The US Studies Centre (USSC) at the University of Sydney was set up specifically to counter a fear of rising ‘anti-Americanism’ in Australia, during the Iraq war. Judging from a recent information session its founders can be well satisfied.
A USSC panel discussing the US role in Syria (as part of a recruitment evening for post-graduate students) repeated most of Washington’s talking points about the Syrian crisis: for example, the US was an independent mediator, ready to perform its global policeman role but facing difficult moral ambiguities.
While it has sought credibility by positioning itself within Australia’s oldest university, the USSC has external funding, external management, and maintains tight control over its curriculum and teachers
USSC CEO Dr Bates Gill opened the session and handed over to John Barron (ABC journalist and part-time teacher at the USSC), Professor Amin Saikal (invited guest from the ANU), Dr Adam Lockyer (former soldier now lecturer at the USSC) and Tom Switzer (journalist, Liberal Party candidate and part-time teacher at the USSC).
No one on this panel presented any sort of critical examination of the US role in the Syrian crisis. The conflict was said to be a civil war, including regional players, but with “bad guys on both sides”. The US was presented as a disinterested umpire, with the Syrian crisis a challenge to Washington’s standing as the world’s moral leader.
No one on the panel showed any interest in reminding the audience that it was Washington – through proxies such as Saudi Arabia – that funded and armed the network of religious fanatics who became Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and, more recently, in Iraq. The aim, of course, was to destabilise or topple any government which developed independent political will, in the oil rich region. But you won’t hear this from the US Studies Centre.
Despite substantial evidence contrary to the Washington’s version of events, no doubt was expressed from the panel that the Syrian Government was responsible for the August chemical attack in Ghouta (East Damascus).
Nor was there any mention that US ally Saudi Arabia has armed and funded the conflict from the beginning. The Saudis cannot re-export arms without specific US approval. So how is it possible to understand the claimed ‘arbiter’ role of the US in Syria without also appreciating that Washington has directly or indirectly backed the (often foreign) ‘rebels’ from day one?
Dr Saikal repeated the Islamist line, adopted by Washington, that Syria’s political system is a minority ‘Alawite regime’ dominating a Sunni majority. In fact, as a report prepared for NATO shows, most Sunni Muslims in Syria reject the Islamist ‘rebels’ and support President Assad. The decades long ideological background to the conflict is not Alawi v. Sunni but rather a struggle between Arab nationalism and sectarian Salafi-Islamism, mostly led by the Muslim Brotherhood. Any serious student of Syrian history should understand this.
While it has sought credibility by positioning itself within Australia’s oldest university, the USSC has external funding, external management, and maintains tight control over its curriculum and teachers. This is unlike any other academic unit. The arrangement may help explain why the USSC teaches an entire course on the arrogant US doctrine of ‘exceptionalism’, and nothing on imperialism and neo-colonialism.
Students enrolling at the USSC should know that the centre was set up as a propaganda tool to counter ‘anti-Americanism’ in Australia, and that it remains a place where they will not be encouraged to participate in serious critical discussion.
Tim Anderson is a Senior Lecturer in Political Economy
Academics from the US Studies Centre have responded to Dr Anderson here.