When thousands marched in the Daraa "Day of Dignity" protest on 18 March, Assad regime forces did open fire with live ammunition, killing four, but they still relied mainly on water cannon to disperse the protesters. That "first Friday" saw massive protests in Damascus, Daraa, Homs, Baniyas, Qamishl, Deir ez-Zor and many other Syrian cities and towns. To disrupt the funeral protest for those killed the next day in Daraa, the regime used tear gas and killed another six with live fire. How distant those days seem now. At the time it was called a brutal crackdown simply because the regime was using live ammo against peaceful protesters and killing unarmed civilians the way Israel does at its Gaza containment fence today.
Still Assad must have felt strong international constraints on his use of force. On that very day, 19 March 2011, NATO country warplanes, with UN authorization, made their first strikes against Gaddafi's armored columns approaching Benghazi. In the coming days, NATO forces would initiate a countrywide air campaign against Libya government forces that would involve more than 9,700 strike sorties before they few away. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was therefore understandably concerned that if he was seen as "going too far," in the eyes of the US and the other members of the "Responsibility to Protect" coalition, he too might be subjected to "the Gaddafi treatment."
|Anti-government protest in Daraa, 26 March 2011|
Still, the people would not be intimidated! On 24 March in Daraa, 20,000 people attended the funerals of nine protesters killed the day before, and the next day, Friday, 25 March 100,000 protested the Assad regime in Daraa. There were also large demonstrations in Latakia, Homs, Damascus, Hama, Deir ez-Zor and Raqqa. The next day, a Saturday, protesters in Daraa celebrated as the regime released 200 political prisoners.
That Sunday, 27 March, the Assad regime announced that it was conceding one of the main demands of the protesters. The government said it was going to cancel the draconian "State of Emergency" law that had been in effect for 48 years!
Hillary Clinton's "No" to Humanitarian Intervention
But that same Sunday something else happened that would have a dramatic impact on the course of the Syrian conflict. Hillary Clinton, in her official capacity as Secretary of State for the United States of America let Bashar al-Assad know that he didn't need to even worry about being given the "Gaddafi treatment." She did this in a Sunday morning Face the Nation interview with Bob Schieffer:
BOB SCHIEFFER: Madam Secretary, let me start with you. Tens of thousands of people have turned out protesting in Syria, which has been under the iron grip of the Assad for so many years now, one of the most repressive regimes in the world, I suppose. And when the demonstrators turned out, the regime opened fire and killed a number of civilians. Can we expect the United States to enter the conflict in the way we have entered the conflict in Libya?The headline that shot around the world was that unlike Libya, there would be no military intervention in Syria. This piece in The Express Tribune was typical:
SECRETARY CLINTON: No. Each of these situations is unique, Bob. Certainly, we deplore the violence in Syria. We call, as we have on all of these governments during this period of the Arab Awakening, as some have called it, to be responding to their people’s needs, not to engage in violence, permit peaceful protests, and begin a process of economic and political reform.
The situation in Libya, which engendered so much concern from around the international community, had a leader who used military force against the protestors from one end of his country to the other, who publically said things like, “We’ll show no mercy. We’ll go house to house.” And the international community moved with great speed...
BOB SCHIEFFER: But, I mean, how can that be worse than what has happened in Syria over the years, where Bashar Assad’s father killed 25,000 people at a lick? I mean, they open fire with live ammunition on these civilians. Why is that different from Libya?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I --
There’s a different leader in Syria now. Many of the members of Congress of both parties who have gone to Syria in recent months have said they believe he’s a reformer. What’s been happening there the last few weeks is deeply concerning, but there’s a difference between calling out aircraft and indiscriminately strafing and bombing your own cities [how ironic these words sound today!!] and then police actions, which, frankly, have exceeded the use of force that any of us would want to see.
No US military action planned on Syria for now: ClintonIn the Qatari daily newspaper The Peninsula, the headline was even more blunt:
27 March 2011
Washington: US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton yesterday said that the United States currently has no intention of launching a military intervention in Syria, despite its brutal crackdown that has left dozens of protesters dead.
Asked on CBS television's "Face the Nation" programme if Washington is planning military action similar to that launched in Libya, Clinton answered that it is not. "No, each of these situations is unique."
