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The U.S. Descends into the Syrian Maelstrom

June 21, 2017

Syrian National Forces Liberating Aleppo from ISIS-al Nusra in May 2016. The world should have celebrated (and many did). But instead of acknowledging that this was a significant military victory that isolated the likes of ISIS, the American media tried to manipulate it into a tragedy.

For what can war but endless war still breed? (John Milton, Sonnet 15 – Thanks Richard Rozoff)

We were waste deep in the big muddy, but the big fool said to push on” (Pete Seeger)

The latest news from Syria, is once again is unsettling. All appearances are that the Trump Administration has crossed its own red line. As one writer, Jim Kavanagh, succinctly put it:The latest news from Syria, is once again is unsettling. All appearances are that the Trump Administration has crossed its own red line. As one writer, Jim Kavanagh, succinctly put it:

The United States is at war with Syria.

Though few Americans wanted to face it, this has been the case implicitly since the Obama administration began building bases and sending Special Ops, really-not-there, American troops, and it has been the case explicitly since August 3, 2015, when the Obama administration announced that it would “allow airstrikes to defend Syrian rebels trained by the U.S. military from any attackers, even if the enemies hail from forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.” With the U.S. Air Force—under Trump, following Obama’s declared policy—shooting down a Syrian plane in Syrian airspace, this is now undeniable.  The United States is overtly engaged in another aggression against a sovereign country that poses no conceivable, let alone actual or imminent, threat to the nation.

This is an act of war.

Washington has entered the Syrian fray in a more direct manner. More U.S. troops are being sent there. Already there are confrontations – not so much with ISIS and al Nusra – but with the Syrian government forces, the Iranians and the Russians – all of which are, in principle, U.S. allies fighting these Muslim fundamentalists. Nothing could be worse for Syria and for Middle East peace.

Let us briefly note the escalation of tensions in the past few days:

• The United States shot down a Syrian national government jet fighter, although supposedly both the United States and the Assad Government are “theoretically” on the same side in the fight against a common enemy – ISIS, Al Nusra and the like.

The Independent (British newspaper) reports that “Israel is giving secret aid to the Syrian rebels” referring to a report in the Wall Street Journal June 18, 2017.• And now the U.S. has shot down an Iranian made drone over Syria

So what’s the deal with Syria?

Can one make sense of a situation that seems both so violent and so fluid?

Besides the fact that the United States is dangerously upping the ante in an increasingly tense military stand-off in Syria, the current growing military standoff has it roots in opposite visions concerning how to resolve the conflict. The U.S. position, mostly unstated, but occasionally actually put in writing was codified by what is called the Doha Accords on Syria, which essentially calls for the partition of the country. That is the goal that the United States and its different allies/surrogates are pursuing in Syria, that Syria suffer essentially the same fate as Iraq and Libya – the greater “balkanization,” as it is called, of the Middle East and the breaking down of strong centralized states into “more manageable” units.

From the outset in 2011, the governments and so-called movements involved in fighting the Assad government coordinate their support policies with the United States, that essentially runs the effort politically. Working through proxies in this way gives the Trump Administration (and before it Obama’s) the mirage of “plausible deniability” (the “we didn’t do it” option – except “we” are doing it).  Since 2011 the strategic goal has remained unchanged, only the tactics have shifted: the overthrow of the Assad government (regime change), failing that, Syria’s partition into enclaves.

The Russian position is quite different: to maintain the national integrity and current boundaries of Syria as a nation-state and to prevent Syria’s partition. This is not only the Russian position, that of Iran and the Syrian government of Bechir al Assad, but that of the international community as a whole. It is understood – and repeatedly stated – that as a part of any political solution, that the conflicting parties involved, including the legitimate Syrian opposition would have to be an integral part of any settlement and that the Syrian national political geometry so to speak that would emerge from such a process would like far different from what it does today. Foreign mercenaries would not be permitted to play any role in such a process.

So let’s repeat the essence of the struggle for Syria today.

On the one side are those who are fighting to keep the national integrity of Syria. Yes, this includes the Assad government, the Iranians, the Russians who are directly involved in the military effort but this solution also has the support of the overwhelming majority of the world’s nation, ie. it is based in what can be considered a growing global consensus that insists that ultimately the Syrian conflict can be resolved through a politically negotiated process and given the balance of forces on the ground in Syria, there can be no decisive military solution for either side.

On the other side are those, united around a document called the Doha Accord, signed in November, 2012 who seek to both overthrow the current government of Syria, to partition the country into enclaves either de facto or de jure. This is the goal that the United States has been pursuing in Syria and continues to pursue. It has pursued it mostly through using its regional allies to different degrees: Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar, Israel, the Emirates – all of which are closely linked to radical Islamic fundamentalist elements – ISIS, al Nusra and the like.

On the one side are those who are fighting to keep the national integrity of Syria. Yes, this includes the Assad government, the Iranians, the Russians who are directly involved in the military effort but this solution also has the support of the overwhelming majority of the world’s nation, ie. it is based in what can be considered a growing global consensus that insists that ultimately the Syrian conflict can be resolved through a politically negotiated process and given the balance of forces on the ground in Syria, there can be no decisive military solution for either side.

On the other side are those, united around a document called the Doha Accord, signed in November, 2012 who seek to both overthrow the current government of Syria, to partition the country into enclaves either de facto or de jure. This is the goal that the United States has been pursuing in Syria and continues to pursue. It has pursued it mostly through using its regional allies to different degrees: Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar, Israel, the Emirates – all of which are closely linked to radical Islamic fundamentalist elements – ISIS, al Nusra and the like.

Despite appearances, there is plenty of evidence that more than suggests that in a certain way, the United States and ISIS, Al Nusra are, for the most part, actually allies more than they are adversaries. The main funders – the denials aside – for the past six years have been Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – all strategic U.S. allies. The idea that one can separate the main lines of U.S. regional policy from the Saudis, Qataris et. al is simply an illusion.

Along the same lines – ISIS and the United States (it goes beyond this or other past administrations) share a similar goal – engineering what today is referred to rather innocuously as “regime change” – a term which actually means efforts to overthrow a government, in this case that of Bechir al Assad.

Short of overthrowing Assad, which appears more and more unlikely given the developments on the ground over the past two years, the United States and its regional allies have devised a plan which despite all indications of its probable collapse, that they are sticking to – partitioning the country in such a way so that essentially the end result will be for de facto political entities:

– the area around Damascus will remain a rump “Syria” devoid of its former influence and key role in the Middle East.

– a northern area will become either de facto or de jure controlled by Turkey and the militias it controls and essentially runs near the Turkish-Syrian border – a southern region south of Damascus around Daraa to be under the joint influence and control of Jordan and Israel (possibly with the permanent stationing of U.S. troops there)

– an eastern region (mostly desert but through which the Tigris River flows and there are significant oil deposits) along the Syrian-Iraqi border that would be ceded to ISIS-al Nusra

As stated above, these goals are cited and elaborated upon in two documents referred as the Doha Protocols, first agreed upon in November, 2012 and then slightly revised. In the dark years of 2012, it appeared that the opposition forces – virtually all foreign mercenaries – (Wahhabists, Muslim Brothers, al Qaeda types) would be able to destroy Syria as a nation-state. But they failed in this effort and by 2015-6, the social forces supporting the Syrian government expanded.

With the military support of Iran, Hezbollah in Lebanon and Russia, the Assad government was able to turn the tide and win back substantial portions of the country that had been lost to the mercenaries (that I will not dignify with the term of “rebels”..because they are not that). As a result of these advances by the Syrian government forces and their allies, the plans to overthrow Assad “regime change” were modified to just partitioning the country. But then in 2017 even the partition plans risked collapsing as the Syrian government continued to gain ground at the expense of ISIS, Al Nusra.

Having failed even to implement the partition plan on the ground, the United States tried to achieve Syria’s partition diplomatically what it and its allies could not win militarily on the ground, but Washington’s proposed framework for negotiations (in Geneva) – the Doha partition plan – was rejected by Assad, the Iranians and the Russians – all of whom wisely were not willing to give up politically what they had won back militarily! The United States – and now we are talking about the Obama Administration – refused a political solution that would have accepted the national integrity of Syria and decided – their rhetoric aside – to continue with the war in an effort to shift the balance of forces back to where a partition “solution” could be considered.

As the Syrian crisis spilled over into the first months of the Trump Administration, Washington made a number of adjustments to ratchet up the military effort, among them:

a. Among U.S. regional surrogates (for that is all they are), what might be considered “the Syria file” was shifted from Qatar and Turkey which had spearheaded the Syria effort, but had failed to deliver (ie – overthrow Assad) to Saudi Arabia. This was vividly demonstrated by Trump’s visit to Riyadh where the American President went out of his way to underline that after a period out there “in the wilderness” that Saudi was once again in Washington’s good graces. The meeting with the 50 or so reps of Islamic countries – prime ministers and presidents – was essentially to drive home the point that as far as Syria is concerned, the Saudis – not the Qataris and the Turks – are the point men. In exchange for getting a pat on the head, the Saudis are reportedly willing to shell out close to $500 billion in military and other contracts to U.S. companies

b. The second result of the erosion of the U.S. plans for Syria (essentially what was “accomplished” in Iraq and Libya – the pulverization of strong centralized states and the creation of either de facto or de jure partitioned entities) has been a shift in tactics. Up until now, Washington has relied on this and that proxy to implement its Syria policy. But the proxies failed to deliver; for all the violence, Syria, it turns out, is neither Iraq nor Libya.

