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...