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There should be no doubt that the conflict in Syria between the regime of Bashar al-Assad and the opposition (political and militarized) merits discussion and analysis here, even during the lead-up to our own presidential elections. The anti-authoritarian and humanitarian aspects of the processes and events in Syria over the last seventeen months or so (taking the protest in Dera'a on 15 March 2011 as a starting-point) have somewhat naturally roused our collective attention, as have the more purely political foreign-policy aspects. Yet... and I recognize this will be contentious... most of the ongoing discussion related to Syria here on dKos has been insubstantial, little more than a contest between two over-determined narratives for each of which has emerged a distinct bulwark of propagandistic media.

Samuel Johnson's observation is as apt as ever:

Among the calamities of war may be justly numbered the diminution of the love of truth, by the falsehoods which interest dictates and credulity encourages. (The Idler, no. 30, 11 November 1758)
Some observations, though no remedies, after the whazzit...

Narrative Frame #1: the Romantic

With only slight emendation, a long-excised comment from Shelley's preface to Hellas successfully describes the determinative foundation of the Romantic narration of the Syrian conflict specifically, and the processes of the Arab Spring more generally:

This is the age of the war of the oppressed against the oppressors, and every one of those ringleaders of the privileged gangs of murderers and swindlers, called Sovereigns, look to each other for aid against the common enemy, and suspend their mutual jealousies in the presence of a mightier fear. Of this holy alliance all the despots of the earth are virtual members. But a new race has arisen throughout Europe [read "Middle East and North Africa"], nursed in the abhorrence of the opinions which are its chains, and she will continue to produce fresh generations to accomplish that destiny which tyrants foresee and dread. (written 1821, excised from the 1822 publication, restored in the 1892 edition)
In a sense, I think it's difficult for a community such as ours not to feel a natural sympathy with the anti-authoritarian and pro-populist essence of the Romantic frame and the advocacy for a liberally-constituted nation-state. We should absolutely sympathize with the Syrians (Tunisians, Egyptians, Libyans et alii) struggling against repressive authoritarian regimes. Yet there is a strong tendency among those wedded to the Romantic frame toward 1) an idealized heroization of a single-minded opposition, 2) an unwillingness to consider that within the opposition are groups with less than liberal agenda and 3) a credulity toward the "news" issued by opposition functionaries and their media outlets. Thus the "news" emanating from the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights (SOHR), the Syrian National Council (SNC), the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and the Local Coordination Committees of Syria (LCCS) is typically viewed as sacrosanct, as are the analyses of interested English-language media outlets, notably al-Jazeera and al-Arabiya, on which I recommend Sultan al-Qassemi's recent piece at Foreign Policy entitled Breaking the Arab News.

Narrative Frame #2: the Cynical

On the other end of the spectrum, irremediably opposed to the Romantics, are the Cynics for whom the determinative stances within which events in Syria (and the broader Arab Spring) are to be narrated are anti-imperialism, anti-globalization and anti-war. Now, there's nothing wrong with those stances per se, but the characteristic form of the cynical argument fails in at least two respects. First, it deprives the Syrian opposition (Tunisian, Egyptian, Libyan et alii) of agency altogether, viewing them as pawns, if not outright dupes, within a game played by greater powers. Second, it subsumes the unique circumstances of the anti-authoritarian uprising in Syria (as it did in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya) to an overarching and often nefarious Western and/or Saudi regional agenda. "News" cited by those wedded to the cynical narrative often originates with state-owned media such as Syria's Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA), from where it is picked up by Russia Today, PressTV and similar Iranian media as well as a host of English-language anti-war and anti-globalization sites.

The Propaganda War

There is a dearth of on-the-ground journalistic reporting from Syria. Thus as we seek to make sense of what is actually going on there we are too often faced with a choice between networks of propagandistic media, between two over-determined narratives driven by opposed agenda, the details of which are typically irreconcilable.

It is a lamentable choice, and it is frustrating as hell.

I don't know what precisely is happening inside Syria, and I will assert that neither the Romantics nor the Cynics do either. They, I'm sure, will cling to their convictions, to their claims to truth. They will continue to cite propaganda in support of their cause and to seek factoids to weave into those predetermined narratives that, paraphrasing Johnson, are dictated by interest and encouraged by credulity.

