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Allying with political Islam: The United States’ tactical alliances with Al Qaeda and its associates in Syria

Originally posted July 15, 2016
Updated July 18, 2016

By Stephen Gowans

Summary. The New York Times reported that the United States has refrained from systematically attacking Al Qaeda’s franchise in Syria because US-backed fighters coordinate and are enmeshed with the outfit. The newspaper also reported that the Pentagon had refrained in 2015 from attacking ISIS militants in and around the Syrian town of Palmyra in order to further the US foreign policy goal of regime change in Damascus. The United States has a long history of forming tactical alliances with political Islam to counter secular Arab nationalists, whom it views as inimical to its interests of dominating the Arab world, with its vast petroleum resources. Syria, whose constitution describes the country as “the beating heart of Arabism” and “bedrock of resistance against colonial hegemony on the Arab world,” is the last of the secular Arab nationalist states opposing US domination and control of the region.

The New York Times reported on July 14, 2016 that the United States "has refrained from systematic attacks against the Nusra Front" because US-backed fighters coordinate with the outfit. The United States has also refrained from attacking ISIS, for example, in and around Palmyra, in order to counter the Arab nationalist Syrian government, whose removal remains Washington's top priority in Syria.

The New York Times reported on July 14, 2016 that the United States “has refrained from systematic attacks against the Nusra Front” because US-backed fighters coordinate with the outfit. The United States has also refrained from attacking ISIS, for example, in and around Palmyra, in order to counter the Arab nationalist Syrian government, whose removal remains Washington’s top priority in Syria.

A frank discussion in a July 14, 2016 New York Times article [1] acknowledged that US irritation over the Kremlin’s military intervention in Syria has been prompted by Russia focussing its attacks on Al Qaeda’s franchise in Syria, the Nusra Front, an outfit Washington views as an ally of convenience in pursuit of its goal of toppling the pro-independence Arab nationalist Assad government, at the same time it props up client state dictatorships in Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Qatar, while robustly providing military, economic and diplomatic support to the settler regime in colonized Palestine. [2]

Unlike Russia, the United States “has refrained from systematic attacks against the Nusra Front,” the newspaper reported. That is because “United States-backed rebel groups often coordinate their activities” with Al Qaeda fighters, Times reporters Gardiner Harris and Anne Barnard wrote.

A myriad of articles in mainstream US newspapers, including the New York Times, have previously documented the existence of extensive combat coordination between al-Nusra and US-backed fighters, noting that so called “moderate” rebels are enmeshed with, cooperate with, are ideologically similar to, fight alongside of, coordinate with, share arms with, and operate under licence to, Al Qaeda in Syria. [3]

In fact, so highly integrated are US-backed fighters with Syrian Al Qaeda forces that Russian attacks on Nusra Front positions have amounted to attacks on US-proxies, raising objections from Washington, and denunciations of Moscow for what Washington says are actions to prop up the Syrian government rather than fight terrorists (creating a false narrative by implication that the forces on the ground acting to topple Arab nationalists in Damascus do not use terrorist methods.)

Yet, al-Nusra, the outfit the United States has refrained from systematically attacking, has been branded a terrorist organization by the United Nations Security Council. [4] The obvious implication is that if US-backed insurgents are fighting alongside of and coordinating with the terrorist Nusra Front, then they too are very likely using the same terrorist methods for which the Nusra fighters–with whom they’re enmeshed–have been condemned. This would explain why in 2013 US “President Obama waived a provision of (US) federal law designed to prevent the supply of arms to terrorist groups to clear the way for the U.S. to provide military assistance to ‘vetted’ groups fighting” the Syrian government. [5] Obama’s waving of the arms-to-terrorists ban amounts to a White House admission that the fighters it’s backing are terrorists.

Moreover, the Security Council’s resolution “Calls upon Member States… to redouble and coordinate their efforts to prevent and suppress terrorist acts committed specifically by (ISIS)…as well as (al-Nusra), and all other individuals, groups, undertakings, and entities associated with Al-Qaeda” (emphasis added). Clearly, the US-backed insurgents’ coordinating with, cooperating with, fighting alongside of, sharing arms with, and operating under license to, Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front, amounts to an association with the officially designated terrorist organization. The US-backed fighters, then, fall within the ambit of actions prescribed for UN member states by the Security Council. This means that not only is Washington not complying with the resolution, it is actively subverting it, by supporting individuals, groups, undertakings, and entities associated with Al Qaeda.

On July 14, US Secretary of State John Kerry met with Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss a proposed agreement which would see the two countries coordinate their attacks “to ensure that strikes aimed at Nusra do not hit United States-backed groups.”

The proposed accord worries some members of the US political establishment, who believe Kerry has agreed to commit US forces to attacking the Nusra Front, which they see as a highly effective weapon against the Syrian Arab Republic. Since Arab nationalist-removal, not terrorist-removal, remains Washington’s principal goal in Syria, attacking the Qaeda fighters would militate against achievement of a key US foreign policy objective, these critics contend.

The Atlantic Council, for example, a US-based think tank funded by wealthy individuals and foundations, major corporations, and the US government, warns that combined US-Russian attacks on the Nusra Front could “effectively end the Syrian opposition,” an admission that the insurgency in Syria is dominated by Al Qaeda’s foot soldiers.

That there is no significant semblance of moderation in Syria’s armed opposition is indicated by concerns in Washington that weakening Al Qaeda will “effectively end the Syrian opposition,” and worries within the US political establishment that Kerry’s agreement with Putin could lead the United States to a point where it is “under Russian pressure to attack other rebel groups, like the Army of Islam,” an ideological cognate of al-Nusra, which also seeks to replace Syria’s secular republic with an Islamic state under Sharia law.

