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Syria, the New Bad Guy on the Block

Arab stereotype

By Ben Cohen: The world is used to watching turmoil in the Middle East. The region has suffered decades of war at the hands of multiple aggressors - some domestic and some foreign - the results always being the same: Death. And lots of it.

Currently, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is leading a horrifying campaign of violence against his own people that has lead to thousands of deaths and injury, some of it so gruesome it is hard to even read about. The world is rightly condemning the Syrian government for its actions and calling for an immediate halt to the violence. Western countries are expelling Syrian diplomats, with Britain going as far as threatening to ban Syrian athletes from taking part in the Olympic Games this summer.

But as the US condemns Syria for its violence, it continues its war in Afghanistan and highly illegal drone attacks in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. The Arab world, and much of the rest of the planet regard US intervention in the Middle East as highly aggressive imperialism - a criticism that is not without merit. After all, far worse human rights abuses exist in countries with no oil reserves and there are no US troops fighting to liberate the helpless masses there.

This is not to draw attention away from what the Syrian regime is doing, but to put in to perspective the massive imbalance in Western reporting on what is defined as aggression.

The media portrays US aggression in the Middle East and benevolent and well intentioned. Assad's aggression in Syria on the other hand is barbaric and illegal, despite there being no mention of Assad's crimes against his people in previous years when he was considered a US ally. In fact, Syria was so valued a partner in the 'War on Terror' that it was the favored dumping ground for suspected terrorists from the US - many of whom were badly tortured without charge. In the words of former CIA agent Robert Baer: "If you want a serious interrogation, you send a prisoner to Jordan. If you want them to be tortured, you send them to Syria." Writes Mehdi Hassan in the Guardian:

In the months and years after 9/11, the US collaborated closely with Syria, which became an ally in the war on terror and a frequent destination for victims of extraordinary rendition. Syrian torturers worked hand in hand with US interrogators.

These days, however, US politicians from across the spectrum piously condemn the Syrian regime for its crimes against humanity; two weeks ago, a bipartisan group of senators introduced a resolution condemning Assad for "gross human rights violations" and the use of "torture".

Assad has always been a brutal dictator, his regime nearing the top of the world's worst human rights abusers - he just happened to do the United State's bidding and was allowed to repress his people at will. Now he's out of favor with the White House, the media has suddenly jumped on top of his appalling behavior and urged the world to stand up and stop it.

We're seeing the same play acted out over and over again - a bad guy magically appears in the Middle East and everyone jumps on board the media train to stop his despotic ways. It happened with Saddam Hussein, it happened with Muammar Gaddafi and it's happening again with Bashar al-Assad. Predictably War Hawks like John McCain are beating the drums for military intervention, seemingly oblivious to their own history of support for dictators they finally came around to opposing.

This is not to argue against some sort of intervention in Syria. No one wants to see any more bloodshed, and it would clearly be a good idea for Assad to go away. Hopefully the international community can find a way of forcing Assad to step down and put a stop to the violence, but given the West turned a blind eye to his previous crimes (and even encouraged them), the accusations ring a little hollow. The US in particular should be one of the last international players to intervene in Syria. It's image in the Middle East is already tarnished beyond repair, and jumping into another conflict will most likely do more harm than good. While Americans are rightly horrified by the images seen on television and the daily reports of bloodshed, they should not be too eager to commit troops to another conflict that the media has again failed to properly inform them about.

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