US Main Challenge of Syrian Constitutional Committee: American Analyst
TEHRAN (Tasnim) – An American political commentator cast doubts over the success of the Syrian Constitutional Committee, whose meetings have begun in the Swiss city of Geneva, and said the US “occupation” and its focus on Syrian oilfields is the real challenge of the committee.
“So the real challenge is not so much deep differences between members (of the committee) as it is the role of the US in all this, their occupation, and their focus on Syrian oilfields,” John Steppling, who is based in Norway, told Tasnim in an interview.
Steppling is a well-known author, playwright and an original founding member of the Padua Hills Playwrights Festival, a two-time NEA recipient, Rockefeller Fellow in theater, and PEN-West winner for playwriting. He is also a regular political commentator for a number of media outlets around the world.
Following is the full text of the interview:
Tasnim: A 45-member committee equally divided between the Syrian government, the opposition, and civil society held talks in Geneva on Monday about the amendment of Syria’s Constitution. Media sources close to Damascus said that 35 members of the Constitutional Committee traveled to Geneva on Sunday afternoon while UN special envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen kept 45 others in the Swiss city to be part of the mini-committee that would discuss the constitutional reform in the country, after eight and a half years of conflict. The committee will conduct its work and adopt its decisions by consensus wherever possible, or resort to a majority of 75 percent of votes. Observers fear that the required number of votes could prevent the committee from approving any decisions in its upcoming meetings. What do you think about the developments? How possible is it for the Constitutional Committee to reach an agreement given the deep differences and lack of trust between its members?
Steppling: I think it is a positive move given that Syrians, themselves, will be drafting this document. And this is really a Russian-brokered move. But of course, the elephant in the room is the US military. The amended constitution is dependent on US forces leaving. One presumes, anyway. And we know the US has no intention of leaving. Trump has said one thing, then another and then another and then the first thing again. But the real voice on foreign policy is clearly Pompeo. And I think it’s important for people to recognize that Pompeo is perhaps the worst secretary of state ever. Worse than Hillary, worse than Kissinger, and challenged only by John Foster Dulles perhaps. He is a Dominionist madman, literally. No hyperbole. Dominionists are zealots and believe in the Rapture and angles. And more to the point Pompeo ran the CIA. So the real issue is not so much deep differences between members as it is the role of the US in all this, their occupation, and their focus on Syrian oilfields. Now President Assad invited Russia and China to observe and declared, at the same time, the US was illegally on Syrian soil. So, this is all pretty clear, and if I were to guess, I’d guess that the first issue that the committee will face is some “emergency” declared, or tweeted, by Trump that necessitates increased US presence in the country. A foreign-engineered crisis to disrupt things; think ISIS, new terrorist threat, or whatever. There will be a problem of this sort that justifies more US troops to be immediately summoned.
Tasnim: The Syrian Constitutional Committee was established with the aim of paving the way for a political settlement in Syria. If a new constitution is approved by the committee, how practical would it be? How can the opposing parties guarantee to implement the new constitution?
Steppling: How this functions practically is the big question. Not very well if the US occupies a third of the country. The US war with Syria was never about anything but removing Assad. It was not about democracy or alleviating the suffering of the people...it was about Assad and his close ties with Russia, and to some degree now China, and of course about oil. Assad is the completely legitimate president of Syria, and he is very popular. Now, the invention of ISIS by the US (with the Saudis, who saw nothing but positives in exporting the radicals within the kingdom) and with support from Israel, Jordan and the other Persian Gulf monarchies was also in the service of controlling oil, but also to impose authority on the region. To allow proxies to fight wars, subjugate various factions and to carry out what was best for western capital. So the new constitution is all good, it is, but I am not sure it’s going to have any real effect, at least not for a while, on the ground. Also...this goes through the UN and I'm not sure anyone quite trusts the UN.
Tasnim: Given Turkey’s military operation against Kurds in northern Syria and the presence of Ankara-backed extremist groups in the area, what do you think about the negative impacts of foreign intervention on the political settlement of the Syrian crisis?
Steppling: People, even the left sometimes, in the West are making the Kurds out to be somehow victims in all this. They were fighting as mercenaries, essentially, for the Imperialist West. They were proxy fighters for the US. Now, they may have been naive....though it’s hard to believe they were THAT naive. But whatever the case, the Kurds are not somehow a noble project in nation building. In fact, they resemble Israel in this context. Turkey continues to be a bit of a wild card that the US has to be careful with and about. The Turkish expansionist move ...the so-called peace corridor... serves not just their own interests but those of the US. More instability is good, more military occupation is good. The rubber meets the road, as they say, when we come to the northern Syrian oil fields. The US is not going to give those up. They intend to control those fields one way or another. Remember, these conflicts of the imperial west are not meant to be won. They are meant to be continuous and endless. Winning is not nearly as profitable as just the continued fighting. So, while there was a desire to remove Assad, I think the larger desire was to continue the status quo. And if Assad had been ousted, the US would have manufactured a new conflict -- either in Syria or one of its neighbors. And also, too, getting Assad out was the first step in their coup d’état plans for Iran.