Washington has created a false dichotomy between terrorists and rebels, and the dichotomy has been adopted uncritically by the New York Times. Reporters Harris and Barnard wrote that, “One of the great complications…is figuring out which groups should be considered rebels focused on ousting the Assad government — a goal the United States supports — and which are aligned with Al Qaeda or the Islamic State, organizations that Washington has designated as terrorist and has vowed to defeat.”

This draws a false distinction between rebels focused on ousting the Assad government (rebels who, it is implied, don’t use terrorist methods and aren’t committed to creating an Islamic state in Syria, though neither is true) and Al Qaeda and the Islamic State (who, Washington’s narrative implies, aren’t focussed on ousting the Assad government, which, of course, they are.) The reality is that Al Qaeda, ISIS, the Army of Islam, and a slew of other jihadist groups enmeshed with al-Nusra and backed by the United States do use terrorist methods, are focussed on ousting the Assad government, and do seek to create an Islamic state in its place. There is no dichotomy. When in 2012 the United States officially designated the Nusra Front a terrorist organization, “moderate” fighters launched a protest under the banner “We are all Jabhat al-Nusra,” [6] affirming the point.

As the veteran Middle East correspondent Patrick Cockburn wrote in 2014: The “Syrian military opposition is dominated by ISIS and by Jabhat al-Nusra… in addition to other extreme jihadi groups. In reality, there is no dividing wall between them and America’s supposedly moderate opposition allies.” [7]

Nusra Front is not the only UN Security Council-designated terrorist organization which the United States has been accused of refraining from attacking. Syrian president Bashar al-Assad has repeatedly argued that the United States is only managing ISIS—that is, attacking it enough to prevent it from threatening US oil interests in Iraq, but not so much that ISIS will be eliminated as a tool to counter secular Arab nationalists in Damascus. He cites as evidence the fact that ISIS continued to expand in Syria despite the United States leading a coalition of dozens of countries against the Al Qaeda break-away organization, and that Islamic States’ expansion was only halted and reversed when Russia intervened militarily in the country, with Damascus’s imprimatur. The United States, he concludes, lacks the political will to destroy ISIS, because the Islamist organization remains useful to Washington’s project of toppling the Syrian government. By contrast, Moscow, which doesn’t share Washington’s regime-change goal, has the political will to destroy ISIS, and therefore has been more effective against it. [8]

While it’s easy to dismiss Assad’s view as partial, it does resonate with mainstream Western sources. For example, on May 20, 2015, the New York Times’ Anne Barnard and Hwaida Saad reported that the United States refrained from attacking “Islamic State militants in and around Palmyra” in order “to avoid … aiding a leader whose ouster President Obama has called for.” [9] And the US Congressional Research Service has concluded that “US officials may be concerned that a more aggressive campaign against the Islamic State may take military pressure off the” Syrian government. [10]

Veteran Middle East correspondent Robert Fisk summed up the US-led coalition’s campaign against ISIS this way: “And so we went to war against Isis in Syria—unless, of course, Isis was attacking (the Syrian republic), in which case we did nothing at all…” [11]

“Many people do not realize that the United States has had a long history of flirting with political Islam,” writes scholar Mohammed Ayoob. That flirtation goes back to at least the 1950s when Washington enlisted “Saudi Arabia, the ‘fundamentalist’ kingdom par excellence” to help counter “Arab nationalism as the unifying force in the Arab world. American policy makers perceived Arab nationalist regimes, such as Egypt, Syria and Iraq…to be…inimical to American interests.” [12] Those interests included US control of the Arab world’s vast petroleum resources.

Washington has had considerable success in eliminating secular opposition to its hegemony in the Middle East and North Africa, the Mashriq and the Maghreb. Egypt has been co-opted; the Anglo-American 2003 invasion of Iraq eliminated that country’s Arab nationalists, who are now proscribed from holding positions in government; and Arab nationalists in Libya were swept away by a combined NATO-Islamist assault in 2011. Syria remains as the last redoubt of secular Arab nationalism. (The country’s constitution defines Syria as the “beating heart of Arabism” and “the bedrock of resistance against colonial hegemony on the Arab world and its capabilities and wealth.”) And Washington seems intent on relying on its hoary tactic of forming tactical alliances with jihadists to crush the opposition of secular nationalists to the region’s domination by the United States and its Western allies.

The United States has a troubled relationship with terrorism and terrorists. It has a long history of pursuing state-terrorist activities, defined as the deliberate politically motivated infliction of harm on non-combatants by a state, including fire bombings of German and Japanese cities during WWII; the nuclear annihilation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki; massive terror bombing campaigns, including napalm use, during the Korean War; the carpet bombing of Indochina; the deliberate destruction of civilian infrastructure during the first Gulf War and the 1999 air war on Yugoslavia; the 1990s sanctions of mass destruction against Iraqi civilians, which led to numberless deaths, reaching perhaps a million or more; the 2003 “shock and awe” campaign unleashed on Iraq, and on and on ad nauseam. This has been accompanied by temporary tactical alliances with non-state terrorists, including the mujahedeen in Afghanistan in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s, the forerunners of Al Qaeda; the contras in Nicaragua; and today, a tactical alliance with ISIS, al-Nusra, and support for al-Nusra-embeds in Syria.

The US priority in Syria is Arab nationalist-elimination, and not the elimination of Islamist terrorists, who remain useful to Washington in clearing away the last of the Arab nationalist state obstacles to total US hegemony over the Arab world.

Notes

1. Gardiner Harris and Anne Barnard, “John Kerry meets Vladimir Putin to discuss new Syria plan,” The New York Times, July 14, 2016.

