Canadian analyst, Stephen Gowan’s new book, ‘Washington’s Long War on Syria‘, reveals how the US colluded with The Muslim Brotherhood – the ideological precursor to Al Qaeda and ISIS – to destroy Ba’ath Arab Socialism in Syria, Iraq, Iran and Libya, and install permanent free-trade zones that serve US interests across The Middle East.

Illustration by Rachael Bolton

From Syria, to Iraq, Iran to Libya, our understandings of the long-wars in the Middle-East as moral, humanitarian interventions designed to democratise and civilise are the result of a carefully crafted propaganda campaign waged by the US and its allies.

Each of these uprisings were launched by US proxies, designed to destabilize the regions, justifying regime change that suit the economic interests of its investors, banks and corporations, captured comprehensively in a new book by Canadian author and analyst, Stephen Gowans, Washington’s Long War on Syria.

You might be surprised to know that both the Libyan, Syrian and Iraqi government, led by Muammar Gaddafi, Hafez Al Assad, (succeeded by Bashaar Al Assaad) and Sadaam Hussein respectively, were socialist governments. Or Ba’ath Arab Socialist governments, to be precise.

Ba’ath Arab Socialism can be summed up in their constitutions supporting the values of: ‘freedom of the Arab world, freedom from foreign powers and freedom of socialism’.

Its doctrine was supported in Libya, as it was in Iraq and Syria. Of course, particularly in Hussein’s case, we cannot claim that these governments were without their problems. Ethnic cleansing is not to be overlooked, but condemned on the strongest grounds. But of course these were not the reasons the US and its allies decided to get into it.

“For the last quarter of a century, the US and its allies have waged highly destructive campaigns of economic warfare against Syria and Iraq, the economic equivalent of nuclear war,” writes Gowans, “and have done so because they are opposed to Ba’ath Arab Socialist efforts to bring politics and the economics of the Arab world under the control of those who live and work in the Arab world.”

In the case of Iraq, it had combined its oil wealth with public ownership of the economy, leading to what is known as ‘The Golden Age’, where, according to a State Department Official: “Schools, universities, hospitals, factories, museums and theatres proliferated employment so universal, a labour shortage developed.”

When the Ba’ath Arab Socialists were driven from power in Iraq, the US installed military dictator, Paul El Briener who set about a ‘de-Ba’athification’ of the government, expelling every member of the Ba’ath Arab Socialist party and imposed a constitution forbidding any secular Arab leader from ever holding office in Iraq again.

The same State Department Official had written of Gadaffi in Libya that combining its oil wealth with public ownership of the economy “enabled Libyans to live beyond the wildest dreams of their fathers, and grandfathers.” Gadaffi would soon be removed by Islamists, backed by NATO forces after Western oil companies agitated for his removal because he was “driving a hard bargain”. Canadian paramilitary forces even quipped that they were “al-Qaeda’s air-force”.

Around the same time, against the backdrop of the 9/11 terror attacks, a retired US Army General, Wesley Clark told a reporter that during a trip to the Pentagon, he had heard of plans to attack Iraq, Libya and Syria. All three plans came to fruition within 10 years. By 2002 President Bush had added Syria to his axis of evil regime change list, joining Iraq, Iran and North Korea, using the (with the exception of North Korea) bogus claims of Weapons of Mass Destruction to justify humanitarian intervention.

“Weapons of mass destruction claims were used as a pretext to topple the denounced socialist government in Baghdad and privatise the economy,” Gowans said.

The US has been trying to abolish socialism in the Middle East since the 1950s, when it conspired with London to purge Arab nationalists and communist leaders from Syria for having the audacity to threaten US economic interests in the region. The charge was led by Kermit Roosevelt, who had similarly helped overthrow Iran’s Mohammad Mossadeq for nationalising its oil industry in 1953 and installed the Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who was sympathetic to its interests.

The Muslim Brotherhood – ideological precursors to al-Qaeda and ISIS – has been on a mission against the governments of Syria, Libya and Iraq dating back to the 1970s when it declared a ‘war without end’ against Ba’ath Arab Socialism which it viewed as being incompatible with the Quran.

The US found an ally and strange-bedfellow in the Muslim Brotherhood, which could carry out its economic decree by proxy.

