Is Syria next in line for US invasion?
by Mark Almberg The passage towards the end of last year in both houses of Congress of the Syrian Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act is but one facet of a relentless build-up of US pressure on Damascus. The Syrian Accountability Act effectively brands Syria an outlaw. It accuses Damascus of supporting international terrorism and possessing or developing biological and chemical weapons of mass destruction. It hints that nuclear weapons may be under development, too. It calls on Syria to adopt a US-style democracy and to end its longstanding military presence in Lebanon. Bush administration officials claim that Syria is hiding Iraqi Ba'athists and Iraq's missing weapons of mass destruction, and allowing "busloads of Syrian fighters" to pass into Iraq to fight US and British forces. The source for many of these claims is the notoriously right-wing Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, John Bolton. The Senate version of the Accountability Act passed on November 11 by an overwhelming margin, 89-4, mirroring the House vote in October of 398-4. When signed into law, Syria will be subject to a wide array of diplomatic and economic sanctions until it has proved to Washington's satisfaction that it has changed. Iran is already suffering under a similar sanctions regime. Since US trade with Syria is relatively small — only about US$150 million per year by some estimates — and since Syria receives no US economic aid, the sanctions are less about economic coercion than about sending a political message. And in many ways the campaign against Syria is eerily reminiscent of the early stages of the US build-up against Iraq. Ian Williams, writing in the November 19 edition of Middle East International, observes how "all the excuses for war on Iraq have been resurrected and applied to Syria". Why is Syria getting this treatment? While not posing any military threat to the US (its military budget is quite small, about a third of the direct military aid that the US gives to Israel), Syria's government has historically charted an independent path, economically and politically. In today's world, particularly in the oil-rich Middle East, such independence is unacceptable to Washington policymakers and Wall Street. The bulk of Syria's trade today is with Italy, Germany, France, and Turkey. Its trade with members of the European Union amounted to over US$6 billion in 2002. Syria is planning to increase its co-operation with the EU and 12 of its Mediterranean neighbours in a long-term plan that is to take effect in 2010. This economic orientation angers US corporations and banks which seek to dominate all Middle East markets. Politically, Syria has also steered an independent course. For many years it had friendly relations with the former Soviet Union, from which it obtained much military equipment. It has been a staunch opponent of Israeli expansionism, and has long supported the Palestinian people in their quest for justice and self-determination. This has earned it the undivided enmity of successive Israeli governments, which have urged the US to take punitive action against Damascus. The US Government has found Israel to be a useful ally and its local gendarme in the oil-rich Middle East. Thus, when Israel sent fighter-bombers deep into Syrian territory in October and dropped bombs there — in violation of the United Nations charter and international law — the US threatened to veto any UN condemnation of the attack. This fits into Washington's campaign of intimidation and its pursuit of its own geopolitical aims.