The Guardian February 4, 2004


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.

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