In Syria, the Muslim Brotherhood had tried unsuccessfully to remove Hafez al-Assad from power during the 1970s, launching a US armed, trained and backed guerilla warfare campaign against the capital, Alleppo, assassinating Ba’ath Arab Socialists, murdering state officials and army officers, and launched assaults on government headquarters and military bases. The uprising was crushed by overwhelming government military force, and in 1973 Ba’ath Arab Socialist President, Hafez Al Assad, crafted a constitution to unify the Arab world to overcome religious sectarianism in order to liberate the region from foreign domination and form a modern, indigenous economy with public ownership and planning, solidifying his Presidency for the time-being.

It tried again in 1982 when it seized control of Hamah, Syria’s fourth largest city, murdering Ba’ath Arab Socialists in a bloody rampage. Almost every government official was executed, mainly via decapitation. Again the Syrian Army rose to quell the uprising, seizing 15,000 Arab supplied machine guns, along with Jordanian, CIA-trained paramilitaries. And in the 1990s it formed an alliance with other sectarian Sunni political Islamists to form the National Front for the Salvation of Syria, designed to assassinate Assad and establish an Islamic state based on the teachings of the Quran.

The Muslim Brotherhood met with the White House twice in 2006 and several times in 2007 when it was founding the National Salvation Front, working together to destabilise the regions, and to install fundamentalist Islamic leaders who just so happened to believe in free trade.

Bashar al-Assad seceeded his father after his death in 2000 and has been all that stands between secular and Islamic fundamentalist rule ever since. And of course, the US found itself working, once again, with the Muslim Brotherhood for Asaad’s removal ever since.

But because it had its hands full with pacifying Iraq, and Afghanistan, regime change in Syria was out of the question. In 2003 the US instead launched economic sanctions against the country, “to do what sanctions are intended to do,” writes Gowans: “Destroy economies so ordinary people rise up to overthrow their governments.”

“Sanctions are an effective propaganda tool, also. Once you have ruined an economy, you can blame its economic decline on the fact that the government had pursued socialist policies which devastated the region.”

By spring of 2012 the sanctions had forced officials to stop providing healthcare, social services and education in some parts of the country. In 2016 a leaked UN document reported the sanctions were causing huge suffering, to the extent it was preventing the country from accessing humanitarian aid.

“The sanctions in Syria have been destroying the country for the past 14 years,” writes Gowans. “We see attacks carried out by Washington’s proxy guerilla armies, beheadings, eviscerations and BBQing of heads, but we don’t see the invisible effects of sanctions.”

The author noted that the Arab Spring, sparked by the Daara riots are not, as it was reported by the corporate press, a peaceful bid for liberal democracy “but a resurgence of Syria’s decades long battle between Islamists and secularists, egged on by the US and its allies, who needed a proxy to carry out a war in Iraq and Syria”.

(Today’s Syrian rebels were in fact trained and armed by US intelligence in Jordan and Qatar, with the help of, you guessed it, The Muslim Brotherhood).

In each of these instances: Iraq, Syria, and Libya (and Iran before them), the US intervention has not been one of democracy or even national security, but an attempt at creating free-trade zones in the Middle-East, even if it means installing fundamentalist dictators that impoverish and oppress their own people.

Watch the video above for an excellent summary of the book and a chronological understanding of what really happened in Syria, Iraq, Iran and Libya.

Washington’s Long War On Syria is available to purchase on Amazon and all good book retailers. 

Claire Connelly

Claire Connelly

Claire Connelly is the editor-in-chief of Renegade Inc. An award-winning freelance journalist and speaker, she is the founder of Hello Humans, an experiment in subscription journalism starting at just $1 a month. https://www.patreon.com/hello_humans

Specialising in economics, technology and policy, Connelly is working on her first book and podcast series, How the World Really Works*. (*Title may be due to change). You can pre-order a copy here. #shamelessselfpromotion.

With more than a decade of experience under her belt, Claire has written for leading publications including The Australian Financial Review, The Saturday Paper, ABC, SBS, Crikey, New Matilda, VICE & others. She is the co-host of The Week In Start-Ups Australia, and features regularly as a commentator on TV and radio shows including Radio National's Download This Show, ABC's The Drum, Ten's The Project, and more.

How do you spend your days?

I am the editor-in-chief of Renegade and founder of Hello Humans, a subscription journalism experiment. I also freelance & consult for a number of publications of the editorial and commercial variety.I work from home. I am a bit of a work-hermit. I can mostly be found on the internet and at the dog park.

