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Considering Noam Chomsky's take on Syria - article by Susan Dirgham

It has been an enigma for me and others that Noam Chomsky seems to be blind to the covert war against Syria. One would normally assume that any Chomsky follower could see the US (and allies) hand behind the 'Arab Spring'. Chomsky had described the basic blue print. After investigating, for me, the only possible explanation for Chomsky not joining the dots in regard to Syria relates to his close friendship with Robert Fisk: Is Chomsky deferring to Fisk on matters related to Syria?

My political activism began in the late 1960s when my brother became a draft resister and a founding member of SDS in Melbourne. I also joined SDS.  One critical aspect of the anti-war efforts carried out by SDS was the printing and distribution of well-researched articles  For example, my brother once wrote a paper on the secret US bombing of Laos, and I remember its long reference list.  Noam Chomsky was always referenced. 

In November 2011, Noam Chomsky visited Melbourne and he gave a talk at Deakin University (see link here).  He spoke about the US game plan for the Middle East and Africa. I had no problem accepting the points Chomsky made in that talk.  However, I was very disappointed he didn't acknowledge that the US had been involved in covert action in Syria since 1949, the year the CIA orchestrated its first successful military coup. That covert action continued into the 1950s

In his talk at Deakin University, Chomsky refers to the problem in the eyes of the US of 'successful independent nationalism' and how it can inspire other countries to pursue the 'same course', so you have 'a virus spreading contagion'.  (24 mins onwards)  Chomsky went on to explain how the 'virus' was destroyed by the US in Indo-China and South East Asia.  He gives Indonesia as the most important case.  

With Chomsky's insight into the US actions in Asia and Latin America and with his predictions for future US actions in Africa and the Middle East, I didn't understand why Chomsky couldn't recognise America's hands behind the 'Arab Spring', particularly in Syria.  (I was a teacher in Damascus for two years.  I arrived in 2003 when Syria was seen by George Bush and the neo-cons as belonging to the 'Axis of Evil', so Syrians were expecting the US to attempt to destroy Syria as it was destroying Iraq, but we weren't sure how it would do it.)  

What was a shock to me was that Chomsky supported the so-called 'revolution' in Syria

  • despite Syria being a successful independent country that the CIA had targeted as early as 1949 (see here for a scholarly reflection on the lessons that should be have been learnt from US covert action in Syria in 1957); 
  • despite the 'revolution' in Syria being supported by hawks in the US, notably John McCain and Hillary Clinton, 
  • despite the 'revolution' being supported by US allies in the ME, particularly Qatar and Saudi Arabia 
  • despite the extremist clerics in Qatar and Saudi Arabia (Sheik Adnan Arour and Sheik Yousef Qaradawi), who issued fatwas directed at the 'regime' and stirred up sectarian hatred, (in his talk at Deakin Uni, Chomsky speaks about how the US and Britain have used radical Islam to undermine 'secular nationalism', the undermining of Nasser, being a key example of this. -54mins. He notes the importance of Israel's role in 1967 and how this shaped US-Israeli relations.) 
  • despite Al-Jazeera's reportage of events in Syria being unreliable; it was owned by the Qatari royal family and reflected the foreign policy of that country (Al-Jazeera reporters started resigning in protest against its biased reporting on the 'Arab Spring' in 2011; Ghassan Bin Jeddo was one of the most prominent, another was Ali Hashem who resigned in 2012. Hashem was outspoken about his reasons for resigning. See here.)
  • despite the dirty role played by the then US ambassador to Syria Robert Ford (in 2011, a US journalist wrote that he had been involved in recruiting Arab/Muslim death squads, presumably to spread terror much as the US had done in Nicaragua with the Contras. The link between Robert Ford and a key US official involved in clandestine activities in Latin America has been noted. ). 

I had to look for an explanation for Chomsky seeming to be blind to the covert war against Syria.  I assumed any Chomsky follower could see the US (and allies) hand behind the 'Arab Spring'.  Chomsky had described the basic blue print.

For me, the only possible explanation for Chomsky not joining the dots in regard to Syria related to his close friendship with Robert Fisk: Chomsky was deferring to Fisk on matters related to Syria.  

Since the beginning of the crisis in Syria, I have asked myself,  'who is Robert Fisk?'  I ended up writing a pretty scathing article in response to that question.   I still don't know who Fisk is, and so I read anything he writes on Syria with a very critical eye.  His close friendship with the Lebanese Druze leader and former warlord Walid Jumblatt may help explain why he can be fickle and cryptic on Syria.  Jumblatt's stand on the 'revolution' in Syria conflicts radically with that of the Druze in Syria.  (Wikileaks cables reveal Jumblatt's alliance with Saudi Arabia .) 

My reference points for understanding events in Syria include Chomsky's basic outlining of the US history of crushing independent nationalism and its game plan for Africa and the ME.  My reading of the history of western interference in Syria in the 20th century is also a reference point.  I wrote an article about that titled, Anzacs and War - Considering a Syrian Perspective.  However, in the end, the people of Syria must be the key reference points for an understanding of their country. I am forever presenting their images on the blogs I manage. See this latest page of photos

As an anti-war activist these past 5 years, I have noted that there is a very small core (about 3) of Syrian Australians in Melbourne who lobby for the 'revolution' in Syria.  They can be recognised for their support for the Muslim Brotherhood because they invariably mention the crack down on the Muslim Brotherhood in Hama in 1982.  However, they fail to give any information about the terror that led up to that crack down or information about the backers of that Muslim Brotherhood 'rebellion'. Important US allies in the ME supported the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria, for example, Saddam Hussein and the King of Jordan, who later apologised for the role he played. Ref: Patrick Seale, 'Assad;The Struggle for the Middle East', (page 336)  

Patrick Seale quotes Hafiz Assad as saying the following about Saddam Hussein:

The hangman of Iraq was not content to kill tens of thousands of his own people. He came to Syria to carry out his favourite hobbies of killing, assassination and sabotage. That man has been sending arms for the criminals in Syria since he took power. 

I think people will find that those members of the Muslim Brotherhood who fled Syria in the 1980s and their children are the key Syrian lobbyists for the 'revolution' today. A 1982 CIA  report, Syria: Muslim Brotherhood Pressure Intensifies, highlights the critical role played by propaganda, and goes on to conclude:

The Syrian dissidents modus operandi will continue to be terrorism, particularly bombings and assassination. .. The covert war is unlikely to stop.. though there may be periodic lulls in the struggle. 

Although one must read a CIA report with a critical eye, it is interesting to note that according to the report the total casualties for the "Hama incident numbered about 2,000" (page 7 of the report).  This figure contradicts dramatically with that usually given by supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood. 

There is so much to consider when trying to understand Syria.  I hope that people will have a chance to hear the views of sober Syrians who maintain support for their secular army and state against the efforts of Syria's enemies to destroy their country.  In 2013, I recorded an interview with Syrian dissidents in Damascus, who present common sense reasons for supporting the national army, while at the same time being very critical of the security apparatus.  

See also Charmaine Narwani, a modern day 'Noam Chomsky' on the Middle East, which refers to the narratives that have been used to sustain the US-led destruction of Syria.