A Consumer Fraud Lawyer’s Mini-Primer
By Robert Roth
Global Research, January 23, 2017
New Cold War 2 January 2017
The U.S./NATO line
If you try to follow events in the mainstream media (MSM), you may have noticed that they routinely refer to Syrian president Bashar al Assad as a “brutal dictator”. Assad is supposed to have responded to peaceful protests with repressive violence and by “killing his own people”. The U.S., UK, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar continue to maintain that “Assad must go”.
I disagree with all of that, as I’ll explain in this article.
I spent 25 years prosecuting lies in commerce for the attorneys general of New York and Oregon. I prepared this primer to help you cut through the lies and get at the truth about Syria.
It’s still quite possible that a nuclear war could arise from careless U.S./NATO confrontations with Russia in Syria. President-elect Trump has indicated he favors a cooperative relationship with Russia, but he will face continuing pressure from the Deep State, neocons, and apparently, the media, to continue the New Cold War that was initiated in Ukraine. And the demonization of Russian president Putin and of Russia itself has been going on for some time and shows no sign of letting up.1 So in addition to the suffering of the Syrian people, which has been horrific and continues as I write, the conflict in Syria also poses a serious threat to all of us.
Apart from this introduction and some other brief statements of my own, most of this article is a string of excerpts from the excellent work of other people I’ve come to trust and citations or links to sources for further information and analysis.
International law, morality, and the sovereignty of the people
Since Syria has not threatened the United States in any way, let alone attacked us, our government has no right to try to overthrow the Syrian government. The UN Charter prohibits pre-emptive aggression against other sovereign states unless the UN Security Council authorizes it. The United States signed the UN Charter, so as a treaty, it is the “Supreme Law of the Land” under Article VI of the U.S. Constitution. So the U.S. attempt to overthrow the government of Syria violates U.S. as well as international law.
The effort to overthrow the Syrian government is also immoral, because of the suffering and death it has caused and because of its destabilizing effect, which causes even more suffering and death and has assisted the rise of ISIS.
The effort to overthrow Assad is an arrogant interference with the sovereignty of the Syrian people, who have a right to choose their own government. In this case, they have chosen their government overwhelmingly: Syria’s president Bashar al Assad is not only the democratically elected leader of his country but has at all times, both before the violence began and throughout the conflict, been immensely popular within Syria. This popularity would be impossible to explain if the violence that began in March 2011 was initiated by the government. I try to show here that the violence was initiated by elements who pushed aside peaceful protestors and committed a great many murders and then managed, through manipulation of the big media, to blame that on the Syrian government.
The Syrian government
Although the effort to overthrow the Syrian government is unlawful, many Americans seem to feel it’s okay to interfere with foreign governments that are said to oppress their own people. I don’t claim that the Syrian government is perfect, but again, it’s up to the Syrian people to choose their government.
Washington has a history of undermining and overthrowing governments that don’t play ball with U.S./Western corporations and investors. And Islamic fundamentalists like the Muslim Brotherhood, al Qaeda, ISIS, and others pose continuing threats to stability in the Middle East. So I’ve come to believe that a government in the Middle East may have to be authoritarian to some degree in order to stay in power. And in Syria there is tolerance for different viewpoints, religions and ethnicities, such that a certain amount of what might be called “repression” of some forms of dissent seems to be a fair trade-off, and one that most Syrians clearly prefer.
In the years before the present conflict began in 2011, the Syrian government tried to institute constitutional reforms, thus becoming less repressive. But that effort has been undermined by the attempt to overthrow it by force and violence.
Sectarian vs. secular government; not a civil war
A basic conflict is between those who want a sectarian (religious) government, which would also be repressive, in different ways, and a secular (nonreligious) government, such as Syria now has. The conflict in Syria has never been a war between competing Islamic sects, or even a civil war. Rather, it is a war waged by some Syrian rebels and a great many foreigners, who want to overthrow the legitimate government and, with it, Syria’s secular, inclusive and tolerant society and to establish a radical Islamic government and society. Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, and the U.S. itself have been backing those extremists as part of their effort to dominate the Middle East and control its energy resources.
By the way, I’m now 70, but I still remember what it felt like to be 12 years old. Wait – what does that have to do with the war on Syria, and this article? My answer may be what it’s all about, from the viewpoint of Syrians, most of whom have remained in Syria, despite the war.