The message was well received by Assad. The government organized pro-government demonstrations the next day, and on 29 March pro-Assad demonstrations were held in Damascus, Aleppo, Hasaka, Homs, Tartous and Hama. Many workers were given two hours off to attend, and school children were given the day off.No attack on Syria: Clinton
The next day, 30 March 2011, Assad gave a speech in which he rescinded his promise to lift the state of emergency and blamed foreign conspirators for causing the uprising. The people were expecting the speech to announce the lifting of the emergency laws. When they took to the streets to protest in Latakia, the security forces killed five with gunfire. The next day they killed 25. After Hillary Clinton's statement, the Assad regime killing started its dramatic climb and the term "blood bath" was coming into common usage. He began using the army against protesters regularly. By the end of March, al-Balad, a rebellious neighborhood of 15,000 in Daraa had been surround by the Syrian army, cut off and facing famine, the first of a great many Syrian communities to be subjected to this treatment in coming years. Now that Assad knew there would be no pesky no-fly zones in his future, he commenced with the slaughter we now have come to know. By 24 May 2011, less than two months after Hillary Clinton called Assad a "reformer" and told him the US would not be entering the conflict militarily, the civilian death toll went from dozens to over a thousand, the first of 500 thousand that were to follow them to the grave in coming years.
The day after the Assad speech, Emre Dogru, an analyst at the Stratfor Global Intelligence private spooks company sent an email to his team. It was published by Wikileaks. In it he wrote:
Let's don't get bogged down in details. What I'm arguing is basically the following. Since Mubarak has gone and Gaddhafi is under fire, Assad has more than enough reasons to be concerned about Syrian regime's survival. Regardless of what our Syrian contacts tell us about Assad's confidence, we know and Assad knows that he is on the thin ice and needs US/Saudi support for survival. US/Saudi (and by proxy, Qatar) back Assad not because they fear things may get worse in Lebanon. Indeed, they think this is the best time to put pressure on Assad to give concessions in Lebanon due to his current weakness. Don't you really find it a bit unusual that Qatar, Saudi Arabia and United States did not even hesitate throwing their support behind Assad at the very beginning? Washington could have easily sent a warning to Damascus by saying that "Libya-like treatment for Syria is one of the options". France was already willing to get engaged in Syria. But US did the contrary.
Barack Obama's "Red Line"
It may have taken weeks for the Syrian conflict to claim its first one hundred victims, but by the time President Barack Obama made his infamous "Red Line" proclamation on 20 August 2012, the body count was rising at the rate of a hundred a day, and the new total was around 25,000. At least 44 Syrians, including two children, were killed in Daraa that very day, but when Chuck Todd raised the question of Syria with President Obama at the White House Press Conference that day, he did not concern himself with the slaughter of children, his question echoed narrow American interests:
Mr. President, could you update us on your latest thinking of where you think things are in Syria, and in particular, whether you envision using U.S. military, if simply for nothing else, the safe keeping of the chemical weapons, and if you're confident that the chemical weapons are safe?Then he asked something about Romney's tax returns as his second question. After first dealing with the Romney question, The President of the United States responded:
On Syria, obviously this is a very tough issue. I have indicated repeatedly that President al-Assad has lost legitimacy, that he needs to step down. So far, he hasn’t gotten the message, and instead has double downed in violence on his own people. The international community has sent a clear message that rather than drag his country into civil war he should move in the direction of a political transition. But at this point, the likelihood of a soft landing seems pretty distant.At the time, few Americans noticed the impromptu promise the President had made to the Syrian people in our name. I know of none that objected, although that would have been the time to do so, when the promise was made in our name, not when the terms had come due.
I have, at this point, not ordered military engagement in the situation. But the point that you made about chemical and biological weapons is critical. That’s an issue that doesn’t just concern Syria; it concerns our close allies in the region, including Israel. It concerns us. We cannot have a situation where chemical or biological weapons are falling into the hands of the wrong people.
We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus. That would change my equation.
We have communicated in no uncertain terms with every player in the region that that’s a red line for us and that there would be enormous consequences if we start seeing movement on the chemical weapons front or the use of chemical weapons. That would change my calculations significantly.
