Just before the war broke out in Syria food prices doubled, triggering the protests that were put down brutally by Assad’s troops. Syria used to be self sufficient in wheat but over the last few years has had to import grain.
Why did this happen? The answer is a combination of many years of drought caused by climate change, the accompanying water shortages and rocketing fuel prices. Of course, fuel is a major input in agriculture. But why the rocketing fuel prices? Syria is also an oil producer, however it hit the peak of its production in 1996 and is now producing at half of that peak. This has hit exports and state revenues. It means that the price for oil that ordinary people, including farmers, had to pay has shot up.
The result has been a catastrophe for Syrian agriculture and more generally for the Syrian economy. Many people living in rural areas, who are Sunni Muslims, migrated in desperation to the towns because towns are places where things are traded and food is available. However the towns on the coast are largely controlled by the Alawite minority which is the power base of the Assad regime. Religious and ethnic tensions have thus powerfully magnified by the migration. The map shows features of the agricultural crisis in 2009 (click to enlarge).
Despite all of these problems it might not have been inevitable that they would lead to a civil war. Unfortunately for the people of that country regime change in Syria has been an agenda for the US elite, for Britain, for Israel and for Saudi Arabia. On the surface it appeared that what has happened in Syria was an extension of “the Arab Spring” but there were other, external influences at work, winding up the tensions in the country, supporting movements of opposition and giving them arms, training and support.
The civil war is thus not all that it appears – it is a proxy war – outside countries and outside interests are sponsoring different groups with arms, money and food in the hope that whoever comes out on top will be their allies and promote their agendas.
The Americans are powerful, and violent, players. After the debacles in Afghanistan and Iraq their strategy has changed – they don’t want “boots on the ground” – but they don’t want to risk the flow of oil out of the “Middle East” either. Their long run strategy of multiple regime change to create governments favourable to the US remains just the same under Obama as under Bush, but the methods are less visible. They support proxies, as well as sponsoring private contractors, in other words mercenaries, to train opposition groups, as well as using drone attacks – extra-judicial murder – from the air in countries like the Yemen (though not, as yet, in Syria).
As early as 2007 Seymour Hersh was reporting in the New Yorker:
“The U.S. has also taken part in clandestine operations aimed at Iran and its ally Syria. A by-product of these activities has been the bolstering of Sunni extremist groups that espouse a militant vision of Islam and are hostile to America and sympathetic to Al Qaeda.” 
Note that while the story for the children is that the war against terror is against militant Islamic extremists, behind the scenes the US is prepared to ally itself with and support these groups if it is believed that this will destabilise and weaken regimes that do not pursue US corporate interests. This was the same policy pursued in Afghanistan under the Soviets that went so badly wrong before. When we look at the games played by the American security services we are looking at people who have learned absolutely nothing.
As regards Syrian specifically Hersh notes that “the Saudi government, with Washington’s approval, would provide funds and logistical aid to weaken the government of President Bashir Assad, of Syria,” with a view to pressure him to be “more conciliatory and open to negotiations” with Israel.
Britain has been involved too. British politicians speak for public consumption as if they are motivated by concern for the welfare of the people of Syria – but the involvement of British military intelligence in Syria has not been training people in non violent direct action, or helping develop strategies for the agriculture hit by climate change. British actions have wound up tension that have helped build the level of violence. Former French foreign minister Roland Dumas claimed that Britain had planned covert action in Syria as early as 2009. The interview on French television with English subtitles can be seen on YouTube.
“I was in England two years before the violence in Syria on other business”, he told French television, “I met with top British officials, who confessed to me that they were preparing something in Syria. This was in Britain not in America. Britain was preparing gunmen to invade Syria. They even asked me, although I was no longer minister for foreign affairs, if I would like to participate.” 
The “Daily Star” is not the kind of British newspaper that one would normally think of as a source for information but, in January of 2012 it reported:
“Britain is gearing up for fighting in Syria that could be bigger and bloodier than the battle against Gadaffi. The Ministry of Defence is drawing up secret plans for a NATO-sponsored no-fly zone but first it needs backing from the United Nations Security Council. As the unrest and killings escalate in the troubled Arab state, agents from MI6 and the CIA are already in Syria assessing the situation, a security official has revealed. Special forces are also talking to Syrian dissident soldiers. They want to know about weapons and communications kit rebel forces will need if the Government decides to help. “MI6 and the CIA are in Syria to infiltrate and get at the truth,” said the well-placed source. “We have SAS and SBS not far away who want to know what is happening and are finding out what kit dissident soldiers need. “Syria supports Hezbollah. That threatens Israel and the whole of the Middle East. “This has been given the highest priority as the whole thing could implode.” 
What are the different outside agendas in this conflict rooted in?
In a world where fossil fuels oil and gas are becoming increasingly costly and difficult to extract geopolitics is largely about fossil fuels – and particularly about gas pipeline routes and proposals. Russia, Iran and Assad would like to have a gas pipeline supplying Europe built with the help of Gazprom that comes out of Iran, crosses Syria and exports via the port of Tartus. Tartus is a long standing naval base of Russia. Small and under-equipped as it is, it is the largest Russian naval installation outside of Russia itself and gives the Russian navy access to the Mediterranean and beyond.
