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Part two of writer Chris Hedges and scholar Rania Masri response to President Obama’s Syria address

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JAISAL NOOR, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jaisal Noor in Baltimore. We are continuing our discussion in response to President Obama’s major address Tuesday night on possible military intervention in Syria.

We’re continuing our discussion with two guests. Rania Masri is an Arab-American human rights activist, environmental scientist, and a professor in Lebanon. We’re also joined by Chris Hedges. He’s a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, senior fellow at the Nation Institute, and former Middle East Bureau chief for The New York Times.

So, Chris, let’s start this segment with you. How does this Obama speech–he outlined the delayed–possible delayed vote in the Congress to authorize a possible strike. How does this fit into the U.S.’s overall mission in Syria? And along with his regional allies, many have, you know, made the argument, including those on the right, that what the U.S. and Israel and its other allies should do is just prolong this, prolong the Syrian conflict as long as possible so there are no winners and no one is really in control of Syria.

CHRIS HEDGES, JOURNALIST AND WRITER: Well, that’s clearly the Israeli policy. They want arms to be provided to the rebels in sufficient quantities to continue the war so that the Syrians will tear their country to pieces, which is what they’ve been doing over the last two years. I suspect that’s also the American policy as well.

You have to remember that in recent weeks the rebels, who are quite fractious and have spent a certain amount of time shooting each other, have been reeling backwards. And dropping the quantity of Tomahawk missiles on Syria that has been proposed from the Eastern Mediterranean would clearly shift the balance of power. I was in Bosnia during the NATO bombing campaign and watched after that campaign as the Serbs reeled backwards.

But I think that there is a deep amount of cynicism at work here, in which outside forces, led by Israel and probably Saudi Arabia, and probably the United States as well, would like to keep this conflict going as long as possible to essentially destroy both factions within the war and render Syria a ruin. Much of Syria, of course, has already become a ruin. But I think that that’s clearly the Israeli policy, and I think that that’s probably, at its deepest level, something that’s been embraced by the United States as well.

NOOR: And, Rania, I want to pose that to you. Will this change the overall policy of the U.S. and its allies, the overall tactics they’re putting forth? And as something that you’ve talked about, this, whatever U.S. or UN action is put forward, it’s not going to limit the weapons or the funding and the aid to the Syrian rebels, some which are affiliated with al-Qaeda and also responsible for many atrocities across Syria.

RANIA MASRI, HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST, ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENTIST: Yes. Well, I completely agree with what Chris has been saying. Most definitely there is an objective to, quote, let them kill each other, similar to the objective that the United States had during the Iraq-Iran War: let them just kill each other, and that solves the problem for the United States in doing its killing itself. There is definitely that.

I do want to add, though, that it in Syria we not only have Syrians killing Syrians; we also have a very significant number of foreigners who call themselves jihadis. But I prefer to call them takfiris. And the number is at least 10,000, and reports have gone up as far as 50,000. We don’t really know their full number. We know that they’re coming from more than 40 different countries. We know that they’re constantly setting up new rebellion brigades that are being led by them. The latest have been led by folks from Chechnya and the Caucasus. And we know, for example, when we look at the attack on Ma’loula, which is a very ancient Christian village that in no way can be regarded as a Syrian Army stronghold, you know, in Syria because it is basically a civilian village center, and it has been taken over by elements of the Free Syrian Army and al-Qaeda. And from witnesses on the ground, they’re saying that a lot of these armed men, they’re not even speaking Arabic. So we have a significant group of foreigners. And, personally, I find that this significant group of foreigners can be the most horrific, because they’re following an ideology that has nothing to do with Syria, nothing to do with the Syrian people people, everything to do with their own very wicked, warped ideas of blasphemy, per se.

I think it’s also important to recognize that when Obama comes up with these red lines and the impact that it has on the battlefield. If you remember, in June of this year he first stated that the Syrian government has used chemical weapons, and he used that to increase the flood officially of U.S. support for the rebels, and that came at a time when the Syrian army had actually tilted the battlefield in its favor. And here we have the same thing happening now, which a few weeks ago the Syrian army was able to tilt the battlefield in its favor. So, basically, if we’re going to be cynical or simply look at the facts on the ground, we see that every time that the Syrian Army does seem to gain ground, that is when the U.S. government racks up its rhetoric against the Syrian army to try to, quote, balance the warring parties.

And we also know from statements from Secretary of State John Kerry that he made several different so-called friends of Syria conference, that he went on record as saying that what the United States wants to do was to balance the powers on the ground. He did not talk about regime change. He did not talk about stopping the conflict. He did not talk about resolution. He talked about a balance of power on the ground.

So I would argue that in addition to this recent discussion that Senator McCain has been having about so-called regime change, that the first objective that they have is the full distruction of Syria. Once Syria is destroyed to their liking, then they can go in and replace it with their own puppet, akin to Ahmed Chalabi.

NOOR: And Chris Hedges, we’ll give you the final word. Your final thoughts on responding to Obama’s speech and what the future may hold for Syria?

HEDGES: Well, I’m going to second what Rania said. I mean, I was a foreign correspondent for 20 years in Central America, the Middle East, and the Balkans. I know the dirty game of, you know, international diplomacy and power. And, you know, behind that kind of rhetoric, behind the calls to implant democracy and restore human rights is these Machiavellian deals that are cut. And I think that’s precisely what’s happening in Syria as well. This has nothing to do in the end with poison gas. It has nothing to do with children. God knows we’ve killed an equal number of children with our drone strikes and cruise missiles in Afghanistan. And it has to do with, you know, strategic interests in the Middle East which are closely allied with those of, as is always true with our Middle East policy, with Israel.

NOOR: Rania Masri, Chris Hedges, thank you both so much for joining us.

MASRI: My pleasure. Thank you.

NOOR: Thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


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Chris Hedges is a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist who was a foreign correspondent for 15 years for The New York Times, where he served as the Middle East bureau chief and Balkan bureau chief for the paper. He previously worked overseas for The Dallas Morning News, The Christian Science Monitor, and NPR. He is the host of show The Chris Hedges Report.

Rania Masri is an Arab American human rights activist, environmental scientist, university professor, and writer. Since 2005, she has been an  Chair of the Environmental Sciences Department at the University of Balamand in Lebanon. Before then, Rania directed the Southern Peace Research And Education Center at the Institute for Southern Studies in NC.  She has been active against the wars on Iraq, Lebanon, and, now, Syria. Since May, she has been giving a series of talks about US involvement in Syria.   She has been representing a growing coalition of NC social justice organizations against the war.