PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Paul Jay in Baltimore.
We're continuing our series of interviews, trying to have a better understanding of the forces in conflict and in play in Syria. Now joining us again is Sami Ramadani. He's a senior lecturer in sociology at the London Metropolitan University. He was a political refugee in Iraq, Saddam's regime. And he joins us again now from London. Thanks for joining us again, Sami.
RAMADANI, SOCIOLOGY SENIOR LECTURER, LONDON METROPOLITAN UNIVERSITY: Most welcome.
JAY: So, again, if you haven't watched the previous parts, well, you should, because we're just going to pick up the conversation. So let's start with Russia and then China, but Russia's certainly more at play here. Why is Russia sticking its neck out on Syria, sticking its neck out meaning getting into such direct confrontation with the United States?
RAMADANI: A number of issues with Russia. I think following Libya they woke up to the fact that the only Arab country left with close links to Russia is Syria. They've had close links with Syria for decades. They've been arming the Syrian army in confrontation with Israel for 50 years or so, about half a century or so. They have a military base in Tartus, the only Russian military base in the Mediterranean. Admittedly, it's a small base, nothing like what the U.S. has in the region, but it's a base where Russian ships can refuel and so forth. It's a facility, a presence in the Mediterranean.
Also, they understand the regional game just as well as the United States does, that if Syria goes, then Iran is the next target. And Iran is obviously on Russia's borders, and Iran is a very strategic ally today of Russia in terms of geopolitics of the entire world, not just the region.
So combine Syria and Iran and you get an overall picture where Russia feels directly threatened.
JAY: So how far will Russia take this? Meaning: you know, if they try—if the Western countries, particularly, you know, the ones we've been talking about, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United States, and now some Europeans jump in, I mean, if they decide to intervene without a UN resolution—and I don't know if they would, but perhaps—how far does Russia go, in the sense that do they continue to support Syria in its direct armed conflict with the West? And then where does that lead?
RAMADANI: Well, I mean, I take a pessimistic view that this thing could, five years, ten years down the line, lead to a world war, because if Iran gets attacked in this conflagration, then who says that Russia will not intervene, or China as well? So you are talking about a very dangerous world today, unfortunately, Paul.
And one of the reasons I say this is that we also have a world capitalist economic crisis. The world capitalist economy, including the U.S. economy, is in deep crisis. And if we study history and look at history, deep, deep economic crises lead to wars. Wars seem to be an outlet for capitalist economies in deep crisis. There is almost a spontaneous tendency. It doesn't need a lot of planning, because the industrial-military complex is massive. It's probably the most important segment of the economy, and it has political weight to go with it. And if war means that the military-industrial complex is a bit happier, then wars they will have. And I fear that along this very dangerous contact line of Syria, Lebanon, Iran, Iraq, you are talking about an enormous potential for conflict.
JAY: So your argument is not only is outside intervention going to up the nature of the conflict in Syria and be, as you've described in one of your articles, a disaster for the Syrian people, but it could wind up being a disaster for the entire globe.
RAMADANI: Absolutely. I really do, because of the surrounding regional problems and the world economic situation, and the fact Russia is regaining some of its lost power militarily, and economically their situation have improved in the last ten years, because following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia was in sixes and sevens, destabilized, very weak economy, and so on. They have picked up quite a bit.
China has picked up economically and militarily. And I don't think they today will accept a total monopolar world whereby only the United States is the dominant force, or even NATO.
So you are talking about emerging countries, and they might—India might even jump ship and go with China, Russia. India still is in the balance. Will they feel threatened by this onward march towards war? Or will they throw their weight with NATO and maybe as a prize get Pakistan and settle the question of Kashmir? You have interlocking problems.
JAY: Well, this is why I said in the last interview this is feeling like pre-First World War in some ways, although if you throw in the depression, it's got bits of the Second World War, too. But in either case it's extremely dangerous situation. Let's go back into inside Syria. Yeah, go ahead.
