In The Syrian, a political thriller, part of the background of this fictional story is Washington’s proxy war with Iran. There is a particular scene where three older gentlemen, Camille, Tony and Yousef, who reside in Marjeyoun in south Lebanon and who lived through Israel’s twenty-two year occupation of address this in a conversation with Sonia, one of the lead protagonists.
“Why go after Syria?” she asked.
“Syria is the link to Iran,” Camille replied. “Both Israel and the U.S. think Iran is trying to undermine Sunni dominance and stir up Arab nationalism and so do Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The best way to destabilize Iran is through Syria. If it collapses, so the thinking goes, Iran will implode, making it easier for Israel or the U.S. to attack Hezbollah.”
Imagine my surprise, while researching material for the sequel to The Syrian, when I discovered recently unclassified documents (November 30, 2015) that specifically addressed the U.S. government’s policy on Syria and Iran dating back to December 21, 2000.
“The best way to help Israel deal with Iran’s growing nuclear capability is to help the people of Syria to overthrow the regime of Bashar Assad. It is the strategic relationship between Iran and the regime of Bashar Assad that makes it possible for Iran to undermine Israel’s security, not through a direct attack, which in thirty years of hostility has never occurred, but through its proxies in Lebanon, like Hezbollah, who are sustained, armed and trained by Iran via Syria. An end to the Assad regime would extinguish this dangerous alliance. Bringing down Assad would not only be a massive boon to Israel’s security, it would also ease Israel’s understandable fear of losing its regional nuclear monopoly.”
Recently released documents by the whistle blower website Wikileaks report that since 2006 the U.S. State Department has been funneling millions of dollars to the Movement for Justice and Development, a London-based dissident organization which broadcasts anti-government news into Syria. Diplomatic cables from the U.S. mission in Damascus admitted the risky optics of the funding.
“Some programs may be perceived, were they made public, as an attempt to undermine the Assad regime. The Syrian Republic’s government would undoubtedly view any U.S. funds going to illegal political groups as tantamount to supporting regime change.”
In 2007, David Wurmser, then a senior adviser to Vice President Dick Chaney said that America should seize every opportunity to force regime change in Syria and Iran.
“We need to do everything possible to destabilize the Syrian regime and exploit every single moment they strategically overstep,” he said. “That would include the willingness to escalate as far as we need to go to topple the regime. An end to Baathist rule in Damascus could trigger a domino effect that would then bring down the Teheran regime.”
The history of the Bush administration’s approach toward Syria is also important to understand. Shortly after 9/11, former NATO Commander Wesley Clark was told, by a Pentagon source, that Syria was on the same hit list as Iraq. Wesley claimed that the Bush administration “wanted to destabilize the Middle East, turn it upside down, and make it under our control.”
In a May 2002 speech Under Secretary of State John Bolton named Syria as one of the handful of “rogue states” along with Iraq that “can be expected to become our target.” Assad’s conciliatory and cooperative gestures were brushed aside.
No doubt, Syria’s opposition to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 and its suspected though never proven involvement in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri deepened the administration’s hostility toward Damascus.
When writing about the Middle East, the truth is, indeed, best told through fiction.