Reality? Well, it's out of style...

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (15+ / 0-)

    Real stupidity beats artificial intelligence every time. (Terry Pratchett)

    by angry marmot on Tue Aug 07, 2012 at 02:16:09 PM PDT

  •  There was something we all should know (8+ / 0-)

    From the great British journalist, Robert Fisk:

    Why, only a few years ago, the Bush administration was sending Muslims to Damascus for Bashar's torturers to tear their fingernails out for information, imprisoned at the US government's request in the very hell-hole which Syrian rebels blew to bits last week. Western embassies dutifully supplied the prisoners' tormentors with questions for the victims. Bashar, you see, was our baby.
    http://www.independent.co.uk/...
    Bashar our baby suddenly has become our Frankenstein, in a matter of a few short years? Why is that?

    Fisk tells us why if you read the whole article:

    And all the while, we forget the "big" truth. That this is an attempt to crush the Syrian dictatorship not because of our love for Syrians or our hatred of our former friend Bashar al-Assad, or because of our outrage at Russia, whose place in the pantheon of hypocrites is clear when we watch its reaction to all the little Stalingrads across Syria. No, this is all about Iran and our desire to crush the Islamic Republic and its infernal nuclear plans – if they exist – and has nothing to do with human rights or the right to life or the death of Syrian babies. Quelle horreur!
    Keep up the good work AM. You are a very well read individual. You have a sharp grasp of English literature.
    •  Well, there's no doubt that (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      ferg, Lawrence

      geostrategic interests among and between the US, Russia, Iran, KSA, Turkey and others, including non-state actors, is a part of what's going on. But is it a significant enough part to define the Syrian conflict as a "proxy war" between the US and Iran, as some hold? No, I don't see that it does, at least not yet.

      Real stupidity beats artificial intelligence every time. (Terry Pratchett)

      by angry marmot on Tue Aug 07, 2012 at 02:58:29 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Can you answer my question? (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        truong son traveler

        Why did Assad our baby, become our Frankenstein so suddenly in a matter of a few short years?

        The Bush administration send Muslims to Assad to be tortured. Then suddenly...we hate and despite him! Give me a break.

        The same thing that happened to our bastard Saddam is now happening to our bastard Assad. (Excuse my language).

        Once our bastards run out of their usefulness, they become shall we say... disposable.

        As BigAlin pointed out, some stuff is missing in your analysis. This is one of those things (even though overall I enjoyed the piece).

        But you seem to be afraid or at the very least cautious to speak what I have just spoken.

        •  welcome to geopolitics. (5+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          angry marmot, InAntalya, ferg, Lawrence, poco

          There's no good or evil--there's just expediency.  Sometimes that expediency aligns with good (which can be useful) or evil (which can be nefarious).  Nearly any high-ranking politician in any decent sized country has blood on his/her hands--perhaps not directly--but in some capacity.  Although they themselves are usually neither good nor evil (although there are exceptions).

          The argument that 'but...we did this x years ago, and now we're doing THIS' may be true, but it's simplistic.  Just like 'we propped up Bin Laden' or 'We were best buds with Hussein' or 'The Chechyns were freedom fighters and now they're terrorists'.

          The poster you're responding to is one of the authorities on the region on this site.  And one of the fairest commenters (as you can see by the diary).  Trying to psycho-analyze what people are 'afraid' of just deprives your comment of any serious import.  Which is too bad--because there are a lot of interesting discussion points to be looked at in why we choose to support certain players in one frame, but encourage their downfall in the next.

          •  I praised the poster and recced the diary (2+ / 0-)

            Only two people recommended  the diary and I was one of them.

            So you don't need to educate me about the poster.

            More importantly, our foreign policy is the reason why a lot of people in the world hate us.

            There are numerous examples of terrorists citing American policies as the prime motivation behind their acts,[6] so many that American officials, when discussing the newest terrorist attack, have to tread carefully to avoid mentioning the role of US foreign policy; and journalists typically fail to bring this point home to their reader’s consciousness.
            http://www.foreignpolicyjournal.com/...
            It's time to change that.
            •  sure, our foreign policy doesn't win us many (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Lawrence

              friends.  But we exercise it with much more circumspection and restraint than we did during the Bush era.  I'm generally uncomfortable with drones, I think we need to leave Afghanistan, etc.  But in situations like Libya, unlike Iraq, there was no universal condemnation--as well there shouldn't have been.