2. Journalist and writer Max Blumenthal has referred to Israel as JSIL, the Jewish State in the Levant. While the allusion to ISIL is intended facetiously, it does call to mind certain important parallels between Israel and the Islamic State.

First, both are founded on religion and give priority to anyone who adheres to the right one. Zionists go further than Islamists in referring to their co-religionists as a people whereas Islamists refer to Muslims only as members of a community. There exist no Jewish people, in the original sense of people as a group sharing a common language and territory.

Second, both ISIL and JSIL were founded on terrorism, that of the former obvious, and requiring no elaboration; that of the later, mostly absent from public discourse, but scholarly documented, all the same. Jewish irregulars, led by Yitzhak Shamir and Menachem Begin, men who would later become prime ministers of the Jewish state, used terrorist methods against British Mandate authorities in Palestine, and against the indigenous Palestinians; in the first case, to compel the British to end their mandate and turn Palestine over to Jewish rule, and in the second, to drive Palestinians from their homes, to alter the demographic character of a future Jewish state in order to ensure it included a large majority of Jews.

Third, both are implacably opposed to Syrian Arab nationalism. ISIL opposes the Syrian republic because it is a secular state based on ethnic identity rather than an Islamic state based on religious identity. JSIL opposes the Syrian republic, because the latter insists that the settler state based on Jewish religious identity which was implanted by force and colonization on Arab territory be dismantled and the usurped territory it occupies be returned to its rightful owners and incorporated into a larger Arab secular state.

3. Jay Solomon, “U.S., Russia agree to implement Syria cease-fire,” The Wall Street Journal, February 22, 2016; Karen de Young, “U.S. Russia hold Syria cease-fire talks as deadline passes without action,” The Washington Post, February 19, 2016; Karen Zraick and Anne Barnard, “Syrian war could turn on the battle for Aleppo,” The New York Times, February 12, 2016; Farnaz Fassihi, “U.N. Security Council unanimously votes to adopt France’s counterterrorism resolution,” The Wall Street Journal, November 20, 2015; Sam Dagher, “Syria’s Bashar al-Assad Tries to Force the West to Choose Between Regime, Islamic State,” The Wall Street Journal, October 9, 2015; Anne Barnard and Michael R. Gordon, “Goals diverge and perils remain as U.S. and Turkey take on ISIS,” The New York Times, July 27, 2015; Sam Dagher, “Militants seize oil field, expand Syrian domain”, The Wall Street Journal, July 3, 2014.

4. “Security Council ‘Unequivocally’ Condemns ISIL Terrorist Attacks, Unanimously Adopting Text that Determines Extremist Group Poses ‘Unprecedented’ Threat,” United Nations, November 20, 2015, http://www.un.org/press/en/2015/sc12132.doc.htm

5. Joel Gehrke, “Updated: Obama waives ban on arming terrorists to allow aid to Syrian opposition,” Washington Examiner, September 15, 2013.

6. Mark Landler, Michael R. Gordon and Anne Barnard, “US will grant recognition to Syrian rebels,” The New York Times, December 11, 2012.

7. Belen Fernandez, “Book review: The Jihadis Return: ISIS and the New Sunni Uprising,” The Middle East Eye, September 3, 2014.

8. In a July 1, 2016 interview with Australian television Assad said: “Actually, we welcome any effort to fight terrorism in Syria, any effort, but this effort first of all should be genuine, not window-dressing like what’s happening now in northern Syria where 60 countries couldn’t prevent ISIS from expanding. Actually, when the Russian air support started, only at that time when ISIS stopped expanding.” “President al-Assad to SBS Australia: Western nations attack Syrian government openly and deal with secretly,” SANA, July 1, 2016.

9. “ISIS fighters seize control of Syrian city of Palmyra, and ancient ruins,” The New York Times, May 20, 2015.

10. Christopher M. Blanchard, Carla E. Humud Mary Beth D. Nikitin, “Armed Conflict in Syria: Overview and U.S. Response,” Congressional Research Service,” October 9, 2015.

11. Robert Fisk, “I read the Chilcot report as I travelled across Syria this week and saw for myself what Blair’s actions caused,” The Independent, July 7, 2016.

12. Mohammed Ayoob, The Many Faces of Political Islam: Religion and Politics in the Muslim World, The University of Michigan Press, 2011, p. 164.

Written by what's left

July 15, 2016 at 10:48 pm

Posted in Al Qaeda, ISIS, Islamism, Syria

Defiant Syria: On A Journey Through Syria, A Canadian Anti-War Activist Discovers The Country’s Resilient Spirit

July 8, 2016

By Stephen Gowans

Last April, veteran anti-war activist Ken Stone travelled to Syria as part of a seven person solidarity mission with the people of Syria, becoming one of the first tourists to visit liberated Palmyra. Stone recounts his trip in Defiant Syria: Dispatches from the Second International Tour of Peace to Syria.

The short book is part travelogue, part diatribe against those sections of the political left which reliably support US-led interventions in formerly colonized countries, and part trenchant critique of Canadian foreign policy in connection with Syria.

Defiant SyriaStone’s journey through Syria left him struck by the defiance of Syrians in the face of the immense challenges they’ve confronted and the struggles they’ve endured.

“I was surprised,” he writes, “at the resilience of the Syrian spirit. I expected to find Syrians depressed, exhausted, and pessimistic after five long years of war. Instead, they were full of life and defiance.”

Part of that defiance was expressed in the Syrian government insisting, over the objections of Western powers, on holding parliamentary elections in April, as mandated by Syria’s 2012 constitution, which was drafted and popularly ratified in response to the demands of the opposition in 2011.