RAMADANI: Just one more final point there, Paul, that one of the reasons Russia is becoming intransigent on Syria is again just like my analysis about the Syrian opposition, the democratic opposition, and why the Syria regime got strangled is that the armed opposition is very closely tied to Saudi Arabia and the United States. If those ties were not as strong, then Russia is not wedded to Assad. They are wedded maybe to Syria or a Syria which is not completely allied to the United States and Saudi Arabia. So they could tolerate a regime change, but not a regime change in which the armed opposition proxies of Saudi, Qatar, Turkey, and the United States taking over.
JAY: Okay. So what's the way out of this? I know nothing we say in this interview is going to change what's going on there. But in terms of what the sort of what you're calling the more democratic forces within Syria, what are they calling for? What do they want now? And what's possible now?
RAMADANI: What I read from them is that obviously they are very depressed by what goes on. But they still plug the same line. And which other line one would really request from them? They are responding to the demands of the Syrian people. They want democracy. They want better conditions for the people. But they are also saying, look, if this armed conflict continues, Syria itself is threatened, Syrian society could collapse, we will have a situation like Iraq and even worse. I mean, beyond that, what else could they say?
JAY: Well, what I'm hearing from some of the Syrians I'm talking to, some of my friends—and these are people that have not been—are certainly not, you know, pro-intervention; they're not pro-West in that way. They want Syria to be an independent, sovereign country. Their sympathies have been with the more democratic, as you call it, opposition. They're against the militarization of the opposition. But they're saying the only way out now is the Assad family—Assad himself, at least, has to step down, and then you could have some opening for negotiations, that as long as Assad's there, you can't diffuse this militarization. And they say, you know, the forces, the pro-militarization forces may not say that's enough, but Syrian society might shift and say, okay, now the fighting has to stop, Assad's gone, sort of what happened in Egypt, even though of course a lot of people will be critical of what happened there, 'cause you wind up having Mubarakism without Mubarak. But still, that's not quite necessarily analogous to Syria. Anyway, the point is is should people be calling for—against intervention and for Assad to step down?
RAMADANI: Well, you see, the thing is that I do not think that the problem is just Assad. Assad is a symbol. And what is happening is that because of the armed opposition wanting the entire regime to go, then people, the elites around the regime will not let Assad go even if he wants to go, if you see what I mean, because what they are seeing is that this opposition is not a genuine Syrian opposition, because they could deal—even with the democratic forces they could give concessions. They could get rid of even Assad.
JAY: Now, hang on one sec on that point, because I've talked to journalists who have been there, and again it's—they see a slice of what life is there, but they've talked to lots of members of the opposition, including those involved in the fighting, and they say that many of the fighters are not this sort of hardcore Islamists, they're not just the Syrian National Army connected to the Saudis, that there's a lot of indigenous ordinary people involved in the fighting, and they're not just—you can't characterize them as not genuinely Syrian.
RAMADANI: No, no. I wouldn't dispute that, by the way. I was trying to refer to the main military force, the people who are being armed with the night-vision sniper rifles, NATO, the people who are being armed with antitank rockets.
JAY: And we're hearing today they're getting the equivalent of Stinger missiles now. Apparently they got 20, 30 missiles that can fire and bring down helicopters.
RAMADANI: Absolutely. Exactly what the United States did in Afghanistan with the mujahideen against the Soviet forces, if you remember.
JAY: 'Cause it is important to distinguish, though, that not all the fighters involved in armed struggle are those people you're talking about.
RAMADANI: I think those who are going on the offensive are mainly foreign-backed. But there are fighters who defend their families, who are more defensive in posture. And the democratic forces in Syria, I read their literature. They do refer to such people. They say, we know people who are armed, but they are armed to defend their neighborhoods or their families. They do not go on offensives. They do not launch operations suddenly in Damascus or Aleppo. So they make a distinction.