All right, thank you, everybody.
The people who did notice were those on all sides in the Syrian conflict, but chemical weapons were not a fetish for them, so that aspect was of little importance. In the 17 months since Secretary Clinton had taken away even the threat of US military intervention, Assad regime violence against Syrians that opposed him had grown at an ever accelerating rate. Assad had graduated from forcing his police to use live ammunition on unarmed protesters to using tanks and machine guns against protesters, pouring artillery and rocket fire down on resistive communities or using his helicopters and jets to drop everything but chemical weapons on them, including conventional HE bombs, napalm, white phosphorus and barrel-bombs filled with shrapnel. Now the US President had drawn a red line in the sand. Now he had told Assad his limits. He could continue to do all he was doing, and more, to brutally suppress any opposition to his dictatorship, and so long as he didn't mess with the US fetish, it was all good! The promise made by his Secretary of State when the uprising was less than a month old would still hold. That was the message that was received in the region. Many, including Syrian Revolution Digest, Susan Ahmad, a Syrian activist, Dr. L. Brnd on Ynet News and Linux Beach, called Obama's "red line" a "green light" to continue, and even step up, the killing by conventional means.
#Assad " Green Light" reaction to @BarackObama 's statement of "red line" was: 600+ murdered in #DarayaMassacre #Syria— Mouna Hashem منى ☪† (@mannoush) August 29, 2012
The truth is that Syria doesn't need a green light when dealing with it's internal affairs, neither from our allies or our enemies. [03:42]In the following week Syrian Observatory for Human Rights [SOHR] estimated 320 people were killed in Daraya in five days. Anwar Saadedine, a former Syrian Arab Army brigadier general that had deflected to the Free Syrian Army told the Daily Beast:
“A month ago, 100 to 200 people were dying a day. Before that it was 50. Now it’s between 300 and 400. Syrian people are being slaughtered every day, and the world is watching.”Near the end of August, when French President, Francois Hollande called on Assad's opposition to unite and form a provisional government, the Obama administration called the move "premature." Abdelbaset Sieda of the Syrian National Council slammed him for that.
Obama also positioned the CIA in Libya and Turkey to ensure that Assad's opposition got no access to the one thing that could have prevented Assad's aerial slaughter, effective anti-aircraft missiles, i.e. MANPADS, like the ones found in Gaddafi's liberated arsenal. Had the FSA been able to stop Assad's aerial assaults in this period before the Russians came to his rescue, there may have never been a Syrian refugee crisis, or at least not so much. Maybe Assad would be on trial in the Hague already. [His day will come yet!]
SOHR put the death toll at over 42,000 from 18 March 2011 to 6 December 2012. CW wasn't being used, but such nasty weapons as cluster bombs filled with napalm were, and already there were signs that Assad was preparing to use chemical weapons.
#FSA rebels finding disturbing amount of chemical warfare suits, gas masks as they seize military depots while assaulting #Damascus. #Syria— Joseph Trevor Antley (@jtantley) December 9, 2012
On 23 December 2012 we saw the first reports of a "sarin-like gas" being used by the regime, but only seven people in Homs were killed so, presumably, it didn't yet cross Obama's "red line."
SYRIAN REGIME IS SPRAYING NERVE GAS IN #HOMS. HERE ARE SOME OF THE INFLICTED PATIENTS: http://t.co/m9JI6IbY #Syria #AssadCrimes 12/23 @AC360— Middle Easterner (@HouriaWaBas) December 24, 2012
Barack Obama helps ISIS grow
It is well known what happened next. Obama reneged on his promise to strike Assad militarily if Assad ever used chemical weapons in a way that couldn't be denied. If the truth be revealed, Obama only meant his "red line" statement to be a green light for Assad. Since Assad was massacring people just fine without using CW, Obama could hope he wouldn't have the audacity to use the likes of sarin. Now Assad, with Putin standing behind him, had called his bluff.
It wasn't just Obama that betrayed the Syrian people, since he put it to a congressional vote, and many influential voices on both the Right and the Left spoke against any military action, it is safe to say America reneged on her promise. Obama even stopped the French from taking their own independent action and in September, Obama joined Russian and China to block an ICC war crimes prosecution of Assad. For close observers, it was becoming increasingly clear which side the United States was really on.