Stone was in Damascus on the day of the election, and devotes a chapter of his book to the mechanics of parliamentary democracy in Syria and what he observed as Syrians went to the polls. He draws a contrast between the government controlled capital, where calm prevailed and residents were determined to cast their ballots, and nearby Ghouta, where “all kinds of foreign mercenaries hold the population hostage and in terror.”

I was struck, reading this, by another contrast. On top of parliamentary elections, Syrians elect their president, and the last presidential election in 2012 was open to multiple candidates. In contrast, there are no elections held in jihadist-controlled territories. The jihadists, not only ISIS and al Nusra, but many of the mislabelled “moderate rebels,” doted on by Western countries, and who are enmeshed with al-Nusra, view democracy as idolatry, and don’t favor it for the successor state they envision.

None of this has stopped the former NATO colonial powers from backing the democracy-adverse jihadists. Nor has it stopped Washington and its NATO allies from working with democracy-abominating Arab monarchies—which, by the way, were installed by the colonial powers—to bring down an elected government in Damascus whose guiding political philosophy is anti-colonialism and freedom from foreign interference.

Framed this way, it’s not difficult to see who the villains are in this piece, and what lies at the root of the war—not a revolutionary eruption of civil society for democracy but a reactionary eruption of former colonial powers, in alliance with Wahhabi-inspired Islam, for renewed domination of Syria.

If the claim about the United States and its allies forging an alliance with Sunni sectarian Islamists seems extreme, consider this: In March, the Wall Street Journal quoted Michael Oren, former Israeli ambassador to the United States, and now a member of the Israeli parliament, declaring that “If we had to choose between ISIS and Assad, we’ll take ISIS.”

Mainstream commentators, from journalists Robert Fisk and Patrick Cockburn of the Independent to Anne Barnard and Hwaida Saad of the New York Times, along with the United States’ own Congressional Research Service, have either described the US-led coalition’s fight against ISIS in Syria as largely symbolic or standing down when Islamic State attacks Syrian government forces. Washington is reluctant to stop ISIS from doing as much damage as it can in Syria, a form of collusion with the Wahhabi-inspired Sunni sectarians, in pursuit of a shared goal of ousting Assad, whose crime appears to be adherence to secular Arab nationalist goals of freedom from foreign interference, Arab unity, and socialism.

In a similar manner, British foreign secretary Philip Hammond, with an imperial arrogance befitting an official of the empire, told the New York Times last November that if al-Qaeda accepts the West’s conditions, it should be allowed to contribute to shaping Syria’s future, but not Assad, the elected president.

As for al Nusra, whose fighters are regularly patched up in Israeli hospitals and then sent back across the border to continue their fight against secularism and non-sectarianism, the New York Times and Wall Street Journal have run article after article noting that US-trained rebels are enmeshed with, cooperating with, ideologically similar to, sharing arms with, and embedded with the al Qaeda affiliate in Syria.

None of this is lost on Stone, who blames Washington, and its military alliance NATO, for Syria’s tribulations. A “cabal of mainly western NATO countries with the help of various Arab monarchs” has “recruited, trained, and coordinated” the insurgents, he writes. NATO’s sponsorship of jihadists—whom Stone calls terrorist mercenaries—is the root cause, in his view, of the chaos that plagues the country.

Stone argues that a direct line of causation can be traced from another aspect of the chaos of Syria to the West’s interventionist policies in the Middle East, namely, the refugee crisis in Europe. “It’s no accident,” he writes, “that the wave of refugees that has literally washed ashore on the coastlines of Southern Europe, dead and alive, is composed mostly of Syrians, Libyans, and Afghanis, precisely the victims of NATO military interventions in those three countries.”

The implications for how to resolve the refugee crisis are clear, says Stone. The “lesson is that, if you don’t want to turn millions of innocent civilians into refugees and subsequently find them at your frontiers, you should oppose military interventions in other countries.”

This should resonate with Canadians, whose government has agreed to settle 25,000 refugees from the war-torn country. It is “a fine humanitarian gesture,” Stone notes, but is “treating the symptom rather than the disease.” The “war could end in months,” he predicts, “if the predominantly NATO countries, who have organized the aggression against Syria” brought an end to “their support of the foreign mercenaries operating in that country and leaned on Turkey and Jordan to close their borders to them.”

Stone fulminates against “otherwise intelligent people” who’ve fallen for the myth that the Syrian insurgency is a democratic uprising of civil society against a brutal dictator, rather than a regime change operation sponsored by Washington and its satellites, in the pattern of Afghanistan, Iraq, Haiti, Honduras, Libya, and Somalia.

“It’s not as if Syria is the very first government targeted for regime change by the USA,” he writes. Still, “there is never a shortage of ‘leftists’ in the West who can be either bought or convinced through their incredible naïveté, warped political outlook, or Eurocentric arrogance, that the motives of the Empire are good,” he observes.

Stone reserves particular venom for an article that appeared in the September 2015 issue of The New Internationalist. A retired teacher colleague of Stone’s went out of his way to place a copy of the magazine, featuring the article “The forgotten revolution of Syria,” in Stone’s hands so he could read it in advance of his trip to Syria. Stone dismissed it as “shit.”

The Hamilton-based activist bids us to contrast “the hostile treatment with which the Canadian government unfairly treats the secular and pluralist Syrian government to the friendly treatment (including arms sales and an open invitation to fund mosques across Canada) it offers to the despotic and sectarian Saudi Arabian monarchy, the fountainhead of Wahhabi terrorism around the world.”

Stone also takes Ottawa to task for provide refuelling, reconnaissance, and transport aircraft services to the US-led Coalition, which violates Syria’s sovereignty by carrying out military operations in the country without the slightest regard for the wishes of Syrians or their elected government. This makes Canada “an accomplice, not directly involved in bombing Syria, but doing something akin to driving the getaway car rather than actually robbing the bank,” Stone observes.

