Retired British Ambassador to Bahrain and Syria Peter Ford discusses the Syrian War and its latest developments, including attempts to try Bashar al-Assad at the ICC. He describes the “permanent government” of the U.S. which is a key driver of the war, as well as America’s European counterparts such as France and Britain, who still cling to the coattails of their imperial past glory. Ambassador Ford believes Gulf unity is shattered and that Syria will remain weak, but will slowly rebuild in the coming years.
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Podcast: This is the Geopolitics and Empire podcast, and we’re talking to retired British diplomat and ambassador to Bahrain and Syria, Peter Ford. He is also the Director of the British Syrian Society. We will be discussing the war in Syria, the US and European foreign policy of regime change, the media propaganda that enables it, and what we can expect to see in the future.
Podcast: It’s great to have you on, Ambassador Ford.
Peter Ford: Thank you for having me, I look forward to our dialogue. [spoiler]
Podcast: Yes. And let’s get started with the different narratives that exist of the Syrian War. Because the prominent narrative is that it’s a civil war, but you recently gave a speech in the House of Lords, which you sent me a copy, and you explained that in effect, the war is part of a multi-decade long war on Syria by the West. We know we have declassified files that go back to 1957, I believe, where the CIA had the plan to overthrow Syria. I believe in 1983, in the 80s there were other documents, and Wikileaks in the 2000s as well released such documents.
Podcast: So can you give us a frank explanation of what really the Syrian War was, or is, all about?
Peter Ford: Well, you’ll recall in 2011, when everything kicked off in Syria, there had been a genuine popular uprising in some other Arab countries, beginning with Tunisia, and across North Africa, spreading through Libya and Egypt. And to a large extent, I believe those were genuine domestic uprisings. The case of Syria was always going to be different. While those countries in North Africa, the sectarian issue hardly applied, because the people were almost all Sunni Muslim. Syria is a social and religious mosaic. It was always likely that in the event of any uprising with religious factors, social factors would come into play.
Peter Ford: So Syria was always destined to be different. It was also destined to be different because the West, particularly the United States, has had this anti-Syrian agenda going back several decades, and has been constantly looking for opportunities to destabilize Syria and remove the Damascus regime, as they would call it. And such an opportunity arose in 2011, and the Western powers lost no time in piling in on the back of some limited local demonstrations, particularly in southern Syria, in Daraa, and in no time, for example, the US Ambassador was marching up with his French colleague to Hama to participate themselves in demonstrations there.
Peter Ford: So the die was cast from a very early stage, and what may have begun as local demonstrations quickly escalated. Islamist fighters began to appear. Very quickly they were armed by the United States, and other powers, particularly Gulf powers acting in cooperation with America. And in a very short time indeed, the conflict had become essentially another episode in the West’s war against Syria.
Podcast: Since you brought up some of these fighters, these proxy fighters, I’m gonna jump ahead to one of my questions. Tell us a little bit of how this war was fought, so, you know, some people say they’re proxy fighters, mercenaries, these moderate rebels, jihadists. We have declassified documents that say the US knew what it was doing. Judicial Watch declassified the DIA documents, we had Michael Flynn, the head of the DIA revealed this, Hamid Karzai, the former Afghan leader. And many other people say that the United States directly arms, funds, trains, transports ISIS, Daesh, for use.
Podcast: Is this too simplistic a way of describing the proxy force? Or how does this mechanic work?
Peter Ford: The United States didn’t look carefully at the credentials of the Islamic fighters that they were training. I don’t think they wanted to know which groups the fighters actually belonged to. I don’t say that the United States deliberately trained ISIS, or Al Qaeda, or Mossad fighters, but this was the overall effect of giving training and weapons more or less indiscriminately to anybody who would take them.
Peter Ford: Many of these radical fighters were masquerading under the brand of the Free Syrian Army, which originally began with some defecting elements of the Syrian army. But very quickly, it was overrun by radical Islamists, and became the Free Syrian Army indistinguishable, virtually, from Al-Nusra, with which it was very often collaborating on the battle front. And these other groups like Ahrar al-Sham, and so many others that they’re not … there were literally hundreds of these Islamo-fascist groups, and the United States, and Britain, and France, were up to the eyeballs in supporting them with training, and weapons, and direction on the field of battle. There were military control rooms coordinating the jihadis in northern Jordan, and in southern Turkey.