– Thus the need for more direct U.S. military presence. It was announced a few days ago that an additional 4000 U.S. troops will be sent to Syria with the likelihood that the number could reach 10,000, as a part of a larger Middle East regional U.S. troop buildup. – Thus the recent escalation of the U.S. military role (and that of allies like Israel) mentioned above.

Among U.S. regional surrogates (for that is all they are), what might be considered “the Syria file” was shifted from Qatar and Turkey which had spearheaded the Syria effort, but had failed to deliver (ie – overthrow Assad) to Saudi Arabia. This was vividly demonstrated by Trump’s visit to Riyadh where the American President went out of his way to underline that after a period out there “in the wilderness” that Saudi was once again in Washington’s good graces.

So the troops are there and already they are fighting. Who are the American military fighting in Syria? In theory ISIS, in practice the Syrian government and its allies.

The main goal of this U.S. troop buildup is to protect what remains of the Islamic militant enclaves in the country from falling militarily to the Syrian government, which would signal for U.S. policy in Syria a complete military and political defeat almost as embarrassing as the American defeat in Vietnam now 42 years ago. Rather than attacking ISIS and other rebel positions, the U.S. military is defending these positions and attacking Syrian national government troops from advancing and wiping out these rebel enclaves. In the south American artillery has attacked Syrian government troops on the offensive against rebel positions and most recently shot down a Syrian jet fighter over Syrian national territory. In the north, there have been similar clashes between the U.S. military and Syrian army units on the offensive against ISIS. Perhaps the most egregious duplicity took place in nearby Mosul, Iraq where U.S. military units and Apache helicopters gave safe passage to thousands of ISIS fighters fleeing the city to the Syrian region of Raqqa.

The reports of increased Israeli (and Jordanian) activity in southern Syria are a part of the U.S. program to maintain the enclaves – and thus the partition plan. By the way, these reports of Israeli intervention in Syria act as if this is a new development. It isn’t. The Israelis have been involved – albeit in more minor role than Qatar, Saudi and Turkey – from the outset.

All of this indicates that for the foreseeable future that for all practical purposes, its rhetoric aside, that the United States has abandoned what amounted to a not very serious flirtation with working for a political solution to the Syrian crisis, that it will continue to fester despite the fact that military gains by the U.S. and its allies/proxies are unlikely. Syria continues to resemble Vietnam in a number of ways – the increase in U.S. troops, the failure of its local proxies (a scurrilous assortment), Washington’s unwillingness to admit political (and military) defeat.

There are other dark parallels too, none of which can hide the fact that for Washington this war is unwinnable as it has been from the beginning and can only be resolved through an internationally coordinated political solution. But the possibility of such an international peace process becomes dimmer with the day.

Some historical considerations

In 2010-11 when demonstrations broke out all over the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) – they broke out in Syria as well. At the outset the demands were the same as in Tunisia and Egypt – end to corruption, repression and for more democratic accelerated economic development. There was an internal Syria opposition, which resembled that of the other countries in the same situation – youth based, multi-ethnic, frankly without much religious orientation. It was harshly repressed by the Assad government. At the same time, the opposition movement was essentially infiltrated, co-opted and swallowed by outside-funded sources (Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia in the main, Israel as well – ISIS, Al Nusra and the like). Something like this happened in a number of other places – Iraq, Libya, Mali.

In short order the original legitimate domestic opposition was marginalized almost to non-existence, while the new elements, trained, financed, armed by the above – using the mantel of the legitimate opposition which they essentially stole and co-opted – became the public face of the movement. Their goal was the overthrow of the Syrian government and short of that the partition of the country into three separate zones – one in the north controlled by Turkey and its Turkmen allies; one in the south supported by Jordan and Israel and one in the east crossing the Iraqi-Syrian border, controlled by ISIS, leaving an amputated, toothless “Syria” around Damascus.

U.S. policy of long-standing – probably going back to the Clinton years, including the George W. Bush, Obama presidencies – has been called “regime change” – a euphemism for overthrowing the Assad Government.

There are a number of reasons for this, strategic, economic which can be elaborated upon if need be. In the efforts the United States depended on proxies to do the on-scene dirty work of fighting the war. The connections look something like this: ISIS, Al Nusra and the like, do the fighting. They are, as mentioned above, completely foreign elements in the Syrian body politic – their members recruited, trained, paid, armed, again by Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates – with training support from Israel, Jordan, Pakistan. The policy of these regional players is coordinated by Washington (and to a lesser degree its allies).

One Comment leave one →
  1. Tom Moore permalink
    June 21, 2017 3:37 pm

    Haven’t finished yet but… thanks. Tom >

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