In May 2007 the UN’s Peruvian Middle East envoy Alvaro de Soto wrote a devastating confidential report which argued that American diplomacy had fatally undermined the UN’s attempts to act as an independent broker in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Among other things, de Soto claimed that US had deliberately undermined attempts to form a National Unity Government in the Gaza Strip. This failure had been followed by vicious fighting between Hamas and Fateh, resulting in the expulsion of the latter from Gaza and the beginning of the anti-Hamas sanctions regime that remains in place to this day.
In his report de Soto noted that
‘the US clearly pushed for a confrontation between Fateh and Hamas – so much so, that … the US envoy declared twice at an envoys meeting in Washington ” I like this violence”, referring to the near-civil war that was erupting in Gaza in which Palestinian civilians were being regularly killed and injured, because “It means that Palestinians are resisting Hamas”.’
The enthusiasm of this unnamed US official for civil war and mayhem reflects a combination of ruthlessness and recklessness that has been integral to the new neo-imperial agenda in the Middle East for many years.
In public, the US and its allies in the ‘international community’ routinely present their various interventions in the region as an attempt to promote conflict resolution and reduce or prevent violence, using the rhetoric of democracy, peacekeeping and humanitarianism as a PR lubricant.
In private, the same countries may also accept and even promote civil conflict and destabilisation in certain contexts, in order to realise their broader foreign policy objectives, regardless of the consequences for the countries concerned.
This was the underlying philosophy behind the ‘rollback’ or ‘pro-insurgency’ strategy of the Reagan era, when the US funded insurgencies in Nicaragua and Afghanistan and indirectly supported the maniacal violence of RENAMO in Mozambique.
A similar trajectory is visible in Syria, where repeated US calls for the Assad regime to ‘halt the violence’ have been accompanied by covert promotion of violence as an instrument of regime change.
According to the New York Times
‘the State Department and Pentagon are quietly sharpening plans to cope with a flood of refugees, help maintain basic health and municipal services, restart a shattered economy and avoid a security vacuum in the wake of Mr. Assad’s fall, administration officials say. Mindful of American mistakes following the invasion of Iraq in 2003, both agencies have created a number of cells to draft plans for what many officials expect to be a chaotic, violent aftermath that could spread instability over Syria’s borders.’
The Times claims that the administration’s efforts are driven by
‘ a bleak prognosis shared by most officials: Mr. Assad’s fall would be likely to set off a grave, potentially violent and unpredictable implosion in a country strained by even more tribal, ethnic and sectarian divisions than Iraq, possibly in the midst of a presidential election campaign at home.’
In the words of one US official
” The main question we’re looking at is how it all plays out after the Assad regime collapses…Chapter 1 is he’s gone. Chapter 2 is the post-Assad transition, and initial efforts at stabilization. Chapter 3 is completely unknown, and therefore more than a little scary.”
The post-Assad planning, the Times notes, is being coordinated with ‘regional allies like Turkey, Jordan and Israel, and it coincides with an expansion of overt and covert American and foreign assistance to Syria’s increasingly potent rebel fighters.’
Many of these allies have been providing weapons, funds and training to the Syrian rebels in order to bring down the Assad regime, with the collusion of the US, Britain and France, and the participation of CIA officials, who are supposedly vetting the supply of weaponry to ensure that it doesn’t fall into the hands of al-Qaeda and other Salafist groups in the Syrian insurgency.
All this is part of a Janus-faced policy in which, on the one hand, the US and its partners in the Security Council have persistently called for an end to ‘the violence’ in Syria. At the same time, these same countries privately recognize that more rather than less violence is required to achieve their geopolitical objectives.
All this is in keeping with a philosophy that was once outlined by the British Colonial Secretary Joseph Chamberlain (1836-1914) in a talk to the Royal Colonial Institute in 1897 on ‘the true conception of empire’.
An ardent imperialist, Chamberlain described the ongoing colonization of Africa in the following terms:
Out of the broken shells of Syria, the US and its allies hope to create a new kind of order that they can manipulate to their advantage, as they attempted to do in Iraq, and more recently in Libya.
And behind the mask of humanitarianism and the sanctimonious concern for the welfare of ‘the Syrian people’, you can bet that there are foreign policy bureaucrats who, like the US envoy in Gaza ‘like this violence’ and are doing everything they can to ensure that it gets a lot worse before – if – it gets better.
For these national security managers, chaos, instability and even the complete collapse of Syrian society bring previously undreamt-of opportunities, as well as risks and potentially negative consequences, and the possibility of a new imperial reconfiguration of the Middle East means that the game will always be worth playing.