The veteran leftist also faults the Canadian government for sending 800 Canadian military trainers to reinforce Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq. He argues that this is part of an effort to detach the pro-West Kurdish north completely from Iraq by making it militarily independent of Baghdad.

Stone left Syria sanguine about its future. Restaurants and nightclubs filled with people at night, Syrians singing patriotic songs, dancing, and making ambitious plans to reconstruct their lives—all of this imbued him with a spirit of optimism about a country whose people continue to defy Western machinations to undermine their right to choose their own government, guide their economy in their own way, and choose their own future.

Defiant Syria is available online as an e-book or in paper by sending an e-mail to the Hamilton Coalition to Stop the War at hcsw@cogeco.ca.

The book will be officially launched in Toronto on July 14. See here for details.

Amazon at https://www.amazon.ca/Defiant-Syria-Dispatches-Second-International-ebook/dp/B01HVGLIN8/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1467771916&sr=1-1&keywords=defiant+Syria

Kobo at https://store.kobobooks.com/en-us/ebook/defiant-syria-dispatches-from-the-second-international-tour-of-peace-to-syria

Itunes (Canada) at https://itunes.apple.com/ca/book/defiant-syria-dispatches-from/id1127601566?mt=11

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July 8, 2016 at 4:29 pm

Posted in Syria

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Pentagon working on plan to convert the Islamic State caliphate into a US-backed Syrian rebel redoubt

By Stephen Gowans

May 6, 2016

Washington is preparing to mount a campaign to transfer control of Syrian territory currently held by ISIS to rebels who operate under US influence, forming a rebel redoubt from which US proxies can continue to wage war on Damascus, and establishing the foundation of a US puppet state in Syria.

A key to US strategy is the artificial division of the conflict into a part to be resolved by military means, involving ISIS, and a part to be resolved through a political settlement, involving all other rebel formations. Nusra Front, the exception, is to be ignored, and rebranded. As Al-Qaeda’s Syria franchise, it can hardly be embraced openly by the United States, though there is evidence of its being equipped covertly by the CIA.

The designation of non-ISIS rebels as parties to a political settlement follows the shibboleth that the conflict, apart from ISIS’s role in it, cannot be resolved militarily. This may be true, but only because the non-ISIS rebels have been trained and armed by Western states and their regional allies and therefore have a military significance they would not otherwise possess. Damascus’s early efforts to arrive at a political settlement by lifting restrictions on political liberties and amending the constitution went nowhere. This is because the goal of the armed opposition is the replacement of a secular non-sectarian state with one based on a conservative Sunni interpretation of the Qur’an, and because the military backing of powerful Western and regional states offers no incentive for militant Islamists to compromise. At the same time, the reality that the Ba’athist government in Damascus hangs on despite the powerful international forces arrayed against it, speaks volumes about the strong public support it commands. Its political survival, in the fifth year of an open multi-national war against it, and more than a decade after Washington launched a covert program of regime change aimed at purging Ba’athist ideology from the Syrian state [1], would not be possible in the face of widespread opposition from the Syrian public.

US Special Forces are recruiting and equipping Sunni Arab fighters to capture Raqqa, the capital of ISIS’s caliphate. Once captured, the territory will likely remain in the hands of the US surrogates and almost certainly won't be returned to the legitimate Syrian government.

US Special Forces are recruiting and equipping Sunni Arab fighters to capture Raqqa, the capital of ISIS’s caliphate. Once captured, the territory will likely remain in the hands of the US surrogates and almost certainly won’t be returned to the legitimate Syrian government. Instead, it will form the core of a US-puppet regime in Syria.

The objective of sharply distinguishing between ISIS and other rebel organizations is to legitimize a US-led campaign against the former, and to undermine the legitimacy of the Syrian-Iranian-Russian-Hezbollah effort to defend the Syrian state and its loyalists against all other rebel forces, namely, those backed by the US and its allies. We are to believe that it is perfectly reasonable for the US to wage war on the sectarian, terrorist, ISIS, but that Damascus must negotiate a peace with ISIS’s sectarian, terrorist, ideological cousins.

It has been extensively reported in the leading US newspapers, and acknowledged by the US vice-president, that the Nusra Front is armed by US allies Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey. The same newspapers also frequently refer to Western backing of other rebel groups. These groups have been variously described by leading US journalists as working with, enmeshed with, cooperating with, fighting alongside of, and operating under license to Al-Qaeda’s Syrian franchise, and have been reported to share weapons with it [2]. Both Nusra and other non-ISIS rebel forces are ISIS’s ideological cognates, sharing its ultra-conservative, Saudi-inspired Islamist ideology, but rejecting the idea that a caliphate is the only legitimate form of government. Efforts to arm non-ISIS rebels are coordinated, according to The New York Times, by the CIA. [3] Putting two and two together, if US regional allies are equipping the Nusra Front, and the CIA is coordinating their efforts, then the CIA is arming the Qaeda franchise in Syria, on top of the other rebel groups which operate alongside of it. This likely accounts for why the CIA program is covert, while a parallel $500 million Pentagon program to train and equip rebels who had no ties to Al Qaeda, was not. That program was abandoned, after the Pentagon failed to recruit enough non-Qaeda aligned fighters. [4]

The Syrian government is asked to accept a political dialogue with non-ISIS rebels and to enter into cease-fire agreements with them, while at the same time the United States is to be left free to pursue, with its allies, a military campaign against ISIS—one that involves the injection of Western special forces into Syrian territory and therefore an illegal violation of Syrian sovereignty. That campaign, which is now underway, involves several hundred Western military personnel operating on the ground to recruit and equip Sunni Arab fighters to capture territory in Syria that is now held by ISIS.