In late September, a U.S.-Russia agreement called for the supposedly “moderate rebels” in Syria to separate themselves from al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front (sometimes called al Qaeda’s Syrian “franchise”. (Al Qaeda, as you may recall, is the organization formerly led by Osama bin Laden that is said to have brought down the Twin Towers in New York). The U.S. and Russia would then cooperate in attacking the Nusra Front and ISIS (also known as ISIL, or Daesh).
Unless you’re a terrorist, what’s not to like about such an agreement? Well, the problem was that the “moderate rebels” refused to follow the U.S.-Russia agreement and separate from the terrorists, and instead renewed their alliance with them. In particular, Nour al-Din al-Zinki– reportedly one of the largest factions in Aleppo–said they were joining a broad alliance dominated by the Nusra Front.
If you’ve followed me this far, you’re probably stillwond ering what this has to do with remembering what it’s like to be 12 years old. The connection is this: Nour al-Din al-Zinki recently filmed themselves taunting and then beheading a 12-year-old boy.
I’ve seen one of the photos of the boy circulated by al-Zinki, and the image haunts me. He doesn’t even look 12 years old; I would guess 10 or 11. He has what looks like intra-venous tubing hanging from one arm; I understand he’d been receiving medical treatment when he was kidnapped. He was taunted by a group of men, who then laid him face-down in the back of a pickup truck, tied his hands behind his back, and as he whimpered, one of them ran a large knife across his throat and cut off his head.
I couldn’t make such a thing up, and I wouldn’t if I could. My nightmares are not that bad. But these al-Zinki guys – or should I say, monsters, or devils – not only did all this but made a video of themselves doing it and reveled in their atrocity.
Imagine, if you will, being captured, taunted and beheaded by demons two or three times your size. You can read about it, get a link to the group’s You Tube video, and see a screenshot from that at https://consortiumnews.com/2016/07/21/us-backed-syrian-moderates-behead-12-year- old/.
The photo that haunts me shows the boy closer up. It’s posted in CIA Rebels Behead Kid And Other U.S. Successes in Syria by Moon of Alabama, 19 July 2016, at http://www.moonofalabama.org/2016/07/cia-rebels-behead-kid-and-other-recent-us-successes- in-syria.html.
So here’s what I think: Most Syrians, as I mentioned, have stayed in Syria, seeking the protection of their government and army. They want to maintain their tolerant, secular society. But as that’s being shredded by jihadist violence and mayhem, they’re also terrified that their country will be taken over by ghouls like the al-Zinki jihadists who beheaded that boy, and that they and their families and loved ones will then face similar fates.
Some of them want government reform. But they don’t back the terrorists to get it. In fact, they’re glad to see those Russian planes in the sky, invited by their government, and they back the Syrian Arab Army and Bashar Assad. Many probably think Assad and the army are being a little too nice to the terrorist opposition that has invaded their country.
You won’t know what to make of this suggestion, if you think most Syrians are trying to get out of their country and go to Europe. Media sensationalism and inadequate reporting, or suppression of the truth, about the “immigrant crisis” faced by many European countries may give you that impression. But in fact, as reported by Tim Anderson (in The Dirty War on Syria, Chapter 14), most Syrians have chosen to remain in Syria under the protection of their government and Army:
… The online ‘war of maps’ miss this[:] When commentators [speak] of how much ‘territory’ one or other Islamist group controlled, they generally [do] not observe that the Government [has] maintained control of the great majority of the populated areas and most of the displaced population sought refuge in those government controlled cities. By 2015 blackouts and shortages were worse, but schools, health centres, sports facilities were functioning. While life was hardly normal, everyday life did carry on. People were surviving, and resisting. This reality was hardly visible in the western media, which has persistently spread lies about the character of the conflict. In particular, they have tried to hide NATO’s backing for the extremist groups, while trumpeting the advances of those same groups and ignoring the Syrian Army’s counter-offensives.
