On 6 February, a cry of moral outrage arose from that collection of selfless humanitarians otherwise known as The Times newspaper. Responding to fighting in the Syrian city of Homs, which has included government shelling of civilian areas variously reported to have claimed scores or hundreds of lives, a Times leading article observed:
‘Pensioners, the sick, women, children – none was spared as the military took revenge on the centre of opposition to the Assad dictatorship.’1
The leader pulled no punches in describing ‘the carnage the regime’s minders have tried to hide: corpses with their eyes gouged out, their skulls crushed, their faces burnt off.’
The editors fumed:
‘Russia’s moral bankruptcy and China’s self-serving blindness have been denounced from the Gulf to Morocco…’
The proposed UN resolution might have inflicted far worse violence on the Syrian people. It might have abandoned the Syrian people to the depredations of the West
As we saw in Part 1, and as also in this case, the denunciations are mostly offered by people drowning in hypocrisy. The Times concluded that, ‘no veto can, in the end, save [the Syrian government] from the fury of a nation so humiliatingly brutalized’. Syrian government violence is real and horrific, but not a word in the article commented on the armed fighters in Syria that are reported to have killed many hundreds of Syrian troops and police. Unable to perceive the Western interests described by former Nato chief Wesley Clark (See Part 1), The Times was able to identify cynical self-interest elsewhere:
‘Russia is determined, above all, to protect its naval presence in Syria, thwart Western interests in the region and shield a regime that now owes it an existential debt.’
Compare The Times’ response to Israel’s far more destructive Operation Cast Lead offensive in the Gaza Strip between 27 December 2008 and 18 January 2009. The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem reported:
‘The magnitude of the harm to the population was unprecedented: 1,385 Palestinians were killed, 762 of whom did not take part in the hostilities. Of these, 318 were minors under age 18. More than 5,300 Palestinians were wounded, of them over 350 seriously so. Israel also caused enormous damage to residential dwellings, industrial buildings, agriculture and infrastructure for electricity, sanitation, water and health, which was on the verge of collapse prior to the operation. According to UN figures, Israel destroyed more than 3,500 residential dwellings and 20,000 people were left homeless.’
Three Israeli civilians and six Israeli soldiers were killed by Palestinian fire.
In a leader, The Times sternly rejected the subsequent Goldstone Report – a mission established by the UN to investigate war crimes during the crisis. Goldstone found that crimes had been committed by both sides. Understandably, the report focused heavily on the ‘disproportionate use of force’ by the Israelis in its ‘deliberate targeting’ of Palestinian civilians. Despite the casualty figures, The Times found this absurd because ‘there is no equivalence between the actions of Israel in self-defence and those of Hamas in seeking to destroy it’.
Describing the offensive as merely an ‘incursion’ (the Syrian government’s attacks in Homs are a ‘massacre’ for The Times) the editors wrote of Israel:
‘It had no choice but to respond to [Palestinian] provocations.’2
Despite the obvious scale of the carnage, The Times claimed: ‘Israel adheres to standards higher than those of its enemies.’
A recent leader in the Independent expressed similar revulsion at Russia and China’s veto: ‘The violence in Homs in recent days – with fears of a full-scale military assault to come – is a direct result of their unforgivable self-interest’. It added:
‘Moscow has abandoned the Syrian people to the depredations of a regime that is daily becoming more murderous.’
As we have seen, the reality could be close to the reverse – the proposed resolution might have inflicted far worse violence on the Syrian people. It might have abandoned the Syrian people to the depredations of the West. As for the ‘unforgivable self-interest’ noted by the Independent, do we really believe – after Iraq and Libya – that US-UK interests are less self-centred?
Again, by contrast, two weeks into Israel’s Operation Cast Lead offensive, an Independent leader commented on 10 January 2009:
‘Israel’s invasion of Gaza seemed depressingly far from an endgame last night, despite the encouraging signs from the UN Security Council. Although the Security Council produced a ceasefire resolution, it was fatally undermined by the American abstention.’
The US’s undermining of UN action was not widely condemned as a ‘travesty’ at the time – how Hillary Clinton described the vetoing of the UN resolution on Syria, with the Independent’s approval. Instead, the Independent noted of Operation Cast Lead:
‘A good deal of nonsense has been spoken this past week regarding Israel’s military operation. The most egregious contribution has come from a senior Catholic cardinal, who has compared the Gaza Strip to a “concentration camp”. The comparison is entirely spurious…
‘Moreover, the idea being pushed by some propagandists in the West that the Israeli state is deliberately setting out to kill innocent Palestinians is just as offensive and wrong. The Israel administration’s priority in this operation is to defend its citizens from rocket attacks by Hamas.’
Arming Bahrain – a William Hague tragi-comedy
‘More than 2,000 people have died since Russia and China vetoed the last draft resolution in October 2011. How many more need to die before Russia and China allow the UN security council to act?’