Back on 27 March 2011, the same Sunday Bouthaina Shaaban announced the Assad regime would be rescinding the state of emergency, and Hillary Clinton announced the US was rescinding any R2P with regards to Syria, Tom Malinowski, Washington director of Human Rights Watch, wrote about the ongoing NATO intervention in Libya:
[W]e should acknowledge what could be happening in eastern Libya right now had Qaddafi’s forces continued their march. The dozens of burned out tanks, rocket launchers, and missiles bombed at the eleventh hour on the road to Benghazi would have devastated the rebel stronghold if Qaddafi’s forces had been able to unleash them indiscriminately, as they did in other, smaller rebel-held towns, like Zawiyah, Misrata, and Adjabiya. Qaddafi’s long track-record of arresting, torturing, disappearing, and killing his political opponents to maintain control suggests that had he recaptured the east, a similar fate would have awaited those who supported the opposition there. Over a hundred thousand Libyans already fled to Egypt fearing Qaddafi’s assault; hundreds of thousands more could have followed if the east had fallen. The remaining population, and those living in refugee camps abroad, would have felt betrayed by the West, which groups like Al Qaeda would undoubtedly have tried to exploit.
|Veterans for Peace marching side-by-side with Assad's flag|
He used chemical weapons here as he has other places before and since, to get at people hiding from his bombs in basements. When he has already turned the buildings above them into rubble by conventional means, but the people are still holding out by going underground, heavier than air poison gases become a very attractive weapon. This military reality is refused by the Assad apologists that always ask, after any Syria CW attack big enough to make the news: But why would he use CW when he is already winning without them? They've been asking that for five years now!
These weapons also terrorize the people, they kill children first, and they feed the West's CW fetish. This last may be the real motivation behind these news making attacks, because the West has made a fetish of these attacks, turning them into whodunits, as a way of ignoring the daily slaughter everyone knows Assad is responsible for. The white Left has especially cultivated this fetish.
With the CW deal brokered by Putin, Assad agreed to give up all the CW he was willing to admit to having. Obama settled for this in lieu of airstrikes; Assad was being rehabilitated as a player in international affairs. The threat of NATO military action had been removed, and most importantly, his military fortunes were improving on the ground in Syria, at least partially because of Obama's inaction after the Ghouta sarin attack.
While the lack of US action was a big plus for Assad, the effects on his opposition were otherwise. This is a side of the question that received very little consideration in the US debate, although the ramifications were to be huge. My friends in the Syrian American Council told me that it is hard to overestimate the negative effect on the morale of the opposition of Obama's failure to take military action. Jami Dettmer, writing in The Daily Beast put it this way in early 2015:
the "already high skepticism over American policy toward the war in Syria" among the opposition "skyrocketed when the Obama administration failed to enforce in 2013 its “red line” against Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons, and the skepticism has merely grown since."Obama's betrayal dealt a body blow to the revolutionary opposition. They understood that his "red line" threat offered them no protection from the regime's daily slaughter. Now they found out the even the promise to do something if Assad ever used chemical weapons was an empty one. A revolution is always short on air power. The most powerful "weapon" it has is the fighting spirit of the people. The demoralization that set in in Syria, while the US anti-war movement was celebrating its victory, was tremendous.
The democratic and progressive forces, both among the fighters and in civil society, saw their positions undermined. Their people were being slaughtered, and nobody in the West, not even the so-called Peace Movement, was coming to their aid. Those reactionary forces that always counseled distrust of the West and western ideas, reversion back to old ways of thinking and old ways doing things, of falling back on religion in the face of abandonment by the so-called 'sons of liberty' to the brutal savagery of the regime, had a powerful new talking point. Many fighters left the FSA and joined Islamic extremists groups, principally Da'ish, others just dropped out, went home if they could, or more likely, joined the refugee stream. Few noticed at the time, but Obama's betrayal was already contributing to a Syrian refugee stream that would become overwhelming in a few years. What was 525,000 Syrian refugees in December 2012, grew to 1 million as of 6 March 2013. By the end of 2013 that number had swelled to 2 million, half of them children. By 2016, the number of Syrian refugees had grown to 5 million.
