Sun Tzu, or if you prefer Al Pacino as Michael Corleone in “The Godfather” gave the wise advice: Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.
There’s much more going on under the surface than meets the eye regarding Danny Makki’s joining the Middle East Institute’s Syria Program as a non-resident fellow.
Of course, the pro-Syria crowd along with independent journalists piled on in response to Danny’s very unexpected announcement on Wednesday, “Delighted to be joining @MEI_Syria as a non-resident scholar, look forward to covering Syria in-depth and working with some great talent.”
Delighted to be joining @MEI_Syria as a non-resident scholar, look forward to covering Syria in-depth and working with some great talent.
— Danny Makki (@Dannymakkisyria) May 20, 2020
I myself piled on in knee-jerk reaction too, but then deleted a couple Tweets. Many understandably were shocked, considering this “great talent” on the team includes none other than Charles Lister as editor and program director.
Lister’s record speaks for itself, so no need to dig into that horror show. But also recall that when Danny Makki himself was co-organizer of the British-Syrian Society 2016 Damascus conference which for pretty much the first time invited a large group of mainstream media journalists into the country to get the government’s perspective, Lister led the charge of essentially trying to blacklist any of the independent journalists on that trip or subsequent ones (predictably the NYT and BBC and other MSM individuals on the trip were spared). I was on the same trip and attended the supposedly controversial conference, and was viciously attacked and smeared, especially when I wrote this.
Here’s the reality: long before a number of prominent indy voices “discovered” Syria, Makki was among the small group of analysts involved deeply in the country pre-war (and of course he’s both Londoner and Damascene, also with family in Syria) and even rarer was reporting from the ground the whole time. When the same indy journalists now so quick to proclaim he’s gone to “the dark side” would go to Damascus often for the first time, who was the very fixer greeting them at the airport?
Danny has been the “man on the ground” for years, even before the war.
Do you really think the very man who remains among a tiny number of West-based pundits with rare direct access to Assad and his “inner circle” — who has often set up equally rare interviews with Assad for outside journalists — has suddenly jumped on the pro regime change bandwagon? (I might add that, yes, there are a number of Damascus and externally-based people always trying to “bring journalists” into Syria for this or that reason.)
Do you really think one of a handful of Damascus’ official fixers is going to suddenly ‘switch’ to the roll of sellout ‘traitor’ propagandist… all for a few bucks and the “recognition” of a non-resident scholar for MEI?
Lister= talent? = Twilight Zone.
Well that's a revolting piece of news. What are you hoping to achieve by joining a war propagandist, Danny?
Shame. Sell your country much? Was it the $$$, Danny? Or you climbing the ladder (down, down, down)? pic.twitter.com/4dAphHRuXN
— Eva Bartlett (@EvaKBartlett) May 21, 2020
People are much too quick to view this simply as a well-known Damascus voice being co-opted and compromised under Lister & company’s influence (with the wheels greased via UAE money etc..), but consider that it’s actually the other way around.
Since the start of the war there’s been a long-running internal debate within Syrian government circles and their allies over media strategy (or one might even say there was no proper strategy at all early on): for brevity’s sake let’s describe it simply as “engagement” vs. “go the trenches” type information warfare. Understandably, given the ground war was for years bolstered by an equally fierce US-UK-Gulf propaganda media war, Damascus long stuck to the latter.
But now militarily things have been decisively settled: the Syrian government is here to stay, the Western propagandists and their beloved “rebels” have lost. And as one insider (who I shall not name) who dialogues with US National Security Council officials on behalf of Damascus assured me just this week: “Trump’s generals view the armed opposition as basically jihadists and terrorists, and therefore accept that Assad must stay.” This is the reality even if no one within the D.C. defense establishment or the brass at MacDill AFB publicly voices it.
How do you think NSC and top admin officials have come to such a conclusion? What played out behind the scenes that ultimately got Trump to reportedly dump the CIA’s likely multi-billion dollar covert regime change program in 2017? Over the past couple years, the “regime” has opted for engagement. It has paid off.
Suffice it to say that there’s long been a small group of intermediaries straddling Damascus and London/Washington using “mainstream creds” to influence decision-makers in the right direction on Syria, especially military circles, against all odds.
This effective “lobbying” campaign has been carried on very far behind the scenes, with almost zero reporting on it and its players, only some of its tangential effects have exploded on the US domestic politics scene (think for example of Gen. Flynn’s “Syria confessions” in 2015 and the ‘deep state’ war, if you will, subsequently unleashed).
Funny enough, the old national security hawks and neocons of the Bush-Obama era still have sour grapes about it, as is occasionally demonstrated when they randomly emerge from their dusty beltway basements to rant at some nobody on Twitter:
No, @GenMhayden’s position was that @realDonaldTrump was serving as a “useful fool” for Putin, parroting Moscow’s views on a variety of issues, including the false view advocated by Putin and Assad that in quashing Syrian dissent they were “killing ISIS.” https://t.co/WTKwAzVyRs
— Hayden Center (@mvhaydencenter) May 22, 2020
The Danny Makki saga actually demonstrates that the very Western/Gulf based pundits and think tanks that helped to destroy Syria in the first place are now forced to sing a somewhat different tune.
They are now starved of information in a new phase of the war where it’s clear that “engagement” with Damascus is the only option left. The Charles Listers of the world are actually the ones who were slowly forced from their own extreme position (of essentially blacklisting and shunning any and all contact with Damascus, or those who dared to engage).
The tables have turned. It’s a permanent state of things. Damascus “insiders” hold the cards.
Lister has been forced to compromise by inviting Makki in, not the other way around. Simply watch Makki’s careful words as he writes now and in the future — you’re not going to see some sort of “compromise” play out.
The ‘information war’ has entered a new phase. Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.