Appearing on Russia Today’s CrossTalk, see here or click on the video above, Flynt argues that
“what really drives American foreign policy toward Iran is a post-Cold War determination on the part of the United States to dominate the Middle East, to play a hegemonic role in the Middle East—to micromanage political outcomes in key Middle Eastern states so that those states’ strategic orientation is subordinated to U.S. foreign policy preferences and the Middle East has a regional order which is essentially run by the United States. From that perspective, the problem with the Islamic Republic of Iran is that it won’t play along with this kind of hegemonic ambition. It’s said it’s very open to improved relations with the United States, but that has to take place on the basis of equality and American acceptance of the Islamic Republic.
That’s not the Washington agenda for the Middle East, and it drives this very hostile posture toward Iran.”
Today, Flynt explains, such hostility is strongly reflected in U.S. policy on the Iranian nuclear issue and on Syria:
“If you look at the American position on the nuclear issue—the nuclear issue could be solved diplomatically in a matter of weeks, if the United States would recognize Iran’s right to enrich uranium under international safeguards. But that would mean the United States was accepting the Islamic Republic as a legitimate political entity with legitimate national interests. And the United States isn’t prepared to do that. Instead, it keeps insisting that Iran has to surrender that right for diplomatic progress to be possible.
If you look at the position on Syria—there’s been the meeting between Secretary Kerry and [Russian] Foreign Minister Lavrov in Moscow, and people are looking toward the possibility of a conference. But already the planning for this is getting balled up because the Russians, quite reasonably, think if you’re going to have a conference on Syria, you need all the relevant and important players there—which means you need Iran there. And the United States is already balking at having Iran take part in a conference on Syria. That is just not diplomatically serious. It’s privileging this ambition to hegemony in the Middle East over really serious diplomacy.”
As to diplomatic prospects with regard to Syria, Flynt notes,
“Russia, Iran, China (the players that are usually associated, in common parlance, as in some ways being supportive of the Syrian government): if you look at their position, and even the position of the Syrian government, they have been open to a political process—to having a dialogue with the opposition aimed at some sort of political settlement, which would produce a different kind of political order in Syria. But it’s the opposition elements, backed by the United States, which have insisted not just on preconditions but in effect on ‘pre-results’ from a meeting, where they have to have, up front, some commitment that Assad is going to step down before this process even gets going. That’s not a serious diplomatic position.
If you want to stop violence in Syria, you have to get all parties to the table, you can’t have these kinds of absurd preconditions, and you have to get down to the business of diplomacy. I think that Russia, frankly, China, and Iran have been trying to do that, trying harder to get that kind of process off the ground, than the United States has been. Because for the United States to do this means it’s acknowledging that it can’t just dictate outcomes in this part of the world. It actually has to accommodate other parties’ interests; it has to accommodate on-the-ground reality.”
Flynt goes on to put Russian and Chinese vetoes of three U.S.-backed UN Security Council resolutions on Syria in a very different perspective from that typically deployed in mainstream Western discourse:
“The Russian and Chinese vetoes at the UN come against the backdrop of both Russia and China having let the Libya resolution go through in March 2011—the Libya resolution that authorized the use of force to protect civilian populations on humanitarian grounds, but which the United States and others then turned into, basically, a regime change campaign, with NATO aircraft flying missions where they’re out to kill Qaddhafi. From a Russian perspective, from a Chinese perspective—I think from a decent international legal perspective—that is, to say the least, an extremely problematic scenario. And Russia and China were not about to let this scenario repeat itself in Syria.”
Turning to Syrian oppositionists, Flynt suggests that it is unlikely they represent even a narrow majority of Syrians: “What about the 40-50 percent of Syrian society that continues to support Assad? I think Assad retains the support of about half of Syrian society. What about them?” He also challenges some of the dominant images of Syrian oppositionists in the West—and defines that real choice confronting American policymakers with regard to Syria:
“When you look at the situation in Syria, it’s obvious that many innocent people have been killed, and that is a profound tragedy. But I think that the narrative in the West—that this was basically a peaceful protest by Syrians that was responded to brutally, and these people took all of this violence until a year later, eighteen months later, they had to start responding violently—I don’t think that’s really the way things played out…[O]utside powers—the Saudis, others—were pouring money and weapons into Syria from a very early point.
The agenda was not to bring democracy to Syrians. I don’t think the Saudis care about that; frankly, I don’t think the United States cares all that much about that. The agenda was to topple Assad as a way of hurting Iran’s regional position. 70,000 dead Syrians later, this project has not worked…Now countries like the United States face a choice. They can either accept that this project of toppling Assad to hurt Iran has failed, and they can get serious about a diplomatic process that might produce a political settlement and end violence. Or if they keep doing this, if they keep supporting the opposition, we’re going to be looking at literally years of continued violence, and who knows how many more tens of thousands of dead Syrians.
That is the choice…[For] as long as opposition groups have outside supporters like the Saudis, like the United States, who are in a sense egging them on, they have absolutely no incentive to face political reality and enter some kind of negotiating process…They don’t have an interest in doing that because there are outsiders who will help them keep the violence rolling along indefinitely.”
Finally, Flynt challenges the fundamental premises of those criticizing the United States for not having “done more” in Syria already:
“As far as the United States doing what ‘was necessary’ early on, there is this small matter of sovereignty, there’s this small matter of international law that says you only get to use force when the Security Council authorizes it or under a fairly narrow interpretation of self-defense in the UN Charter. The United States has no right—it may have a hegemonic prerogative (or think it does), but it has no right—to impose no-fly zones over sovereign states to get rid of a leader that it doesn’t like…
[F]ind one case in which the United States applied military force, ostensibly for the protection of civilian populations, in which part of its agenda was not also regime change in that country. If you look at the Balkans, if you look at Iraq, if you look at what we did in Libya, if you look at what we say we want to do in Syria—in every one of those cases, the argument for humanitarian intervention is inextricably bound up with the argument for coercive regime change. Frankly, I think Russia and China are eminently justified in saying that they’re not going to enable that.”
–Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett