Of all the stupid justifications given for the American plan to bomb Syria, this week I read the stupidest one yet in a Guardian column.
Probably the most common stupid reason is that which states America’s “credibility” will be damaged if it doesn’t bomb Syria. This is the “credibility” of the gangster or the thug: what we say goes.
There are many other stupid reasons given. But Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland on Wednesday gave the most ridiculous so far. If America does not bomb Syria, he wrote, Israeli-Palestinian “peace talks” will have less chance for success.
I wish I was exaggerating, but he actually wrote that: “there is the matter of [Obama’s] own credibility … This is not a macho matter of saving face. If he is to succeed in those areas where many would want him to succeed – say on Israel-Palestine peace talks – he needs to be heeded.”
Let’s consider that argument once more: if Obama does not bomb Syria, Israeli “peace talks” will have less chance for success. Bombing to promote peace talks: what an ingenious idea.
It’s not the first outing for such a moronic notion. Blairite former MP Oona King, who now sits in the House of Lords, also once promoted a similar scheme to justify the bombing of Iraq.
I remember watching a documentary that followed her 2005 election campaign against George Galloway. She attempted to justify her support for 2003’s illegal American-British invasion of Iraq – it was costing her dearly in the polls, and probably lost her the seat to Galloway.
She explained – in all seriousness – to the documentary-maker that her support was predicated on the notion that British support for the American war on Iraq was needed, as this was probably the only way to persuade the Americans to put pressure on the Israelis to end their occupation of Palestine.
Freedland and King are both prime examples of how cynical and bankrupt the so-called peace process is. The whole freak-show is an Israeli-American scam deliberately intended to play for time, ultimately allowing for the annexation of the entire West Bank.
Could anything be more cynical than using the promise of more of such “talks” as a justification for bombing innocent Syrians? For all the talk of “surgical” American bomb strikes, does anyone (apart from those sitting pretty with a national newspaper column) really believe that propaganda line any more?
There was another claim in Freedland’s silly article that deserves more attention, if only because its assumptions are widely shared in the mainstream media.
“Perhaps if the world had acted” sooner, Freedland wrote, “Assad would never have got to the point where he could kill more than 100,000”.
Here, the oft-repeated death-toll of 100,000 in Syria has gone from a figure for the dead on all sides in a civil war to a simple act of mass murder by one man. This is simply false.
Whenever this figure is given in the news, this fallacy is often strongly implied. But it is rarely so openly stated as in Freedland’s article – perhaps because 10 second of thought shows it to be incorrect.
Even sources on the opposition side do not claim that Assad has killed 100,000 “of his own people” (as the familiar refrain goes). The number comes from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the activist outfit most quoted by the Western media for daily casualty counts.
In fact, the SOHR figures (in a 10 August report) also say that the majority of this 106,423 dead are what it defines as combatants: 65,083.
Of these combatants, the majority are on the Syrian government side: 44,588 (this includes soldiers; government militias; alleged “Shabiha, and pro regime informers” and Hizballah fighters).
So according to the logic of Jonathan Freedland, Assad has killed nearly 45,000 of his own armed and unarmed supporters. Absurd.
There is also the question of the reliability of the SOHR’s figures. Here, reasonable people might disagree. The vicious civil war raging in Syria make reliable reports difficult. Propaganda and disinformation on all sides has been a constant since March 2011.
In January last year I wrote a major investigative feature on the SOHR for the English edition of the Lebanese paper al-Akhbar. I uncovered the reality that what was being called the “Syrian Observatory” at the time in the Western press was in fact two competing organizations – the original organisation and a pro-NATO splinter group.
Since our expose, the splinter group (which took issue with the other faction’s recording of deaths on the pro-Assad side) seems to have disappeared, with their website lapsing into inactivity. Its leader Mousab Azzawi has disappeared from the public eye.
Since then I have continued to observe the Observatory, run out of Coventry by one Osama Suleiman (who goes by the pseudonym Rami Abdulrahman). In my judgement, the group is fairly close to some factions of the armed rebel groups. It is subject to and dependent on rebel war propaganda for its reports, and so may be underestimating the numbers of civilian dead, and is almost-certainly (in my judgement) underestimating the number of rebel dead.
In its report this month, it included in the death toll 17,564 “combatants from the Popular Committees, National Defence Forces, Shabiha, and pro-regime informers”. The latter terms “Shabiha, and pro-regime informers” are at times used pretty loosely. Some of this figure are likely to have been unarmed civilians murdered by rebels in sectarian killings.
While, in my opinion, the media is not critical enough of SOHR reports, they should not be discounted out of hand either.
The SOHR says 38,660 civilians (including 5,553 children and 3,607 women) have been killed in the civil war since March 2011.
There is no doubt the Syrian regime is tyrannical and bloody. There is also no doubt that the rebels (armed and financed by fanatical regimes such as Saudi Arabia) are tyrannical and bloody. These latter are the same people that David Cameron and Barack Obama have openly considered backing, may in fact be arming clandestinely, and are in fact training in camps in Jordan.
Claiming that all the killing in this war is being done by Assad alone, is a way to increase the propaganda beat of the war-drums against Syria.
If in fact the vast majority of the 100,000 had been killed by the regime, it would imply a one-way massacre, not the reality of this dirty civil war. Mousab Azzawi, the pro-NATO leader of the SOHR splinter group even claimed to Western media that there is a “genocide” going on in Syria. Freedland seems to be implying the same.
With public opinion on both sides of the Atlantic overwhelmingly opposed to getting involved in a grizzly civil war in Syria, the propaganda organs of the mainstream media must concoct a convincing reason to “act now”. This instinctive reaction of the media to create stenography for state and corporate power must be challenged.
An associate editor with The Electronic Intifada, Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist who lives in London.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.