By Pepe Escobar
It was deep into the night, somewhere over Siberia, in a Moscow to Beijing flight (BRIC to BRIC?) when the thought, like a lightning bolt, began to take hold.
What the hell is wrong with those Arabs?
Maybe it was the narcotic effect of that perennially dreadful Terminal F at Sheremetyevo airport - straight out of a Brejnev gulag. Maybe it was the anticipation of finding more about the Russia-China joint naval exercise scheduled for late April.
Or it was simply another case of "you can take the boy out of the Middle East, but you can't take the Middle East out of the boy".
With friends like these ... It all had to do with that Friends of Syria (fools for war?) meeting in Istanbul. Picture Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal - who seems to have a knack for sending US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton into rapture - feverishly arguing that the House of Saud, those paragons of democracy, had "a duty" to weaponize the Syrian "revolutionary" opposition.
And picture al-Faisal ordering an immediate ceasefire by the Bashar al-Assad government, guilty - according to the House of Saud - not only of cruel repression but crimes against humanity.
No; this was not a Monty Python sketch.
To make sure he was milking the right cow, al-Faisal also said that the Gulf Counter-revolution Club (GCC), also known as Gulf Cooperation Council, wanted to get further into bed with the United States. Translation, if any was needed; the US-GCC tag team, as expressed by the weaponization of the Syrian "rebels", is meant to body slam Iran.
For both the House of Saud and Qatar (the other GCCs are just extras), what's goin' on in Syria is not about Syria; it's always been about Iran.
This especially applies to the Saudi pledge to flood the global oil market with a spare oil production capacity that any self-respecting oil analyst knows they don't have - or rather wouldn't use; after all, the House of Saud badly needs high oil prices to bribe its restive eastern province population into not even thinking about that Arab Spring nonsense.
Clinton got the pledge from the House of Saud in person, before landing in Istanbul. Washington's return gift was of the Pentagon kind; the GCC soon will be protected from "evil" Iran by a US-supplied missile shield. That implies that an attack on Iran may have been discarded for 2012 - but it's certainly "on the table" for 2013.
Asian nations - especially BRICS members China and India - will keep buying oil from Iran; the problem is what the European poodles will do. Other real problems are that the Kurds in northern Iraq are taking their oil off the market until Baghdad pays them the share they had agreed upon. And then there are Syria's 400,000 barrels a day, which have been dwindling over the past few months.
Still, the Saudis will keep playing the make-believe oil scenario as a gift to Washington - as the US pressures compliant European Union poodle economies and extremely wary Asians they have no reason to keep buying Iranian oil.
But then into this mess in Istanbul Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki - whose power is a direct consequence of Washington's invasion and destruction of Iraq - steps in with quite a bang.
Here it is, in his own words:
We reject any arming [of Syrian rebels] and the process to overthrow the [Assad] regime, because this will leave a greater crisis in the region ... The stance of these two states [Qatar and Saudi Arabia] is very strange ... They are calling for sending arms instead of working on putting out the fire, and they will hear our voice, that we are against arming and against foreign interference ... We are against the interference of some countries in Syria's internal affairs, and those countries that are interfering in Syria's internal affairs will interfere in the internal affairs of any country ... It has been one year and the regime did not fall, and it will not fall, and why should it fall?"Maliki knows very well that the ongoing and already escalating weaponizing of Sunni Syrians - many of the Salafi and jihadi kind - will inevitably spill over into Iraq itself, and threaten his Shi'ite-majority government. And that irrespective of the fact that his administration supports the close Iran-Syria relationship.
Maliki, by the way, was back in power in the autumn of 2010 because Tehran deftly intervened to make sure the Sadrists would support him. To add to Maliki's anger, Qatar is refusing to extradite Iraqi Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi, accused of masterminding a pro-Sunni coup d'etat in Baghdad.
How green was my jihad valley
So Washington is now merrily embarking in a remix of the 1980s Afghan jihad - which, as every grain of sand from the Hindu Kush to Mesopotamia knows, led to that ghostly entity, al-Qaeda, and the subsequent, transformer "war on terror".
The House of Saud and Qatar have institutionalized that motley crew known as the Free Syrian Army as a mercenary outfit; they are now on their payroll, to the tune of $100 million (and counting). Isn't democracy wonderful - when US-allied Persian Gulf monarchies can buy a mercenary army for peanuts? Isn't it great to be a revolutionary with an assured paycheck?
Not missing a beat, Washington has set up its own fund as well, for "humanitarian" assistance to Syria and "non-lethal" aid to the "rebels"; "non-lethal" as in ultra battle-ready satellite communications equipment, plus night-vision goggles. Clinton's silky spin was that the equipment would allow the "rebels" to "evade" attacks by the Syrian government. No mention that now they have access to actionable US intelligence via a swarm of drones deployed all over Syria.
Maliki can clearly see the writing on the (Sunni) wall. The House of Saud invaded Shi'ite-majority Bahrain to protect the extremely unpopular Sunni al-Khalifa dynasty in power - their "cousins". Maliki knows that a post-Assad Syria would mean Muslim Brotherhood Sunnis in power - sprinkled with Salafi-jihadis. In his worst nightmare, Maliki sees this possible dystopian future as an al-Qaeda in Iraq remix on steroids.
So this is what the Istanbul-based "Friends of Syria" bash turned into; a shameless legitimizing - by Arabs allied with the US - of civil war in yet another Arab country. The victims will be average Syrians caught in the crossfire.
This US-GCC weaponizing entirely dissolves the United Nations Syria envoy and former secretary general Kofi Annan's six-point peace plan. The plan calls for a ceasefire; for the Syrian government to "cease troop movements" and "begin pullback of military concentrations"; and for a negotiated political settlement.
There will be no ceasefire. The Assad government accepted the plan. The weaponized "rebels" rejected it. Imagine the Syrian government beginning the "pullback of military concentrations" while swarms of weaponized "rebels" and assorted mercenaries (from Libya, Lebanon and Iraq) keep deploying their torture tactics and launching a barrage of improvised explosive devices.
I landed in Beijing eager to learn more about the upcoming joint Russia-China naval exercise in the Yellow Sea, but instead I was stuck with a Henry Kissinger op-ed in the Washington Post.  Here it is, in Dr K's own words:
The Arab Spring is widely presented as a regional, youth-led revolution on behalf of liberal democratic principles. Yet Libya is not ruled by such forces; it hardly continues as a state. Neither is Egypt, whose electoral majority (possibly permanent) is overwhelmingly Islamist. Nor do democrats seem to predominate in the Syrian opposition.Well, China scholar Dr K at least got this one right (and in total agreement with Maliki, no less). A full-fledged mercenary army paid for by autocrat Arabs to overthrow an Arab government is pure and simple regime change - US rhetoric about "democracy" and "freedom" notwithstanding. It's all about classic, imperial divide and rule, profiting from pitting Sunnis against Shi'ites.
The Arab League consensus on Syria is not shaped by countries previously distinguished by the practice or advocacy of democracy. Rather, it largely reflects the millennium-old conflict between Shi'ite and Sunni and an attempt to reclaim Sunni dominance from a Shi'ite minority. It is also precisely why so many minority groups, such as Druzes, Kurds and Christians, are uneasy about regime change in Syria.
And then my divine roasted duck revealed to me that realpolitik stalwart Dr K is not getting much traction in Washington these days.
1. See here.
Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007) and Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge. His most recent book, just out, is Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).
He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
(Copyright 2012 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd.