By Gaius Publius, a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States and frequent contributor to DownWithTyranny, digby, Truthout, and Naked Capitalism. Follow him on Twitter @Gaius_Publius, Tumblr and Facebook. Originally published at at Down With Tyranny. GP article archive here.
Proposed pipeline routes through the Middle East to gas markets in Europe. The purple line is the Western-supported Qatar-Turkey pipeline. All of the nations it passes through — Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Turkey (all highlighted in red) — have agreed to it … except Syria. The red line is the “Islamic Pipeline” from Iran through Iraq into Syria. See text below for further explanation. (Source: MintPress News; click to enlarge)
Summary first: We have been at war in Syria over pipelines since 1949. This is just the next mad phase.
I’m not sure most Americans have figured out what’s happening in Syria, because so much of what we hear is confusing to us, and really, we know so little of the context for it. Is it an insurgency against a brutal ruler? Is it a group of insurgencies struggling for power in a nearly failed state? Is it a proxy war expressing the territorial and ideological interests of the U.S., Russia, Turkey and Iran?
Or something else?
According to Robert F. Kennedy Jr. it is something else — a war between competing national interests to build, or not build, a pipeline to the Mediterranean so natural gas can be exported to Europe. Inconveniently for Syria, that nation lies along an obvious pipeline route.
Which makes it another war between interests for money — something not very hard to understand at all.
Here’s Kennedy’s argument via EcoWatch. This is a long piece, well worth a full read, but I’ll try to present just the relevant sections here.
The Historical Context: Decades of CIA-Sponsored Coups and Counter-Coups in Syria
Kennedy’s introductory section contains an excellent examination of the history of U.S. involvement in Syria starting in the 1950s with the Cold War machinations of the Eisenhower-appointed Dulles brothers, John Foster Dulles, the Secretary of State, and Allen Dulles, the head of the CIA. Together, they effectively ruled U.S. foreign policy.
Kennedy writes (my emphasis):
Syria: Another Pipeline War
… America’s unsavory record of violent interventions in Syria—obscure to the American people yet well known to Syrians—sowed fertile ground for the violent Islamic Jihadism that now complicates any effective response by our government to address the challenge of ISIS. So long as the American public and policymakers are unaware of this past, further interventions are likely to only compound the crisis. Moreover, our enemies delight in our ignorance.
… [W]e need to look at history from the Syrians’ perspective and particularly the seeds of the current conflict. Long before our 2003 occupation of Iraq triggered the Sunni uprising that has now morphed into the Islamic State, the CIA had nurtured violent Jihadism as a Cold War weapon and freighted U.S./Syrian relationships with toxic baggage.
During the 1950’s, President Eisenhower and the Dulles brothers rebuffed Soviet treaty proposals to leave the Middle East a cold war neutral zone and let Arabs rule Arabia. Instead, they mounted a clandestine war against Arab Nationalism—which CIA Director Allan [sic] Dulles equated with communism—particularly when Arab self-rule threatened oil concessions. They pumped secret American military aid to tyrants in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Iraq and Lebanon favoring puppets with conservative Jihadist ideologies which they regarded as a reliable antidote to Soviet Marxism. At a White House meeting between the CIA’s Director of Plans, Frank Wisner, and Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, in September of 1957, Eisenhower advised the agency, “We should do everything possible to stress the ‘holy war’ aspect.”
The CIA began its active meddling in Syria in 1949—barely a year after the agency’s creation. Syrian patriots had declared war on the Nazis, expelled their Vichy French colonial rulers and crafted a fragile secularist democracy based on the American model. But in March of 1949, Syria’s democratically elected president, Shukri-al-Kuwaiti, hesitated to approve the Trans Arabian Pipeline, an American project intended to connect the oil fields of Saudi Arabia to the ports of Lebanon via Syria. In his book, Legacy of Ashes, CIA historian Tim Weiner recounts that in retaliation, the CIA engineered a coup, replacing al-Kuwaiti with the CIA’s handpicked dictator, a convicted swindler named Husni al-Za’im. Al-Za’im barely had time to dissolve parliament and approve the American pipeline before his countrymen deposed him, 14 weeks into his regime.
Kennedy then details the history of coups and counter-coups in and against Syria, and concludes this section with this:
Thanks in large part to Allan Dulles and the CIA, whose foreign policy intrigues were often directly at odds with the stated policies of our nation, the idealistic path outlined in the Atlantic Charter was the road not taken. In 1957, my grandfather, Ambassador Joseph P. Kennedy, sat on a secret committee charged with investigating CIA’s clandestine mischief in the Mid-East. The so called “Bruce Lovett Report,” to which he was a signatory, described CIA coup plots in Jordan, Syria, Iran, Iraq and Egypt, all common knowledge on the Arab street, but virtually unknown to the American people who believed, at face value, their government’s denials.
The report blamed the CIA for the rampant anti-Americanism that was then mysteriously taking root “in the many countries in the world today.” … A parade of Iranian and Syrian dictators, including Bashar al-Assad and his father, have invoked the history of the CIA’s bloody coups as a pretext for their authoritarian rule, repressive tactics and their need for a strong Russian alliance. These stories are therefore well known to the people of Syria and Iran who naturally interpret talk of U.S. intervention in the context of that history.
While the compliant American press parrots the narrative that our military support for the Syrian insurgency is purely humanitarian, many Syrians see the present crisis as just another proxy war over pipelines and geopolitics. Before rushing deeper into the conflagration, it would be wise for us to consider the abundant facts supporting that perspective.
So much for our supposed interest in “humanitarian” intervention in Syria. From a Syrian point of view, it has never been thus. It has been about pipelines since 1949, and they understand that, even if we don’t.