One year ago today, number of Syrian refugees was 230k. It is now 2m. HALF are #childrenofsyria #Syria— UNICEF (@UNICEF) September 3, 2013
Statistics of #Raqqa’s battles— الرقة تذبح بصمت (@Raqqa_SL) October 16, 2017
since the declaration till the end of the battle
09.06.2017 to 15.10.2017#Raqqa #Syria #ISIS #YPG #USA . pic.twitter.com/BZdCAZL7OF
|Members of Civil Society, a youth group, painting on a wall in liberated Raqqa|
When I visited that month, the city was ruled by a coalition of militias, and it was possible to move around as a woman without a headscarf. I met with an Alawite nurse who worked alongside Sunni peers. And I talked to Abdullah al-Khalil, a prominent lawyer before the war, who as head of the local council continued to pay street cleaners salaries and was trying to secure enough money to keep other services going.After America's betrayal, ISIS was able to take over when the 14 chiefs of the largest clans gave an oath of allegiance to Emir Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. This was proceed by the kidnapping and murder of hundreds of Raqqa activists by ISIS and several suicide car bomb attacks on the FSA brigade headquarters. This was in late October 2013.
About the same time, 18 October 2013, Mohammed Alaa Ghanem of the Syrian American Council wrote a paper with the lengthy title "America’s Arms-Length Approach to Syria is Backfiring. Nominally Western-supported opposition groups are rapidly losing members and losing ground, due in large part to ambivalent American policy." Trying to explain why the newly issued Communiqué No. 1 called for the consolidation of the revolution "under an Islamic framework ... with Sharia as the main source of legislation,” he wrote:
First, the chemical weapons debate in the West following the regime’s August 21 attack against the Damascus suburbs of Ghouta made it clear to Syrians that the international community wasn’t concerned with how many people were killed in Syria, but only in what way people were being killed. They heard President Obama describe the Syrian crisis as a “civil war we should not get involved in,” and were disillusioned with the president’s bungled response, adding to the sense that the West’s policy of seduction and abandonment left little hope for Western support to end the war.ISIS was on a roll now. It captured Fallujah, Iraq on 4 January 2014. It consolidated its military hold on Raqqa on 14 January 2014, and it took Mosul, Iraq on 10 June 2014. These gains were only made possible by the recruitment ISIS was able to do in the aftermath of Obama's decision, with America's blessing, not to honor his word.
Second, the communiqué reflects a split between Islamists and extremists on the ground. Although it explicitly denounces the Syrian National Coalition of Opposition and Revolutionary Forces – or Etilaf as the opposition umbrella group is known – the communiqué sends an indirect message to al-Qaida-linked Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS) – the worst of the extremist groups – that ISIS will be isolated. Instead of fighting Assad, ISIS recently declared war on the Free Syrian Army (FSA)....Most analysts ignore the co-dependency between the Assad regime and ISIS, highlighted by the fact that few ISIS positions have come under aerial bombardment by the regime, which has aimed its bombs on FSA positions and civilians instead.
Communiqué No. 1 arose due to a variety of factors on the ground, and a confused U.S. policy towards Syria has made clear that the West has no intention of helping Syrians end their struggle against more than four decades of one family’s rule. Without addressing their underlying grievances, Washington risks further alienating rebel forces in Syria, thereby hurting its long term interests in the country and the wider region.
