While President Trump has recently hailed the defeat of ISIS, the group has been able to stave-off a complete defeat by retreating to a few, small remaining pockets in Syria.
One of these pockets, located east of the Euphrates along Syria’s border with Iraq, is surrounded by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a grouping of Kurdish militias that are trained and armed by the U.S., and who act as the U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition’s leading partner in the fight against ISIS. And while the SDF and the coalition engage in battle with ISIS further south near Abu-Kamal, that is not the case in this pocket to the north. The fighters operating within this area do not have to fear coalition attacks or SDF assaults. Instead, they have been free to conduct their activities unimpeded, despite being surrounded by U.S. allies on the ground and U.S. aircraft overhead.
Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Tuesday, February 20, 2018
The dominant view of the US-led coalition against the Islamic State (ISIS), Operation Inherent Resolve, is that its fundamental goal is the defeat of ISIS.
And so, in the wake of the routing of ISIS from Iraq and Syria, the core justification for an ongoing US military presence in Syria is ensuring that no post-mortem ISIS insurgency arises.
That the US is unequivocally opposed to ISIS is simply taken for granted.
Yet a closer look at the history of US involvement shows that counterterrorism has been a lesser concern relative to geopolitical and strategic goals. Whenever the goals of expanding territorial control or weakening rivals conflicts with the goal of opposing ISIS, the entity was either ignored or even empowered in pursuit of these more paramount concerns.
And so, in the wake of the routing of ISIS from Iraq and Syria, the core justification for an ongoing US military presence in Syria is ensuring that no post-mortem ISIS insurgency arises.
That the US is unequivocally opposed to ISIS is simply taken for granted.
Yet a closer look at the history of US involvement shows that counterterrorism has been a lesser concern relative to geopolitical and strategic goals. Whenever the goals of expanding territorial control or weakening rivals conflicts with the goal of opposing ISIS, the entity was either ignored or even empowered in pursuit of these more paramount concerns.
Wednesday, February 7, 2018
[Editors Note: This report is from August 2017. It is now outdated, especially given the Syrian government's operations inside Idlib. Its main purpose was to highlight how the Western powers have been propping up an al-Qaeda safe-haven in Idlib for years, and how it got to be dominated by al-Qaeda in the first place. Hopefully this can help shed further light on the history behind the situation in Idlib, and give the proper context that can help to contextualize the media propaganda regarding it.
Apologies as well for the lack of reports. New reports will be forthcoming very soon- stay tuned :) ]
For years the Syrian province of Idlib has been under the de-facto control of Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaeda’s official affiliate in Syria which has now rebranded as Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), and allied jihadist groups. Western governments have also been pouring in humanitarian assistance ostensibly to support the beleaguered civilian population.
However, these programs are also bolstering al-Qaeda.
Despite the implications of this, press coverage has been scarce. When it is reported coverge is uncritically supportive.
As Nusra’s control becomes more overt, donors are rethinking their efforts. Yet these organizations have been conducting their operations for years while the same fundamental situation was present: al-Qaeda held de-facto control, and they were helping to prop-up an Islamist emirate with the aid of Western social and administrative assistance.
A coalition of foreign donors, NGOs, and humanitarian organizations are being coordinated and funded outside of the United Nations framework by the United States, and to a smaller extent its European allies. These have seen a steady stream of foreign support enter into Idlib for multiple years now.
The extent and breadth of the aid is quite enormous, ranging from necessary staples such as food and medicine all the way down through “political stabilization assistance”, which essentially consists of US-funded and directed governance and municipality operations which aim to set up a functional and alternate state apparatus that is independent from the Syrian government. This covers everything from distributing subsidized aid, food, and fuel, to the setting up of schools, clinics, and local administrative councils, the paying of municipal salaries, etc., all the way down to garbage collection, road repairs, and infrastructure maintenance. Essentially the social and administrative framework for a functional 21st century industrial society.
It is important to understand the implications of this.
During the Arab Spring protests in Egypt it became clear that the success of the nascent uprising depended largely on its ability to create independent spaces outside of the control of the traditional state-system, where new ideals and values could have room to transform into tangible societal change. If the congregation of protesters were able to organize and administer their own incipient societies within effectively self-governing spaces, they would have to be taken seriously by the authorities and would hold negotiation leverage, having largely extricated themselves from state-dependence.
The same basic principles apply to an outside power attempting to undermine and/or overthrow the government of another state, and such realities are of course understood by the United States as it sets up independent structures under the influence of its proxy militias, aid organizations, and municipality councils.
At core, this is as a modern form of imperialism: the overtaking of another nation’s territories and extricating them under your control. Instead of using colonial armies and viceroys however it is done through proxy guerrillas and NGOs.
This idea has been raised by the esteemed scholar of international relations John J. Mearsheimer, professor at the University of Chicago, who explains that such “democracy promotion” political assistance programs are, fundamentally, a way of ousting foreign leaders and replacing them with pro-US clients.
However, there is a deeper problem inherent to all of this. Namely that Idlib has been under the military control of al-Qaeda and other radical terror groups since it was overtaken from government hands in 2015, and that the United States and its allies are therefore subsidizing the civil-service apparatus of the al-Qaeda militias that operate as the de-facto rulers of the province.
The contemporary situation in Idlib is the product of a joint offensive in 2015 which captured the provincial capital and solidified the province under opposition control.
The takeover was itself the product of an amalgamation of the various opposition factions into tightly-organized military-command structures dominated and led by the hard-line jihadist extremist groups. This was facilitated by the coordinated efforts of the various backers of the opposition, the United States, Turkey, and Gulf monarchies, and exemplifies the level of influence these state-sponsors were able to exert over their proxies.
Turkey and Saudi Arabia officially coordinated assistance to the newly formed Army of Conquest coalition, led by Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham and supported by the various US-backed FSA groups, to assist the effort, while Qatar played a key sponsorship role as well.
However, rebel commanders revealed that it was specifically the influence of the US military operatives overseeing support to the insurgency that facilitated the organization of the “moderates” into a military structure commanded by al-Qaeda-affiliates and their allies. “The US-led operations room[s] in southern Turkey” and Jordan, the commanders told Charles Lister, were “instrumental in facilitating their [Islamists’] involvement in the operation.” Far from barring CIA-backed groups from coordinating with al-Qaeda, as Western officials continually claimed, the US-led operations rooms “specifically encouraged a closer cooperation with Islamists commanding frontline operations.” However, this US-directed alliance between al-Qaeda and the FSA was only really a more overt example of what had been going on for years.
Commenting on this, leading political scientist Dr. Nafeez Ahmed wrote that “in other words, al-Qaeda’s official arm in Syria, and another group closely affiliated with al-Qaeda, were among the “moderate” vetted groups receiving arms and aid from the Gulf states and Turkey, under the supervision of US military intelligence operatives in the field.”
The US and its allies then “dramatically increased [their] levels of assistance and provisions of intelligence” to the opposition, including the introduction of “gamechanging” advanced weaponry such as TOW anti-tank missiles. The British press reported the results of this “were shocking.” The capital of Idlib fell within days.
It was noted by knowledgeable observers that “the jihadist contribution was fundamental to these victories… suicide bombers from JN's [Jabhat al-Nusra’s] fellow al-Qaeda affiliate Jund al-Aqsa played a major role in opening access to the provincial capital of Idlib city.”
