Skip to main content

Russia, Syria and the US: Hillary’s Foreign Policy Priority

by Gary Leupp

A week ago, after meeting Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Geneva, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced that the two sides had made progress on the matter of coordination and intelligence sharing in the air war against al-Nusra (now re-dubbed Fatah al-Sham) and ISIL in Syria.

Meanwhile President Obama (at least since last December) has backed off on his insistence—urgent in 2011, when he was advised by Hillary Clinton as secretary of state—that Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad surrender power. This demand has weakened over time as Assad has stubbornly clung to power, as the (largely Sunni) national army has performed unexpectedly well against U.S.-backed armed rebels, and as Russia has belatedly intervened on behalf of the regime (or, as Moscow sees it, the modern, secular Syrian state itself).

An announcement is supposed to occur in “early August.” We’re there now, but no announcement yet. Events in Aleppo may affect its timing, or rule it out. The Syrian Arab Army has encircled Aleppo, Syria’s largest city largely held by al-Nusra and its allies, and is poised to close in. Last Tuesday the Syrian government announced that it was providing safe passage for residents to leave the city, and Russia announced specific plans to provide corridors both for civilians wanting to leave and fighters willing to turn over their arms.

U.S. Ambassador to the UN Samantha Powers immediately pronounced the plan “chilling” (because it “warns Syrians to leave E Aleppo & entrust lives to gov that’s bombed & starved them”). That is to say, Powers used the news of the immanent defeat of a long-time al-Qaeda affiliate regarded by both the U.S. and Russia as terrorist, as an opportunity to further trash Assad and Russia. (And she doesn’t seem to recall this evacuation plan was precisely the strategy used by the U.S. in Fallujah and elsewhere in its uninvited military adventures.)

Powers rules out the possibility that the national army might meet with a warm welcome from the people of Aleppo, historically a Baath Party power base. Kerry meanwhile intimates that this new development might jeopardize planned cooperation in Syria against al-Nusra/Fatah al-Sham and ISIL.

Mixed Signals All Along

There are mixed signals here. But there have been all along. During the George W. Bush administration, neocon officials plotted the downfall of the Assad regime. On the other hand, Secretary of State Colin Powell met with Assad in 2003 and diplomatic relations were restored after 24 years in 2006.

Hillary Clinton as of 2009 was praising Assad as a “reformer,” but in 2011 was ordering him out. In 2013 Obama was on the verge of a massive missile assault on Syria, to punish Assad for supposedly using sarin gas against his people (an unlikely prospect, since he was winning the war through conventional means). But Lavrov told Kerry that Russia believed that opposition forces were responsible. By some reports Obama soon became persuaded that Turkish intelligence in collusion with some opposition faction contrived a false flag incident hoping to induce the U.S. to topple Assad.

Kerry happened to mention at a press confidence that the U.S. would hold off attacking if Syria would give up all its WMDs. Lavrov immediately, deftly negotiated an arrangement for Syria to turn over its chemical weapons to the UN, and at the last minute Obama cancelled his planned attack.

But he did deliver an accusatory speech in which he declared the Syrian government responsible for the incident and reiterated: “I believe in American exceptionalism with every fiber of my being.” He just altered the speech’s conclusion to suggest that the Syrian decision to surrender its WMDs had changed the situation. He was still committed to regime change.

The Embarrassing U.S. Failure to Build a Syrian Proxy Force

Stepping back a bit: in August 2011, when Obama and Clinton both demanded Assad’s departure, and closed down the U.S. embassy in Damascus, the opposition to Assad had been largely nonviolent. But armed factions were, with U.S. encouragement, already taking shape, loosely coordinating as something called the “Syrian Free Army.” They included many pro-al-Qaeda elements who officially formed the al-Nusra Front (Jabhat al-Nusra) in January 2012.

(The rule, if you haven’t noticed, is: When the U.S. overthrows a secular leader in the Middle East, or tries to, it creates a power void; it creates promised lands of opportunity for vicious jihadis, whose atrocities justify the redeployment of U.S. troops to the country involved in order to “preserve regional stability” and so forth. It is as though Washington is actively working to enrage, not only your everyday Muslim anywhere in the world, but your everyday anyone anywhere in the world, by its regime change bombing campaigns rationalized by lies.)

