The Step-Back.org website was set up in 2013 by a group of friends with a joint interest in the media, specifically poor reporting that falsely justifies war. Our focus then was the growing drumbeat for military intervention in Syria by the US/UK and others. The links below feature our analysis at the time and subsequent posts, with the last of these in April 2014.
While that content remains quite pertinent, and the more so as the Syrian conflict ‘re-intensifies’, the work of updating it in the light of recent events is a complete project on its own. So, we give an overview of this, with something on the connection between the Syrian conflict and the Ukrainian/Russian conflict following those links.
- What Do Syrians Want?
- Who are the ‘Rebels’?
- The Evidence of Chemical Weapons use?
- Opportunities for Peace
- Latest News
Last updated April 2014
- Recommended Reading
Links to online news reports and articles that offer true insight into the Syrian conflict.
- Spin Bin
Examples of biased news reporting on the Syrian conflict.
- Voices for Peace
Though missing almost entirely from the mainstream coverage, there are committed voices for peace in Syria. We feature some of the most powerful and convincing here.
Making sense of the Syrian conflict; the view in March 2015.
Following the failure of the ‘Geneva II’ talks in January 2014, talks between the external Opposition group and Syrian government representatives mediated by Russia, the light of Western media ceased to illuminate the ongoing conflict in Syria, and soon became focused on Ukraine as its elected president was overthrown in a violent coup. For the average observer there was little relation between events in Syria and those in Ukraine – that Russia was closely involved in both looked like a coincidence where everything else was different – religion, culture and continent. But to understand better the context and roots of these two violent conflicts, the ‘Russian connection’ is paramount.
Some aspects of the Russian connection between Syria and Ukraine were clear and no secret; Russia’s support for the Assad government had long been seen by the Western ‘Friends of Syria’ as the main stumbling block to their aspirations for regime change, and the installation of a Western friendly puppet government in Damascus. When Russian intervention and Western public opposition stopped the launching of a strike on Damascus by the US and France, US neo-cons were in paroxysms at the failure of their project to ‘remake the Middle East’. (1) Despite the cooperation of Russia with the US in a project to rid Syria of its chemical weapons stocks, and its presentation in Western media as a vital step towards ‘solving the Syrian problem’, this was little comfort to those in the US and elsewhere who knew quite well that Syria wasn’t actually responsible for the alleged Sarin attack of August 2013.
For these people, the problem was not Syria but Russia, and on two fronts. Russia supported Syria politically, but also supported Iran politically and economically with cooperation over Iran’s nuclear power projects. This support for the Islamic Republic of Iran was intolerable to Saudi Arabia as well as to Israel, both of them key US allies. In this respect the focus and agenda of the US differs a little from that of Saudi Arabia and Israel, and in a way that makes sense of ‘the Ukraine connection’. Thus the ‘second front’ on which Russia is the problem for the US neo-cons is the challenge to US regional hegemony from Russian military bases and assets. The missiles or other systems that allegedly foiled the US first strike missiles in September 2013, (2) and caused Obama to suddenly seek congress’ approval for the strike were apparently launched from the Russian base on Syria’s Mediterranean coast. While Israel also ‘dislikes’ Russian military resources within close range of its borders, and periodically shows its disdain for them as well as for international law by bombing weapons warehouses in Syria, it is the other regional Russian presence that causes the US greater concern – the naval base in Crimea, formerly in Ukraine.
Contrary to the presentation of Russia’s viewpoint on Crimea in all Western mainstream media, and the rhetoric from particularly the US government and NATO, the Russian military presence on the Black Sea is both the reason for Russia’s defence of Crimea as legitimate and strategic, and the object of NATO’s expansionist goals. So while the US project in Syria may have been partly about the ‘security’ of Israel and Gulf allies, the US focus is essentially the same in both Syria and Ukraine – that being the containment of Russia and the neutralisation of Russian military defences against US expansionism and ‘full spectrum dominance’.
But back to Syria…
While the focus of Western media attention ( and it is this which is our concern because of its overarching ability to alter public perception and enable Western ‘projects’) was on Ukraine and the developing battle between Kiev and Donbass following Crimea’s separation, significant gains were being made in Syria against the insurgency, such that by the time planned for the Presidential election in June it was possible for this to go ahead. It had been clear for some time that Bashar al Assad had the support of the majority of Syrians, even amongst those who gave it only because there was little alternative and anything was better than more killing and destruction.