Podcast: And you mentioned previously, in 2011 a bit of unrest that started in Syria, and we’re bombarded by a lot of propaganda. We heard all these things about Saddam Hussein, yeah, you know, Saddam Hussein wasn’t a nice guy, I knew people from Iraq a long time ago, and they did whatever they could to get out of Iraq, and they didn’t want to go back. But for the allegations that were launched against Saddam … for example, weapons of mass destruction, that he worked with Al-Qaeda, that he was involved in 9/11 … none of that was true. So, you know, I’m skeptical, often, about these narratives that are replayed in the media.
Podcast: So we’re told that Assad gassed his own people and things like this, but apart from … Maybe you can tell me, tell us, apart from this repetition in the Western media that he gassed his own people, has there been any evidence of such a thing?
Peter Ford: Look, no government … no government in the Middle East has been a paragon of virtue. In varying degrees they have all been authoritarian governments. And maybe there were good reasons for this, maybe Western [inaudible 00:08:01] like democracy doesn’t fit, for whatever historical, social reason. But the fact is that Assad was no worse than, for example, the King of Jordan, who the West supports to the hilt, in terms of repressing domestic political activity. Certainly better than Egyptian, successive Egyptian presidents in terms of repression, and much better than the Gulf leaders in terms of encouraging pluralism and some degree of parliamentary control. And relative free speech, so it’s all relative. Assad is no angel, his secret police did indeed carry out some excesses, but so did everybody else’s secret police in the Middle East.
Podcast: Some say the war is over, but you say the war goes on by other means. Has President Assad won?
Peter Ford: It’s too early to say he has won. He controls over 70% of the territory of Syria now, but important parts of the country are still beyond his control. And the war goes on by other means, particularly economic means. Also, I don’t think that Western powers have conceded victory to Assad. Whatever they say sometimes, out of one corner of their mouth, they say, “Yeah, Assad has won, we have to move on to the next phase,” but out of the other side of their mouth, they say, “Ah, we insist on a transition.” This is the euphemism prepared for regime change.
Peter Ford: The phrase regime change has become a dirty word after Iraq, and after Libya. So they can’t call it regime change, they call it, therefore, transition, and they say, “Well, we insist that there must be a transition away from Assad’s rule. There must be UN supervised, democratic elections.” But they never tell us who, which paragon of virtue is going to take over, going to win in an election over Assad, or why they believe that Assad would not win. Most people who actually know anything about Syria would say that he would get more than 40%, which is more than Trump, or May, or Macron, or Merkel. And yet we’ve set the bar so high, that we demand that he do better than all these Western democratic leaders who enjoy the right to continue to govern his country.
Podcast: You gave an interview last year that I listened to, and you mentioned something that I never thought of, and you know, regarding going forward, the Syrian economy … how another weapon of war is demographics, and the depopulation being used as a weapon. How this exodus of Syrians will have an impact on the economy, and the future of Syria, and will weaken the state. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Peter Ford: Yeah, absolutely. The Western powers, by their action in fueling the conflict, pumping weapons and money, and effectively running jihadi armies who have ethnically cleansed huge areas, are provoking an exodus of population in the first place. Secondly, in sustaining the existence and encouraging the culture of refugees by giving billions to keep them in place. In places like Jordan, and Turkey, and Lebanon, effectively the Western powers have been paying people to leave Syria and accept charity in camps in these countries.
Peter Ford: And now, there is a deliberate, calculated policy, to discourage these people from going back. They continue to be offered amounts of money to remain, and they are given advice not to return unless they are absolutely certain that their young men, for example, will not be conscripted. This is another thing that really bugs me. The prominence given to what they call forced conscription. What this means is that young men who fled, the draft dodgers who fled Syria, because they were unwilling to fight to defend their towns and villages against ISIS, and Al-Qaeda, these young men who fled should be allowed back, and not put in the army, not made to do their military service, like the young men who stayed behind, who heroically fought against ISIS, who died in their thousands. There were probably 100,000 Syrian soldiers who died over the course of this war.
