Gwynne Dyer

Gwynne Dyer is a commentator on international affairs based in London

Gwynne Dyer: 'Birthers' should switch focus to proving Bush's origin

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Hindsight suggests former President's actions did more to help Iran than the United States

In spy talk, a "sleeper" is somebody who lives his life in the target country, keeping his nose clean and climbing up the ranks of the local hierarchy, until he reaches a position in which he can be of great service to his true employers abroad.

It's time to inquire if that description fits former United States President George W. Bush.

The question arises because Bush's actions as president did much more for Iran's interests in the Middle East than for those of the US. Consider, for example, a little-noticed recent development in the five-month-old confrontation between pro-democracy protesters and the Baathist regime that rules Syria with an iron hand.

The Baath Party seized power in Syria in 1963. Since 1970 it has been led by members of the Assad clan - the current president is Bashar al-Assad - and the Alawite (Shia Muslim) sect they belong to dominates the Government and the intelligence services.

Alawites are only 10 per cent of Syria's population, and are seen as heretics by many in the Sunni Muslim majority.

The Baathist Party is as corrupt and incompetent as it is oppressive, and Syria under its rule has fallen into poverty and decay. It was bound to be challenged by the "Arab spring," and non-violent mass protests against the Baathist monopoly of power began all across the country in mid-March.

The regime's response has been brutal. Justifying its actions with the brazen lie that the protesters are "armed terrorist gangs," Assad's Government has sent the Syrian army into one city after another to crush the demonstrations. At least 1700 Syrian civilians have been killed, and an estimated 30,000 arrested. The violence has been so horrifying that even the Baathist regime's former friends have denounced it.

Last weekend, for example, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu bluntly ordered the Syrian authorities to stop the crackdown, warning that if the military attacks on Syrian cities do not end, "there will be nothing more to discuss about the steps that will be taken". In diplomatic-speak, that is a very serious threat, and Turkey is Syria's most powerful neighbour.

Most of the Arab world has also denounced President Assad's regime, including the Arab League, the Saudi Arabian, Jordanian and Egyptian governments, and Yasser Abed Rabbo, the secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), who said the Baathist regime's actions are "a crime against humanity".

Even Russia and China voted for the United Nations resolution two weeks ago that condemned the Syrian Government for "widespread violations of human rights and the use of force against civilians". The regime's only real ally, Iran, remains loyal.

You can't assume that George Bush was in Iran's pay just because his invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq destroyed that country's two most serious enemies in the region, the Taleban regime in Kabul and Saddam Hussein in Baghdad. It could just have been deep ignorance and ideologically driven blindness. But how else can you explain this?

Iraq, almost uniquely among Arab states, supports and defends the Baathist regime's actions in Syria. Last week, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki warned the protesters not to "sabotage" the Syrian state. And this Iraqi government was created and nurtured by the Bush administration.

Before the US invasion in 2003, Iraq was ruled by a rival branch of the Baath Party, led by Saddam Hussein. He was a cruel and murderous dictator, though not significantly more so than the Assad regime in Syria. And Saddam Hussein was Iran's worst enemy.

The Iraqi dictator was not working on nuclear weapons, as the Bush administration asserted, nor did he have any links to al-Qaeda, as it also claimed. George Bush had access to the output of the best (or at least the most numerous) intelligence agencies in the world, and they all privately knew that the claims were false.

Iraq had a nuclear weapons programme before the first Gulf war in 1990-91, but it was comprehensively dismantled by United Nations teams in the mid-90s, and Iraq was subsequently under a strict arms embargo right down to 2003. Moreover, far from being an ally of al-Qaeda, Saddam Hussein, the leader of a strictly secular regime, was a target for its assassins.

Yet the invasion went ahead anyway, Saddam Hussein was killed, and the United States devoted immense efforts to creating a new government. Almost five thousand American soldiers died in support of that enterprise (together with hundreds of thousands of Iraqis). Around half a trillion dollars were spent on it. All that to build a government, led by Nuri al-Maliki, that is a close ally of Iran, and Syria's only supporter in the Arab world.

There is a case to answer here, and a Congressional investigation into George W. Bush's secret links to the Iranian mullahs whose cause he has served so well is long overdue. They could start by figuring out where Bush was really born. Tehran? Tabriz? Maybe the "Birthers" could help the investigators to establish the truth.

Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent journalist

- NZ Herald

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