Following the adoption of a new constitution in 2013, the Presidential position was open to other candidates, and two were considered to have sufficient support to compete. They came from Opposition parties within Syria, and proposed significantly different policies; this did not mean that they opposed the current government on ‘national security issues’ or didn’t support the Syrian Arab Army, which by this time had lost around 50,000 soldiers to the foreign-backed insurgents. (for the sceptics, consider how our own soldiers’ deaths in combat are a rallying point for all parties, and these deaths haven’t numbered in the tens of thousands since WW2). These opposition candidates garnered about 8% of the vote between them, leaving an overwhelming majority who chose to give Bashar al Assad another term on June 3rd. Depite the evident problems of organising an election in a country so damaged by war, the turnout was huge everywhere except in areas held by the armed groups. The vote for Assad was also boosted by expats and refugees, with up to 100,000 going to vote in Beirut.(3)
Such was the support for the ‘Butcher of Damascus’ amongst the people he was supposed to be butchering that the Western media machine which had been selling this lie had to find a way out. Mostly it did this by simply ignoring the election, or trying to spin the line that somehow people had been duped, or too frightened of resisting. Western governments soon came to their media’s aid – they declared the election ‘illegitimate’, without offering the slightest reason as to how this could be. They continued, and continue to this day, to maintain that the body of exiles and stooges for foreign powers that calls itself the ‘Syrian National Coalition’ is ‘the legitimate representative of the Syrian People’. Absent of course were the messages of congratulation and support for the President of Syria that normally follow an election, even in countries not entirely to our liking. Syrians had little choice but to accept this condemnation of the national will by the Western world, but in so doing their attitude to our countries significantly hardened, and scepticism about our motivation intensified. At the same time the Syrian national spirit was consolidated, and in a way which puts our own shallow and duplicitous behaviour to shame. The Syrian project for reconciliation and restoration gathered strength, and Syrians found a commitment and ability to forgive those who were prepared to abandon the ‘revolution’ which continues to impress us.
It wasn’t until August that the West began to think about Syria once more, with the regional focus distracted by events in Egypt and another barbaric massacre of Palestinians in Gaza by their Israeli jailors. Meanwhile in Europe, the shooting down of MH17 in Ukraine acted to focus media attention and wrath on the target of this atrocity – Vladimir Putin. While Russia’s support for Syria has only increased as a result of the US/NATO campaign against it, Russia has nevertheless had to focus on the dangers on its doorstep – some things have happened in Syria against which it would otherwise have reacted more strongly, with the breaching of Syria’s sovereignty by US war planes being the main one.
While Western governments have portrayed the threat of ‘ISIL’, Daeesh, or ‘Islamic State’ as the newest and greatest threat to stability in the Middle East, and a growing danger ‘back home’, – threats which have been built upon by the mainstream media cheer squad, some see this group of foreign jihadists as yet another convenient tool of the US. The US has even admitted as much, with the CIA training fighters in Jordan for the last two years, and having apparent links with IS leaders. Although the ‘Al Qaeda in Iraq’ has been active for some years, there had been developments of new allegiances in Iraq long before we saw convoys of jeeps and black-clad soldiers on the march there. The immediate pretext for ‘intervention’ in Iraq was the supposed threat from ISIL to the Kurdish area around Erbil in the north where the US already has major interests in Oil extraction. Confirming the role of this vested interest in ‘Kurdish security’, Oil exports from the area reached a record high late in 2014. Notably there is still no agreement on the share of revenue that the Baghdad government should receive for the sale of that Oil.
The development of the ‘Islamic State narrative’ – that these crazed jihadis represent a threat not to Iraqis and Syrians but to US, and so we HAVE to intervene, was helped by the appearance of beheading videos. Even though some cast suspicion on the exact origins and authenticity of these professional looking productions, their effect on the target audiences in Europe and the US was enormous; that they were not in Iraq but in SYRIA provided an immediate pretext to breach Syria’s sovereignty to ‘degrade and destroy’ the ‘Islamic State’. This we are told is at one time a fundamentalist Islamic organisation, but at the same time is ‘a death cult’ which bears no relation to Islam.
For Syrians however, ISIS or IS is simply another name for another group of murderous terrorists which the Syrian Army must fight to protect them. And the arms that they are using, when they aren’t homemade, are made in America and paid for by Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The US may protest that they gave the weapons to ‘moderate’ groups who then joined the extremists, but recent claims by the Iraq government that the US and UK have been deliberately dropping weapons for ISIS suggests they may be playing a dangerous double game. This would be the same double game they have been playing for the last four years, with the CIA helping both jihadists and weapons from Libya to travel to Syria via Turkey; no-one could claim that these men were ‘moderates’, leave alone Syrian.(4) Unphased by observations that the US was helping Assad by bombing ISIL, the US has nevertheless struggled to define exactly who it is supporting in Syria.
Also featuring in the support group for ISIL are Turkey and Israel, who are both evidently assisting fighters with ‘logistics’ as well as hospital care. Both states have designs on Syrian territory and make illegal incursions into it as it suits them. The recent performance by Turkey to ‘save’ the tomb of Suleiman Shah ‘from ISIS’ does not portend well – 600 men with armoured personnel carriers and 35 tanks went 50 kms into Northern Syria and removed the tomb, moving it closer to Turkey’s border. Having sat for months beside the border town of Kobani watching while the US dropped some bombs and Kurdish fighters engaged IS militants, Turkey’s sudden incursion was a surprise. Also around this time the US announced that it had drawn up an agreement with Turkey to help train 5000 ‘Syrian fighters’ to use in Syria – but against whom we aren’t quite sure…
That the response of Western governments to Syria’s new found spirit of renewal and recovery has been to launch a new offensive on a variety of false pretexts is morally repugnant; that people who hear nothing but ‘news’ from Western mainstream media are blindly complicit in such a crime only compounds the criminality of the orchestrators of the ‘path to Persia’.
1. Tony Cartalucci on ‘Which path to Persia’ and Hersh’s ‘The Redirection’:
2. The US strike on Syria in perspective:
3. Sharmine Narwani on the ‘legitimacy’ of elections:
4 Seymour Hersh on ‘the Red line and the Rat line’: