The Kerrys and the Assads dining in happier times. Kerry’s staffers described “their collective cringe when, after a motorcycle ride with Assad, he returned to Washington referring to Bashar as ‘my dear friend.’”
* “So when Bashar Assad undemocratically took power, North Korean-style, after his father died, I was forced by my editor (against my protests, because I saw no evidence of this) to give the impression that Assad would likely be a reformer. Assad was described in the Telegraph as “mild-mannered,” a “modernizer” and so on.
* Today there is much discussion about the concept of “fake news.” But fake news is usually easy to spot and is taken seriously only on the fringes of the Internet. It is distorted news by respectable and supposedly reliable media that is of more concern, and that has led to much bad policy-making by officials over the years.
“SOMEONE HAD TO ENFORCE OBAMA’S RED LINE”
I attach a piece of mine below. I also gave a short interview this morning, which you can see here:
THE MEDIA HAS LONG COVERED UP FOR ASSAD
The Media Has Long Covered Up for Assad
He was called a “modernizer” and “reformer” even as his people were tortured and disappeared.
By Tom Gross
The Weekly Standard
April 7, 2017
With President Donald Trump having ordered pinpoint attacks on President Bashar al-Assad’s chemical weapons infrastructure overnight, finally someone is enforcing President Obama’s 2013 red line and possibly reversing the course of decades of Western appeasement of the regime of Bashar Assad — and before him of his father Hafez Assad. Neither Assad has ever shown any signs of moderation. But that’s not the impression one might have formed from listening to many Western media and politicians.
When Bashar Assad assumed power in June 2000, I was the Middle East correspondent for the Sunday Telegraph, one of Britain’s biggest papers. The Telegraph, being a fair-minded paper, wasn’t in the habit of praising Third World dictators while relentlessly bashing Israel, as did some left-leaning media in the U.K. (and elsewhere), such as the Guardian and BBC — more so than they do today. (They have been less enamored of Arab despots since the 2011 Arab spring.)
Nevertheless, I found that even at the Telegraph, the force of fashion, and the eagerness by some (though by no means all) staff to try and impress left-wing colleagues at other papers (perhaps fearing that they may at any moment have to look for a job elsewhere, given the fast changes in the media that the internet had wrought), was such that they often followed the prevailing group think, however one-sided it might be.
So when Bashar Assad undemocratically took power, North Korean-style, after his father died, I was forced by my editor (against my protests, because I saw no evidence of this) to give the impression that Assad would likely be a reformer. Assad was described in the Telegraph as “mild-mannered,” a “modernizer” and so on.
I was also sometimes asked to describe the equally murderous Yasser Arafat as “moderate.” On one occasion, when I questioned my editor about inaccuracies that had been introduced by him into one of my published articles, he told me that “The Guardian, Independent and Times [of London] were saying Arafat wasn’t responsible.” In fact, the evidence showed both at the time and by the admission of Arafat’s own wife Suha later, that these other papers had got it wrong.
Unfortunately, Assad’s horrific chemical weapons attack on children in Syria this week came as no surprise. Nor did the Syrian air force’s further bombing with chemical weapons of the hospital to which survivors of the initial attack were evacuated. Nor did his use of chemical agents in a suburb of Damascus in 2013 that killed 1,400 of his own citizens, a majority of them women and children. Nor did Assad’s continued smaller-scale use of nerve agents on multiple occasions before and after 2013, which have been reported only as a footnote by many mainstream media.
Even Tuesday morning’s larger scale gas attack was completely ignored on Wednesday in the globally circulated International edition of the New York Times, while it was thoroughly covered many hours earlier in other major newspapers with global editions. A day after news broke of the attack, BBC World Service Radio was still referring to the “alleged” use of gases or chemicals even though AP, AFP, and other media had already provided incontrovertible photo and video footage 18 hours earlier.
In truth, Bashar Assad has never shown any signs of moderation.
Take for example, a 2009 State Department report written two years before the present Syrian war began. It describes the methods of torture inflicted on the inmates of Syria’s prisons (many of them democracy activists): “electrical shocks; pulling out fingernails; burning genitalia; forcing objects into the rectum; beating, sometimes while the victim was suspended from the ceiling; other times on the soles of the feet.”
The report speaks of “arbitrary or unlawful deprivation of life” and “enforced disappearances” and the vanishing of “an estimated 17,000 persons.”
And yet in April 2011, a day after at least another 10 Syrian civilians were killed by plainclothes snipers perched on rooftops and other Syrian civilians were beaten to death by regime security forces in two mosques, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton again described Assad as a “reformer.”
Clinton’s successor, John Kerry, was even worse. It is no accident that Kerry, who along with Barack Obama bears partial responsibility for the mess that is Syria, was known during his tenure as senator (and at the time he was 2004 Democratic Party presidential candidate), as “Assad’s man in Washington.”
Between 2009 and 2011, Kerry traveled to Syria repeatedly and met with Assad five times. In March 2011, even after the first secular Syrian students had been shot as they called for free elections, Kerry said Assad was “a man of his word” who was “very generous.”
The former U.S. government official Michael Rubin, writing in Commentary magazine in 2012, said that Kerry’s staffers described “their collective cringe when, after a motorcycle ride with Bashar al-Assad, he returned to Washington referring to Bashar as ‘my dear friend.’ ”
Assad was welcomed to London where he met Tony Blair and the queen. And I recall a large luncheon in 2008 where the keynote speaker was William Hague, soon to be British foreign secretary. “The good news,” gushed Hague “is that I have just returned from a trip to Damascus and had very fruitful discussions with President Assad who graciously showed me around.”
“Did he show you his nuclear sites?” murmured British writer Douglas Murray, whom I was sitting next to, in response to Hague’s gush. (Israel had destroyed Assad’s clandestine nuclear weapons program a few months earlier, much to the anger of many in the West.)
Even after the present war started, and Assad was slaughtering thousands of his own citizens, he continued to receive positive pieces, such as this puff piece about him and his wife titled “A Rose in the Desert” published by Vogue in 2012 for the benefit of the magazine’s 11.7 million readers.
“Asma al-Assad is glamorous, young, and very chic--the freshest and most magnetic of first ladies,” Vogue informed us, adding (without a hint of irony), that her husband, was elected president in 2000 with 97 percent of the vote.
There has never been any indication that Bashar Assad would be anything other than the merciless dictator that he is now. Just as there has never been any indication that Assad’s principle backer and the funder of his war crimes, Iran’s president Rouhani, is a “moderate” despite repeatedly being described as such by the BBC, New York Times, and other media. (The number of executions in Iran has increased under Rouhani, and there is no sign that the regime has given up its nuclear weapons ambitions any more than Assad gave up his chemical weapons.)
Today there is much discussion about the concept of “fake news.” But fake news is usually easy to spot and is taken seriously only on the fringes of the Internet. It is distorted news by respectable and supposedly reliable media that is of more concern, and that has led to much bad policy-making by officials over the years.
(Tom Gross is a journalist and international affairs commentator specializing in the Middle East)
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