Fact check one: there never were any ‘moderate rebels’. A … genuine political reform movement was displaced by a Saudi-backed Islamist insurrection, over March- April 2011. … Years later ordinary Syrians call all these groups ‘Daesh’ (ISIS), ‘terrorists’ or ‘mercenaries’, not bothering with the different brand names. … Genocidal statements by ‘moderate rebel’ leaders underline the limited difference between the genocidal ‘moderates’ and the genocidal extremists. FSA leader Lamia Nahas wrote: ‘the more arrogant Syria’s minorities become I become more certain that there should be a holocaust to exterminate them from existence and I request [God’s] mercy upon Hitler who burned the Jews of his time and Sultan Abdul-Hamid who exterminated the Armenians’ (The Angry Arab 2015). … The genocidal fervour of these ‘moderates’ is no different than that of Nusra or ISIS. The character of the armed conflict has always been between an authoritarian but pluralist and socially inclusive state, and Saudi-style sectarian Islamists, acting as proxy armies for the big powers.
Fact check two: almost all the atrocities blamed on the Syrian Army have been committed by western-backed Islamists, as part of their strategy to attract more foreign military backing. Their claims are repeated by the western media, fed by partisan Islamist sources and amplified by embedded ‘watchdogs’, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. The Syrian Army has indeed executed captured terrorists, and the secret police continue to detain and probably mistreat those suspected of collaborating with terrorists. But this is an army which enjoys very strong public support. Syrian people know their enemy and back their Army. The armed gangs, on the other hand, openly boast of their atrocities.
Then who started the war?
Determining how the initial disturbances occurred, in March 2011, and grew into the present conflict is complicated by the fact that at first, it was not always clear who was engaging in violence. The government tried to downplay the violence so as to maintain order and the morale of the Syrian Arab Army, as many of the first victims were Syrian soldiers.
Who can you trust to tell the truth?
All this raises the question of whom to believe. Those trying to overthrow the Syrian government have waged almost incredibly sophisticated and effective propaganda warfare right from the beginning, so there is conflicting “evidence” on many of the critical events. But I believe a great deal of the “evidence” dished out by the mainstream media was actually fabricated by the terrorists. More on that further below.
I have identified sources that seem to me credible, for example, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.; Australian professor Tim Anderson; commentator and analyst Sharmine Narwani (all, and others, quoted below); and Father Frans van der Lugt, a Dutch Jesuit priest who was murdered in Homs, Syria in early 2014.3 Father van der Lugt wrote in January 2012:
Most of the citizens of Syria do not support the opposition. Even a country like Qatar [which had spent billions to finance foreign terrorists in Syria] has stated this following an opinion survey. Therefore, you also cannot say that this is a popular uprising. The majority of people are not part of the rebellion and certainly not part of the armed rebellion. What is occurring is, above all, a struggle between the army and armed Sunni groups that aim to overturn the Alawite regime and take power.
“From the start the protest movements were not purely peaceful. From the start I saw armed demonstrators marching along in the protests, who began to shoot at the police first. Very often the violence of the security forces has been a reaction to the brutal violence of the armed rebels.4
I’m also inclined to believe some of the evidence I rely on here because of the similarity with situations I know of elsewhere. For example, I studied the coup in Ukraine in some detail and am persuaded that the snipers firing in Maidan Square were provocateurs who shot both police and protesters in order to foment more violence. (I wrote about this, and the Ukraine situation more generally, at www.healingjustice.wordpress.com.) So when I see claims of similar conduct in Syria, it has a plausibility based in part on how it seems to follow the same pattern the U.S. has used to destabilize and overthrow governments in other countries.5
The current situation and articles reporting and discussing it, are presented at the end of this article. But first:
U.S. interference in the domestic affairs of Syria began in 1949. The details are reported in an excellent article by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. Mr. Kennedy provides a great many important facts and comments and also identifies many of his sources, which I skip here for the sake of brevity. I quote only a few paragraphs for historical background and context.
Mr. Kennedy is no fan of Bashar al Assad and refers to him in uncomplimentary terms. But he clearly explains the motives of the governments that want to overthrow the Assad government, mainly Assad’s refusal to allow the construction of a pipeline through Syria for the transport of natural gas to Europe, a project desired by Qatar and its Gulf and Western allies.
From Robert F. Kennedy, Jr, ‘Why the Arabs don’t want us in Syria’, March 1, 2016:6
In part because my father was murdered by an Arab, I’ve made an effort to understand the impact of U.S. policy in the Mideast and particularly the factors that sometimes motivate bloodthirsty responses from the Islamic world against our country.