By contrast, Saudi Arabia working with Qatar would like a pipeline that goes through Syria up to Turkey, supplying Europe in a way that avoids all Russian and Gazprom involvement.
Another player in this game of torturing the ordinary people of Syria is Israel – they have wanted a pipeline out of Iraq across Syria to Israel for several decades.
Obviously absolutely none of these players can be trusted to tell the truth about what is happening. The people who play these war games are state sponsored psychopaths – they think nothing of killing large numbers of people to advance their agendas and lying is second nature to them. Winning, proving that they are the smartest, strongest and most ruthless, is all that matters to people like this.
The Saudis are deeply involved also because of their links with extremist Islamic groups. The Assad regime does not favour the Saudi/Qatar pipeline option which counters Russia interests so the Saudi regime is sponsoring its proxies in Syria – its spy chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan keeps the al Nusrah brigade well resourced with weapons – and possibly with chemical ones. Clearly the Saudis would love to drag the Americans, British, French and others in on their side. One interpretation of the incident was that it was an accident by rebel fighters who did not know what they were doing with chemical weapons – though this has not been verified. Certainly in May of this year Carla Ponte thought that an earlier chemical weapon incident involved not Assad’s regime, but that of the rebels. 
Whatever happened and now happens I draw two conclusions from this situation.
Firstly what we are witnessing arises out of tensions that are occurring as the world reaches the limits of economic growth – climate change, peak energy, water shortages, agricultural crisis are all leading to explosive tensions. Many countries in the global south have a demographic structure heavily weighted by young people. Obviously small children eat far less than adults – so as these “young populations” grow older the demand for food rises at a more than the rate of population. It does not then help when corporations use vast amounts of liquidity, produced to rescue dysfunctional financial markets, to speculate on rising food prices on world markets, driving up food prices even more.
Secondly these tensions are being exploited by the ruthless psychopaths, the gangsters found in the military, in politics, in security corporations in all countries. These are the people who direct the geopolitical games, exploiting the tension, making it worse and diverting attention and the emotional energy from the kind of strategies that would genuinely address the global crises that we face.
These global crises are climate change, peak energy and in general the limits to economic growth (including a global crisis of fresh water, serious depletion of other resources like phosphates, multiple forms of toxic production) – as well as a dysfunctional financial system based on debt based money which is driving the vast tragic process called (incorrectly) “economic growth” . (“Incorrectly” because it is uneconomic and driving the world out of balance.)
Horrendous as the situation in Syria is we have seen nothing yet. Within a very short time scale, unless the global economy can get onto a trajectory that contracts carbon emissions by at least 6% per annum there will be a temperature runaway that will melt the Greenland ice sheet leading to a 7 meter sea level rise.
Despite this, in order to continue the production of fossil fuels the energy sector is resorting to more extreme forms of extraction which are immensely damaging to water supplies, communities and the climate – and are using their friends in government to “frack” the political and media system, turning the police into a private security force, and resorting to mass surveillance, in order overwhelm opposition by and from communities.
At the same time a criminally irresponsible financial sector has been allowed to continue operating, without fundamental reform. Instead, new speculative bubbles are being blown by economically illiterate politicians who cannot see what is happening beyond the end of their noses. In the meantime crime grows in abundance throughout the political and economic system. The fact that criminality is rife in the financial sector is clear from the fact that 80% of international loans are routed through secrecy jurisdictions, as well as one half of world trade. To then add insult to injury the United Nations Environment Programme argues that the way to protect the ecological system against collapse is to marketise it and “hardwire it into financial markets” – in other words to sell it to the criminals who are wrecking the global economy.
Things are not looking good for the world – but one area of hope is that there are more educated people in the world in all countries who have developed the ability to interpret the real issues and the real problems. Millions of people can see more clearly the extreme level of violence, criminality and plain futility in the strategies undertaken by the people who govern us. More and more people simply no longer believe the lies and can see that the real problems of the world are being made much worse by a dysfunctional and psychopathic elite whose only answer is deception and violence.
Now we have to work out what to do about them.
Note: Feasta is a forum for exchanging ideas. By posting on its site Feasta agrees that the ideas expressed by authors are worthy of consideration. However, there is no one ‘Feasta line’. The views of the article do not necessarily represent the views of all Feasta members.
Brian Davey graduated from the Nottingham University Department of Economics and, aside from a brief spell working in eastern Germany showing how to do community development work, has spent most of his life working in the community and voluntary sector in Nottingham particularly in health promotion, mental health and environmental fields. He helped form Ecoworks, a community garden and environmental project for people with mental health problems. He is a member of Feasta Climate Working Group and former co-ordinator of the Cap and Share Campaign. He is editor of the Feasta book Sharing for Survival: Restoring the Climate, the Commons and Society, and the author of Credo: Economic Beliefs in a World in Crisis.