This had horrendous, yet not unforeseeable, real-world implications for the surrounding villages. The Century Foundation’s Sam Heller documented how the newly-victorious al-Nusra-Ahrar alliance very quickly “then blazed a path south into the regime’s sectarian heartland, massacring Alawite villagers and featuring their children in hostage videos.”
Within Idlib, the extent of who was in control from this point onward was never seriously in question: it has been ruled by al-Qaeda’s Syria affiliate in alliance with Ahrar al-Sham.
Militarily the FSA and other armed factions acted as mere auxiliaries of their superiors, wherein Nusra allowed vetted militias to appear as though they were independent so that the influx of CIA-distributed arms and supplies was maintained. Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi, Research Fellow at the Middle East Forum, says it is arguable that “insofar as some FSA groups have been allowed to exist in the northwest, it is only to ensure the continuation of an aid and arms flow from which Jabhat al-Nusra and its successors have almost certainly taken a slice.” According to Joshua Landis, a highly respected academic specializing in Syria, “the radical militias prey on the weaker ones. They extort arms and money from the CIA-supported factions.”
This relationship, of course, was known to Washington, but support was maintained due to the battlefield success of the al-Qaeda groups. Recently the Trump administration officially ended that support, though analysts report that the “moderates” have been given a six month “grace period” to find other sources of support before the operations rooms supplying them are completely dismantled.
Nusra and its close affiliates, militarily dominant over the other factions, began constructing their vision of a future Idlib.
Writing for the Washington Institute, researcher Fabrice Balanche explains that Nusra “has a consistent ideology and clear political project for Syria… JN [Jabhat al-Nusra] leader Abu Muhammad al-Julani clearly stated his intention to create an Islamic emirate in northwestern Syria.”
It is not surprising then that “the group has used brutal methods similar to those of IS,” the only distinguishable difference being that Nusra’s are not so overtly advertised. Meanwhile, non-Sunni’s and religious minorities were either massacred, forced to convert (and then sometimes still massacred), or were lucky enough to have fled and became refugees. Jihadi militants patrol the streets, routinely arresting civil-society activists and others, “many of whom disappear.”
One of the more fortunate of these activists was able to document a first-hand account of life under Nusra-ruled Idlib, published then by The Nation. “Masked, armed men roam the town. Whole streets are blocked off to protect the leaders of the Islamist militia that rules here,” they write.
Idlib city, once “known for its mosaic of different religions and its tolerance,” now looks very different. Nusra “created an entire apparatus to impose Sharia law,” and “Sharia courts remain the only form of justice." The people simply saw no choice but to accept the rules of al-Qaeda.
“When Nusra took control here in March 2015, Idlib entered a dark tunnel of deprivation. Public education deteriorated, the university was closed, and public debate was stifled.” They note that the situation had improved since then (certainly in part due to the influx of Western aid), but still the people “feel suffocated by their masks, their guns, and their arrogant manner.”
On the subject of governance and civil-society organizations, they are described as essentially a sham, nobody having any real doubts about who holds power.
“Local government is a facade for the Islamists. There is a governor, a mayor, and a Shura, or municipal council, but the supreme body is the Committee of the Fatah Army, which has no contact with residents. It carries out military planning, staffs the front lines, and organizes the fighters. It directs a body called “The Executive Force,” which carries out raids, searches for sleeper cells of the Assad regime or the Islamic State, and generally functions as the all-powerful intelligence agency we are familiar with from the Assad regime.”
Proponents of the humanitarian programs argue that “Islamist and jihadist armed groups hold power at the local level... Yet ultimate decision-making power has typically sat with donor organizations outside the country.” Yet “holding power at the local level” is realistically only a euphemism for a society where terrorist-factions exercise a monopoly on the use of force, arbitrate a totalitarian police-state, control vital infrastructure and resources, impose Sharia courts, and hold final decision-making power backed by the barrel of a gun.
The Respectable al-Qaeda
Within this general framework, Nusra and its partners were smart enough not to be overly aggressive in their interference with the humanitarian aid arrangements. According to Syria analyst Aron Lund, Nusra has been “willing to rule with a light touch by Syrian standards, leaving local aid and governance arrangements in place to avoid a clash with Western nations, humanitarians, and the UN system.”
A key contingent to this was the participation of Ahrar al-Sham, who functioned as a sort of go-between separating Western governments and the al-Nusra militants.
Nusra and Ahrar held a mutually complimentary relationship, enhanced even more by attempts to categorize Ahrar as a more moderate and respectable al-Qaeda-affiliated group that the US should partner with. Within this context, Western governments do not officially classify Ahrar as a terrorist organization, even though it has a near-identical sectarian ideology to al-Nusra and works alongside al-Qaeda in pursuit of the establishment of an Islamic caliphate in Syria. The only meaningful ways in which it differs from Nusra is that it has a less centralized management structure and has not pledged direct allegiance to al-Qaeda.
This created a situation whereby the hard-line nature of the rulers in Idlib was sanitized, the “respectable” image of Ahrar in many ways working to balance out the more malevolent picture associated with Nusra’s presence. Opposition supporters pointed to Nusra’s numeric deficiency next to Ahrar to prove its diminutive influence over Idlib, disregarding how Ahrar had historically functioned as “Jabhat al-Nusra’s main enabler and partner,” and how, despite appearances, Nusra was able to “intervene pretty much anywhere in Idlib province without much opposition from whatever groups may be officially controlling a given village or city.”
Al-Tamimi writes that Ahrar’s main problem “has always been its role as an enabler of jihadists,” saying that the group had worked “to bring large numbers of foreign jihadists into the country and undermine local councils and civil society.” Even more strikingly, al-Tamimi says they “played a significant part in enabling the rise of ISIS in Syria in 2013,” their “moderate” portrayal of course only exacerbating their effectiveness in these regards.
This is important because after the takeover of Idlib it was Ahrar that took charge of controlling the only official border crossing with Turkey, Bab-al-Hawa, through which the Western-backed humanitarian assistance is channeled. This arrangement helped to distance Western governments from an appearance of collusion with al-Qaeda’s official arm in Syria, despite the fact that all of the roads leading from the crossing were directly controlled by Nusra.
Much like how the FSA factions maintained a superficial degree of separation from Nusra for the benefit of Western aid, so too was Ahrar able to portray an aura of “respectability” which helped mask the reality that they were not really separate from Nusra and that Western humanitarian assistance ultimately was working toward the benefit of al-Qaeda. In terse, blunt terms, “Thus far, JN [Nusra] has tolerated the work of foreign NGOs and the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs because it needs their social services to help establish its political power.”
Out of Ideas
Despite their implications these programs have enjoyed overwhelming support in the media and among intellectuals. It is generally conceded that they are helpful, moral, and needed, with reluctant admissions that they may have been of some minor benefit to extremists, a point which is usually quickly brushed aside.
The prevalent consensus can be summed up by a recent assessment made by Aron Lund, who concludes that the program’s results “have been mixed at best, with some support also benefiting jihadi groups. Nevertheless, political aid from the UK and other nations has helped pro-Western and democratic strands of the opposition survive inside otherwise inhospitable Islamist-run regions of northwestern Syria.”
One wonders what the response would be if it was proposed that our policy toward ISIS in Raqqa should be to send in massive amounts of aid and set up civil society and governance structures that bolster their control, but which also, fortunately, “help pro-Western and democratic strands survive” within the ISIS-run enclave. Al-Qaeda in Idlib, it must be remembered, only meaningfully differ from ISIS in the less-advertised nature of their brutality.
There are alternatives, of course, which are not considered. The militias and extremist factions are heavily dependent on, and thus influenceable by, their state-sponsors, which also happen to be the United States’ main regional allies. The US could use its superpower status to pressure its allies to stop assisting the armed factions and compel them to negotiate with the Syrian government and abdicate their control of the territories. Threatening to discontinue the assistance they rely upon to administer the province could expedite this. If they refused, intelligence and coordination could be given for Russian and Syrian military action. It would not take long to defeat ill-equipped militants after state-sponsorship has dried up, as was seen with Turkish support in Aleppo, and would certainly be much less brutal and costly to civilians than America’s siege of Mosul, for instance, which had been shocking in comparison to other recent military operations in the region. Priority should be given to non-violence, the cutting off of funding and assistance channels, though eventually Idlib would need to be relinquished to Syria.
The seizure of Idlib from the Syrian state was an illegitimate act of aggression by hostile foreign powers done through dependent proxies, which utilized the support of internationally-recognized terrorist groups without whom the efforts would not have been successful. Returning it to Syrian rule is thus the correct and legitimate option.
Almost forgotten now, under UN Security Council Resolution 2249, the US is obliged to “take all necessary measures… to prevent and suppress terrorist acts committed specifically by… Al-Nusra Front (ANF), and all other individuals, groups, undertakings, and entities associated with Al Qaeda.” And as well to “eradicate the safe haven they have established over significant parts of Syria,” of which Idlib would certainly qualify, at least according to the leader of the US-led coalition against ISIS, who called Idlib “the largest Al Qaeda safe haven since 9/11.”
This must only be done, however, “in compliance with international law,” i.e., not through illegal interference inside Syrian territory without the permission of the Syrian government or approval of international law. The resolution did not, just to clarify, stipulate the US should coordinate assistance programs to territories under the control of al-Qaeda-official.
Protecting al-Qaeda, Again
Questions regarding these policies have only seriously been raised recently as infighting broke out between Nusra and Ahrar. Nusra for all intents and purposes defeated Ahrar, solidifying its unilateral dominance over the province while taking effective control over the Bab al-Hawa crossing. This overt Nusra control has led donors to rethink their operations. However, after Nusra reopened the crossing regular traffichad continued up until recently when Turkey started to reduce the amount of shipments down to basic necessities and emergency aid, following pressure due to Nusra’s takeover.
But the takeover does not fundamentally transform the situation from what it was before. It is in many ways only a superficial change. While donors are rightfully worried about Nusra siphoning revenue streams from their aid shipments, allowing Ahrar to do the same for years was equally as objectionable yet elicited no such response. Nusra very quickly took advantage of the opportunity to reinstitute some of their more hard-line Islamist decrees, like the banning of tobacco products, and concerns have been raised as they’ve begun to take a more heavy-handed approach toward subordinating civilian councils and controlling administrative processes. Yet this had been happening under the surface for years. It should have been obvious that Nusra was just tolerating the West’s social services and that it would move on them once it felt it had become strong enough, which appears might be happening now. Government officials who are only just now becoming alarmed at this had been enabling all of it while it had been developing for years.
This exposes the deep cynicism and hypocrisy of US officials like Michael Ratney, the State Department’s top official in charge of Syria policy, who described the situation as one fundamentally altered which only now requires action. Ratney said that “everyone should know that [Nusra leader] Jolani and his gang are the ones who bear responsibility for the grave consequences that will befall Idlib,” describing their takeover as “one of the greatest tragedies” to hit Syria’s north that puts the region “in great danger,” saying the United States therefore hopes “to find channels that enable us to deliver humanitarian assistance to the Syrian people without passing through the hands of the Nusra Front and the crossings that have fallen into its hands.”
But “even before the July assault,” a recent LA Times article reports, Nusra had already “demanded a portion of the aid entering its area.” This is not a surprising, given that Nusra controlled the majority of roads and checkpoints throughout the province. The amount of aid that had to be turned over “depends on the number of checkpoints you have to pass and what you’re carrying,” an aid worker told the Times. “Normally for food [Nusra] don’t take so much. They’re merciful. But medicines are highly taxed.” As well, civil society activists have been warning that Nusra “routinely seizes aid convoys and disrupts service provisions,” and that it had “tried to kidnap and kill activists.”
Ahrar, Nusra’s greatest enablers, also reportedly were able to siphon off millions of dollars of revenue from the aid cargos, from “commercial traffic and high-value goods like construction material,” during their run as enforcers of the crossing. One can only assume that the cut taken by Nusra was equally as substantial.
This all, however, is really beside the point. The fact is that even if no revenue was being pocketed in these illegitimate ways the influx of humanitarian aid would still crucially be bolstering al-Qaeda and their allies. Its ultimate end-result is the maintenance of “the largest al-Qaeda safe haven since 9/11”, as well as the al-Qaeda members within it.
In a recent piece, Aron Lund says that it is unlikely “that a Tahrir al-Sham-dominated Idlib will receive Western-funded stabilisation and governance aid indefinitely. Neither Americans nor Europeans are interested in bankrolling the civil service of a jihadi emirate, and that is increasingly what Idlib looks like to them.”
Yet the province has looked like that for a long time, and Nusra has been dominating it; the bankrolling of a jihadi emirate is exactly what they have been doing.
It is only now, after Nusra’s role has become so overt as to be undeniable, that questions are being raised. What this shows is not an honest and forthright concern on the part of the US government about aiding terrorist organizations, or caring whether that is objectively the truth or not, but instead only concern for the perception of having been seen to have done so.
In truth, the US government had ample and detailed intelligence regarding the true makeup of the insurgency in Syria going back multiple years now. They understood who was driving it and what the implications were. It was known that in order to have any chance of success at undermining the government in Damascus they were going to have to rely on al-Qaeda and extremist shock-troops to pave the way toward battlefield success and the seizure of important cities and provinces, like Idlib. It is no wonder then that the operations rooms led by the US would instruct their FSA proxies and “encourage further cooperation with Islamists commanding frontline operations” in order to take Idlib.
The US and its allies gave crucial intelligence, organizational, and material support to an insurgent opposition led by al-Qaeda-aligned extremist groups in order to wrest control of Idlib away from Damascus. The byproduct of such a strategy was always going to be the empowerment of those extremist groups who would of course come to hold ultimate military control of the province afterwards, no matter how much influence is taken away from them by outside NGOs administering social goods and services. The empowerment of al-Qaeda groups to the level of military and security supremacy over an entire Syrian province was a foregone conclusion given this set up.
Yet after the fact the continued preservation of these forces through Western-funded social services subsidization, as opposed to a policy of actual counterterrorism, only goes to show the level at which the US state is willing to empower the forces of terrorism in order to achieve imperialistic geopolitical agendas. The level at which these actions are tolerated and/or given ideological cover by the media and intellectual classes only exemplifies how far these have devolved into functional propaganda for state and corporate interests.
The fact that the US has been helping to maintain the largest contemporary safe haven for al-Qaeda, the organization claiming responsibility for the 9/11 terror atrocity, should have been front page news across the country and the topic of an extensive debate. Instead, experts and important agenda-setting journals sanitize the public from these unfortunate circumstances, and people are therefore spared from having to look in the mirror and confront such ugly realities.
Steven Chovanec is an independent journalist and analyst based in Chicago, Illinois. He has a bachelor’s degree in International Studies and Sociology from Roosevelt University, and has written for numerous outlets such as The Hill, TeleSur, Mint Press News, Consortium News, and others. Follow him on Twitter @stevechovanec
Tuesday, May 16, 2017
Confusion has been raised over the Trump administration’s apparent U-turns on Syria. In April, the official position was that Assad was a “political reality” that had to be dealt with, yet only weeks later officials were calling for him to step down. Now Trump is again stating that the US is not insisting on Assad’s departure.
The about-face seems confusing at first, but when combined with an examination of the sectors of power that the administration represents, as well as the actions that have been pursued on the ground, the reality becomes much clearer.
The Trump Establishment
Despite promises to “drain the swamp,” the Trump administration has turned out to be anything but anti-establishment. Instead, it represents one of the most wealthy, pro-corporate administrations in recent history, which includes a former Goldman Sachs executive heading the Treasury and the former CEO of Exxon Mobil as Secretary of State. While not anti-establishment, it does represent an insurgency from within the establishment, the coming to power of a radicalized and nationalistic element of the ruling elite which had historically been sidelined by more powerful sectors.
This faction has its roots in various business-funded right-wing movements, such as the John Birch Society and the Tea Party, which was heavily financed by the Koch brothers, who now hold extraordinary influence over Trump through their connections with Mike Pompeo, the current CIA director. It is heavily centered around the manufacturing industry and Big Oil, and has historically been antagonistic towards the more globally-oriented multinationals and financial institutions which dominated the Obama administration. They are characterized as well by an “undeniable element of racial resentment,” as investigative historians have documented.
Peter Dale Scott, the founder the study of “Deep State” politics, in 1996 described this power struggle within the establishment as “an enduring struggle between ‘America Firsters’ and ‘New world Order’ globalists, pitting, through nearly all of this [20th] century, the industry-oriented (e.g. the National Association of Manufacturers) against the financial-oriented (e.g. the Council on Foreign Relations), two different sources of wealth.”
Scott further describes the division, roughly speaking, as being “between those Trilateral Commission progressives, many flourishing from the new technologies of the global Internet, who wish the state to do more than at present about problems like wealth disparity, racial injustice and global warming, and those Heritage Foundation conservatives, many from finance and oil, who want it to do even less.” Decades later this conservative faction, now better funded and organized than before, has been revived through Trump, again taking up the banner of “America First!”
The sectors of industry represented in the administration therefore are not opposed to globalization and imperialism, but instead advocate for a different formulation of it which gives preference to certain industries while also further tipping the balance in favor of US corporations and banks.
Also prominently represented is the military industrial complex; the nexus of powerful weapons manufacturers and defense contractors, the influence of which is exemplified through the amount of power and discretion Trump has given to the Pentagon and the Defense Secretary. Historically the more financial-sector-oriented CIA, given prominence during the Obama administration, has maintained a bitter rivalry with the Big Oil-dominated Pentagon, which now has come to the fore under Trump.
The most prominent influence of Big Oil however is represented in Trump’s Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who was the former CEO of the Exxon Mobil.
Exxon and Tillerson have connections to the Russian government and President Putin, most prominently through a major deal that Exxon signed with Russia granting it access to vast resources in the Russian Arctic in return for allowing OAO Rosneft, the state-owned oil company, the opportunity to invest in Exxon’s overseas operations. A major factor influencing Trump’s conciliatory stance towards Russia therefore is the fact that the Exxon-Rosneft agreement was frozen in 2014 when the US applied sanctions against Russia following the annexation of Crimea. Exxon estimates that the sanctions have cost them at least a billion dollars, and therefore “Tillerson has argued strenuously for the measures to be lifted” during his time as CEO.
It is these connections and the likelihood that they would lead toward political détente with Russia that has motivated the liberal antagonism toward Trump, displayed in the concerted effort to pressure him away from any policy which could be deemed conciliatory towards Russia. The FBI investigation into Trump’s campaign was never based in evidence, but rather has been used as a means to guarantee that aggressive policies towards Russia and Syria will continue to be implemented.
Within this context, it’s not hard to see why the administration’s policy in Syria had shifted away from Obama’s CIA-focused regime-change efforts towards a more militaristic approach which prioritizes fighting ISIS and political negotiations with Russia. It is also not hard to see why Trump would respond in the way that he did following the chemical weapons attack in Khan Sheikhoun, which in large part was a product of domestic political pressure rather than an indication of a shift in strategy.
Divide and Rule
After taking office, Trump’s Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley made it clear that “our priority is no longer to sit and focus on getting al-Assad out,” while the White House Press Secretary elaborated that “with respect to al-Assad, there is a political reality that we have to accept in terms of where we are right now.”
The “political reality” was the fact that the regime-change effort had failed. The US had flooded in an unprecedented amount of advanced weaponry, tipping the balance in favor of the mainly hard-line extremist rebels, Russia then intervened in response and reversed the balance back in the governments favor. After the recent liberation of Aleppo, the opposition is severely weakened, on the defensive, and wholly unable to deliver regime-change to their backers.
Given this, the strategy of “Assad must go” had shifted instead to “defeating ISIS.” Within this context, the battle against ISIS served as a convenient justification for occupying Syrian territory, establishing de-facto zones of influence over areas re-captured from the group. These could then be utilized as leverage in future negotiations, either to pressure for concessions or for Assad’s ouster.
This was not a new idea, and was proposed during the Obama administration. Henry Kissinger, who secretly helped formulate President Bush and Obama’s national security policies, who also advised Hillary Clinton while she served as Secretary of State, is now acting as an unofficial advisor to Trump, specifically giving advice on the issue of Syria.
In 2015, Kissinger proposed a plan calling for the annexation of Syrian territory taken from ISIS by US-backed forces, which were then to be administered by US allies Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, Egypt, and Turkey, under the banner of fighting against terrorism. He wrote that “a choice among strategies” was for ISIS-held territories to be recaptured “either by moderate Sunni forces or outside powers,” excluding Iran and its proxies. The reconquered territories should then be “restored to the local Sunni rule that existed there before the disintegration of both Iraqi and Syrian sovereignty,” suggesting that “the sovereign states of the Arabian Peninsula, as well as Egypt and Jordan, should play a principal role in that evolution,” while Turkey as well “could contribute creatively to such a process.”
The plan called for the partition of the Syrian state between government-held areas and those under the control of the US and its allies, which would be codified within a federal structure dividing the two zones of influence: “As the terrorist region is being dismantled and brought under nonradical political control, the future of the Syrian state should be dealt with concurrently. A federal structure could then be built between the Alawite and Sunni portions.”
It is worth noting that Kissinger just recently held an informal meeting with Trump which centered around policy in Syria.
In any case, events on the ground have revealed the beginning stages of such a plan already taking root under Trump, with the US establishing a myriad of military bases and airport infrastructure throughout the Kurdish-held regions, signifying a long-term intention of remaining.