… During the 1950s, President Eisenhower and the Dulles brothers — CIA Director Allen Dulles and Secretary of State John Foster Dulles — rebuffed Soviet treaty proposals to leave the Middle East a neutral zone in the Cold War and let Arabs rule Arabia. Instead, they mounted a clandestine war against Arab nationalism … particularly when Arab self-rule threatened oil concessions. …
The CIA began its active meddling in Syria in 1949. …Syrian patriots had declared war on the Nazis, expelled their Vichy French colonial rulers and crafted a fragile secularist democracy based on the American model. But in March 1949, Syria’s democratically elected president, Shukri-al-Quwatli, hesitated to approve the Trans-Arabian Pipeline, an American project … [I]n retaliation … the CIA engineered a coup replacing al-Quwatli with the CIA’s handpicked dictator, a convicted swindler named Husni al-Za’im. …
…The Syrian people again tried democracy in 1955, re-electing al-Quwatli and his National Party. Al-Quwatli was still a Cold War neutralist, but, stung by American involvement in his ouster, he now leaned toward the Soviet camp. That posture caused CIA Director Dulles to send his two coup wizards, Kim Roosevelt and Rocky Stone, to Damascus. …
But … CIA money failed to corrupt the Syrian military officers. The soldiers reported the CIA’s bribery attempts to the Ba’athist regime. In response, the Syrian army invaded the American Embassy, taking Stone prisoner. After harsh interrogation, Stone made a televised confession of his roles in the Iranian coup and the CIA’s aborted attempt to overthrow Syria’s legitimate government. The Eisenhower White House hollowly dismissed Stone’s confession as “fabrications” and “slanders,” a denial swallowed whole by the American press, led by the New York Times and believed by the American people. …
Of course, the Russians, who sell 70 percent of their gas exports to Europe, viewed the Qatar/Turkey pipeline as an existential threat. … In 2009, Assad announced that he would refuse to sign the agreement to allow the pipeline to run through Syria “to protect the interests of our Russian ally.”
… Soon after [that] … the CIA began funding opposition groups in Syria. It is important to note that this was well before the Arab Spring-engendered uprising against Assad.
Bashar Assad’s family is Alawite, a Muslim sect widely perceived as aligned with the Shiite camp. … Before the war started, according to [journalist Seymour] Hersh, Assad was moving to liberalize the country. … Assad’s regime was deliberately secular and Syria was impressively diverse. The Syrian government and military, for example, were 80 percent Sunni. Assad maintained peace among his diverse peoples by a strong, disciplined army loyal to the Assad family, an allegiance secured by a nationally esteemed and highly paid officer corps, a coldly efficient intelligence apparatus and a penchant for brutality that, prior to the war, was rather moderate compared to those of other Mideast leaders, including our current allies.
According to Hersh,
“He certainly wasn’t beheading people every Wednesday like the Saudis do in Mecca.”
… By the spring of 2011, there were small, peaceful demonstrations in Damascus against repression by Assad’s regime. … However, WikiLeaks cables indicate that the CIA was already on the ground in Syria. …
The idea of fomenting a Sunni-Shiite civil war to weaken the Syrian and Iranian regimes [and thus] to maintain control of the region’s petrochemical supplies was not a novel notion. … A damning 2008 Pentagon-funded Rand report … recommended using “covert action, information operations, unconventional warfare” to enforce a “divide and rule” strategy. …
… Two years before ISIL throat cutters stepped on the world stage, a seven-page August 12, 2012, study by the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency, obtained by the right-wing group Judicial Watch, warned that … “the Salafist, the Muslim Brotherhood and AQI ([Al-Qaeda Iraq,] now ISIS), are the major forces driving the insurgency in Syria.”
Using U.S. and Gulf state funding, these groups had turned the peaceful protests against Bashar Assad toward “a clear sectarian (Shiite vs. Sunni) direction.” …
Not coincidentally, the regions of Syria occupied by the Islamic State exactly encompass the proposed route of the Qatari pipeline. (Emphasis added.)
