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What Noam Chomsky Would Like to See in Syria

During a recent visit to Beirut, MIT professor Noam Chomsky was interviewed about the Syrian conflict by Syrian playwright and regime critic Mohammed Al Attar. Chomsky makes some observations that are worth considering. He dismisses the view, put forward by supporters of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, that the United States was somehow behind the uprising:

For a long time, the Arab world and other places beside have played host to stories and illusions about the supernatural power of the United States, which controls everything through complex conspiracies and plots. In this worldview, everything that takes place can be explained in terms of imperialist conspiracies. This is an error. Without a doubt, the United States are still a great power and capable of influencing events, but they are not always able to manipulate them by means of complex conspiracies: this really is beyond their capacities. Of course the Americans do sometimes try to do this, but they fail, too. What happened in Syria is not outside our understanding: it began as a popular and democratic protest movement demanding democratic reforms, but instead of responding to it in a constructive, positive manner, Assad reacted with violent repression. The usual outcome of such a course of action is either a successful crushing of the protests or otherwise, to see them evolve and militarize, and this is what took place in Syria. When a protest movement enters this phase we see new dynamics at play: usually, the rise of the most extremist and brutal elements to the front ranks.

Chomsky insists that if the United States and Israel had wanted to overthrow Assad, they could have acted effectively short of providing arms:

The fact of the matter is, that were the United States and Israel interested in bringing down the Syrian regime there is a whole package of measures they could take before they came to the arms-supply option. All these other options remain available, including, for example, America encouraging Israel to mobilize its forces along the northern border, a move that would not produce any objections from the international community and which would compel the regime to withdraw its forces from a number of frontline positions and relieve the pressure on the opposition. But this has not happened, nor will it, so long as America and Israel remain unwilling to bring down Assad regime.

Chomsky worries that by arming the rebels, the United States will only escalate the conflict without changing the balance of power because “the regime’s allies—Russia, Iran and Iraq—will continue to do what they have always done and supply the regime with more advanced weaponry.”  He prefers pressing for negotiatons in Geneva that would force Assad to step down and create a transitional regime, but he is pessimistic about either strategy for resolving the conflict:

Honestly and objectively I reckon that both options offer only a slim chance of success. But you have to make a choice. Which path will you take? Neither option is ideal, but once again, you have to think about what you have. I believe you should choose the negotiating track first, and should you fail, then moving to the second option becomes more acceptable.