Opportunistic War Crime
The April 4th chemical weapons incident resulted in what appeared to be a shift in US policy. Trump announced that his “attitude toward Syria and al-Assad has changed very much,” while Nikki Haley stated there could be no political solution while Assad was still in power.
However, when seen in hindsight, it is clear these statements did not represent an actual shift in policy, but instead were made to justify the Tomahawk attack as a one-off incident while policy thereafter would continue largely as it had before.
Trump is usually depicted as having been backed into a corner in the wake of the attack. However, far from being forced into anything, Trump and his administration seized upon the opportunity the incident presented and used it as a justification for an attack against Syrian military targets. Despite having ample evidence that Assad had not committed the crime, Trump decided to lay blame anyway and to launch an attack in “response.”
Publicly the US claimed it had incontrovertible evidence that the Syrian air force had deployed chemical weapons. Privately however, the US intelligence community had determined, like it had before in 2013, that the evidence available did not prove Assad’s guilt, and that instead it was much more likely that the official Russian narrative, that the Syrian air force had hit a rebel weapons-depot which contained chemical agents, was closer to the truth.
In response to this knowledge, Trump side-lined his CIA-director, who briefed him on the Agency’s belief that Assad was likely not responsible, and instead allowed National Security Advisor McMaster discretion to draw up plans for an attack.
McMaster then produced a report which was meant to prove Syria’s guilt, yet after analysis was shown to be a completely fraudulent document that no competent analyst would ever have signed off on. Furthermore, by launching the attack before any evidence was gathered, the US consciously prevented an independent UN investigation from going forward.
The question then is why was this done? Especially when there was enough evidence for Trump to back out from doing so, similar to what Obama did in 2013 after the CIA had concluded that the evidence was not a “slam dunk.”
The decision can largely be explained as a response to the domestic political pressure that had been building against Trump with accusations of collusions with Russia. The attack was an effective way to relieve the pressure against his administration coming from powerful sectors of the domestic political establishment. After the attack, Trump’s political opponents hailed him, forgetting all of their past grievances while proclaiming that it was that day that he truly became President of the United States. Relieved, at least temporarily, of his domestic opponents, the attack as well increased Trump’s unprecedentedly low approval ratings by 10 percent.
The decision had other benefits, such as sending a message to China and North Korea, as well as garnering large profits for Raytheon, the manufacturer of the missiles that were used, which Trump apparently has a direct financial conflict of interest with, yet in terms of the Syrian conflict it did not really change much. The air base that was targeted, although it was announced that a number of aircrafts were destroyed as a result, was up and running the next day, and while US-Russia relations were temporarily harmed, deconfliction communications and negotiations were eventually re-established not long after.
Following the chemical attack, Secretary of State Tillerson explained the US’ approach to Syria. The focus would be on defeating ISIS, and then to use the territory regained from them as bargaining leverage in negotiations with the government. He said, “the process by which Assad would leave is something that I think requires an international community effort- both to first defeat ISIS within Syria, to stabilize the Syrian country, to avoid further civil war, and then to work collectively with our partners around the world through a political process that would lead to Assad leaving.”
Similarly, after the Tomahawk strike, Defense Secretary Mattis explained that “our military policy in Syria has not changed. Our priority remains the defeat of ISIS.”
Shortly afterwards, Trump himself confirmed that the missile strike was a one-off attack, and that policy would proceed as before. He explained that Assad’s ouster was “going to happen at a certain point,” but that the US was not insisting on it now. He said that while peace was not impossible with Assad still in power, that it would be “hard to imagine.”
On the ground, the US had injected an unprecedented number of its special forces to assist its Kurdish allies to retake the strategic Tabqa Dam from ISIS, which has recently been fully accomplished. This maneuver was meant to cut off the Syrian army from advancing towards the ISIS capital of Raqqa, to draw the line of a zone of influence the US would occupy while making sure that it would be the US and its proxies who would eject ISIS from their main base of influence. This would allow Trump to present his administration as responsible for defeating ISIS, scoring a highly-coveted PR victory in the process.
In response to this, Russia, Iran, and Turkey concluded an agreement for the establishment of de-escalation zones, areas of ceasefire covering all of the major zones of conflict between the government and the opposition save against ISIS and the Turkish-backed forces north of Aleppo.
The de-escalation zones free up the Syrian army and the Russian air force to pursue newly-launched offensives eastward against the Islamic State to counter the US efforts. These offensives are being launched from Palmyra to capture the ISIS-stronghold of Deir Ezzor, and from Damascus towards the Iraqi border to secure the al-Tanaf border crossing.
In an effort to stifle the Syrian army’s attempts to secure its southeastern border, US and Jordanian proxies have been advancing from Daara and Sweida in the south. These interactive maneuvers represent a race between the US and Russia to obtain as much territory as possible from the decaying Islamic State before the other is able to do so.
Syria’s offensives also represent a response to the US’ actions in Iraq.
The US had ordered Prime Minister Abadi to begin an operation to secure the al-Tanaf border crossing from the Iraqi side, and specifically demanded that the Iranian-backed Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) would not participate. Instead, the PMF is engaging in another operation further north near Mosul to seal the border from the Islamic State. The main goal of excluding the PMF in the al-Tanaf operation was to prevent the Syrian army from linking up with Iranian-backed forces there, which would create a land-line connection between Iran, Syria, and Lebanon from which Hezbollah could be supplied, further strengthening the “Shia Crescent” bloc which rivals US power projection in the region.
Therefore, as international correspondent Elijah J. Magnier reports, “under the title of ‘defeating ISIS’, the multiple battles and the confrontation of forces present themselves fundamentally as a confrontation between the two superpowers [the US and Russia].” These operations “will aim to draw a line between the two superpowers in Syria, hinting in effect that the war is going to end.” Its conclusion would be marked by negotiations between the two powers over their respective zones of influence. The race towards “defeating ISIS” therefore emphasizing “that Syria will no doubt face partition.”
Partition or Peace?
However, following the recent meeting between the Russian Foreign Minister and the US Secretary of State, and a hopeful phone call between Trump and Putin, there are indications that some kind of deal has been reached and that both sides are pursuing diplomacy.
The Wall Street Journal reported that for the first time the Syrian Foreign Minister complimented the US-backed SDF’s fight against ISIS and described their effort as legitimate. The Journal notes that the SDF is now “the only ground force [fighting against ISIS] with both U.S. and Syrian government approval.” In addition, Western diplomats are quoted as saying that the post-capture plan is for the SDF to hand over administration to “a local civilian council friendly to the Syrian regime” which could then “transfer control of the city back to the regime.” Russia’s Foreign Minister voiced support for this plan, so long as the local councils do not circumvent the Syrian government’s authority. An American official involved in the anti-Islamic State campaign said that the US “won’t be in Raqqa in 2020, but the regime will be there.” However, rather ambiguously, he explains this under the premise that the Syrian government has “a natural home-field advantage” and therefore will “have a way of slowly getting back in” to the city post-Islamic State.
This appears to leave open the possibility for the US’ proxies to retain control when the time comes, if the local council decides not to “eventually transfer control of the city back to the regime” and if the regime does not succeed in “slowly getting back in.”
It seems unlikely that the US will simply hand over these territories. For starters, the Kurdish fighters who have given their lives to defeat ISIS will demand some kind of autonomy for their efforts, which could be given in the other areas in exchange for handing over Raqqa. However, the Gulf states and Turkey, which have invested enormous resources trying to overthrow the government, will vehemently oppose ceding any territories, and will likely pressure for a federation process along the lines of the Kissinger plan, or to sabotage negotiations completely. As well, there remains the domestic pressure from the liberals and neocons, and that of the military which has been pushing instead for a US military invasion. It seems much more likely that the race to establish zones of influence will continue, and once the two sides are divided there will be negotiations for some kind of resolution, the likely result of which being the US handing its territories over to the government in return for serious concessions.
Indeed, Mattis has recently commented that deciding how to best “exploit [ISIS] being banished” is what “occupied an awful lot of our time” in the White House. He stresses that the “bottom line” is that “we’ve got to restore government services,” and that the Secretary of State has “hosted 68 countries that are committed to looking to the day after.” Not including, of course, the Syrian government.
In closing, it must be noted that the original motivation for regime-change against Syria was primarily an effort by the ruling class in America to further extend its economic penetration into a country which has historically prevented greater access. This is why it has been US policy for almost a century, since the 1940’s, to pursue regime-change in Syria. The fact is that policy in America is not determined democratically, but instead is decided by the interests of a powerful business class, the owners of the major corporations and financial institutions, the top 1%, while the majority of the population is disenfranchised.
Despite the shift towards a more nationalistic ruling elite under Trump, those long-standing and institutionalized interests are unlikely to change. Although Exxon’s business interests lie in a normalization of relations with Russia, there are also other energy interests at play, those seeking to connect the world’s largest natural gas deposit directly to European markets via a pipeline running through Syria. That natural gas reserve bisects both the territories of Iran and Qatar, and the tug-of-war between the US and Russia in Syria has largely been fought to determine who will be able to exploit these reserves and reap their rewards. The final tug-of-war to be fought during the resolution negotiations will likely concern the same issue.
Tuesday, April 11, 2017
With Trump’s inauguration, policy in Syria had begun to take a different direction.
After having failed at regime-change, with the insurgency badly defeated, on the defensive, and fighting amongst themselves, it appeared the rebels’ sponsors had realized the futility of their efforts and started to discontinue their support.
The Trump administration also reportedly ended the CIA’s train-and-equip program. This represents a long-standing feud between the Pentagon and the CIA. The Pentagon had vehemently opposed the CIA’s rebel program under grounds that it was empowering radical extremists which would eventually turn their guns towards Americans, and if successful would turn Syria into country of chaos ruled by warring factions of jihadists, similar to Libya.
However, the sectors of power that Obama represented largely centered around the financial institutions and the intelligence apparatus, and therefore the CIA won the tug-of-war and the rebel program continued. Under Trump, the program was ended and the CIA’s control over foreign policy was diminished, while the generals and military officials were largely granted discretion to conduct overseas operations with little oversight from the chief executive. The interests therefore steering foreign policy are largely those of the weapons and defense contractors, and the profit-incentives of the military industrial base as a whole.
Given this, instead of covertly funneling aid to al-Qaeda, Trump began increasing the coalitions’ bombing of the group, and adopted a different regional strategy. This increased bombing only materialized however after al-Qaeda had been routed on the battlefield.
Nevertheless, the strategy became one of overt military occupation and a partitioning of Syrian territory.
The purpose of the US-led “anti-ISIS” campaign had up to this point been to project the image that the US was fighting the group while simultaneously allowing them to prosper and militarily bleed out Iran and Russia. In this way, the presence of ISIS was redirected into a useful pretext which legitimized an illegal military presence in Syria which otherwise would not have been possible. As well, the universally despised attitude toward ISIS could conveniently be transformed into a mandate for annexing and occupying Syrian territory. The strategy could shift from “Assad must go” to “defeating ISIS.”
Signaling this shift, the Trump administration had announced that it “accepts” the “political reality… with respect to Assad,” and that “foremost among its priorities” from here on out would be “the defeat of ISIS.”
Concurrent with this was an agreement reached between Trump and the Saudi king after their meeting in mid-March, where it was decided that the Gulf would re-open supply channels to their proxies and occupy Russia on the battlefield therefore allowing the US to concentrate on dividing northern Syria and establishing their occupation.
Within this environment, it appeared that some kind of negotiated settlement might have been able to materialize, wherein Russia would agree to the US annexation in return for some other concessions. Powerful factions within the US were vehemently opposed to this however and were determined to reverse it.
The chemical weapons incident in Khan Sheikhoun effectively accomplished that and upended all of the previous hopes for a settlement.
After the horrendous attack, killing upwards of 70 people, procedures were underway for a thorough UN investigation to determine culpability. Without having completed that process, and without any evidence presented, the Trump administration launched a barrage of cruise missiles and attacked a Syrian military installation which was being used to fight ISIS. The timing of the attack prevented the investigation from going forward.
This was a clear violation of international law and a blatant act of aggression against another state. According to the Nuremburg Tribunals, an unjustified act of aggression represents the “supreme international crime,” high above all the others. The pain and suffering of the victims was cynically exploited as a pretext for such an aggression, unsurprisingly to the high moral acclaim of Western officials and media personalities. The attack, hailed as a “beautiful” display of our weapons, which revealed the “heart” and compassion of President Trump, reportedly murdered half a dozen Syrian soldiers, as well as four children.
Who cares? It was our moral duty to punish Assad for killing children, by killing other children, albeit the justified and morally honorable way, with US bombs.
Even more egregious, the attack was almost certainly carried out by the rebels, dominated by al-Qaeda and a rabble of other sectarian extremists. Washington would have you believe that Assad, having given up all of this chemical weapons in 2013 and barely escaping a Libya-style overthrow, after now having devastated the rebels on the battlefield, securing his greatest military advantage out of the entire conflict, would on the eve of important international congregations aimed at ending the war and directly after those aggressing upon him had declared their acceptance of him staying in power, launch a militarily insignificant attack with the kind of weapons that are literally the one thing that could endanger his rule and lead to a US invasion, all to kill civilians and a relatively insignificant amount of fighters which was even lower than the amount normally killed using conventional weapons. Assad may be a brutal autocrat, but he has never displayed any signs of being insane.
The opposition, however, has everything to gain from this. Desperate, staring at defeat, a reduction in supplies, and a US administration abandoning it’s former “Assad must go” policy, the last recourse they had was for a “red-line” to be crossed which could justify a US invasion. It having been widely reported that they, in fact, have access to chemical weapons and have utilized them in the past.
Not surprisingly then, the US intelligence community largely holds the Russian explanation, that Assad’s forces bombed a rebel storage facility containing chemical weapons, to be true, and the official US line to be false, sources from the CIA stating that it was their belief that “Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was likely not responsible for the lethal poison-gas incident in northern Syria.” One intelligence source said “the most likely scenario” was “a staged event by the rebels intended to force Trump to reverse a policy… that the U.S. government would no longer seek ‘regime change’ in Syria.”
War is a Racket
In the aftermath of the attack, it has become apparent that the entire motivation behind the Democratic Party’s antagonism towards Trump, along with the CIA, the neocons, and the rest of the liberal interventionists, had absolutely nothing to do with opposition towards Trump’s racism, xenophobia, attacks against civil rights, or even any connection with Putin, the accusations of course lacking any foundation in evidence. Instead, these were pretexts used to wage an all-out campaign of manipulation with a single goal in mind: pressuring him to continue carrying out the previous administrations’ strategy of overthrowing the Syrian government and maintaining a war-footing against Russia.
This is why the liberal resentment was solely focused on undermining the one aspect of his platform which was actually worth pursuing, cooperation with Russia and a détente of the increasingly dangerous confrontation that had been festering between the two nuclear powers. By portraying Trump as nothing more than a spy for Putin, the liberal establishment was able to guarantee that business-as-usual against Russia would be resumed, under threat that their efforts would be directed toward undermining the Presidency if it did not.
Explaining the situation, the Wall Street Journal reported that “in Washington, probes by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Congress into possible connections between Mr. Trump’s associates and Russia have restricted the new administration’s ability to cut deals seen as conciliatory to the Kremlin in the near term without provoking an outcry from both Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill.”
Exposing this antagonism for the opportunistic warmongering that it was, following Trump’s attack, in reality a war-crime for which Trump should be impeached and tried, all of his most forceful opponents of only a few days prior are now simply fawning in praise at their “great commander-in-chief.” The pressure has effectively been called off, though Trump will realize why that is and will remember again in the future when it is reapplied. After having found such an effective mechanism for insuring that the proper course is maintained, it will continue to be utilized.
In addition to having mitigated domestic opposition, the attack will likely remedy the problem of Trump’s approval ratings, which were below that of any comparable president. Nothing more effectively rallies a country around their leader like a war. In this sense, being a celebrity personality who’s foremost concerns are seemingly how others view him, the incident was largely orchestrated around boosting the president’s national image. Trump will now be seen as the “strong” leader who attacked the evil Assad and wasn’t afraid of Russian threats, while Obama was the “weak” president who wouldn’t do the same even without Russia protecting him. It appears that such a reckless attack was largely the result of one man’s ego.
However, it also represented the increased power and influence of the military, Trump having vowed to listen to his generals in the same way that Obama did not. When it comes to military officials, every solution resembles a nail, and are “solved” through military means such as missile strikes. As well, the power of the military industrial base to secure profit-making interests through state policy was also on display. Most notably the defense contractor Raytheon, who manufactures the missiles that were used in the attack, and thereby stands to gain when the government resupplies its arsenal. Their stock also instantly surged following the incident, adding nearly five billion dollars to its overall market value. Even more to the point are the reports which suggest that Trump still holds shares in Raytheon, and therefore will directly profit from this and from similar decisions in the future. Oil stocks as well have precipitously increased.
History, it seems, is repeating itself, with Smedley Butler’s classic “War is a Racket” coming to mind.
The attack also is related to the Trump administrations’ strong ties with Israel and the AIPAC lobby. Shortly before the chemical incident took place, Israeli jets had interfered on the side of the Islamic State and targeted Syrian army positions. Syria shot at the jets violating their airspace and forced them to retreat. The same airbase that Trump attacked was the one from which the Israeli jets were targeted, Trump giving his friend Bibi a gift in the form of retribution.
In a similar vein, the order was given during Trump’s dinner with the President of China, and comes with a message in mind. The message is that “my threats aren’t hollow,” and carry force behind them, referring to recent bellicose statements directed towards China if it refuses to “solve” the situation in North Korea. This, unsurprisingly, has only further encouraged North Korea and others to continue acquiring nuclear capabilities to deter against American aggression. This is what the North Korean’s nuclear program is all about after all, at least according to US military intelligence.
Nevertheless, Trump now has immense incentives to continue pursuing confrontation with Russia and Syria.
For what it was worth though, the actual attack represents a small-scale and largely symbolic accomplishment. It did not greatly damage Syria’s military capabilities, the airbase reportedly already being back in operation. It does, however, carry with it extraordinarily dangerous and potentially unforeseeable consequences.
A Lifeline for the Jihadists
The situation in Syria was already extremely precarious. For the first time in the modern period fighter jets of two nuclear powers were circling each other within the bounds of a single state in defense of opposing ground-forces; one false move could’ve potentially sparked a WWIII scenario. Trump’s careless actions have only further hurdled the world towards possible catastrophe, further strengthening the opinion of the world’s population that the United States is by far the greatest threat to world peace, with constantly-invoked official adversaries trailing far behind.
Directly after the attack, Russia severed the communication channels between itself and the US military. The agreed upon “deconfliction” precautions have been abandoned while the memorandum of understanding used to prevent military confrontations and air accidents has been tabled. US jets are now operating in Syria under constant threat of being targeted by the Russian air force and the Syrian army. Given this, former members of the US-led coalition have suspended their involvement and evacuated their aircraft, saying it is no longer safe to remain. Others are likely to follow. One false move could bring us to the brink of a cataclysmic confrontation. Wasn’t this decision just wonderful?
On top of all this, the maneuver has greatly damaged Russia’s credibility. The US effectively called the Russian narrative a lie and exposed Putin’s “protection” of his allies to be hollow. The Russian military has been discredited and their already strained relations with Syria and Iran have only further been maligned. Unsurprisingly the Russian’s are furious.
Importantly however, it seems likely that some kind of an agreement was reached when the US notified the Russians and warned them of the attack. Important military equipment and personnel were evacuated from the site. The question however is what concession Russia received in return for allowing Trump to save-face after his “red line” comments and what will be the Russian response. Already a Russian warship is steaming toward the Mediterranean while further steps are being taken to increase Syria’s air defenses.
The other direct consequence was the strengthening of ISIS and al-Qaeda, who unsurprisingly exploited the attack to launch their own offenses. The military installation that was hit was a main base from which attacks against ISIS were carried out. It was instrumental in keeping nearby ISIS militants at bay and protected the surrounding inhabitants from ISIS attacks. Following the incident residents say they now fear an assault, stating that “women and children have already started to leave Shayrat to go to Homs city. We’re not afraid of airstrikes. Our fear is the [ISIS] attack from the east.” For the residents, all these airstrikes amount to is “proof that the U.S. helps Daesh.” Perhaps this is what the New York Times meant when they said “It was hard not to feel some sense of emotional satisfaction, and justice done, when American cruise missiles struck an airfield in Syria on Thursday.”
All of the most reactionary forces on the ground praised and welcomed the strikes, and its main beneficiaries were ISIS and al-Qaeda. How glorious.
Furthermore, the implicit message that Trump has sent to the jihadists is that the international media and the US administration will not attempt to deliberate over evidence and demonstrate factual culpability, but instead will automatically blame Assad for any chemical weapons attacks. This effectively gives them a mechanism by which to call in US airstrikes should they ever need to improve their battlefield positions or gain the support of foreign intervention. Far from deterring dangerous weapon use, this provides an overwhelming incentive for chemical weapons to continue to be deployed, especially in terms of the Gulf monarchies should they ever need to redirect Trump towards an explicit “Assad must go” policy.
Leaked memos from Saudi Arabia say that Assad must be overthrown at all costs, because if he is not then Syria’s primary goal will be “taking revenge on the countries that stood against it, with the Kingdom… coming at the top of the list,” which represents “a high degree of danger for the Kingdom.” The Saudi rulers make clear their view that the main stumbling block in the way of achieving this is the “lack of ‘desire’ and not a lack of ‘capability’… to take firm steps” on the part of the United States, and therefore they “must seek by all means available and all possible ways to overthrow the current regime in Syria.” (emphasis added)
Isn’t it wonderful how we taught Assad a lesson?
Given all of this, the pressures leading towards war and destruction will continue, as will the strategy of occupying northern Syria while denying the Syrian government from controlling the totality of its former territories. Rebel jihadi supply lines through Turkey will continue fueling the conflict, and with it the innocent deaths, while the money and weapons from the Gulf will continue to be forthcoming in an attempt to sink Russia down into the Syrian quagmire. This course of action, based on motivations of regional dominance, will continue to be the largest stumbling block towards peace that will further prolong the already 6-year long conflict.
Obstacles to Peace
Russia still has a fresh memory of the debacle in Afghanistan during the 1980s and desperately fears another repeat in Syria, especially given the newfound influence they have now been able to establish with the buildup of their military presence around the Mediterranean. The conflict in Syria provided them the opportunity to accomplish this. It is therefore within their interests for a quick political settlement to be reached and for a termination of the conflict, along with a cleanup of the Russian-nationals fighting in the ranks of the jihadists, and to further consolidate and exploit its newfound position as an influencer in regional Middle Eastern affairs. This comes into stark conflict with their Iranian and Syrian partners who are urging Russia to continue the offensive and reclaim the totality of Syrian territory.
Because of this, Russia would likely be willing to exert the pressure necessary to force its allies to accept a settlement which includes extraordinary concessions. For this reason too, Russia will likely acquiesce to the US-backed balkanization effort in some form in order to freeze the conflict.
At the same time, the Americans and Europeans desperately want to see Russia get bogged down in another Afghanistan scenario, not the least of which because Russia was instrumental in preventing their regime-change efforts. It is for this reason that the US and the EU do not have a coherent plan to end the conflict, but do have a strategy of partitioning Syrian territory which will likely result in an all-out corporate resource-grab afterwards, allowing Western investors access to exploit the area and obtain the rebuilding contracts that will then be signed. This being paramount in their calculations, the reactionary al-Qaeda forces on the ground again become a useful asset rather than an enemy to be destroyed, while the ISIS pretext justifies the annexations.
Following the completion of partition, the strategy will shift directly back toward regime-change, only with newly acquired territories and levers of pressure from which to exert such demands. The eventual goal is a complete eviction of Russia from the Mediterranean and from its ability to frustrate Western ambitions for regional hegemony.
Fueling this is the imbedded and institutional nature of an American policy of regime change toward all non-compliant states, euphemistically referred to as the “axis of evil.” These policies are not at all related to the changing personalities which happen to occupy the White House from time to time. This is because government policy is representative of the very narrow class interests of those who dominate the socio-economic hierarchy. That is, the dominant plutocracy made up of the individuals and interests who own the private economy and enjoy control over vast consolidations of wealth and resources. It is from this dominant business-class that the top level positions within the executive are filled, and from these interests that policy is crafted and legislated. This has been shown in prominent political science studies which explain “economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence.” Or, in other words, “the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy,” while decision-making is confined almost exclusively to the top 1%.
This is why prominent political analysts have concluded since the 1950s that “at every level of the administration of the American state, domestically and internationally, business serves as the fount of critical assumptions or goals and strategically placed personnel.” Policy therefore stemming from “the most powerful class interests” which inform the “nature and objectives of American power at home and abroad.” It is the “ideology and the interest and material power of the physical resources of the ruling class of American capitalism” which determine courses of action, “the latter [the material power of their physical resources] being sufficient should consensus break down.” This “economic ruling elite” being “the final arbiter and beneficiary of the existing structure of American… politics and of United States power in the world.”
This the reason why US policy towards Syria has remained consistent for nearly a century. The CIA has been attempting, since its inception, to overthrow the Syrian government since the middle of the 20th century, through countless administrations and countless fluctuations between Democrats and Republicans. The core policy remains the same, so it should be no wonder that the current incumbent would opportunistically seize upon an opportunity to attack the Syrian state. These actions cannot solely be laid at the feat of the liberals nor domestic political concerns.
Instead, the overthrow of non-compliant regimes is a staple of US policy because doing so secures the economic and material interests of the dominant ruling class within America. It is within their interests for governments to allow their economies to be penetrated by Western corporations seeking to exploit their markets, and to denationalize state assets and coveted resources for the exploitation of foreign investors. Furthermore, these interests are further secured through regional support for US military aggression and occupations. This is why so much emphasis was put upon securing control over Iraqi oil and the establishment of US military bases in Iraq, and why similar aggressions are not pursued against client states which comply with these developments. Syria, although it began to allow Western economic penetration, has on the whole frustrated attempts for greater access. In addition, Syria has opposed US military aggression in the region, such as their attempts to undermine the occupation of Iraq.
The Logic of Imperialism
The other major issue is the pipeline war between the US and Russia over the natural gas field which bisects Iranian and Qatari territory, the largest in the world. Qatar’s attempts to connect their holdings directly to European markets was denied by Assad, while an Iranian and Russian-backed pipeline was put into motion. It is only after the ball began rolling on the Russian-Iranian-Syria pipeline that the insurgency was fostered against Assad.
This is why Trump has used this opportunity to further aggress upon the Syrian state, now writing up a new batch of sanctions to apply under the pretext of chemical weapons use. The sanctions, after all, are an economic siege against the entirety of the country, and are fueling much of the suffering and the fleeing of refugees. These new ones will continue a tactic of brutalization of the civilian population with little effect against the government, the strategy being to force massive economic suffering as a means to pressure the current regime. This is also why the US again is demanding Assad’s ouster, saying “There's not any sort of option where a political solution is going to happen with Assad at the head of the regime.”
As self-righteous pundits, officials, and intellectuals who should know better wax poetically and bask in their own self-righteousness over how moral and justified this immoral act of aggression was, it is not hard to see why the world considers the US the leading threat to peace and a leading terrorist rogue state.
The US and its clients, who have all hailed Trump’s belligerent attacks on moralistic grounds, are the only states rampaging through the region attacking countries at will while destroying any that stand in their way. The US now, and the British before them, have consistently opposed and overthrown any truly progressive, democratic, and secular movement or government that has emerged in the Middle East while at the same time propping up the forces of extremist-Islam and fueling the spread of violent jihadism throughout the region. This is because the US has, since the 1950s, pursued an agenda of global domination and has insisted on securing its ambitions through tyranny and oppression.
Imagine, for an instance, that Syria manufactured a false claim and said the US military used chemical weapons against them, and used that pretext to launch a cruise missile assault on an American base in American territory, murdering the innocent civilians living nearby, including four children. Now imagine that on top of that, the officials and intellectuals from Syria didn’t apologize, but instead hailed the intolerable injustice as being a display of “justice done,” something that was “beautiful,” which elicited a “sense of emotional satisfaction” and was righteous and good, showing how heartfelt and compassionate they are.
How malicious and sociopathic would we view those officials?
Yet we all carry on, blind and drunk off the desire to dominate and control.
The logic of imperialism, is truly wondrous to behold.