Al-Nusra gained widespread respect among the armed rebels in Syria in 2012. The U.S. press gave slight attention to the fact that the “Free Syrian Army” publicly justified and insisted upon its alliance with this al-Qaeda chapter.

Currently most factions (80% in one estimate) of the hundreds of Syrian Free Army factions work with al-Nusra. They value its experience and competence, even if they may dislike its puritanism in such matters as tobacco smoking and personal appearance. U.S. officials have long since realized that to topple Assad they need to—if not befriend al-Nusra directly (repeat: al-Nusra/ Fatah al-Sham was until yesterday an official al-Qaeda affiliate)—at least give their (more) directly subsidized associates leave to mingle as needed, to get the regime change job done.

By 2014, with Assad still in charge and al-Nusra coming to dominate the “opposition,” Obama asked Congress for money to fund a program for U.S. personnel to train in Jordan some 15,000 armed rebels in marksmanship, navigation and other skills. But as of September 2015, as a sheepish-faced General Lloyd Austin, commander of U.S. Central Command, told Congress, “We’re talking four or five” fighters actually trained. In that same month, it was announced that about 70 fighters of “Division 30”—Syrians trained in Turkey, under the “Syrian Trade and Equip” program, had upon entering Syria turned over their weapons to al-Nusra.

Embarrassment upon embarrassment, for the regime-changers!

The fact of the matter is, the U.S. has found it difficult, after all that’s happened in the region in this young century, to recruit Syrians willing to work with them. Blinded by their Exceptionalism, U.S. policy-makers can’t get it through their heads that U.S. actions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen and Libya do not endear them to the peoples of those countries. Quite the opposite.

Russian Intervention; the U.S. Freaks Out

In this same crucial month (of September 2015, as U.S. weakness in the region was exposed), Russia became seriously involved in the Syrian conflict. It had watched the spread of disorder and suffering throughout the Middle East with alarm. (“Do you realize what you’ve done?” Putin soon asked the U.S. and its allies, at the UNGA, in November 2015.) Now finally it moved.

Russia had had a military pact with Syria since 1980, and operated its naval base at Tartus (its only one in the Mediterranean, compared to the U.S.’s nine ) since 1971. Moscow now announced a program of bombing terrorists in cooperation with Syrian government forces.

Taken aback, the U.S. could do little but note the obvious (that Russia was supporting a president the U.S. had commanded to step down, accusing him of crimes against his people) and complain that Russia wasn’t really targeting terrorists, but the “moderate opposition.”

Who are you talking about?” the Russians responded politely. Lavrov proposed that Washington and Moscow agree on a list of groups considered “terrorist.” The U.S. concedes that a lot of the groups it backs work closely with al-Nusra, justifying it publicly. One of the U.S.-backed groups, Harakat Nour al-Din al-Zenki, posted a video last month of smiling members beheading a 12-year-old Palestinian boy accused of being a member of a pro-Assad group. The State Department spokesman asked the group to investigate, and it duly issued a statement terming the beheading a “mistake.”

The Russians have demanded at the UN that the Ahrar al-Sham organization, backed by Turkey and Saudi Arabia and closely aligned with what used to be called al-Nusra, be classified as a terrorist organization. These efforts have been stymied by the group’s supporters. The U.S. sees Ahrar al-Sham as part of the “moderate opposition.”

While disagreeing with the U.S. about who was a “terrorist” and who a fighter for the “moderate opposition,” Russia while targeting northwest Syria where the al-Nusra mix holds territory in a few weeks did more damage to ISIL than the U.S.-led anti-ISIL coalition (formed in December 2014) had done in nine months. (Indeed, one of the most preposterous disinformation enterprises of the U.S. press is to exaggerate U.S. “Coalition” successes against ISIL while minimizing the Russian and Syrian.)

In particular, Russian war planes destroyed thousands of Turkey-bound oil tankers striking the caliphate at its economic base. (In the process it also provided documentation, largely ignored by the U.S. press, that Ergodan was profiting from this traffic.) In May 2016 the Syrian army recaptured Palmyra with its architectural treasures from ISIL, with Russian support.

Kerry’s State Department was obliged to shift tactics. Here was Russia, cautiously, effectively and legally, finally asserting its power in its backyard (Aleppo is 720 miles from southern Russia, 5775 from Washington D.C.), arguing that—while Moscow is not wedded to Assad— it wants to preserve the Syrian state, which is represented by its army, currently in a life-to-death struggle with terrorists. It was receiving considerable international sympathy for its efforts. What could Kerry do but respond positively to Lavrov’s proposal for multiparty talks in Europe last year, to try to arrange a political solution between the non-terrorist parties?