… Beginning in 2011, our allies funded the invasion by AQI [Al-Qaeda Iraq] fighters into Syria. In April 2013, having entered Syria, AQI changed its name to ISIL. According to Dexter Filkins of the New Yorker, “ISIS is run by a council of former Iraqi generals. … Many are members of Saddam Hussein’s secular Ba’ath Party who converted to radical Islam in American prisons.” …
But then, in 2014, our Sunni proxies horrified the American people by severing heads and driving a million refugees toward Europe. …
Tim Anderson’s Book, The Dirty War on Syria
A professor in Australia has written a book that tells the whole story in depth. Tim Anderson’s The Dirty War on Syria: Washington, Regime Change and Resistance can be ordered at https://store.globalresearch.ca/store/the-dirty-war-on-syria-washington-regime-change-and- resistance-pdf/. You can read the introductory chapter and table of contents at http://www.globalresearch.ca/the-dirty-war-on-syria/5491859. Prof. Anderson’s book is short, clear, and illustrated with helpful poster-like issue summaries (one of which appears below), and develops a much more detailed analysis than I can provide here.
The U.S. effort to undermine Assad, and to overthrow his government and replace it with one more friendly to U.S. and Western investors, was to be the latest installment of the overall U.S. program, pursued consistently since the end of World War II, to control the world in the interests of U.S. elites, including the military-industrial complex, multinational corporations generally and their investors, and the hegemony-hungry political leadership.7
To summarize the situation briefly, this graphic is from Prof. Anderson’s preface to his book:8
Further excerpts from the preface of The Dirty War On Syria:
… The British-Australian journalist Philip Knightley pointed out that war propaganda typically involves ‘a depressingly predictable pattern’ of demonising the enemy leader, then demonising the enemy people through atrocity stories, real or imagined (Knightley 2001). Accordingly, a mild-mannered eye doctor called Bashar al Assad became the ‘new evil’ in the world and, according to consistent western media reports, the Syrian Army did nothing but kill civilians for more than four years. To this day, many imagine the Syrian conflict is a ‘civil war’, a ‘popular revolt’ or some sort of internal sectarian conflict. …
… After the demonisation of Syrian leader Bashar al Assad began, a virtual information blockade was constructed against anything which might undermine the wartime storyline. Very few sensible western perspectives on Syria emerged after 2011, as critical voices were effectively blacklisted…
Excerpts from chapter five of The Dirty War On Syria:
Bashar al Assad and Political Reform:
President Hafez al Assad [father of the current president, Bashar al Assad] had brought three decades of internal stability to Syria, after the turmoil of the 1960s. … There were substantial improvements in education and health, including universal vaccination and improved literacy for women. Between 1970 and 2010 infant mortality fell from 132 to 14 (per 1,000), while maternal mortality fell from 482 to 45 (per 100,000). … (Sen, Al- Faisal and Al-Saleh 2012: 196)9 Electricity supply to rural areas rose from 2% in 1963 to 95% in 1992 (Hinnebusch 2012: 2) Traditions of social pluralism combined with advances in education drove the human development of the country well ahead of many of the more wealthy states in the region.
Nevertheless, … the system built by Hafez al Assad … also remained an authoritarian one-party system …. U.S. intelligence observed that the crushing of the Muslim Brotherhood’s insurrections in the early 1980s was welcomed by most Syrians. (DIA 1982, vii) Yet, after that …‘The feared Syrian secret police’ were ever vigilant for Zionist spies and new Muslim Brotherhood conspiracies, but this meant they also harassed a wider range of government critics. (Seale 1988: 335) … On top of this, there was resentment at the corruption built on cronyism through Ba’ath Party networks. Bashar faced all this when he came to the top job.
… At the start of the millennium, Bashar al Assad … was widely seen as an agent of reform, but …[t]here were no dramatic political reforms, despite the widespread complaints of corruption (Otrakji 2012). However his socio-economic reforms involved giving new impetus to mass education and citizenship, with a controlled economic liberalisation which opened up new markets, yet without the privatisations that had swept Eastern Europe. He released several thousand political prisoners, mainly Islamists and their sympathisers (Landis and Pace 2007: 47) … Despite the market reforms, Syria maintained its virtually free health and education system. State universities also remain virtually free, to this day, with several hundred thousand enrolled students. …
With the rallies of February-March 2011 there was a further burst of political activity. …Most of the domestic opposition groups … did not support either armed attacks on the state or the involvement of foreign powers. Most remained in Syria and some … rallied to the government. Others, while not supporting the government, backed the state and the army. …
What became known in western circles as ‘the opposition’ were mostly exiles and the Islamists who had initiated the violence.