Why is this important to you?

Now more than ever, it is really important to make sense of the world around us. But in an age of information saturation it is becoming harder to distinguish the truth from bullshit. Part of the reason I am doing this is to help people differentiate between the truth and narratives being sold by people and organisations with vested interests.

I want to help people identify rhetorical red flags and immunise themselves against a sea of bullshit.

What drove you to focus on journalism?

I guess you could say my parents played a fairly big part in my becoming a journalist, much to their despair. Watching the news, reading the paper and listening to the radio was a compulsory activity in my household. My parents read me the paper before I could read.

Being engaged in the world around us was the way we repaid our debt to society.

They channelled the last of their politically active twenties and thirties into fostering our curiosity and distrust of authority. It wasn’t until I reached university that I fell in love with economics, politics and international relations.

Was there a particular moment you can remember that led you to this field?

The day Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzchak Rabin was assassinated, (the 4th of November 1995). I was 10. It was a weekend and I was in my winter school uniform complete with pinafor and scratchy tights. I played clarinet in the school orchestra and we were due to play at the old folks home. And I was pissed. And I said so.

The phone rang, and with tears rolling down her face, my mum turned to me and said the concert had been cancelled. Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli Prime Minister had been killed.

I threw my stuff down and turned to get changed. But before I could my mum grabbed me firmly. I will never forget the look of disappointment on her face. She made some comment about how Rabin did not die for my convenience.
“You live in this house, you have clothes on your back and warm blankets and three square meals a day. You may not do anything with your education that we pay for, but you will be informed.”
She sat me down in front of the ABC and made me watch eight hours of assassination coverage. Little had I known the world was falling apart.

That day pretty much sealed my fate.

You can read more it here if you are interested.

What drives you professionally?

Justice. Egomania. Curiosity. And the fact there is no other profession more suited to my personality.

In your opinion what are the three biggest problems facing the developed and developing world?

Neoliberalism. Economic and social instability and insecurity. Banking fraud. Climate change. (Ok that’s four things. I never was very good at lists).

If you hadn’t become a journalist what would you have done?

My mum wishes I had studied law.

What led us to this moment in history?

We are living proof of a 30 year operation to permanently reduce the responsibility ofgovernment over the wellbeing of its constituents. You can read more about that here. (Link to neoliberalism piece).

What are the lessons we failed to learn during and since the 2008 crisis?

Austerity is a means of redistributing the profits in of productivity in which we all used to share to the world’s uber-wealthy.

The global financial crisis was one small step for man, one giant leap for the banking industry. It cemented financial crises as a permanent phenomenon and the formalisation of corporate revolution.

It signalled to the world that government exists only to support the private sector, triggering a wave of disillusionment which allowed neoliberalism to complete its task at hand: the complete and utter destruction of democracy, replacing it with a market society in which economics permeates every facet of modern life, from education to healthcare to law & order.

Even the military operates as a for-profit model, conveniently privatising any activity that sits outside the criminal justice system.

Some call the bail-outs of 2008 a failure of neo-liberalism. To the contrary, the private sector attained almost exactly what it set out to achieve: a system with no obligation to true economic recovery, that supports only profits and the corporations which generate them.

We keep voting for wealthy populist leaders thinking the knock-on-effects will put dollars in our pocket when the very opposite is true.

So long as voters continue to accept the mythic propaganda sown over the last 30 years that tax breaks & subsidies create jobs, deficits are bad, surpluses are good and that any instability is somehow the fault of the poor, our economic insecurity will only continue to increase.

Can you list some ‘baby steps’ out of the current economic mess?

A return to full employment.

A royal commission into the continuation of subprime mortgage fraud. (It didn’t go away after the GFC. In fact it was pretty much legalised).

Slash the cost of university degrees & create new pathways for the unemployed and underemployed to attain new skills and education.

Deficit spending to create infrastructure that will create the jobs of the future.

Support local agriculture.

Reduce private debt.


If you were a President / Prime Minister what would your first three pieces of policy be?

A job guarantee.
Re-introduce a price on carbon.
Legalise gay marriage.

Tell us something you have been wrong about?

I didn’t think that in 2017 that gay marriage and abortion would still be illegal in Australia.
Claire Connelly

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