Syrian Syriana – A Rogue State Runs Rampant
Morgan Duchesney, Ottawa
October 29, 2008

Mainstream media coverage of the recent U.S. commando raid into Syria is a vivid example of how unspoken presuppositions define the limits of public discourse. Noam Chomsky called it, “…a system of unspoken presuppositions that incorporate the basic principles of the doctrinal systems. These principles are therefore removed from inspection; they become the framework for thinkable thought, not objects of rationale consideration.” If that eloquent explanation is too lofty I’ll offer a simpler version: Certain dubious ideas have become so entrenched in public writing that they are considered self-evident and therefore largely immune to criticism. This immunity is a highly dangerous to genuine democracy but perfectly supportive of what has been called marketing democracy. The unspoken presupposition in this case is that the so-called War on Terror excuses any and all acts of aggression directed at those suspected of opposing the will of the U.S. government. We are expected to keep our heads down and accept insidious erosions of freedom in the name of security.

In fact, it is considered unpatriotic to question the prerogatives of state power in the so-called War on Terror. Simply stated, whatever the U.S. government does in the name of democracy is sacrosanct by default because it has managed to present itself, rightly or wrongly, as the gold standard of freedom - no further explanation is necessary. I consider this a triumph of marketing and public relations in much the same way that the U.S. invasion and destruction of Vietnam has been successfully recast as a noble failure in the cause of freedom.

A form of substitution is the simplest and most effective ways to demonstrate the danger of subscribing to self-evident truths. One need merely find a story about the U.S. government’s latest adventure and substitute the phrase “U.S. government” instead of the name of the newest enemy of freedom.

For example, here is a sentence from a Catherine Philp story in the October 29 Ottawa Citizen describing the U.S. commando raid into Syria that allegedly killed an assortment of people, some supposed U.S. opponents and a number of Syrian civilians. “U.S. officials said Abu Ghadiyah, the Iraqi national targeted and allegedly killed in the attack, had run a network channeling foreign fighters, weapons and funds into Iraq since 2004.” We are led to assume he is a bad guy up to no good. He may well be an Iraqi fighting to rid his country of the U.S. invader.

Unfortunately, he is not among the converted Iraqis who understand that it is wiser to imply allow a foreign power to occupy your country and arrange your affairs. Has not the U.S. government, “…run a network (the U.S. Army, Marines and CIA) channeling foreign fighters, weapons and funds into Iraq since 2004? The evidence suggests that they certainly have but they choose to call their activities by another name. Perspective is the key factor here. An average Iraqi would likely agree that U.S troops are foreign fighters. However, since terrorism is defined as defending your country against imperial aggression, their opinions don’t count for much in the face of this self-evident assumption.

Perhaps Philp’s headline should accurately reflect reality and state: U.S. Invades Syria Sans Formal Declaration of War – International Law Violated rather than the bland Air Raid A “Warning” to Syria, U.S. says. Imagine what would happen if Syrian forces conducted a commando raid on New Jersey to “warn’ the U.S. about interfering in its affairs? Why is it that that the actions of the “other” are considered monstrous while “we” easily justify similar or worse behaviour on the world stage? This is a question worth asking.

The answer may lie in the identification of a 21st Century version of the colonial era’s “white man’s burden.” This term was coined to describe the way colonial England justified its endless conquests, thefts and the imposition of its culture upon countless unfortunate peoples. Today, the U.S. and client states like Canada and Britain justify their interference in the affairs of other states by claiming to promote democracy or freedom or open markets or other noble concepts. It is no coincidence that the states targeted for such attention are usually rich in natural resources, strategically located or both. Thus Iraq gets the full treatment while Zimbabweans, for instance, will continue to enjoy the inspired leadership of Robert Mugabe. Funny how regime change is reserved for countries that possess the world’s second largest oil reserves. It could be a coincidence, though.