… Informed critics have observed that the violent conflict in Syria has always been between a pluralist state and sectarian Islamists, backed by the big powers. … (Ramadani 2012).
A Turkish poll in late 2011 showed Syrians … 91% opposed [to] (and 5% supportive of) violent protest (TESEV 2012). Ramadani reconciles these two trends by suggesting that, after the initial movement away from the Government in 2011, ‘popular support shifted back’ when Syrians saw the sectarians and the Saudi-Qatari cabal behind the violence (Ramadani 2012). …
… Despite their anti-Syrian bias, some western sources exposed other ‘false flag’ massacres.
[Examples omitted; see the original.] The August 2013 chemical weapons incident in East Ghouta was widely blamed on the Assad Government. Yet all independent evidence exposed this as yet another ‘false flag’. 
… Syria’s strongest secular tradition is embedded in the Army. With about half a million members, both regulars and conscripts, the army is drawn from all the country’s communities (Sunni, Alawi, Shiia, Christian, Druze, Kurd, Armenian, Assyrian, etc), which all identify as ‘Syrian’. …
[M]ost of the several million Syrians, displaced by the conflict, have not left the country but rather have moved to other parts under Army protection. This is not really explicable if the Army were indeed engaged in ‘indiscriminate’ attacks on civilians. A repressive army invokes fear and loathing in a population, yet in Damascus one can see that people do not cower as they pass through the many army road blocks, set up to protect against ‘rebel’ car bombs.
… Syrians know that their Army represents pluralist Syria and has been fighting sectarian, foreign backed terrorism. This Army did not fracture on sectarian lines, as the sectarian gangs had hoped, and defections have been small, certainly less than 2%.
The Syrian Election of 2014
[M]any western nations declared Syria’s  elections ‘fixed’, before they were held. … These were the same governments trying to overthrow the Syrian Government (Herring 2014). The Washington-run Voice of America falsely claimed that Syria ‘would not permit international observers’ (VOA 2014). In fact, over a hundred election observers came from India, Brazil, Russia, China, South Africa, Iran and Latin America, along with non-official observers from the U.S.A and Canada (KNN 2014; Bartlett 2014). …
The international media recognised the massive turnout, both in Syria and from the refugees in Lebanon, with some sources grudgingly admitting that ‘getting people to turn out in large numbers, especially outside Syria, is a huge victory in and of itself’ (Dark 2014). Associated Press reported on crowds of tens of thousands, in a ‘carnival like atmosphere’ in Damascus and Latakia, with ‘long lines’ of voters in Homs (FNA 2014a). AP … concluded that President Assad had ‘maintained significant support among large sections of the population’ (FNA 2014b). …
Bashar al Assad won this election convincingly, with 88.7% of the vote (AP 2014). Hassan al Nouri and Maher Hajjar gained 4.3% and 3.2% respectively (Aji 2014). With a 73.4% turnout (or 11.6 million of the 15.8 million eligible voters), that meant he had 10.3 million votes or 64% of all eligible voters. Even if every single person who was unable to vote was against him, this was a convincing mandate. … Associated Press reasonably concluded that Assad’s support was not just from minorities, but had to do with his legacy of opening up the economy, his support for women, the real benefits in education, health and electricity and, last but not least, the President’s capacity to move decisively against the sectarian armed groups (AP 2014).
Eva Bartlett provides further details in Deconstructing the NATO Narrative on Syria, Oct 10, 2015:
Million Person Marches. On March 29, 2011 (less than two weeks into the fantasy ‘revolution’) over 6 million people across Syria took to the streets in support of President al-Assad. In June, a reported hundreds of thousands marched in Damascus in support of the president, with a 2.3 km long Syrian flag. In November, 2011 (9 months into the chaos), masses again held demonstrations supporting President al-Assad, notably in Homs (the so-called “capital of the ‘revolution’”), Dara’a (the so-called “birthplace of the ‘revolution’”), Deir ez-Zour, Raqqa, Latakia, and Damascus.
Mass demonstrations like this have occurred repeatedly since, including in March 2012, in May 2014 in the lead-up to Presidential elections, and in June 2015, to note just some of the larger rallies.
In May 2013, it was reported that even NATO recognized the Syrian president’s increased popularity. “The data, relayed to NATO over the last month, asserted that 70 percent of Syrians support” the Assad government. At present, the number is now at least 80 percent.