Peter Ford: And what the West demands is that the young men who went through, the draft dodgers, be allowed to go back and nothing happens. They don’t even have to do their military service. So in all these ways, the Western powers have connived at the depopulation of Syria, and in economic terms this is dreadful. A country, an economy, needs market, needs people, needs mouths to feed and labor to conduct the activities in industry and agriculture. For me, the top, the absolute top priority for Syria in a period of recovery is very simply to get people to go back, because that will generate economic growth, people will create a market for services and products, but the West is doing everything in its power to keep Syria depopulated and therefore weak.
Podcast: And before I ask anymore questions, are there any key points that you’d like to get across?
Peter Ford: We haven’t yet touched on the continuing military occupation of Syria by Western forces. As you know, President Trump promised a few months ago that all US forces would be withdrawn, because as he even said at that time, we don’t need any more of these unending wars. And we’ve more or less finished the fight against ISIS, so, he said, “I’m bringing the troops home.” But he’s not. He has been forced to abandon, virtually abandon, these plans. Just today, breaking news is that Trump’s US military forces are saying that over 1000 of the 2000 troops will stay behind.
Peter Ford: And this shows how even a US president is not strong enough to overcome the forces of militarism, the forces of imperialism, the deep state, the permanent government, in his own country. That’s where we are. So US forces are going to remain, indefinitely, indefinitely in Syria. There is no horizon, no time limit suggested, they’ll be there no officially for as long as there is any chance, any chance that some ISIS elements might reappear. Of course, that is a wonderful condition for the hawks, the neo-cons, because it will never be met. There will never be a point at which anyone can say ISIS can’t reappear, and so it is an excuse, a recipe, for indefinite occupation of Syria.
Peter Ford: Occupation of a key area where most of Syria’s oil and gas reserves are. This is all part of the economic war against Syria, to keep Syria weak.
Podcast: And I don’t know if you wanna comment, I think last week, or some days ago, the OPCW released the report on Douma, which essentially says that … They kept using the term alleged attacks, and that there’s reasonable grounds that there was some kind of toxic substance used, and I think they say chlorine, but they don’t come to any definitive conclusion, and what can you say about that, as well as the use of staged attacks, or false flag operations. Because other accounts say that those attacks were staged by another set of proxies, or NGOs, such as the White Helmets.
Peter Ford: Well the latest report by OPCW was transparently drafted under enormous pressure from the Western powers. The OPCW was … reading between the lines you can see that they were forced to compromise on the wording, and even then, even then they didn’t come down clearly on the side of the West, they just said that there were, that it was possible. They didn’t even say it was probable that Assad has gassed these people, they just said it was possible.
Peter Ford: Now this is, you know, has almost no value at all. A statement that there were reasonable grounds to believe that Assad had dropped these chlorine canisters. And what they didn’t say, and what was probably deleted in the draft, is that there were equally reasonable grounds to argue that it was all faked. They simply ignored the hypothesis that the whole incident was faked. They did not demolish this hypothesis, they did not examine it, in fact what they did not do was even more significant than what they did do. They did not try to exhume any bodies, they gave no explanation for that. No explanation whatever. They did not … in fact they refused … to examine the chlorine, what appears to be a chlorine gas canister which was found in a jihadi workshop not far from the sight of the alleged incident.
Peter Ford: They said it was just too dangerous. Really, really, they’re taking us for fools. They take the media for fools, and of course the Western media lap this up uncritically.
Podcast: And can you tell us a little bit about your thoughts on the American Empire, as well as, to what extent are the wars we’re seeing now, or attempt at wars in Venezuela, Yemen, Iran, to what extent are they related to Syria, and you know, is this is the US/UK/EU/GCC Empire, or some kind of, if you kind of visualize like a Godzilla monster roaming the Earth, and smashing any country that is not in line and in compliance with their desires.
Peter Ford: Basically, yes. I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but you would have to be willfully blind not to see a pattern here. A pattern of imperial behavior on the part of the United States’ permanent government. Even when they get a president, a populist, unconventional president who wants to do something outrageous, like cultivate better relations with Russia, review the purpose of NATO, even when they get a president who wants to do those things, the permanent government finds ways to overturn the will of the people as expressed through electing such a president.
Peter Ford: And therefore, the permanent state gets its way with seeking unending war. It’s clear Iran is in the firing line, and of course Trump is not without blame on that. He appears to feel it necessary to support conflict with Iran in order to keep the Israel lobby happy. He’s in a very weak domestic position, because of Russiagate, he cannot afford to upset the Israel lobby. And so if not military war on Iran, then certainly economic war. At the moment, the imperial project is being pushed forward mainly through economic bullying. Sanctions are being reapplied to Iran, sanctions are being increased on Syria. You don’t hear much talk, of course, in Western media about sanctions. They are the invisible war, but they do at least as much damage as guns.
