A Guide to Decoding the Doublespeak on Syria

by | Feb 6, 2019


The prospect of US withdrawal from Syria has taken the use of doublespeak by frothing neocons and their liberal interventionist fellow travellers to a new level.

Here to help the confused observer is a glossary of some of the most frequently used key terms and their true meanings, along with guidance on usages deemed taboo in Western policy-making and media circles.

Entrenched. As in: ‘We have to stop Iran getting more entrenched in Syria’. Meaning: ‘Supportive’. Without Iran and Hizbollah helping Syria government forces ISIS and Al Qaida would be ruling the roost in Syria today. Do not say: ‘Israel is becoming more and more entrenched in the West Bank and Golan’.

Forward deployment. ‘US troops are in forward deployment in the Al Tanf enclave on the Syria – Iraq border’. Meaning: Occupation. The US troops have no mandate to be there, not even the approval of the US Congress.

Engagement. ‘Ambassador Jeffrey is the Secretary’s Envoy for Syria Engagement’. Meaning: Disengagement. Much to his chagrin, the archetypal hawk Jeffrey had his pledge to the effect that the US was in Syria for the duration unsaid by the president within hours of his uttering it. Since then he appears to have lost his tongue.

Vacuum. ‘The US will be leaving a vacuum when it pulls troops out’. Meaning: Restoration of law and order. Once the US stops blocking the way the Syrian government will return to the currently US-controlled territory and will keep ISIS down, as it is doing in the rest of Syria, and Turkey out.

Syria. ‘ With the withdrawal he’s handing Syria over to the Russians and the Iranians’. Meaning: The one and a half provinces of Syria (Hasakeh and part of Deir Ez Zor) currently controlled by the US. Blinkered Western armchair strategists are blind to the fact that Russia and Iran are already influential in the larger part of the country controlled by the Syrian government.

Land bridge. ‘ We must stop Iran from creating a land bridge across Syria by keeping troops in Al Tanf’. Meaning: We know journalists are too lazy to look at a map so we ignore the fact that semi-US occupied Iraq, helpfully characterised this week by President Trump as a big spy base, stands between Iran and Syria. Anyway Iran could use other crossing points besides Al Tanf if it got tired of resupplying Hizbollah by air.

Lose. ‘How the US lost Syria’. Meaning : Win. Syria was never ‘ours’, as President Trump has also helpfully explained. By leaving, the US does itself a huge favour, avoiding another 19 year unwinnable war like Afghanistan.

Malign. ‘Pompeo lashed Iran’s malign behaviour destabilising the region’. Meaning: Helpful, beneficient. Without Iran and Hizbollah Syria would not be almost rid of ISIS.

For. ‘At this crucial juncture we need a serious policy for Syria’. Meaning: Against. Almost invariably those wanting a policy for another country are scheming up some evil. Even well-meaning folk can unconsciously slip into this condescending neo-imperialist mode. Never say: ‘I wonder if Syria has a policy for the UK, which seems unstable.’

Regime. ‘The Syrian regime’. Meaning: Government. Never say: ‘The Saudi regime’, except in the immediate aftermath of a particularly gruesome murder of a critic with Western connections.

Stabilise. ‘Our programmes support local administrations aimed at helping to stabilise the areas outside Syrian government control’. Meaning: Destabilise, help engineer partition.

Destabilise. ‘Russia’s provision of S-300 missiles will destabilise the situation with Israel’. Meaning: Stabilise. These purely defensive missiles will help deter any reckless politicians with the feds breathing down their necks from launching yet more air-borne attacks on Syria.

Safe zone. ‘Turkey wants a safe zone 20 miles deep all along the border with Syria’. Meaning: Danger zone. Currently the border is quiet. A Turkish incursion or attempted insertion of proxy forces would be bloodily resisted by the Kurds. The Syrian government can guarantee the area stays quiet, given a chance.

Embolden. ‘US withdrawal will embolden Iran and Russia’. Meaning: Not kowtowing to US regional hegemony. Never say: ‘Western support for Israeli bombing of Syria has emboldened Netanyahu’.

And finally, a gloss on the propagators of many of the above terms:

Think tank. The likes of Washington Institute for the Middle East, Heritage Foundation, Henry Jackson Society, Chatham House, RUSI. Meaning: Bilge tanks. Generously funded perches for neocons resting between regime change assignments and academics for hire, producing garbage predictions proven wrong time and time again and rewarded with new commissions.

Peter Ford is the former British Ambassador to Syria (2003-2006) and Bahrain (1999-2002).

Reprinted with permission from 21st Century Wire.