It would appear that the strategy has two goals.

• To expand Syrian territory under the control of US proxy forces by capturing territory currently held by ISIS. Once captured, it will be held by US proxies.
• To stop further gains by Syrian-Iranian-Russian and Hezbollah forces against US-backed Islamists by insisting on the cessation of hostilities against them and political dialogue.

As the Syrian government engages in fruitless talks with Western-backed Islamist militants, a US-controlled rebel redoubt will be established in eastern Syria, from which the war on Damascus will continue to be prosecuted. The dialogue is fruitless because the rebels, and their paymasters, are implacably opposed to compromise. Anyone who believes that Washington is honestly trying to foster a peace in Syria (except on its own terms, namely, only if Ba’athist ideology is irrevocably effaced from the halls of power in Damascus) is deluded. Imperialists, as Mao observed, do not lay down their butcher knives to become Buddhists.

In the meantime, Nusra Front will operate under a variety of different names. Indeed, it appears, given the extensive inter-penetration of Western-backed rebels with the Qaeda franchise in Syria, that it already does. This meshes with head of US intelligence James Clapper’s admission that “moderate” means nothing more than “not ISIS” [5]; which is to say, it denotes nothing about a group’s aims or methods, and serves the propaganda function of connoting “good.” “Moderate” rebels, we are to understand, are “good” rebels, even though their aims and methods may be largely indistinguishable from those of ISIS and the Qaeda Syrian franchise they are enmeshed with.

The US can fight rebels, but the Syrian army must pursue a political settlement with them

“The White House,” according to The Wall Street Journal, “has said a political resolution in Syria is ultimately required to resolve the conflict there and to defeat ISIS, which opposes the (government) of President Bashar al-Assad.” [6] ISIS also opposes the Abadi government in Iraq, the Sisi dictatorship in Egypt, and the Saudi dictatorship on the Arabian Peninsula, but the White House isn’t calling for a political resolution in these states. Doing so would open itself to criticism that it is counselling capitulation to terrorism, a stance it would never adopt in dealing with terrorist threats to itself or its puppets but is prepared to adopt to eliminate a government in Syria that, unlike the Iraqi, Egyptian and Saudi regimes, insists on freedom from Western domination.

Privileging local populations over US corporations is a form of lese-majesty against US global primacy. The Ba’athists’ transgressions on the reigning hegemon’s ideology of globalization, a by-word for Americanization, is confirmed in Assad’s insistence that, “Syria is an independent state working for the interests of its people, rather than making the Syrian people work for the interests of the West.” [7] The US State Department complains that Syria has “failed to join an increasingly interconnected global economy” and is aggrieved that “ideological reasons” continue to prevent the Assad government from liberalizing Syria’s economy. The Wall Street Journal and Heritage Foundation lament that Damascus “dominates many areas of economic activity, and…marginalizes the private sector,” while the U.S. Library of Congress country study of Syria refers to “the socialist structure of the government and economy.” [8] The motto of the governing Ba’ath Party, unity (of the Arab nation), liberty (from foreign domination), and socialism, is light years from the motto Washington would prefer states emblazon on their banners. We embrace atomism, welcome foreign investment, apotheosize capitalism, and are open to US military bases on our territory, is more along the lines of a motto a good member of the “international community” is expected to adopt. You need know little more than the foregoing to understand why Washington insists that Assad and his fellow Ba’athists step down.

For counselling compromise with terrorists, Washington has not been lashed by criticism. Under other circumstances, it would be. But then, the United States has a complicated relationship with terrorism. Terrorism is the use of violence against civilians for political purposes. While Washington is one of the most vociferous opponents of the practice, it is also one of its most ardent practitioners. The atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, militarily insignificant cities, are egregious examples of terrorism on a grand scale. The terror bombings of German and Japanese civilians during WWII by conventional means, including the fire-bombings of Dresden, Hamburg and Tokyo, aimed at undermining civilian morale, are equally egregious examples of US terrorism in practice. NATO’s terror bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999 is a more recent case. U.S. Air Force Lt. General Michael Short’s explanation of the objectives of the 1999 U.S.-led NATO air war on the former Yugoslavia fits the definition of terrorism to a tee. “If you wake up in the morning and you have no power to your house and no gas to your stove and the bridge you take to work is down and will be lying in the Danube for the next 20 years, I think you begin to ask, ‘Hey, Slobo (a reference to the country’s leader at the time, Slobodan Milosevic)? How much more of this do we have to withstand?’” [9] The United States has also used terrorists to advance its foreign policy goals in Afghanistan against secular modernizers supported by the Soviet Union and in Cuba against the communist government in Havana, to name but two cases. Countless more could be adduced. On the other hand, Washington opposes terrorism strenuously when it is used against the United States. In this vein, ISIS is both a useful US foreign policy tool in weakening the Syrian state but at the same time an enemy in threatening the US-allied Abadi, Sisi and Saud regimes, and in challenging US domination of the Arab and Muslim worlds.

Conquering the caliphate

US Special Forces are recruiting and equipping Sunni Arab fighters to capture Raqqa, the capital of ISIS’s caliphate. So far they’ve recruited 6,000 fighters, and about 12,000 are being vetted. [10] The Pentagon has dispatched 250 military personnel to Syria, augmenting 50 who were already there. US allies have also sent special operations forces to Syria, to do “exactly the same thing,” according to US defense secretary Ash Carter. [11]

The introduction of Western ground forces into Syria is an illegal violation of Syrian sovereignty. This has been pointed out by Damascus, Moscow and Tehran, but Western countries, whose state officials are in the habit of sanctimoniously delivering sermons on the rule of law, hypocritically ignore it whenever it suits their purposes. International law is a spider’s web in which to entangle the weak, while the strong merely push through it, their chauvinist and complaisant mass media glossing over the crime.

An ulterior motive

If the United States’ only goal in waging war against ISIS was the organization’s elimination, it would have seized the opportunity to coordinate with Russian forces once Moscow entered the fray, in order to multiply the force of the campaign against the hyper-sectarian Islamist organization, and to hasten its quietus. Instead, Washington let the opportunity pass. More importantly, it would have teamed up with the Syrian army, the single biggest force fighting ISIS.

ISIS cannot be eliminated by air power alone; ground forces are essential. And so, the United States has undertaken to train and equip Sunni Arab fighters to fill the role. The United States has disdained any cooperation with the Syrian army, even though it could readily defeat ISIS with the assistance of US air power. On the contrary, Washington has deliberately refrained from taking steps to weaken the notorious Sunni Arab terrorist group, hoping that continued pressure from the Al-Qaeda offshoot would etiolate the Syrian army and, as a consequence, pressure the Ba’athists in Damascus to step down. [12] That Washington hasn’t taken the obvious route to the elimination of ISIS suggests that defeating the caliphate is not its primary goal. Instead, it has a higher objective and ulterior motive: the transfer of Syrian territory now in the hands of ISIS to biddable US surrogates.

US plan adumbrated

The Wall Street Journal sketched out how the United States will carry on its war against the Syrian state. [13] Reading between the lines, the war will be pursued under the guise of eliminating ISIS, and while this will be the immediate outcome of the war if the campaign is successful, the ultimate objective will be the conquest of Syrian territory held by the caliphate. The war will be pursued on the ground by Sunni Arab fighters trained and equipped by the special operations forces of the United States and its allies. US proxies on the ground—the Sunni Arab fighters recruited and equipped by the Pentagon—will capture territory currently held by ISIS, backed by US air strikes. Once captured, the territory will remain in the hands of the US surrogates. It will not be returned to the legitimate Syrian government, a point that will be overlooked in the celebration of ISIS’s defeat. Instead, it will become a base from which a continuing war will be waged against the pro-independence, secular, non-sectarian, socialist-oriented Syrian state. The conquered territory will be given a high-sounding name, likely conceived and vetted by a high-priced US PR firm, such as Free Syria or the Free Syrian Republic. It will not, however, be free from US domination, or free to put the interests of the local population above those of Washington and Wall Street, or free to foster Arab unity, pursue socialism, or aid Palestinians in their quest for self-determination. It will, however, be free to fill the coffers of Western banks and corporations, free to buy arms from Western weapons manufacturers, free to invite the Pentagon to establish military bases on its territory, free to allow the State Department to meddle in its internal affairs, and free to accept as legitimate the Zionist conquest of Arab territory. In short, it will be free to surrender its sovereignty and join the US empire.

1. Craig Whitlock, “US secretly backed Syrian opposition groups, cables released by Wikileaks show,” The Washington Post, April 17, 2011.

2. Stephen Gowans, “US Plan B for Syria: Give Al-Qaeda More Powerful Weapons,” what’s left, April17, 2016.

3. Mark Mazzetti and Matt Apuzzo, “U.S. relies heavily on Saudi money to support Syrian rebels,” The New York Times, January 23, 2016.

4. Robert Fisk, “David Cameron, there aren’t 70,000 moderate fighters in Syria—and whosever heard of a moderate with a Kalashnikov anyway?” The Independent, November 29, 2015.

5. James Clapper: US Director of Intelligence: http://www.cfr.org/homeland-security/james-clapper-global-intelligence-challenges/p36195

6. Carol E. Lee, “Political unrest tests U.S. influence in Iraq,” The Wall Street Journal, May 2, 2016.

7. Stephen Gowans, “Syria, The View From The Other Side,” what’s left, June 22, 2013.

8. Stephen Gowans, “The ‘Anti-Imperialist’ Who Got Libya Wrong Serves Up The Same Failed Analysis on Syria,” what’s left, January 23, 2016.

9. “What this war is really about,” The Globe and Mail, May 26, 1999.

10. Paul Sonne, “U.S. seeks Sunni forces to take militant hub,” The Wall Street Journal, April 29, 2016.

11. Gordon Lubold and Adam Entous, “U.S. to send 250 additional military personnel to Syria,” The Wall Street Journal, April 24, 2016.

12. Stephen Gowans, “What US Congress Researchers Reveal About Washington’s Designs on Syria,” what’s left, February 9, 2016.

13. Paul Sonne and Julian E. Barnes, “U.S. Cites Better Intelligence for Stepped-Up Airstrikes on Islamic State,” the Wall Street Journal, May 2, 2016.

Written by what's left

May 4, 2016 at 10:19 pm

Posted in Al Qaeda, ISIS, Syria

Tagged with , ,

US Plan B for Syria: Give Al-Qaeda More Powerful Weapons

April 17, 2016

By Stephen Gowans

According to the Wall Street Journal [1], Washington has a Plan B for Syria. If the UN-mediated Geneva talks between the Syrian government and foreign-backed opposition fail to bring about the resignation of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad (i.e., the regime change in Syria the United States wants) Washington will “up the ante” by equipping al-Qaeda-linked Islamist rebels with more powerful weapons than the CIA, and Washington’s regional allies, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar, have already given them. The new weapons would place in the hands of so-called moderate rebels—Islamists who cooperate with, fight alongside of, are enmeshed with, share equipment with, and operate under license to, al-Qaeda’s franchise in Syria, the Nusra Front—the means to attack Syrian aircraft and artillery. In effect, “upping the ante” would amount to funnelling more powerful weapons to al-Qaeda—an organization Washington claims to be fighting a war on terror against—using the misleadingly labelled “moderate” rebels as an arms conduit.

