Hasakah YPG SDF US military
US troops in Hasakah, Syria with YPG/SDF forces

‘Wheat is a weapon’: US gov-funded, Democrat-linked think tank proposes starving Syrian civilians to weaken Assad

A fellow at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), a Democratic Party-linked think tank bankrolled by the US government and arms industry, says the “wheat weapon” can “be used to apply pressure on the Assad regime”

By Ben Norton

As the eight-year war in Syria winds down and the US regime-change operation falters, strategists in Washington are plotting new ways to terrorize Damascus into submission.

An analyst at a think tank bankrolled by the US government and NATO has an idea: Use the “wheat weapon” to starve Syria’s civilian population.

“Wheat is a weapon of great power in this next phase of the Syrian conflict,” insisted Nicholas Heras, a fellow at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) in Washington, DC.

Washington can pressure its Kurdish allies to restrict the country’s food supply, Heras argued, “to apply pressure on the Assad regime, and through the regime on Russia, to force concessions.”

As a CNAS fellow, Nicholas Heras has produced a paper offering “bottom up” steps to facilitate the arming of Syria’s “moderate opposition.” The header image of the document features fighters from the Salafi-jihadist militia Nour al-Din al-Zinki using US-made TOW missile systems in Syria. In 2017, just months after Heras published his paper, al-Zinki entered into a formal coalition with local al-Qaeda affiliates, including a group that called itself “The Bin Laden Front.”

Heras previously served as a researcher for the Pentagon, and oversaw research projects funded by the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. He is also a senior fellow at the neoconservative Jamestown Foundation, a think tank founded under the watch of CIA Director William Casey in 1984 to provide support for Soviet bloc defectors.

Nicholas Heras

A Democratic elite think tank, brought to you by the arms industry

The Center for a New American Security functions as a revolving door to the Democratic Party’s foreign-policy elite, giving veterans of Barack Obama’s Pentagon and State Department a chance to cool their heels while a Republican controls the White House.

CNAS’ top donors include leading weapons manufacturers like Northrop Grumman, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, and BAE Systems.

CNAS is also directly funded by NATO and the governments of the United States, Japan, Germany, and Switzerland; the Open Society Foundations (OSF) of anti-communist billionaire George Soros, and giants from the fossil fuel industry.

Until this February, the think tank was directed by Victoria Nuland, a key architect of the 2014 Maidan coup in Ukraine, a Hillary Clinton confidant, and the wife of neoconservative ideologue Robert Kagan.

Harnessing the “wheat weapon”

Nicholas Heras issued his call to use Syria’s food supply as a “weapon” against its government in an interview with the international news agency AFP.

CNAS endorsed its fellow’s proposal by approvingly tweeting his quote, along with a link to the report.

On June 11, AFP published “In Syria’s breadbasket, Kurds and regime battle for wheat.” The article, reprinted by Yahoo News, was filed from Amuda, a town in Syria’s northeastern al-Hasakah governorate, which it refers to as the country’s “breadbasket region.”

Though ethnically diverse, this area is largely under the control of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), which considers the Syrian territory to be an autonomous Kurdish region, popularly referred to as Rojava.

The local administration’s armed wing, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), is directly allied with the US military. The SDF has collaborated and embedded with American soldiers and enabled the construction of a dozen US military bases, which Kurdish leadership has insisted will remain for decades. (A US general has even taken credit for creating the SDF “brand”.)

The national Syrian government, led by President Bashar al-Assad, is offering farmers in Hasakah a high, subsidized price for their wheat. But the US-backed local Kurdish government has “said no wheat can leave the region under their control,” AFP reported.

The article notes that Syria is “a country where millions depend on bread as a staple food to survive.” Millions of Syrians are food insecure, and crippling sanctions imposed by the United States and Europe have exacerbated the humanitarian situation.

Hasakah’s local Kurdish government is only offering farmers 160 Syrian pounds for a kilo of wheat, compared to the national Syrian government’s offer of 185 pounds. But the Kurdish grain authority chief, Salman Bardo, told AFP, “We will not allow it to leave northeast Syria.”

AFP reported, “The Kurds would not permit the regime to ferry the cereal to other parts of Syria.”

To explain this strategy, AFP turned to CNAS’s Heras, who said, “Assad needs access to cereal crops in northeast Syria to prevent a bread crisis in the areas of western Syria that he controls.”

The Kurdish leadership and their US ally “have a significant stockpile of this wheat weapon,” Heras told AFP.

“Wheat is a weapon of great power in this next phase of the Syrian conflict,” he added. “It can be used to apply pressure on the Assad regime, and through the regime on Russia, to force concessions in the UN-led diplomatic process.”