Learning the Geography of Syria, USA Style  
by Mina Hamilton
November 8, 2003

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A recent dateline on the front page of the New York Times: Aleppo.  How many Americans know where Aleppo is?  


Is this the beginning of the countdown to Bush's bloody way of teaching geography?


We've been through this before.  Before Gulf War II who knew the names of any cities or towns in Iraq besides Baghdad?   


Americans now know Falluja.  Here, on November 2nd, 16 GI's died as guerillas shot down a US helicopter.  It's also where, in April, US troops fired on Sunni protestors killing at least 14.  We know Mosul; that's where Saddam's sons were blasted to smithereens.  We now know Basra, Tikrit and Najaf.


We learn geography through fire and explosions.  We learn through severed heads, crushed bellies and amputated limbs.


We learned Kandahar, Mazar-e-Sharif and Herat in Afghanistan as US bombers turned ancient cities into rubble.


Is Syria next? 


The whole corrupt Pentagon game works exactly because the space on the world map occupied by Syria is, in the minds of most Americans, a blank, a tabula rasa, a white page ready to receive -- propaganda.


Ask which countries share Syria's borders?  Probably most US citizens now know Iraq shares a border with Syria.  Others may know that Israel is a neighbor.  I bet most could not name the other adjacent countries: Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.


What about Syria's population?  Is it 10 million?  32 million?  Is Syria land-locked?  What rivers wend their way through its deserts?  What are its main industries?  What ancient cultural treasures dot the land?


Our ignorance is abysmal.  On the empty canvas Rumsfeld & Co., the Israeli lobby, the Hill and Knowlton pr team, and Fox News can paint whatever distortions they please.


On this blank slate, David Wurmser, who recently joined Dick Cheney's staff as adviser on the Middle East, can spew out propaganda.  Previously an aide to Richard Perle, Wurmser was a key player in digging up information used to justify the attack on Iraq.  Wurmser is also the main author of a 1996 report calling for Israeli attacks on Syria. (1)


The Wurmser appointment is ominous.  Has Syria slid into the sites of the American military machine?  Are the US soldiers in Iraq already being prepped?  A Captain of the 82nd Airborne says,  "We are being attacked by Syrian-trained terrorists." (2) 


The Captain did not finger terrorists from Iran or Saudi Arabia or Yemen.  Where did he get this message?  One can safely guess the military brass. 


Why not Syria?  It's poor.  The US military machine could flatten it in a minute. 


Why not Syria?  It controls the pipeline whereby Iraqi oil from the Kirkuk oil fields can be transported directly to the Mediterranean, instead of the long haul around the Arabian Peninsula, up the Red Sea and through the Suez Canal.   


Why not Syria? A spanking new war will divert attention away from the disastrous one in Iraq.  The new war could be just in time for the 2004 election, neatly thrusting US voters into a fit of patriotic jingoism.  Once the missiles start flying, bye-bye to the chances of any Democratic candidate…


Does anybody really believe that the Bush administration didn't give the green light to Israel's October 5 strike against Syria?  This was Israel's first air strike deep into Syrian territory since 1974.  Hey, that's thirty years ago. 


When Condileeza Rice and Colin Powell were in Israel last summer they didn't discuss with Sharon his plans to bomb Syria?  Come on!  Perhaps the target, Ain Saheb, only ten miles away from Damascus was not specifically mentioned, but it's the way of imperial powers and their client states to discuss such important matters in advance.


Does anybody really believe that Sharon won't strike again?  Won't strike provocatively, perhaps, hoping to inspire a counter-attack by Syria?  Then, presto, the US has an excuse to start the Syrian War - to protect Israel.


Already Bush has said the Israeli attack was "self-defense."  What did Hanadi Jaradat the Jenin woman who blew up herself and 19 citizens in Haifa have to do with Syria?  There is no evidence of a direct connection.  What is known: she was revenging the death of her brother and cousin who had been murdered while in Israeli custody. (3)


I hate bloody, eye-for-an-eye revenge.  I grieve over the terrible loss of life, the bloody corpses, the innocent lives sliced down in Palestine, in Israel, in Iraq, in Afghanistan and other countries around the world. 


Who doesn't hate and despise terrorism?  But that doesn't mean we can passively watch as lies are spewed forth, creating the conditions for Bush's next war. 


The ducks are lining up in Congress, both Democrats and Republicans.  The October 15 vote for the Syrian Accountability Act in the House was 398 to 4.


The wording in the Syrian Accountability Act and the falsehood-full rhetoric of its supporters are suggestive of the arguments used during the build up to the Iraq War. 


The Act says that in the 1990's, Syria imported Iraqi oil, in violation of UN sanctions.  So did Turkey and Jordan, but we're not planning to bomb them. (4) At least, not yet.