Peter Ford: Venezuela, much the same. Of course, it’s all part of the same picture. You’re dealing with a permanent government that the United States fear, and a United Kingdom, and France, former imperial powers which still hanker after the old days, which hang onto the coattails of the United States in order to get their whiff of the old imperial drug on which they are addicted.
Podcast: And some news recently that, I think you’ve talked about Law Fair, and recently they’ve discussed attempting to trying President Assad at the ICC, yet at the same time the US is refusing visas to ICC investigators who are looking into US war crimes in Afghanistan. Can you talk about these latest charges against Assad?
Peter Ford: Yeah, this is absolutely laughable with the double standards that the United States, Britain, and France, are supporting organizations and individuals who want to put Assad and other important people in the Syrian government in the dock, in the Hague, or in front of other Western-backed international courts, over alleged war crimes. And at the same time, the United States regards itself as above the law. It not only refuses to have dealings with the ICC, it refuses to allow ICC officials to visit the United States, and threatens sanctions and punishment against individuals of the ICC. The double standards are so blatant it is laughable. It is laughable. But they still, the Western media give prominence to stories about how Assad needs to be pursued through the international court.
Peter Ford: Apparently without giving any thought to the practical consequences of what would happen if Assad was suddenly brought to the court. Would Syria not collapse into anarchy? And what incentive does this pursuit through the court give Assad to compromise and share power? On the contrary, it highly incentivizes him to, not to share power. Not to risk being called off to the Hague, or wherever. But Law Fair fixing to … it’s not about law, it’s about publicity. It’s about public relations. It’s about demonizing. Demonizing Assad and other people like Maduro is a key element in the whole big picture.
Peter Ford: The Western powers have to demonize people like Saddam, Gaddafi, Maduro, Assad, in order to justify what they are doing. And it’s a very successful ploy. It bamboozles half the world, and keeps the media on side.
Podcast: And you know, one of my final questions, you talk about, well, the media. What’s your take on the media’s take? I sometimes fear that even what I’m doing will, in the near future, be shut off, and then what recourse will we have?
Peter Ford: Absolutely. For the last 10, 15 years, the world has been enjoying an unusual chance to enjoy free speech, because of the proliferation of news sources. And the mainstream media have become terrified of the internet. Terrified. Young people the world over generally don’t get their news anymore from these state broadcasters like the BBC, France 24, or CNN. This terrifies the mainstream media, and the governments behind them, with the result that there are now immense pressures moving up on the sources of internet news and views, to clamp down.
Peter Ford: Any excuse is used. Just this week we have the New Zealand incident, which is leading to pressure on Facebook. Any excuse is good to try to limit free speech.
Podcast: And what’s your vision of the Middle East in the future? You know, in the past, we’ve had talk of creating … You know, will the Middle East go towards some kind of fake, Western democracy, where they’ve talked about Arab NATO, a common Gulf currency, and you see things kind of like settling in that direction? Or do you see the chances for war with Iran, or some wider conflict?
Peter Ford: The Gulf unity is shattered, mainly because of the conflict between Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Qatar is another mini superpower, because of its wealth, because of its gas reserves, because of its media assets. Qatar has bought its way to the top table, and the Saudis cannot abide this. So Gulf unity is shattered for the foreseeable future. There is not going to be any sort of Gulf NATO, and this was never going to happen to begin with. Saudi troops could not be relied on in the battlefield to fight on the side of Saudi Arabia. It would be just as likely that they would … if they were fighting ISIS … that they would join ISIS.
Peter Ford: This is why Saudi Arabia never sent troops to Syria, much as they would have liked to. They didn’t dare, because they knew that the troops would probably join ISIS. So, no, all that talk of Arab NATO was just so much hot air. Syria, I’m afraid Syria is set for another couple of years of instability. I fear a war of attrition developing in Idlib, the remaining province where the jihadis are still controlling an entire Syrian province. Eventually, the Kurds will get tired of their US occupiers, or the Arabs in that part of northeast Syria will rise up against their Kurdish and American overlords, but the American presence in northeast Syria, its days are numbered, it’s unsustainable.
