20 June 2013 — The Real News Network
Omar S. Dahi is an assistant professor of economics. He received his B.A. in economics from California State University at Long Beach, and his M.A. and Ph.D. in economics from the University of Notre Dame, Indiana. His research and teaching interests are in the areas of economic development and international trade, with a special focus on South-South economic cooperation, and on the political economy of the Middle East and North Africa.
US Claims of Chemical Weapons Use By Syria A Pretext for Arming Rebels
JAISAL NOOR, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jaisal Noor in Baltimore.
Today we’re going to talk about the latest developments from Syria.
Now joining us is Omar Dahi. He’s an assistant professor of economics at Hampshire College in Massachusetts. He’s an editor of The Middle East Report. And he’s of Syrian descent.
Thank you for joining us, Omar.
OMAR DAHI, ASSOC. PROF. ECONOMICS, HAMPSHIRE COLLEGE: Thanks for having me. Glad to be here.
NOOR: Let’s get your thoughts about the agreement that was reached at the G8 summit which just ended in Northern Ireland.
DAHI: There’s very little new that came out of this G8 summit. One year ago, almost to the day exactly, in June 20, 2012, there was the initial Geneva conference, and out of that conference came almost exactly the same statement that this current G8 summit said, which is that there’s broad agreement that there should be a political settlement, that there should be a transition, and that a transitional government should come that includes some current members of the current regime, as well as members of the opposition, and that it should be fully empowered.
In the same way as the first Geneva conference of 2012 that I just mentioned, there is no explicit statement that Bashar al-Assad should leave as a precondition to this political settlement. So, basically, in that sense there has been very little other than a rehashing of a one-year-old agreement. And over this past year the big difference is that the violence has escalated dramatically. The humanitarian tragedy has increased. The United States has tried increasingly to take control over from its allies in the region, from Qatar and Saudi Arabia. We’ve seen Qatar marginalized and Saudi Arabia now coming more to the forefront.
But you’re right. The Russian side as well has all along said that they will continue to support the Syrian regime and that they will not allow a full military victory for the opposition.
In many ways, the broad parameters with the agreement are still there. The question is: how do you actually put this settlement into execution? And that is still up in the air.
NOOR: So British Prime Minister David Cameron has said they have learned the lessons of Iraq. Yet you almost could feel a déjà vu as the Western powers say that chemical weapons have been used, insisting they are forced to act, arm the Syrian rebels. Talk about this claim of chemical weapons and whether there should be more skepticism around those claims. Has any evidence been presented to show chemical weapons have been used?
DAHI: Well, I’m not an expert on chemical weapons, and as far as I know, even by the admissions of the U.S. government itself, what they mention is that 150 and maybe 200 people have been killed or perhaps have been exposed to sarin gas. They have not conclusively linked it to the regime itself, because through the chain of, basically, where the evidence was passed from one side to the other, it’s not 100 percent conclusive. But even if it was, you’re talking about a conflict that has claimed tens of thousands, even more than 100,000 lives. The idea that 200 people being exposed to sarin gas is now somehow the big change is little bit hard to believe. It’s hard to take the chemical weapons claim seriously as an instigator for action, other than it’s going to be used as a pretext to put pressure on the Russians and put pressure on the Syrian government, which is to say that if you do not come to a political settlement or if you do not abide by the direction that we’re going, we are possibly going to use that to escalate the pressure and to increase the intervention against you.
So I think it’s best to understand the chemical weapons claim as a negotiating ploy, as a way of increasing the pressure on the Syrian government at its allies, and more than somehow a magical change in what’s going to happen. The U.S. may use it to justify all sorts of things, but in light of all the different things that have taken place in the Syrian conflict so far, it’s hard to take it seriously in the way that they’re presenting it.
NOOR: And finally, what does this mean for the people on the ground in Syria? What does it mean for people living in refugee camps, people that are displaced, people that are on the front lines of the conflict?
DAHI: Well, it means an ongoing tragedy. It means that so long as the political settlement is not happening, so long as both sides don’t fully pressure the warring parties to come together to the table and hash out an agreement that can end the conflict, that can initiate a transitional government, that can somehow stop the bloodshed, even if it doesn’t solve all the issues–it’s unlikely that all the issues will be solved just at once. But the people on the ground are suffering. By the end of this year, you may have even a quarter or more of the Syrian population as either refugees or internally displaced. You already have almost 3, 4 million people. It’s a humanitarian tragedy that needs to be stopped. The UNHCR, the World Food Programme have already declared it to be as big or bigger than any catastrophe in the post-World War II period, which is staggering given all the level of conflict and other serious crises that have happened in the last couple of decades alone. So that’s what it means. It means people on the ground are paying the price. And those are the people whose voices are being heard the least.
NOOR: Omar Dahi, I want to thank you for joining us for part one of our discussion. And for our listeners, stay tuned for part two.
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