The old tale about WMDs is trotted out.  WMDs still haven't been found in Iraq, but the US alleges their presence in Syria.  Syria is chastised for not being a party to the Chemical Weapons Convention or the Biological Weapons Convention.  Forget that both Egypt and Israel have WMDs and neither country has ratified these conventions. (5)


The anti-Syrians rant on about Syria's nuclear research program.  Not mentioned: Syria is a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.  Also ignored are Israel's secret stash of 200 nuclear weapons and its failure to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.


There are shouts about Syria's large military presence in Lebanon.  Disregarded is Israel's illegal occupation of the Golan Heights since the war of 1967 or its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza or the US's occupation of Iraq.


What will really sell in Washington, in the halls of Congress and on Fox News is the charge of Syria's support of international terrorism. 


TomDeLay on October 15 warned "Syria is a government at war with the values of the civilized world and a violent threat to free nations and free men everywhere…The United States will not tolerate terrorism, its perpetrators, or its sponsors." (6)


Forgotten is the US State Department's Report on Global Terrorism.  It says, "The Syrian Government has not been implicated directly in an act of terrorism since 1986." (7)


Not that the Syrian government is a nice one.  Hafez al-Assad ran a ruthless military dictatorship for years and was guilty of horrible crimes against his peoples, such as the slaughter of 10,000 members of the Muslim Brotherhood.  The Syrian government does support Hamas and the Islamic Jihad.  But the rational question is - how to respond to this support? 


Does rationality have a chance when terrorism is the subject?  All one need say is Hezbollah and any member of Congress will jump up and scream bomb 'em, kill 'em.


Who does not grieve over the 200 marines killed in Beirut in 1983 in a suicide bombing for which Hezbollah took credit?  Who does not hate young men turned into bloody corpses?  But what about the Hezbollah that runs hospitals in Lebanon and provides aid to Palestinian refugees?  Do we hate them too? (8)


And what is the way to defang terrorist networks? Is it to embark on a new US-sponsored bloodbath?  Or is it to insist that Israel abide by dozens of UN resolutions regarding returning the West Bank and Gaza to Palestine?  Is it to be adamant that Israel dismantle the Apartheid Wall, the Settlements, stop political assassinations, and stop bulldozing markets and homes? 


Will anybody in the US Congress dare to make these points?  Will anybody dare to mention that post 9/11 Syria has provided invaluable assistance to the US war on terrorism, providing hundreds of files on Al Qaeda, including important data on the activities of radical Islamic cells throughout the Middle East and Europe? (9)


Get primed to watch the propaganda machine gear up.  Get set to watch as the imperial warlords create more and more terrorists just as they have in Iraq.


Get prepared for the geography lesson.  Get ready to learn the geography of Syria as F-14 Hornets obliterate Halab, Hims, and Damascus.  Get ready to tuck more Arabic names under your belt as Palmyra, Al Ladhiqiyah and Hamah go up in smoke.


Is the geography lesson inevitable?  Must this all happen?  It depends.  It depends how many voices are raised now saying, We refuse.


Mina Hamilton is a writer in New York City.  She can be reached at minaham@aol.com.


Other Recent Articles by Mina Hamilton


* Atrocities of War: Qalqiliya and the Apartheid Wall

   * (AOL Browsers) Atrocities of War: Qalqiliya and the Apartheid Wall
* “Us” and “Them”: Who and What is a Terrorist?

* International Troops in Iraq: Fighting for "Democracy"

* What's in the Energy Bill? Stealth Nuclear Power Plants

* Not in the News: The Other Blackout

* Thursday, August 14: During the Blackout

* Bush and the Seven Deadly Sins

* In Memory of Abbie Hoffman

* Delusions

* Getting Prepared -- With Apologies to Shakespeare

* The Sack of Baghdad: "Like a Lobotomy"

* Talking About War - On the Subway

* How to Spell Quagmire





(1) Lobe, Jim, "New Cheney Foreign Policy Advisor Sets Sites on Syria," Foreign Policy in Focus, October 22, 2003.


(2) Fisk, Robert, "One, Two, Three, What Are They Fighting For?" Dissident Voice, October 27, 2003, originally published in the Independent.


(3) Ash, Gabriel, "When at a Loss, Escalate: Israel's Attack on Syria," October 6, 2003, yellowtimes.org.


(4) Toensing, Chris, "Holding Syria Accountable," Middle East Research and Information Project (MERIP), September, 2003.


(5) Zunes, Stephen, "The Syrian Accountability Act and the Triumph of Hegemony,” Foreign Policy in Focus, October 2003.


(6) Office of the Majority Leader, Tom DeLay, press release, October 15, 2003


(7) Zunes, Stephen, op. cit., p. 2


(8) Shaft, Jay, "Hezbollah: the Next US Target on the War on Terrorism?" Progressive Daily News, June 5, 2003, www.progressivedailynews.com.


(9) The Nation, Editorial, "Is Syria Next?" November 3, 2003.




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