Tragi-comically, two days later, the Independent reported:
‘Two Cabinet ministers will be challenged today over fears that British-made weapons have been used to suppress dissidents in Bahrain and Egypt.
‘Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, and William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, are to be tackled by MPs over arms sales worth more than £12m to Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Egypt in just three months.’
The article continued:
‘Between July and September 2011, Britain sold weapons worth £2.2m to Bahrain, of which £1.3m was specifically for military use. It included gun silencers, naval guns and weapons sights.
‘At least 35 people died as the Gulf state’s monarchy crushed the so-called Pearl Revolution last year. It called in help from its ally, Saudi Arabia, which sent troops and armored vehicles across the causeway linking the countries.
‘Over the same period £8.9m-worth of arms were sold to Saudi Arabia, of which £4.5m was for military use. It included parts for combat aircraft, for army vehicles and for machine guns.
‘As well as the suspicion that the UK could have indirectly helped to put down the Bahraini uprising, MPs will also raise concerns over Saudi Arabia’s human rights record.’
Unfortunately, US and UK journalists almost never join the evidential dots for and against Hague and Cable’s claimed enthusiasm for ‘humanitarian intervention’. Hence this comment in a Guardian leader:
‘Does Russia really want to be the global protector of tyrants who turn their guns on their own people simply in order to get one back against the West after the overthrow of a worthless leader like Gaddafi?… Russia has put itself on the wrong side of the argument.’
The West’s extraordinary history of supporting tyrants – including Suharto, Somoza, Trujillo, Armas, Pinochet, Diem, Amin, Saddam Hussein, Gaddafi, Saleh, Mubarak, and many others – makes this laughable. So, too, does the travesty of the US’s long history of vetoing UN resolutions intended to protect the Palestinians and others. The Guardian added:
‘There is a case, of an extremely limited sort, to be made for some of Russia’s obstructionism over Syria. Moscow has decided it was misled by the West over Libya. It is therefore determined not to help sanction any sort of repetition over Syria (even though the vetoed UN motion explicitly renounced regime change and the use of force).’
Moscow has ‘decided’ nothing – it was misled over Libya. The UN did not authorize the regime change that the West achieved by transforming UN Resolution 1973 into a weapon of mass destruction.
Analysis of the wording of the failed UN resolution on Syria also makes a nonsense of the Guardian’s assurances on the West having ‘renounced regime change and the use of force’ – ‘further measures’ would have been sought after 21 days in the event of ‘non-compliance’.
The BBC’s Paul Wood, a safe pair of hands reporting from Homs, Syria, commented:
‘In the first hour or so, we heard a lot of gunfire from rebel fighters of the Free Syria Army. It was a futile gesture – Kalashnikovs against artillery.’
In October 2004, reporting from Iraq’s third city, Fallujah, the same Paul Wood referred to the ‘so-called “resistance fighters”’ of Fallujah. 3
In 2004, Fallujah faced a rather more formidable foe than does Homs. It was subjected to all-out assault by 3rd Battalion/1st US Marines, 3rd Battalion/5th Marines, the US Army’s 2nd Battalion/7th Cavalry, the 1st Battalion/8th Marines, 1st Battalion/3rd Marines, and the Army’s 2nd Battalion/2nd Infantry, totalling 10,500 heavily armed troops. Some 2,000 Iraqi soldiers joined the attack. These were supported by massive air support, as well as Marine and Army artillery battalions. The 850-strong 1st battalion of the British Black Watch regiment was tasked to help encircle the city.
This was more than shelling; it was a major, World War Two-style offensive on residential areas.
On 30 November 2004, the UN’s Integrated Regional Information Network described the results:
‘Approximately 70 per cent of the houses and shops were destroyed in the city and those still standing are riddled with bullets.’ 4
In January 2005, an Iraqi doctor, Ali Fadhil, reported of the city:
‘It was completely devastated, destruction everywhere. It looked like a city of ghosts. Falluja used to be a modern city; now there was nothing. We spent the day going through the rubble that had been the centre of the city; I didn’t see a single building that was functioning.’
Paul Wood commented from Homs:
‘“The UN abandoned us,” one Homs resident told me. “Who’s going to help us now, who’s going to help us now?”
‘People said that to me over and over; that they felt abandoned, alone.
‘After the failure of the vote in the UN Security Council at the weekend, they have lost hope that the outside world will help.
‘They expect the worst from a regime they fear can now act without restraint.’ We can recall nothing comparable from Wood in November 2004 as Fallujah was being devastated by the US-UK attack. Then, it would have been politically incorrect for a BBC journalist to suggest that Iraqi civilians ‘felt abandoned’, that they had ‘lost hope that the outside world will help’. After all, the BBC portrayed US and UK forces attacking Iraq as liberators. How could the people require saving from the troops sent to ‘save’ them? As Wood himself said in December 2005:
‘The coalition came to Iraq in the first place to bring democracy and human rights.’5
Ironically, like other media that dismissed highly credible scientific analyses of the death toll in Iraq – published in one of the world’s most respected medical journals, The Lancet – the BBC has been reporting hundreds of deaths in Homs based on anecdotal evidence and highly questionable sources. Robert Dreyfuss comments in The Nation:
The BBC portrayed US and UK forces attacking Iraq as liberators. How could the people require saving from the troops sent to ‘save’ them?
‘The killings in Syria are ugly, but no doubt wildly exaggerated. Nearly all, repeat all, of the information about the violence in Syria is coming from a handful of exiled Syrian opposition groups backed by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and various Western powers. Did 200 people really die in Homs this past weekend, conveniently just on the eve of the UNSC debate [on the resolution]? Who knows? The only source for the fishy information, though ubiquitously quoted in the New York Times, the wire services, the network news and elsewhere, are the suspect Syrian opposition groups, who have axes galore to grind.’
A key source for BBC reporting has long been the British-based Syrian Observatory of Human Rights. Aisling Byrne writes in the Asian Times:
‘Of the three main sources for all data on numbers of protesters killed and numbers of people attending demonstrations – the pillars of the narrative – all are part of the “regime change” alliance. The Syrian Observatory of Human Rights, in particular, is reportedly funded through a Dubai-based fund with pooled (and therefore deniable) Western-Gulf money… What appears to be a nondescript British-based organization, the Observatory has been pivotal in sustaining the narrative of the mass killing of thousands of peaceful protesters using inflated figures, “facts”, and often exaggerated claims of “massacres” and even recently “genocide”.’
In an interview with ABC News, the Syrian Observatory’s Dr Mousab Azzawi gave an idea of the dispassionate tone of the analysis: ‘In two words, this is a genocide.’
Just as deep media scepticism in response to the peer-reviewed Lancet studies on Iraq was near-universal, so blind faith in the claims of Syrian ‘activist groups’ has become the accepted norm. A Telegraph leader even combined the two biases to paint the preferred picture:
‘Over the weekend, the Syrian government carried out the most savage reprisals against its opponents since the recent uprising began. More than 200 people are thought to have been killed by artillery, tanks and mortars in Homs. That figure compares with the worst daily spikes in violence in Iraq in 2006 and 2007. And the death total in Syria over the past 11 months – more than 5,600, according to UN estimates – is well above that over the same period for its still troubled eastern neighbour.’
That is true, if we accept unsubstantiated reports from ‘activists’ in Syria. And if we ignore The Lancet’s science in favour of figures supplied by the obviously flawed and incomplete Iraq Body Count.
On the BBC’s Newsnight programme, high-profile anchor Jeremy Paxman opened the programme with:
‘We don’t know precisely how many people have been killed by the Syrian army as President Assad tries to murder those who oppose his dictatorship. But we do know that they include children. All this while China and Russia provide a form of diplomatic protection.’ 6
Why did the West prioritize regime change over peace in Libya, at such horrific cost? And why is it doing so now in Syria?
Has Paxman ever accused Bush, Blair, Obama, Cameron or their armies of trying ‘to murder’ their opponents?
And Paxman’s opening question to Alexander Nekrasov, former Kremlin advisor: ‘Are you comfortable having the blood of Syrians on your hands?’
Imagine Paxman asking something comparable of a high-ranking British or American politician. But in fact Paxman could pose a similar question to Hague, Cameron and Obama: Why did the West prioritize regime change over peace in Libya, at such horrific cost? And why is it doing so now in Syria?
Paxman’s Newsnight colleague, Mark Urban, commented helpfully: ‘The US, UK, and France have emphasized that their approach on Syria has been motivated by humanitarian compassion and the desire to see a transition to democracy, rather than a desire to strike a blow against Iran by toppling its close friend President Assad.’
Wesley Clark’s revelations, the facts, and simple common sense, suggest that genuine answers will not be found in the ‘humanitarian compassion’ of a Western political system notoriously in thrall to corporate interests.
- Leading article, ‘Moral Blindness; Russia and China acted for self-serving motives in vetoing the Security Council's condemnation of the bloodshed in Syria,’ The Times, 6 February 2012
- Leading article, ‘The Gaza Trap; The Goldstone report is biased and Europeans on the UN Human Rights Council should reject it rather than abstaining,’ The Times, 16 October 2009
- Wood, BBC1, 13:00 News, October 22, 2004
- ‘Fallujah still needs more supplies despite aid arrival,’ www.irinnews.org, 30 November 2004
- Paul Wood, BBC1, News at Ten, 22 December 2005
- Newsnight, 6 February 2012