              And while I don't like the Iran war-drums any more than you do, our approach to Syria has been exceedingly cautious at best--certainly nothing that would suggest headlong, reckless involvement of the sort one might expect from, say, Cheney/Rumsfeld.

              My comment about the line to the diarist was just in reponse to the 'what are you afraid of' bit.  Which I thought was unnecessary.  

          •  No worries, bevenro. I anticipated that this (4+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Andrew F Cockburn, ferg, mickT, poco

            diary might serve as a red-flag and that I might catch some grief from every direction. I'm OK with that if it aids to open a discussion about how the Syrian uprising and the broader Arab Spring have been presented around here of late.

            Your "expediency" is probably a better (perhaps slightly kinder) term than my "opportunism" (below), but I think we're suggesting the same point, more or less.

            Real stupidity beats artificial intelligence every time. (Terry Pratchett)

            by angry marmot on Tue Aug 07, 2012 at 03:46:39 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  I do appreciate the tone (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Shawn Russell

              I am deeply in the cynical camp. I wrote one diary a long time ago trying to show how Hizb-al Tahrir (a salafist group) was the main group praising the uprising.

              But as things moved along, it became quite clear there was a lot more than just them involved in the progress. I read newspapers in English and Arabic from countries all over the region, and it is quite obvious where they stand when it comes to Syria.

              My problem...the biggest instigator that kept the conflict going was our State Dept. I can make the point, but since the goal of this site isn't attacking Democrats. What is the point?

              I agree that current Democrats are slightly better than Republicans when it comes to the average American. But the amount of Democrats that even defend Social Security is slipping due to Big Banks wanting their hands in the billions of dollars involved and dems needing the Big Bank money to get elected.

              But be that as it may...the reality of America is it is run by a few rich people. They fund think tanks. The think tanks fund people like Bolton and Andrew Tabler to tell the policy makers what direction our nation needs to go.

              They are on TV, write op-eds, lobby congress, (write bills), etc. In other words, a bunch of corporate sponsored whores for money dictate U.S. policy.

              It's pretty obvious. Yet these people manage to keep most Americans subdued because they know the media, who watches/reads various media, and keeps the message on line to achieve their goal.

              Reality doesn't have this process (See Climate Change).

              So as someone that knows the language, knows the region, and has numerous contacts, when I see the western media spew out news on Syria, I get angry.

              Like when the French reporter was killed in Homs. The FSA lobbed a mortar at a unarmed rally. You know the kind of thing everyone damns Bashar to hell for. What does the French government do? Damn Bashar to hell and continue to arm the same FSA that blew up one of its reporters.

              I could go on. But it would make as much impact as the guy that documented the whole spin up on the war in Iraq between Tony Blair and Bush. Blair still yachts around with his billionaire friends. Hillary, who backed the war 100% is Sec of State and pushing another war or two.

              I just wish I could lscrew up so bad as to cause the death of untold thousands, destroy the social structure of a nation, and still get praised be the 'left'.

        •  I assumed your question was rhetorical. (4+ / 0-)

          The easy answer is that no realistic opportunity to see the end of the al-Assad dynasty had yet presented itself. It was opportunism to ally with the (nominally) secular Ba'athist Syria as part of the war on terror / radical Islam, and it's opportunism now to support the opposition.

          Real stupidity beats artificial intelligence every time. (Terry Pratchett)

          by angry marmot on Tue Aug 07, 2012 at 03:22:18 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  "Assad is our baby" (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Lawrence

          basically says you have no interest in actual international politics, but prefer fairy tales.

          There's essentially no basis for any discussion with that kind of simplistic view.

        •  Very similar to Libya (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Shawn Russell, protectspice

          and Gaddaffi, Iraq and Saddam. When they outlive their usefulness to us they are forced out of the way in some extremely ugly ways.