Diplomacy, while Pounding the War Drums

A series of meetings, involving a few Syrian factions, excluding many (such as the Kurdish YPG, at the insistence of Turkey), the U.S., Russia (but not Iran), produced a ceasefire agreement implemented from February 27, 2016. But it does not include ISIL and al-Nusra. Since it is spatially embedded in the other organizations, Russian and Syrian forces in attacking al-Nusra surely bomb fighters the U.S. (in its manifest wisdom) deems “moderates.”

Gosh. Has the U.S. ever done something like that?

The ceasefire has generally held, between the “moderate opposition” and the army. During this period of enforced relative passivity, al-Nusra has reportedly used the opportunity to expand ties and amass supplies, and as we’ve seen, it’s renamed itself to gain respectability. It knows there are some in the U.S. power structure advocating use of (as General Petraeus put it last year) “some elements” in al-Nusra against ISIL. It’s losing the battle and no doubt willing to cut various deals with others hostile to Assad.

The regime and its Russian patrons have apparently decided to strike now, hard, against al-Nusra in East Aleppo and reclaim the city. If they do so it will be a turning point, although not the end of the Syrian conflict. (The Kurdistan issue looms.)

Kerry like Obama seems conflicted about what to do in Syria. He wants to topple Assad, because the U.S. government has announced he must go, and once such a proclamation is issued, it cannot (like a law of the Medes and Persians) be retracted for fear of loss of face. But Kerry’s also been (like Obama, who as you recall cluelessly called ISIL a “JV team” in August 2014) shocked by the sudden rise of that horrid outgrowth of the U.S. destruction of Iraq. It would be embarrassing if ISIL takes Damascus and blows up all the ancient Christian sites. Especially if Putin and tens of millions of Russian Orthodox believers who feel akin to Syrian Orthodox Christians are standing around saying, “I told you this would happen, if you keep focusing so stupidly on Assad”).

So of course U.S. leaders have to condemn, and to some extent wage war on, ISIL as well as al-Nusra. The problem is how to pursue that objective while simultaneously maintaining that Assad is the main problem, and arguing that his very persistence in power strengthens the terrorists. It doesn’t make any sense.

In fact, the weakening of central state power encouraged by the U.S. since 1911 has allowed these groups to seize territory and advance their positions, while the reclamation of state authority when it’s happened has set back the bad guys. Or at least the worst guys.

The faction in the State Department that never learns anything and is currently demanding regime change is getting louder. The manifesto published by the 51 State Department dissidents suggests too much attention has been placed on countering ISIL. What we really need to do, they say, is step up efforts to remove Assad. Despite the weird, unprecedented nature of the dissidents’ memo leak, Kerry has pronounced himself sympathetic. Meanwhile the recent statement from the “Center for a New Security” headed by key Clinton aide and likely future Secretary of Defense Michele Flournoy similarly promotes regime change.

On July 29—the day that she secured the Democratic nomination in that sickening display of USA! USA! jingoism—Clinton’s campaign stated that she will “reset” U.S. Syrian policy as a top priority in office, to focus on toppling Assad from power. (Surprise, surprise, you fools who assumed she’d learned something from Libya.)

For all with ears to hear—and have learned anything at all since 9/11 and the inception of the era of constant wars, based on lies—the war-drums are sounding. But as MSNBC’s Chris Matthews notes, “Americans don’t care anything about foreign policy.”

One can only hope that the crazies in Syria are rolled back by rational secular forces before January, aided perhaps by welcome, coordinated foreign air power, when the Queen of Chaos comes to the throne (if so she does).

Because if she gets her chance, she will be looking for excuses to bomb Damascus.

Source:

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

It's definite: Elizabeth Warren is the female Obama, can't be trusted

globinfo freexchange

One year from the 2020 US presidential election, things start to become clearer day by day. In the US political scene, we can now recognize the authentic progressives from the fakes, and certainly, from the establishment neoliberal centrists. 
In the presidential-candidates level we can now identify only Bernie Sanders and Tulsi Gabbard as the ones who are willing to fight the establishment and try to implement progressive, anti-imperialist policies. After her latest position, concerning the military coup in Bolivia against the democratically elected Evo Morales, Elizabeth Warren could be considered a pseudo-progressive, equal to a female Barack Obama. Therefore, progressives definitely can't trust her.
Warren tweeted:
The Bolivian people deserve free and fair elections, as soon as possible. Bolivia's interim leadership must limit itself to preparing for an early, legitimate election. Bolivia's security forces must protect demonstrators, not commit …

It's now or never: the first step for a Sanders/Corbyn synchronization in power must be done on 12 December in UK

This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the global working class
by system failure
Two years ago, we wondered whether a US government under Bernie Sanders, together with a UK government under Jeremy Corbyn, could mark a decisive victory against neoliberalism. Whether it could mark the beginning of the end of the Reagan/Thatcher awful legacy.

It seems that the time has come for the first step towards this prospect.

The oncoming UK general election on Thursday 12 December 2019, will be the most critical for decades, especially for the global working class. The outcome will determine to a significant degree, whether the capitalist West will change course away from the destructive neoliberalism, towards a form of Democratic Socialism. A new model that will resurrect the social state, while at the same time, will seriously deal with the great environmental challenges, defying big interests and rejecting the for-profit-wars model.



As we already pointed out, the whole Brexit issue is pri…

Latest WikiLeaks revelation and its treatment by the mainstream press explicitly demonstrate why the imperialists are determined to eliminate Julian Assange

globinfo freexchange
On November, 23, WikiLeaks published an e-mail, sent by a member of an OPCW fact-finding mission to Syria to his superiors, in which he expresses his gravest concern over intentional bias introduced to a redacted version of the report he co-authored.
The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons sent a team of experts to investigate allegations that a chemical attack took place in the Syrian city of Douma on the 7th of April 2018. The author of the e-mail was a member of that team and claims the redacted preliminary version of the report, misrepresents the facts he and his colleagues discovered on the ground. The e-mail is dated 22nd of June. It is addressed to Robert Fairweather, Chief of Cabinet, and forwarded to his deputy Aamir Shouket and members of the fact-finding mission to Douma.  


In short, the OPCW whistleblower actually claims that the report has been somehow altered. And it was done in a way to fit the scenario, according to which, the Assa…

Mainstream media pro-Johnson propaganda gets into full swing

by Craig Murray
We are now under election broadcasting rules.

Ian Austin left the Labour Party nine months ago. He was then appointed by the Tories as Prime Ministerial Trade Envoy to Israel. As of yesterday, he is neither a MP nor a candidate for election. He is a minor politician who achieved only the most junior ministerial rank, PUSS, and for only seven months. He is best known for heckling Jeremy Corbyn while Jeremy Corbyn was delivering the official Labour response to the Chilcot Report on the illegal invasion of Iraq, shouting “Sit down and shut up” and “You stupid disgrace” at Corbyn for criticising the war.
We are now under election broadcasting rules. How and why was Ian Austin invited onto the BBC Radio 4 Today programme today? He left the Labour Party six months ago, and has been a huge critic of Corbyn. It is hardly a surprise that the Tory’s Trade Envoy to Israel advises people to vote Tory. So who initiated Ian Austin’s appearance on the BBC Today programme, and why? It…

LIVE: Bolivians resist military coup in La Paz

Fears for an assassination attempt against Evo Morales

BREAKING
Independent journalist, Ben Norton, tweeted that he has been informed about a possible assassination attempt against the Bolivian president Evo Morales. According to Norton:
          Sources are telling me they are afraid that Bolivia's elected President Evo Morales might be killed tonight in the right-wing coup.

Sources are telling me they are afraid that Bolivia's elected President Evo Morales might be killed tonight in the right-wing coup.

This is a full-fronted imperialist attack on democracy. It is a blatant attempt to recolonize Latin America and overthrow all efforts at progress. — Ben Norton (@BenjaminNorton) November 10, 2019
Updates

EU giving cover to the military coup that just took place in Bolivia. Neither the EU nor the US support democracy. The people of Bolivia already expressed their “democratic will” by re-electing Evo Morales. A right wing US-backed coup stole that from them, this is disgusting https://t.co/qamCSvYmz9— Rania Khalek (@RaniaKhalek)…

