gaza, arguing that it was all legitimate self-defense. He had also supplied the Government of Israel with a Legal Opinion that the vast Wall they were building in illegally occupied land, surrounding and isolating all the major Palestinian communities and turning them into large prisons, was also legal.
In contrast to the consensus view of the world’s leading international lawyers, Bethlehem’s marginal position is outlined in a memorandum where he ‘develops’ the Caroline Principle. It is this legal conceptual re-evaluation of international law that has come to dominate Western political discourse. A key part of the memorandum states:
“It must be right that states are able to act in self-defence in circumstances where there is evidence of further imminent attacks by terrorist groups, even if there is no specific evidence of where such an attack will take place or of the precise nature of the attack.”
It is this minority legal ‘opinion’ that formed the basis for the Iraq invasion predicated on the Bush Doctrine of (as one administration official put it) “pre-emptive retaliation.” It will almost certainly be this ‘opinion’ that the Western powers will turn to in order to justify illegal regime change in Syria in the coming period.
Israel & energy independence
Bethlehem’s development of the Caroline Principle also plays a part in the broader strategy to dismember Syria – one that has hardly been mentioned within the mainstream. This broader strategy involves Israel. The country has granted oil exploration rights inside Syria, in the occupied Golan Heights, to the multinational corporation, Genie Energy. Major shareholders of the company – which also has interests in shale gas in the United States and shale oil in Israel – include Rupert Murdoch. Other players involved include the Israeli subsidiary, Afek Oil and Gas, American Shale, French Total and BP. Thus, there exists a broad and powerful nexus of US, British, French and Israeli interests at the forefront of pushing for the breakup of Syria and the control of what is believed to be potentially vast untapped oil and gas resources in the country.
Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, major defense contractors Raytheon, Oshkosh, and Lockheed Martin assured investors that they stand to gain from the escalating conflicts in the Middle East. Lockheed Martin Executive Vice President Bruce Tanner said his company will see “indirect benefits” from the war in Syria. In addition, a deal that authorized $607 billion in defense spending brokered by the US Congress, was described as a “treat” for the industry. What better way to benefit from this ‘treat’ than for the major powers to secure the hydrocarbon potential of Syria’s offshore resources with the aim of reducing European dependence on Russian gas and boosting the potential for energy independence.
None of this would be possible without one of the most concerted media propaganda offensives since the Iraq invasion. At the forefront of this offensive is the Murdoch printed press which is pushing hard for war, with the rest of the pack not far behind. According to the Pew Research Journalism Project, “the No. 1 message” on CNN, MSNBC, Fox News and Al Jazeera, is that “the US should get involved in the conflict in Syria”.
The latest propaganda offensive is the mainstream media’s uncritical reports of the role played in Syria by the White Helmets. Tuesday evening’s Channel 4 News which focused a large segment of its programme to events in Syria – and included an interview with a member of the White Helmets – was among the most biased and distorted pieces of reportage I have ever witnessed, amounting to blatant UK-US government propaganda.
The many subtle, and not so subtle, examples of media propaganda described, as well as the numerous illustrations of censorship by omission, highlight the systematic corruption at the heart of the elite media and political establishment, and their consolidated attempts at securing yet another Middle East resource grab.