You Just Can’t Trust Them Syrian Rebels And Their Media Surrogates

Featured in our Viewpoints section yesterday, Anand Gopal writes at Harper’s Magazine about how the media have uncritically accepted the word of the US-backed rebel fighters in Syria in order to create “a simple and self-serving narrative” about the murderous Assad regime and the Syrian people yearning for freedom and reform. He opens with what American newspapers reported as a Syrian government massacre in the town of Tremseh last month:

But there was a problem—no one had actually visited the town. The New York Times, for instance, reported the story from Beirut and New York, relying solely on statements and video from anti-Assad activists and the testimony of a man from “a nearby village” who visited the scene afterward. When the first U.N. investigators arrived two days later, they uncovered a very different story. Instead of an unprovoked massacre of civilians, the evidence pointed to a pitched battle between resistance forces and the Syrian army. Despite rebel claims that there had been no opposition fighters in Tremseh, it turned out that guerrillas had bivouacked in the town, and that most of the dead were in fact rebels. Observers also downgraded the death toll to anywhere from forty to a hundred.

We noted this when it happened last month (a similar thing might have happened with June’s Houla massacre). The New York Times published a subsequent report admitting, “Although what actually happened in Tremseh remains murky, the evidence available suggested that events on Thursday more closely followed the Syrian government account.” That is, a battle between regime forces and rebel militias, rather than a slaughter of unarmed civilians, as was claimed by the opposition and subsequently touted by Western sources.

Gopal’s piece is a welcome antidote to the narrative-seeking observers of the Syrian conflict. But he also notes there is narrative-seeking on the other side as well and he challenges a growing chorus of US intelligence officials going to the press to divulge secret information about al-Qaeda’s significant presence among the rebel fighters. Still, the ultimate lesson is that the American news media are predisposed to eat up anything the opposition claims is the truth:

The battles of the Syrian revolution are, among other things, battles of narrative. As I recount in “Welcome to Free Syria,” the regime has indeed committed grievous massacres, including one I saw evidence of in the northern town of Taftanaz. The Assad government also puts forth a narrative—the country is under siege from an alliance of criminal gangs, Al Qaeda, and the CIA—that is quite removed from reality. Yet there is also a powerful pull in the West to order a messy reality into a simple and self-serving narrative. The media, which largely favors the revolution, has at times uncritically accepted rebel statements and videos—which themselves often originate from groups based outside the country—as the whole story. This in turn provides an incentive for revolutionaries to exaggerate. A Damascus-based activist told me that he had inflated casualty numbers to foreign media during the initial protests last year in Daraa, because “otherwise, no one would care about us.”

Despite the unsavory and counterproductive interventions of the Obama administration, which has been railing against from the start, they are getting hammered from the more crapulous warmongers in Washington who argue our policy should be one of direct military engagement to oust the Assad regime (followed by the requisite affinity for post-war nation-building). Many different factors could precipitate those policies in the near-to-medium term, but one is developing a simplified narrative of humanitarian intervention that goes unquestioned in the media.

7 thoughts on “You Just Can’t Trust Them Syrian Rebels And Their Media Surrogates”

  1. Our American citizens, even voluntary military personnel, ought never be ordered to risk or sacrifice their lives in order to save the lives of citizens of any other nation–absent a concurrent real threat to American citizens or American sovereignty.

    We Americans are willing to die for what we believe in–we've demonstrated this fact on many occasions. Why should the citizens of other nations be held to a lesser standard–at our expense?

    1. You had it almost right, but it should have been – "…of any other nation–absent a concurrent [ATTACK ON] American citizens or American sovereignty." You see, a "threat" is a subjective arbitrary concept that any of our warmongering leaders can determine is real, without proof.

  2. With the drum beat for war on Iran intensifying in recent weeks, the question seems to come down to whether or not Israel is bluffing about their implied military strike on Iran before the November presidential elections in the US.

  3. The Revolution in Syria is a true liberation struggle, with a mix of different factions fighting on the rebel’s side. But that is to be expected in every civil war. As is always the case, in every war, the first causality is ALWAYS THE TRUTH. This war is no exception. How ever, the facts, how many are killed, who are those who were killed, how did they actually die, those facts are reported differently by both sides, and in Syria, it follows the same pattern. To the Syrian government, the rebels are criminals, terrorists, trying to overthrow a ‘legitimate’ government, and to the West, and NATO, it is the Syrian government that is a criminal. Actually, to the dead in this war, it makes little or no difference whose bullet killed them; to them revenge is a mute question, but for the two warring factions, the dead represent the fuel for the burning fire.
    Philosophically speaking, as I see this, and other wars, there is a common trait in all of them. What is so common, yet not very salient, is the fact that in all these situations we have one important factor missing; the absence of the BASIC HUMAN RIGHTS.
    Had the people who are fighting had these Basic Human Rights, The likelihood of the war would have been reduced greatly. Let me list these for me, sacred Basic Human Rights for those who had forgotten them; Food and shelter, education, medical, jobs, free speech, and the last, the Right to life.
    Maslow called these needs as a ‘hierarchy’ of needs toward the apex of the so called ‘Self actualization.’

  4. I'm not going to lie, I'm really impressed. Its rare for me to find something on the internet that's as entertaining and intriguing as what you've got here.

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