The Current Conflagration
Kennedy then turns to the present, or the near-present. Refer to the map above as you read:
A Pipeline War
In [the Syrians’] view, our war against Bashar Assad did not begin with the peaceful civil protests of the Arab Spring in 2011. Instead it began in 2000 when Qatar proposed to construct a $10 billion, 1,500km pipeline through Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria and Turkey.
Qatar shares with Iran, the South Pars/North Dome gas field, the world’s richest natural gas repository. The international trade embargo, until recently, prohibited Iran from selling gas abroad and ensured that Qatar’s gas could only reach European markets if it is liquefied and shipped by sea, a route that restricts volume and dramatically raises costs.
The EU, which gets 30 percent of its gas from Russia, was equally hungry for the pipeline which would have given its members cheap energy and relief from Vladimir Putin’s stifling economic and political leverage. Turkey, Russia’s second largest gas customer, was particularly anxious to end its reliance on its ancient rival and to position itself as the lucrative transect hub for Asian fuels to EU markets. The Qatari pipeline would have benefited Saudi Arabia’s conservative Sunni Monarchy by giving them a foothold in Shia dominated Syria.
The Saudi’s geopolitical goal is to contain the economic and political power of the Kingdom’s principal rival, Iran, a Shiite state, and close ally of Bashar Assad. The Saudi monarchy viewed the U.S. sponsored Shia takeover in Iraq as a demotion to its regional power and was already engaged in a proxy war against Tehran in Yemen, highlighted by the Saudi genocide against the Iranian backed Houthi tribe.
Which puts the Qatari pipeline squarely opposite to Russia’s national interest — natural gas (methane) sales to Europe.
Of course, the Russians, who sell 70 percent of their gas exports to Europe, viewed the Qatar/Turkey pipeline as an existential threat. In Putin’s view, the Qatar pipeline is a NATO plot to change the status quo, deprive Russia of its only foothold in the Middle East, strangle the Russian economy and end Russian leverage in the European energy market. In 2009, Assad announced that he would refuse to sign the agreement to allow the pipeline to run through Syria “to protect the interests of our Russian ally.”
That was likely the last straw vis-à-vis the U.S. Which brings us to another pipeline, the so-called “Islamic Pipeline” (see map above):
“Assad further enraged the Gulf’s Sunni monarchs by endorsing a Russian approved “Islamic pipeline” running from Iran’s side of the gas field through Syria and to the ports of Lebanon. The Islamic pipeline would make Shia Iran instead of Sunni Qatar, the principal supplier to the European energy market and dramatically increase Tehran’s influence in the Mid-East and the world. Israel also was understandably determined to derail the Islamic pipeline which would enrich Iran and Syria and presumably strengthen their proxies, Hezbollah and Hamas.
Another, competing pipeline which would run through Syrian territory, but this time carrying Iranian gas instead of Qatari gas. Thus the demonizing of Assad as evil in the mold of Saddam Hussein, instead of just a run-of-the-mill Middle East autocrat, as bad as some but better than others. Kennedy includes a good section on the history of the al-Assad family’s rule of Syria, including this information from top reporters Sy Hersh and Robert Parry:
According to Hersh, “He certainly wasn’t beheading people every Wednesday like the Saudis do in Mecca.” Another veteran journalist, Bob Parry, echoes that assessment. “No one in the region has clean hands but in the realms of torture, mass killings, civil liberties and supporting terrorism, Assad is much better than the Saudis.”
In September 2013, the Sunni states involved in the Qatar-Turkey pipeline were so determined to remove Syrian opposition to the pipeline that they offered, via John Kerry, to carry the whole cost of an U.S. invasion to topple al-Assad.
Kerry reiterated the offer to Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL27): “With respect to Arab countries offering to bear the costs of [an American invasion] to topple Assad, the answer is profoundly Yes, they have. The offer is on the table.”
Despite pressure from Republicans, Barrack Obama balked at hiring out young Americans to die as mercenaries for a pipeline conglomerate. Obama wisely ignored Republican clamoring to put ground troops in Syria or to funnel more funding to “moderate insurgents.” But by late 2011, Republican pressure and our Sunni allies had pushed the American government into the fray.
The rest is a history of provocation and over-reaction — a great deal of both — and chaos and death in Syria. Kennedy provides much detail here, at one point adding:
[Syria’s] moderates are fleeing a war that is not their war. They simply want to escape being crushed between the anvil of Assad’s Russian backed tyranny and the vicious Jihadi Sunni hammer that we had a hand in wielding in a global battle over competing pipelines. You can’t blame the Syrian people for not widely embracing a blueprint for their nation minted in either Washington or Moscow. The super powers have left no options for an idealistic future that moderate Syrians might consider fighting for. And no one wants to die for a pipeline.
I’ll leave it there, but again, do read the entire piece if you want to truly understand what’s going on in Syria, and what is about to go on.
Bottom line, it’s as Kennedy said: “No one wants to die for a pipeline” … but many do and will.
I’ll offer three thoughts. One, if we weren’t so determined to be deeply dependent on fossil fuels, this would be their war, not ours. Two, we are deeply dependent on fossil fuels because of the political machinations of the oil companies, their CEOs, and the banks and hedge funds who fund them, all of whom pay our government officials — via campaign contributions and the revolving door — to prolong that dependence. We’re here because the holders of big oil money want us here.
And three, keep all this in mind during the term of the next president. It will help you make sense of the phony warrior-cum-humanitarian arguments we’re almost certain to be subjected to.
We have been at war in Syria over pipelines since 1949. This is just the next mad phase.