In the aftermath of a massacre in Hama, Syria state media broadcasted images of "burnt, buildings, makeshift barricades and deserted streets strewn with rubble," according to the New York Times and claimed the revolt in Syria has ended. Meanwhile, The Guardian reports tens of thousands have taken to the streets all over the country and are continuing a five-months old uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke at a press conference and said the Syrian government has killed more than 2,000 people in its brutal crackdown on protests in the past months. She told the press the US was extending sanctions against a "prominent businessman and MP," who allegedly has close ties to Assad. This marked the "fourth round of US sanctions against Syria aimed at pressuring Assad's government to ease its bloody crackdown against unarmed protesters," according to The Guardian. However, numerous Syrian protesters and some US senators are dissatisfied, as the sanctions do not target Syria's oil and gas sector.
As protests continue and the brutal crackdown on protests wears on, US State Embassy cables released by the media organization WikiLeaks provide a greater understanding of the Washington power politics that have led to this moment.
For the past five to six years, the US policy toward Syria has used what could be called a two-pronged strategy to push for regime change. The US has supported "civil society" activists or external opposition organizations. It has also worked to delegitimize, destabilize and isolate the country through the application of sanctions and various other measures, which could be applied to exploit vulnerabilities.
A cable from December 13, 2006, opens with the conclusion that the Syrian government has ended 2006 "in a position much stronger domestically and internationally than it did [in] 2005." It features a collection of possible actions that could be taken to undermine the Assad regime.
The vulnerabilities listed include: the Rafiq Hariri investigation and tribunal (Hariri was a Lebanese Prime Minister who was assassinated in a major car bombing); the alliance with Tehran; the regime's "inner circle"; divisions in the military-security services; the corrupt Baathist elites; previous failures of reform; the economy; the Kurds; extremists and the "Khaddam factor" (Abdul Halim Khaddam is an exiled former Syrian Vice President, whose name appears in a number of the cables released thus far.)
Some of the proposed actions for exploiting these vulnerabilities are outlined in the cable:
ENCOURAGE RUMORS AND SIGNALS OF EXTERNAL PLOTTING:
The regime is intensely sensitive to rumors about coup-plotting and restlessness in the security services and military. Regional allies like Egypt and Saudi Arabia should be encouraged to meet with figures like Khaddam and Rifat Asad as a way of sending such signals, with appropriate leaking of the meetings afterwards. This again touches on this insular regime,s paranoia and increases the possibility of a self-defeating over-reaction.
THE KHADDAM FACTOR
...We should continue to encourage the Saudis and others to allow Khaddam access to their media outlets, providing him with venues for airing the SARG,s dirty laundry. We should anticipate an overreaction by the regime that will add to its isolation and alienation from its Arab neighbors...
HIGHLIGHT KURDISH COMPLAINTS: Highlighting Kurdish complaints in public statements, including publicizing human rights abuses will exacerbate regime,s concerns about the Kurdish population. Focus on economic hardship in Kurdish areas and the SARG,s long-standing refusal to offer citizenship to some 200,000 stateless Kurds. This issue would need to be handled carefully, since giving the wrong kind of prominence to Kurdish issues in Syria could be a liability for our efforts at uniting the opposition, given Syrian (mostly Arab) civil society's skepticism of Kurdish objectives.
PLAY ON SUNNI FEARS OF IRANIAN INFLUENCE: There are fears in Syria that the Iranians are active in both Shia proselytizing and conversion of, mostly poor, Sunnis. Though often exaggerated, such fears reflect an element of the Sunni community in Syria that is increasingly upset by and focused on the spread of Iranian influence in their country through activities ranging from mosque construction to business. Both the local Egyptian and Saudi missions here, (as well as prominent Syrian Sunni religious leaders), are giving increasing attention to the matter and we should coordinate more closely with their governments on ways to better publicize and focus regional attention on the issue.
This is clearly manipulative and underhanded. It shouldn't be surprising that the Assad regime would want to crack down violently on any protests. The shadiness of US relations with Syria is only amplified if you look at the other aspect of the US push for regime change: the public funding of opposition groups.
Read the rest of the article at FDL's The Dissenter.