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OP-ED: Making Sense of Syria

NEW DELHI, Sep 16 2013 (IPS) - Tarzie Vittachi, a Sri Lankan journalist who in his final years was the bemused occupant of a high United Nations office, once summed up with his characteristic terse wit a central truth about international affairs: “Everything is about something else.”

The situation in Syria, and indeed, across the Middle East, exemplifies that truth: amidst unprecedented confusion and stir, surface developments make little sense. Why, for instance, is the United States supporting an opposition grouping in Syria dominated by Islamist forces it has fought in Iraq and Afghanistan?

What caused Britain to shy away from supporting the Barack Obama administration’s move to punish the Assad regime for using chemical weapons?

Why did Saudi Arabia’s Prince Bandar bin Sultan, for 22 years ambassador in Washington and rumoured killed in a 2012 terrorist attack, suddenly reappear and meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin, offering arms deals and a guarantee that Chechen terrorists would not attack the Sochi Winter Olympics?

To understand what is happening we have to look to the beginnings of the “special relationship” between Britain and the United States in the deal Winston Churchill struck in 1946 with the U.S. military-industrial establishment to manage the post-World War Two world.

The quid pro quo of that arrangement was that Britain would help an unconstitutional nexus of power in Washington to rule the world, and be allowed in return to preserve its lucrative imperial interests; in effect, it was a British-sponsored coup that subverted U.S. democracy.

In the Middle East, that dispensation meant U.S. support for extremely corrupt regional power structures that Britain and France had put in place as they took charge of Ottoman territories after World War I.

As the United States was by then entering a period of increasing dependence on Saudi Arabian oil, this was in line with its own interests; in fact, President Franklin D. Roosevelt had struck a deal with King Ibn Saud in February 1945, assuring the country’s security in return for preferred U.S. access to its petroleum.

Over the last two years, as domestic shale oil production has moved the United States towards energy independence, fundamental aspects of the transatlantic “special relationship” have come unstuck. Two aspects of change are particularly important:

The United States has moved vigorously against the money laundering system the British put in place as their Empire declined. The 1.9-billion-dollar fine that U.S. regulators imposed in 2012 on HSBC, Britain’s largest bank, is indicative of the pressures on the system central to Britain’s post-imperial power.

Washington has withdrawn support for dictatorial regimes in the Middle East, setting off the wave of instability the media have presented as the “Arab Spring”.

Although the “Arab Spring” has turned into an increasingly bloody Summer as the extremist Muslim Brotherhood has come to the fore, the writing on the wall for Britain’s imperial interests is clear: the cozy arrangements with the old dictatorial regimes cannot be renewed.

The latest Russian initiative to head off a U.S. strike on Syria points to an interesting aspect of the emerging scene in the Middle East. Despite the Russian defence of the Assad regime, Moscow and Washington have a shared interest in changing existing realities in the region, and especially in Saudi Arabia, which supplied most of the 9/11 attackers and has been quite openly behind the Chechen terrorist uprising.

The Saudi gift of 100 million dollars to the U.N. Counter-Terrorism Centre and Prince Bandar bin Sultan’s offers to President Putin should be read as signs that Riyadh is acutely aware of its danger.

The involvement of Prince Bandar also points to intriguing developments in Washington.

During his long stay in Washington Bandar developed very close relations with the nexus of oil, arms and military/intelligence interests central to the shadow government established by the British coup of 1946. The nickname “Bandar Bush” captures his intimacy with the family that has been for two generations at the centre of that unconstitutional power structure.

The presidency of the senior Bush saw the Iraq war segue the world from the Cold War to the “War of Civilisations”. The stolen presidency of the junior Bush saw the 9/11 attacks inaugurate the “Homeland Security” era under the “Patriot Act”, with widespread violations of fundamental constitutional provisions.

The fact that Bandar Bush has emerged from the shadows in an attempt to win Russian support for the Saudi regime points to the threat felt by the Bush family.

In the past, a few choice assassinations would have resolved this situation. That might still happen, but I think the U.S. military/intelligence establishment has swung away from the Bush-centred power nexus. Edward Snowden’s decision to flee the farm is probably indicative of that, as is the “wrong name” on the papers sent to the Chinese authorities to extradite him from Hong Kong.

To sum up, the grim and confused situation in the Middle East could be the most tangible indicator of a historic U.S. shift back to fully constitutional government.

The “something else” that Syria signifies could be the exact opposite of all the dark readings of the situation.

Bhaskar Menon is the editor of, which carries a longer version of this analysis.

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