          Orwell - "Political language ... is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable"

          by truong son traveler on Tue Aug 07, 2012 at 07:42:31 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  I'm sorry. Did nothing happen between then (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Lawrence

      And now in the US that might suggest a reason for the change of position on the part of the US?

      Courtesy Kos. Trying to call on the better angels of our nature.

      by Mindful Nature on Tue Aug 07, 2012 at 03:00:16 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Nope. If you mean the killing of civilians by... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        truong son traveler

        Assad, is such a high concern for the world's police-man, I have a bridge to sell you.

        Tell me tell you our relationship with Saddam:

        But in this crime, Saddam was covertly backed by his principal accomplices, the U.S. and Britain. Donald Rumsfeld even went to Baghdad to offer Saddam arms, finance and intelligence. Hanging Saddam eliminated the main witness.

        Saddam was helped into power by the CIA, which stood by while he slaughtered Iraqi communists and Nasserites.

        The U.S. and Britain, as I discovered in Baghdad in 1990, supplied Saddam with poison gas and germs to make battlefield weapons (these were not "weapons of mass destruction." The germs were never successfully weaponized).

        So long as Saddam was killing and torturing people America and Britain did not like, he was "our SOB."
        http://www.commondreams.org/...
        The same applies here. As long as Assad was doing our dirty work, he was our SOB. We covered our eyes to his atrocities.

        Suddenly we put on the police-man's badge? Give me a break.

  •  You seem to infer the antiwar, anti-imperialist (8+ / 0-)

    alternative news and opinion sites are propaganda but largely leave out the king of propaganda, our own MSM, which most people still get their news from, those that follow news of this sort that is.  Or maybe your reference to the SOHR and SNC assumes that since the MSM seems to parrot their views and opinions.

    "The Global War on Terror is a justification for U.S. Imperialism. It must be stopped."

    by BigAlinWashSt on Tue Aug 07, 2012 at 02:48:54 PM PDT

    •  Fair point. (4+ / 0-)

      I do view the MSM as weighted more heavily toward the Romantic point of view.

      Real stupidity beats artificial intelligence every time. (Terry Pratchett)

      by angry marmot on Tue Aug 07, 2012 at 03:05:45 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  And what the MSM says supports who? (5+ / 0-)

        Just saying.  I'm one of your cynics, try as I might to convince those on this site it's based on reality, I've been unsuccessful.  
        But the reality as I see it is we're all dupes.  So I haven't labeled the Syrians anything I haven't labeled myself.
        What's happening in Syria is simple, regime change and country destabilization.  How it's being done may be different from other efforts, i.e., so far without US/NATO bombs, but it's still the same thing.
        You're right, that's my opinion and I'm sticking to it.

        "The Global War on Terror is a justification for U.S. Imperialism. It must be stopped."

        by BigAlinWashSt on Tue Aug 07, 2012 at 03:30:53 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  why is it the 'same thing'? (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          angry marmot

          These things are complicated as hell and case-by-case.

          You have a popular uprising to an authoritarian regime.  It's not going to be a walk in the park, and you're going to have your seedy elements, sick fucks and massacres on the opposing side as well, unfortunately.  

          What you have is a popular uprising, a heavy-handed crackdown, and deepening guerilla tactics en route to a civil war.  It's messy.  I think the U.S. does need to stay out because of the complexities of the whole thing compared to Libya.  But I don't see our condemnation of Assad as a PNAC plot either.

  •  In addition to the Romantic, the Cynical and (4+ / 0-)

    the Popaganda War, there is also the Ignorance - and a lot of it too.

    Which is why I try to provide background information about Syria in the posts I write, and in a way that is clear and not overly complcated, I hope.

    Lamb chop, we can quibble what to call it, but I think we can both agree it's creepy.

    by InAntalya on Tue Aug 07, 2012 at 05:18:07 PM PDT

  •  There is a history behind the events in Syria (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Pluto, mickT, protectspice

    We are unlikely to ever see much of it in the establishment media. One must look elsewhere but the information is there and facts and clues are not difficult to find.

    The origin of the plans to take downs of Syria, Iraq, Libya, Lebanon and Iran date back to the 1990's. The conceptual plans were developed by well-known neoconservatives and put forth in a policy paper "A Clean Break". This was in July of 1996.