The most telling barometer of Assad’s support base was the Presidential elections in June 2014, which saw 74 percent (11.6 million) of 15.8 million registered Syrian voters vote, with President al-Assad winning 88 percent of the votes. The lengths Syrians outside of Syria went to in order to vote included flooding the Syrian embassy in Beirut for two full days (and walking several kilometres to get there) and flying from countries with closed Syrian embassies to Damascus airport simply to cast their votes. Within Syria, Syrians braved terrorist mortars and rockets designed to keep them from voting; 151 shells were fired on Damascus alone, killing 5 and maiming 33 Syrians…
The Syrian Constitution and the process of political reform
The following is taken from Stephen Gowans article, ‘What the Syrian Constitution says about Assad and the Rebels’, May 21, 2013. See the article for the sources cited in bracketed footnotes below, and for many additional details of the new Syrian constitution.
In response to protestors’ demands, Damascus made a number of concessions that were neither superficial nor partial.
First, it cancelled the long-standing abridgment of civil liberties that had been authorized by the emergency law. The law, invoked because Syria is technically in a state of war with Israel, gave Damascus powers it needed to safeguard the security of the state in wartime, a measure states at war routinely take. Many Syrians, however, chaffed under the law, and regarded it as unduly restrictive. Bowing to popular pressure, the government lifted the security measures.
Second, the government proposed a new constitution to accommodate protestors’ demands to strip the Ba’ath Party of its special status, which had reserved for it a lead role in Syrian society. Additionally, the presidency would be open to anyone meeting basic residency, age and citizenship requirements. Presidential elections would be held by secret vote every seven years under a system of universal suffrage.
Here was the multi-party democracy the opposition was said to have clamored for. A protest movement thirsting for a democratic, pluralist society could accept the offer, its aspirations fulfilled. The constitution was put to a referendum and approved. New parliamentary multi-party elections were held. Multi-candidate presidential elections were set for 2014. A new democratic dawn had arrived. The rebels could lay down their arms and enjoy the fruits of their victory.
Or so you might expect. Instead, the insurrectionists escalated their war against Damascus, rejecting the reforms, explaining that they had arrived too late. Too late? Does pluralist democracy turn into a pumpkin unless it arrives before the clock strikes twelve? Washington, London and Paris also dismissed Assad’s concessions. They were “meaningless,” they said, without explaining why.  And yet the reforms were all the rebels had asked for and that the West had demanded. How could they be meaningless? Democrats, those seeking a peaceful resolution to the conflict, and the Assad government, could hardly be blamed for concluding that ‘democracy was not the driving force of the revolt.’ 
Origins of the conflict
The above-quoted article by Eva Bartlett rebuts the U.S./NATO/MSM (mainstream media) version in some detail. Moving from the demonstration of President Assad’s continuing popularity, Ms. Bartlett’s article provides links to investigative reports by Professor Tim Anderson, Sharmine Narwani, and others, regarding the origins of the current conflict and the effort to discredit Bashar al Assad’s government. Excerpts of particular interest:
…From the beginning, in Dara’a and throughout Syria, armed protesters were firing upon, and butchering, security forces and civilians. Tim Anderson’s ‘Syria: how the violence began, in Daraa’ pointed out that police were killed by snipers in the March 17/18 protests; the Syrian army was only brought to Dara’a following the murder of the policemen. Additionally, a storage of protesters’ weapons was found in Dara’a’s al- Omari mosque.
Prem Shankar Jha’s, ‘Who Fired The First Shot?’ described the slaughter of 20 Syrian soldiers outside Dara’a a month later, ‘by cutting their throats, and cutting off the head of one of the soldiers.’ …
In ‘Syria: The Hidden Massacre’, Sharmine Narwani investigated the early massacres of Syrian soldiers, noting that many of the murders occurred even after the Syrian government had abolished the state security courts, lifted the state of emergency, granted general amnesties, and recognized the right to peaceful protest.
The April 10, 2011 murder of Banyas farmer Nidal Janoud was one of the first horrific murders of Syrian civilians by so-called “unarmed protesters.” Face gashed open, mutilated and bleeding, Janoud was paraded by an armed mob, who then hacked him to death.