Peter Ford: So, eventually, within five years, Syria will be a united country. It will still be weak, economically, but I’m hopeful that it will become actually a beacon of progress. That it will show that it’s possible for a secular regime, which does not bend the knee to the US, will survive and prosper.
Podcast: I think that’s a great place to leave it on an optimistic note, and I thank you for this interview, Ambassador Ford. And even more importantly, I thank you for the courage that you demonstrate to us in speaking out for truth, and for peace, against an establishment that seeks power, wealth, and war, and I hope more people become inspired to follow your lead.
Peter Ford: It’s kind of you to say that, thank you very much for inviting me.
Podcast: I hope you enjoyed this Geopolitics and Empire podcast and interview. I would like to remind you that our website is geopoliticsandempire.com, and you can sign up for our mailing list that goes out each weekend, with the latest podcast and a long collection of important news headlines. It’s good to sign up for the newsletter in case we experience censorship, and deplatforming. You can help the Geopolitics and Empire podcast by subscribing to, and interacting with, all of our channels such as YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Gab, Minds, and Steemit. You can also help us by leaving a rating and review on your favorite podcast platform, such as iTunes, CastBox, Stitcher, Spreaker, and so on.
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Peter Ford Speech, Panel Discussion, House of Lords, March 2019 https://geopoliticsandempire.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/EuroSCE-Panel-Discussion-March-2013-2.docx
About Peter Ford
Peter William Ford (born 27 June 1947) is a retired British diplomat who was ambassador to Bahrain from 1999–2003 and to Syria from 2003–2006.
Ford was educated at Weston Point Community Primary School, Helsby Grammar School and The Queen’s College, Oxford.
Having finished his Arabic studies he worked in Beirut, Riyadh, Paris and Cairo before being appointed British ambassador to Bahrain as well as Syria from 2003-06.
Retiring from the Diplomatic Service in 2006, he became Representative of the Commissioner-General of UNRWA in the Arab world.
In February 2017, Ford became a Director of the British Syrian Society, alongside President Assad’s father-in-law Dr Fawaz Akhras.
In 2003, as ambassador to Bahrain, Ford says he sent critical memoranda to London before the Iraq War. Later, he regretted not having been more outspoken. In his time in Damascus (2003-2006), he says he distanced himself more and more from the official policies.
Since 2006, he has been criticised as a defender of the Syrian government in Syria. In 2016, he suggested opposition forces were responsible for an attack on a UN humanitarian convoy in September 2016 which led to the deaths of 10 humanitarians. A UN panel of inquiry said the attack was conducted from the air, and only Syrian and Russian air forces were operating in the area. The UN panel stated “that it did not have evidence to conclude that the incident was a deliberate attack on a humanitarian target”.
He accused the British government of lies and political mistakes in Syria from the onstart of the uprising, thus aggravating the situation. He argued that Prime Minister David Cameron should have either committed British forces or refrained from encouraging opposition forces from mounting a campaign against the Syrian government. Ford believes that the British leaders expected an early end of the Syrian government and overestimated the strength of the moderate opposition, whom they did not provide with sufficient help.
Ford argued that the fall of Assad would open a “Pandora’s box”, repeating the mistakes of Libya and Iraq. In his opinion, the fall of the Syrian government would lead to the massacres of Christians, Shias, Alawites, Druze and other minorities.
On the Khan Shaykhun chemical attack, he commented to the BBC that “there [had] been no investigation.. not a dodgy dossier – we’ve not seen any dossier whatever this time”. Ford argued there was no proof of the Syrian government’s involvement in the attack.
Ford participated in the EuroCE conference on the future of Syria from 5 to 6 April 2017 which was criticised by dissidents as pro-Assad, because among the speakers there were Syrian politicians and supporters of the Assad government. At the conference Ford described the British policy as “incoherent and grotesque”, and accused the British government of being among those in the front rank of destroying Syria. He added that following the Iraq War he had been under regular instructions to remonstrate with the Syrians over the flow of jihadis into Iraq, but said he understood the Syrian government’s point of view.
*Podcast intro music is from the song “The Queens Jig” by “Musicke & Mirth” from their album “Music for Two Lyra Viols”: https://musicke-mirth.de/en/recordings.html (available on iTunes or Amazon)