These forces which are going on the offensive, trying to occupy neighborhoods and occupy cities, they want to occupy Aleppo, because Aleppo is only 25—let me get this right—about 25 miles from the Turkish border—very close. And if they control Aleppo, they control the supply lines that come from Turkey. They will create a situation like Benghazi in Libya, they hope, so that arms, heavy arms and so on, could flood into Syria and they start a frontal warfare in Syria.
This agenda is a foreign agenda. It is not the Syrian people's agenda.
JAY: Now, if there is to be armed intervention, is the force that it most likely would be to be Turks? It's hard to see other—I mean, I guess, I mean, the Americans, but it's hard to see in an election year Obama's going to bite off another war, a ground war here. I mean, maybe something aerial. But if they're going to go on the ground, does it not have to be the Turks and maybe the Saudis?
RAMADANI: Sure. There are would be Turks, I'm sure, but not necessarily they go in as a Turkish army. There are enough Arab-speaking Turks to go in. There are Syrian nationals also who live in Turkey. There are Saudis, Qataris. Libyans, by the way, in their hundreds have gone to Turkey and they have infiltrated into Syria. You have fighters from all over the world now being called to fight a jihad war in Syria. So you—and according to the famous Egyptian journalist Mohamed Hassanein Heikal, Blackwater is involved. They have 6,000 fighters whom they trained in the Emirates, Arab-speaking fighters who have been infiltrated into Syria. So you're talking about a destabilization campaign there.
I think the United States is in such a state now, a bit like in Iraq: if they cannot control it, they don't mind seeing it destroyed. And that's a terrible thing to say, I know. But any policymaker in Washington, it's a dreadful thing, I know, to suggest and say that if you can't control a place, well, let it go to hell and get it destroyed. But that's what will happen in Syria. If they don't get a regime to their liking, they'll try to destroy Syrian society. And that suits an Israeli agenda as well.
JAY: So to the extent that people outside Syria can influence the policy of their countries—and I guess these days it's not so much. But at any rate, what do you think people should be demanding?
RAMADANI: I think a demand should be to stop the fighting. The Syria regime has to withdraw its forces. The armed opposition has to stop fighting, give a chance, a true ceasefire, unless Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey say ceasefire, they want ceasefire, because the ceasefire is coming from Saudi, Qatari, Turkey, and United States.
JAY: Well, the only way that happens, really, I would assume, is if the Saudis, the Qataris, the Turks, the Americans shut the flow of arms off. But they are all actually—they're full steam ahead on that.
RAMADANI: Yes. I think if they don't shut the flow and the money and call for a genuine ceasefire, there will be a terrible, terrible civil war in Syria. And not only the minorities will suffer; some 40 percent of Syria's population is various ethnic and religious minorities.
JAY: But the other side of that my Syrian friends want is they want more international pressure than there is, and I'm not sure how much more there could be, but they want more pressure to force Assad out, to create some room for negotiations.
RAMADANI: I think if the armed opposition stops, Assad's position will become very precarious, very precarious, because then there will be no excuse for Assad to stay. And even the elites in Syria will say, look, we have a window here; the armed opposition have stopped because Saudis, Qataris, Turkey, and the United States will cut off supplies to them if they don't stop; let us withdraw the tanks; let's even get rid of Assad; you see, because this thing is a dynamic, and the dynamic at the moment is that the foreign agenda says not only topple Assad, but have a pro-U.S. regime, pro-Saudi regime in Damascus. If that agenda stays, then the Assad regime will fight to the last and the elites around him will fight with him. And the minorities will not be with the opposition, either.
JAY: Alright. Thanks very much for joining us, Sami.
RAMADANI: You're most welcome.
JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network. And we'll continue to follow Syria and the conflict there as best we can. Now, again, if you want to see more of The Real News, there's a "Donate" button over here. Thanks for joining us again on The Real News Network.