Father Frans Van der Ludt—the Dutch priest living in Syria for nearly 5 decades prior to his April 7, 2014 assassination by militants occupying the old city of Homs—
wrote (repeatedly) of the ‘armed demonstrators’ he saw in early protests, ‘who began to shoot at the police first.’
May 2011 video footage of later-resigned Al Jazeera journalist Ali Hashem shows fighters entering Syria from Lebanon, carrying guns and RPGs (Hashem stated he’d likewise seen fighters entering in April). Al Jazeera refused to air the May footage, telling Hashem to ‘forget there are armed men.’ [See: Sharmine Narwani’s ‘Surprise Video Changes Syria “Timeline’ at http://english.al-akhbar.com/blogs/sandbox/surprise-video- changes-syria-timeline#_blank] Unarmed protesters?
In the case of Daraa, and the attacks that moved to Homs and surrounding areas in April 2011, the clearly stated aim was once again to topple the secular or “infidel-Alawi” regime. The front-line U.S. collaborators were Saudi Arabia and Qatar, then Turkey.11
From Sharmine Narwani, How narratives killed the Syrian people:12 (from RT.com, March 23, 2016)
… How words kill
Four key narratives were spun ad nauseam in every mainstream Western media outlet, beginning in March 2011 and gaining steam in the coming months. – The Dictator is killing his “own people.”
– The protests are “peaceful.”
– The opposition is “unarmed.”
– This is a “popular revolution.”
… With the benefit of hindsight, let’s look at these Syria narratives five years into the conflict:
We know now that several thousand Syrian security forces were killed in the first year, beginning March 23, 2011. We therefore also know that the opposition was “armed” from the start of the conflict. We have visual evidence of gunmen entering Syria across the Lebanese border in April and May 2011. We know from the testimonies of impartial observers that gunmen were targeting civilians in acts of terrorism and that “protests” were not all “peaceful”.
The Arab League mission conducted a month-long investigation inside Syria in late 2011 and reported:
“In Homs, Idlib and Hama, the observer mission witnessed acts of violence being committed against government forces and civilians that resulted in several deaths and injuries. Examples of those acts include the bombing of a civilian bus, killing eight persons and injuring others, including women and children, and the bombing of a train carrying diesel oil. In another incident in Homs, a police bus was blown up, killing two police officers. A fuel pipeline and some small bridges were also bombed.”
… Furthermore, we also now know that whatever Syria was, it was no “popular revolution.” The Syrian army has remained intact, even after blanket media coverage of mass defections. Hundreds of thousands of Syrians continued to march in unreported demonstrations in support of the president. The state’s institutions and government and business elite have largely remained loyal to Assad. Minority groups – Alawites, Christians, Kurds, Druze, Shia, and the Baath Party, which is majority Sunni – did not join the opposition against the government. And the major urban areas and population centers remain under the state’s umbrella, with few exceptions.
A genuine “revolution,” after all, does not have operation rooms in Jordan and Turkey. Nor is a “popular” revolution financed, armed and assisted by Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the U.S., UK and France.
From Prem Shankar Jha, Who Fired the First Shot?: (Hands Off Syria Sydney, Feb 27, 2014)
Who Fired the First Shot?
… Syrians whom I interviewed in October 2012 in Damascus … [told this] story[:] Assad had sincerely wished to start the transition to democracy a decade earlier, but was forced to postpone the changeover repeatedly by the growing turmoil in Syria’s neighbourhood —the U.S.’ invasion of Iraq in 2003; the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri and the concerted bid to force Syria out of Lebanon in 2004; Washington’s decision to break diplomatic relations with Damascus in 2005; Israel’s attack on Lebanon in 2006, its blockade of Palestine in 2007, and its bombing of Gaza in 2009. Faisal Al Mekdad, Syria’s vice minister for foreign affairs and its former permanent representative at the UN, summed up Assad’s dilemma as follows: “Each of these events reminded us of the need for unity in the face of external pressures and threats, and forced us to postpone democratization for fear of setting off fresh internal conflicts and forcing adjustments when we could least afford them’.
Was there a spontaneous protest and was it peaceful? … Syrians I talked to in October 2012, and resident diplomats concurred, that there had been no spontaneous popular upsurge against the regime in Syria, and that the civil war was a fructification of plans for regime change that had been hatched much ea