Dr. Zaher Sahloul is a doctor from Chicago and a member of the Syrian-American Medical Society. He had been to Syria to treat the wounded and dying. He met President Obama at a reception in 2013, two months before the big sarin attack. In February 2016, SAMS issued a 62 page report, A New Normal: Ongoing Chemical Weapons Attacks in Syria, that documented 161 such attacks resulting in 1,491 deaths, 69 CW attacks in 2015 alone. Later in 2016, he told Amy Goodman on Democracy Now about this meeting with Obama:
I told him that his legacy will be determined by what he does and what he does not do in Syria. He laughed, and he said that, "But my legacy will be determined by other things." I told him, "Mr. President, your legacy will be determined—the most important factor will be Syria." I still believe that Syria will determine his legacy. And the fact that President Obama did not follow on his pledges when he had these red lines and did not enforce it, I think this is what is causing the chaos and the extremism and the refugee crisis that we are facing right now.Now President Donald Trump, for all his hatred of Barack Obama, and all of his frenzied attempts to overturn everything Obama even touched, is nevertheless steadfast in carrying forward Obama's policy of leaving Assad in charge. In spite of a few harmless air attacks against an empty airfield and abandoned CW facilities, coordinated with the Russians in advance to insure that no real harm came to them or their allies, Trump is moving forward with the same US policy of leaving the Syrian people at the mercy of the fascist Assad dictatorship. Although the white Left has for years given US imperial support for Assad cover with the ridiculous charge that the US has been engaged in a policy of "regime change" in Syria, Trump has dropped even the call for Assad "to step down." Last December Robin Wright did a piece in The New Yorker about Trump's policy of now openly stated "regime retention" in Syria:
I am sure that the Trump Administration would work to make sure the next election is fair. We all know how Trump feels about rigged elections. Those on the white Left that have complained for years about humanitarian intervention needn't get their panties in a bunch, Trump has every intention of allowing the murderers to continue their grisly work unimpeded. He repeated this policy again on 29 March 2018, when he told a rally "we're knocking the hell out of ISIS. We'll be coming out of Syria, like, very soon. Let the other people take care of it now." The "other people" are the Russians, the Iranians and the Assad regime, precisely those forces that are most responsible for the killing of over a half-million Syrians and counting.
Trump to Let Assad Stay Until 2021, as Putin Declares Victory in Syria
11 December 2017
Despite the deaths of as many as half a million people, dozens by chemical weapons, in the Syrian civil war, the Trump Administration is now prepared to accept President Bashar al-Assad’s continued rule until Syria’s next scheduled Presidential election, in 2021, according to U.S. and European officials. The decision reverses repeated U.S. statements that Assad must step down as part of a peace process. ...more
The tragedy that has become Syria could have only happen with America's forbearance, that imperial "neglect" is grounded in white supremacy and the white Left has led the way.
Syria is the Paris Commune of the 21st Century!
Dedicated to my friend Eddie
Obituary for Edgar (Eddie) Edinger (for LA Times)
Edgar (Eddie) Edinger, Sept 8, 1919 – April 13, 2018.
Edgar (Eddie) Edinger was born in Budapest, Hungary, and moved to Vienna, Austria in early childhood. He grew up in Vienna, and always considered himself Austrian. In 1938, when Hitler took over Austria, he was 18, Jewish, and prime draft age. He went to Switzerland, where he stayed for more than a year, giving him an abiding affection for Switzerland. He and his mother were able to emigrate to the United States, sailing on the last ship to leave France before the war began. He enlisted in the US Army and volunteered for overseas duty. The Army sent him to India, where he spent the remainder of the war years. Upon his return to the US in 1946, he moved to Los Angeles, where he lived for the rest of his life. He spent more than 10 years working in the clothing industry, and helped organize unions in some of the shops where he worked. He later was employed by the LA Department of Water and Power, until his retirement in 1980. Eddie was a proud member of Veterans for Peace, and of his union (IBEW, Local 18). He was active in a number of other groups working for peace, social justice, and the environment, including the Unitarian Church, the ACLU and the Sierra Club. He loved folk music, both playing it and hearing it. He sang and played the guitar, and was a founding member of Songmakers, since their beginning in Griffith Park. He sang in the Swiss singing society Harmonie for more than 25 years. Having grown up in Austria, he loved the mountains, and continued to ski into his 80’s.
He is survived by his wife of 60 years, Iris, his daughter Karen Edinger Belkic (Dzevad), his sons Steven (Maricruz) and Evan (Jennifer), and six grandsons (his “raskie-boys”) ranging in age from 23 to 10.
Eddie passed away peacefully with his wife and son by his side. Everyone remembers Eddie for his friendliness, cheerfulness, and his love of all that life has to offer.
A celebration of Eddie’s life will be held at 2 PM on Saturday, May 5, 2018, at Emerson Unitarian Church, 7304 Jordan Ave., Canoga Park, 91303. In lieu of flowers, donations in his memory are requested for Veterans for Peace, or to an organization of one’s choice.