    Implementation became possible after 9/11 when the Bush Administration, under the pretext of WMDs, attacked Iraq. Syria was to have been next but breaking Iraq took somewhat longer than the 6 weeks predicted by the chickenhawk neoconservtives.

    During the Bush Administration, exactly when is not clear, but most certainly as early as the aftermath of 9/11 there was a policy coup as recognized and noted by Retired General Wesley Clark in his address to the Commonwealth Club of CA in 2007. Link to the video is here.

    Daniel Ellsberg also came to realize about the same time as Clark's speech that a policy coup had taken place. See his article at AntiWar.com from September 27 2007.

    Quoting Ellsberg:

    This is an unusual gang, even for Republicans. [But] I think that the successors to this regime are not likely to roll back the assault on the Constitution. They will take advantage of it, they will exploit it.
    And, he is correct. the successors have not rolled back the assault on the Constitution.

    In the meantime stirrings in the Arab world in the form of the Arab Spring necessitated a modification of plans. Now the time has arrived. It is Syria's fate to be turned upside down and broken into pieces.

    The plan is to take advantage of the various ethnic and religious differences throughout the region, stir them up, pit them against one another so that the leadership of their respective countries will be weakened and thereby become less of a threat to Israeli and US hegemony in the Middle East, thereby "Securing the Realm".

    Orwell - "Political language ... is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable"

    by truong son traveler on Tue Aug 07, 2012 at 06:37:31 PM PDT

    •  you're citing the PNAC documentation as if (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Lawrence, angry marmot

      it wasn't common knowledge.  Fundamentals of this stuff predate Gulf War I.  But so what?

      If you've been following the 'Arab Spring' uprisings closely, you'll notice that while, as one would would expect, the US and other European governments find themselves involved at some point, the idea that this is some mass neocon conspiracy as your last paragraph suggests is, frankly, utterly ridiculous.

      If the Iraq war has shown us nothing else--it's made one thing completely clear:WE SUCK AT THIS SORT OF THING.  We're happy to go along for the ride if it suits our interests, but we really had very little to do with all of this.

  •  Good diary. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    angry marmot

    Unlike Libya, where there are very few ethnic and especially very few sectarian divides, Syria is exceedingly complex in its mosaic of ethnicities, peoples, politics, and different belief systems.

    Tipped and recced.

    "A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle" - Mohammed Nabbous, R.I.P.

    by Lawrence on Wed Aug 08, 2012 at 03:16:18 AM PDT

  •  I have a problem with your framing though (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    angry marmot

    I found the diary interesting.

    While I can find fault with "The Romantics" as you call them, and I certainly do believe they downplay the involvement of Radical Sunni elements sponsored by the Gulf States. To state that the "Cynics" are "anti-War" and/or "anti-Imperialist" is flat out wrong. They are not.

    What they are is anti-U.S. involvement in War and anti-U.S. or Western influence anywhere outside of the West and more specifically their own countries. The "cynics" have nothing to say about Iranian involvement in any of these countries or conflicts.

    Condemnation goes one way and one way only. The cynics are not at all anti-War... if they were they would object to EVERYONE's involvement in Syria, AND they would object to the regime's authoritarian nature.

    But... they don't. And because of that they don't get to be called "anti-War" or "anti-Imperialist", they just get to be called either "isolationist" or probably (and more accurately) "anti-American involvement" activists.

    "'Touch it dude' - President Barack Obama"

    by volleyboy1 on Wed Aug 08, 2012 at 11:20:05 AM PDT

    •  Agree, to a point... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      volleyboy1

      The sites on which much of the Cynical narrative depends do typically represent themselves as anti-war, anti-globalization, anti-imperialism, et cet. That is how they frame their opposition and since I'm interested here in narration I'll grant them that conceit. Now, as you suggest, that opposition is indeed not as internally consistent as one might like. There is an undeniable tension between 1) the "purity" expected of U.S. and Western policy and actions by Cynics and 2) the concessions to realpolitik or defense allowed for other actors.

      Real stupidity beats artificial intelligence every time. (Terry Pratchett)

      by angry marmot on Wed Aug 08, 2012 at 12:56:36 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

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