Οργανισμός Αμερικανικών Κρατών: Στην υπηρεσία της Ουάσινγκτον

του Ανδρέα Κοσιάρη
Ο Οργανισμός Αμερικανικών Κρατών, που εξέδωσε την έκθεση για την εκλογική αναμέτρηση στη Βολιβία, η οποία «δικαιολόγησε» το πραξικόπημα εναντίον του Έβο Μοράλες, είναι στη θεωρία ένας ουδέτερος οργανισμός κρατών. Στην πραγματικότητα όμως έχει μακρά ιστορία υποστήριξης των επεμβάσεων των ΗΠΑ στη Λατινική Αμερική, και σήμερα χρηματοδοτείται κατά πλειοψηφία από τα ταμεία του αμερικανικού κράτους. 
Παρά την ίδρυσή του το 1948 με σκοπό την «προώθηση της ειρήνης και τη διευθέτηση διαφωνιών μεταξύ των κρατών-μελών», ήταν μάλλον από την αρχή όργανο της αντικομμουνιστικής εξωτερικής πολιτικής των ΗΠΑ.

Ο ΟΑΚ υπήρξε σιωπηλός ή και στήριξε όλες ανεξαιρέτως τις αμερικανικές επεμβάσεις στη Λατινική Αμερική, είτε αυτές λάμβαναν τη μορφή εισβολής, όπως στην Κούβα το 1961, είτε τη μορφή στήριξης σε πραξικοπήματα και δικτατορικά καθεστώτα, όπως στη Χιλή το 1973 (και στην Αργεντινή, τη Βολιβία, τη Γουατεμάλα, τη Νικαράγουα, την Αϊτή, τον Παναμά, τη Βραζιλία, την Παραγουάη και τον Ισημ…

Nos oponemos al golpe

Declaración de Noam Chomsky y Vijay Prashad
En Bolivia se está gestando un golpe de Estado contra el gobierno electo liderado por Evo Morales. Sectores de la policía han dicho abiertamente que están dispuestos a permitir que grupos de milicias fascistas ataquen el palacio presidencial en La Paz. La situación es muy grave.

Evo Morales ha invitado a los cuatro principales partidos a sentarse y conversar sobre el camino a seguir para la democracia boliviana. Ha pedido el establecimiento de un diálogo para evitar el regreso de los días de las dictaduras militares y los gobiernos oligárquicos. Morales ha hecho un llamado a las Naciones Unidas, a la Organización de los Estados Americanos (OEA), al Vaticano y a otros más para que contribuyan a encontrar el camino para alejarse del golpe.

El golpe es promovido por la oligarquía boliviana que está enojada por la cuarta elección que sus partidos pierden frente el Movimiento al Socialismo. La oligarquía cuenta con el total apoyo del gobierno de los…

Here's why Bernie could end up being better than even FDR

globinfo freexchange

In his speeches, Bernie Sanders frequently refers to the 32nd president of the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR), and his New Deal program that helped millions of Americans after the 1929 Wall Street crash. Sanders and other progressives are proposing a similar program adjusted to the modern environmental challenges. The Green New Deal has now become a popular vision, especially among young Americans. Around it, the progressives are aiming to build a whole new model beyond destructive neoliberalism and even obsolete capitalism.

Many would argue that this is quite an extremely optimistic view. That Sanders is just an old-school moderate Social-Democrat who will only manage to revive some typical social policies of the past, and that's it. He will never manage to seriously challenge the current power structure, which, indeed, has grown enormously, controlling nearly every aspect of the political and economic life.

Yet Sanders already managed to achieve …

Bolivian UN ambassador: “racist elite” engineered coup to restore neoliberalism in Bolivia

Democracy Now!
Thousands marched across Bolivia Monday to demand the resignation of Jeanine Áñez, the right-wing senator who declared herself president of Bolivia last week after longtime socialist President Evo Morales resigned under pressure from the military. 
The coup d’état has thrown Bolivia into crisis, with violence across the country leaving at least 23 dead. On Friday, the military gunned down nine pro-Morales protesters outside Cochabamba, where indigenous people took to the streets again on Monday. Thousands more marched to the presidential palace in La Paz. 
The wave of protests are condemning the spike in anti-indigenous violence under interim President Áñez and demanding the return of Evo Morales. Áñez has a history of using racist, anti-indigenous language, and last week she issued a decree protecting the military from prosecution for violent acts and said that Morales would face prosecution if he returned to Bolivia. 
Morales is Bolivia’s first indigenous president, a…