Syrian rebels 1There are no “moderate” rebels in Syria. “Moderate” is a term of deception used by Washington to sanitize its collusion with al-Qaeda and other Islamists and to foster the appearance of US intervention on the side of the angels. Because Washington can’t give weapons directly to al-Qaeda’s Syrian franchise—a group it officially designated as a terrorist organization after it unleashed a string of suicide bombings in Syria, including against civilians [2]—it delivers arms indirectly through allied Islamists groups it dishonestly calls “moderates,” with the mainstream media actively participating in the deception by aping Washington’s use of the term.

As early as 2012, the US Defense Intelligence Agency concluded that the armed opposition in Syria was dominated by ultra-conservative Sunni jihadists, along with the Muslim Brotherhood (which has had a long history of violent insurrection in Syria to overthrow what it sees as the “infidel” and “apostate” non-sectarian secular government in Damascus, and AQI (al-Qaeda in Iraq, forerunner of Nusra Front and Islamic State.) [3] Even the Free Syrian Army, touted in the early days of the war by Western media as a secular, moderate group sharply differentiated from the jihadists, in reality hardly lived up to the carefully crafted image bestowed upon it by Western PR specialists to garner the support of Western public opinion. In December 2012, the New York Times’ Michael R. Gordon and Anne Barnard reported that not only did the Free Syrian Army coordinate with al-Qaeda fighters in Syria, it included groups with similar ideologies—that is, with ideologies similar to that of Osama bin Laden. [4] When in 2012 the United States officially designated al-Nusra a terrorist organization, “moderate” fighters launched a protest under the banner “We are all Jabhat al-Nusra.” [5]

Moderates, in the form of secular armed forces, or comprising fighters whose aim is not a constitution based on a conservative Sunni interpretation of the Qur’an, but on democratic principles, are virtually absent, a “fantasy” as US president Barack Obama has called them. [6] With no ready-made secular democratic force on which to build an armed opposition to the Syrian government that would be acceptable to Western populations, the United States tried to manufacture one, not once, not twice, but three times, according to Joshua Landis, a specialist on Syria. Each attempt ended in spectacular failure. [7] The Pentagon abandoned a $500 million program to recruit and train 3,000 “moderate” rebels after managing to graduate only 54 fighters. [8] Obama would tell New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman that the idea that there was ever a moderate opposition that was going to overthrow Assad and fight Islamic state “if we just sent a few arms is a fantasy.” [9]

latuff-syrian-rebels47According to US Director of Intelligence, James Clapper, “moderate these days is increasingly becoming anyone who’s not affiliated with ISIL.” [10] Hence, inasmuch as the armed opposition is largely, if not wholly, comprised of ultra-conservative Sunni Muslims, and has been since at least 2012—one rebel leader said the Western concept of secularist Syrian rebel is misguided [11]—“moderate” means a jihadist—just not one who holds an Islamic State membership card. This would include the Nusra Front. Indeed, attempts have been made to label al-Qaeda’s Syrian franchise a “moderate” fighting group through rebranding, replacing its name with the Army of Conquest (also Victory Army and Jaish al-Fatah) and then declaring the newly named group “moderate.” (Al-Nusra, or Nusra Front, in fact, is also a rebranding of al-Qaeda.)

That the Army of Conquest is simply a new cloak for al-Qaeda is a reality that’s not difficult to uncover. Supported by US allies Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar, the Army of Conquest “is led by al-Nusra Front…and by the ideologically similar Ahrar al Sham,” according to veteran Middle East correspondent Patrick Cockburn [12]; is built “around al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham, well armed and supported by the region’s Sunni states,” according to Syria specialists Joshua Landis and Steven Simon, writing in the unofficial magazine of the US State Department, Foreign Affairs [13]; “is an alliance of insurgent groups that includes the al-Nusra Front, al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, and the hard-line Islamist group Ahrar al-Sham,” according to the Voice of America, the US government’s official propaganda arm [14]; and is a “rebel alliance in which Nusra plays an indispensable role,” according to the Wall Street Journal’s Yaroslav Trofimov [15].

It’s also clear that al-Qaeda’s idea of moderation leaves much to be desired. As part of its attempt to rebrand itself as moderate, the jihadist group has said that it would not automatically massacre people it sees as infidels, such as Syria’s Alawites, Druze and Christians, but would exercise moderation by allowing them to convert to ultra-conservative Saudi Wahhabi-inspired Islam. [16]

Syrian rebel 4The other significant player in the Army of Conquest, Ahrar al-Sham, is an al-Qaeda clone, according to Cockburn, which would make it a clone of al-Nusra itself. [17] The Wall Street Journal’s Nour Malas reports that the organization espouses “an ultraconservative Salafist brand of Islam and feature(s) political agendas and anti-Shiite sectarian rhetoric” and fights “alongside Nusra Front.” [18] In other words, Ahrar al-Sham is al-Nusra in all but name. Still, US secretary of state John Kerry calls the al-Qaeda clone “moderate” because it’s not ISIS or al-Nusra, extending Clapper’s definition of what a moderate is to any Sunni jihadist group that has yet to be designated a terrorist organization, regardless of whether it uses terrorist methods or not, or has the same goals as those that do. “I don’t want to categorize people except hard core like the Nusra Front and the Islamic State,” Kerry said, [19] revealing that the label “moderate” is meaningless and strictly serves a political function of concealing the true nature of the groups Washington has allied itself with in Syria. Ahrar al-Sham’s veridical nature as a violent Islamist organization of the al-Qaeda type hasn’t stopped Kerry from giving it his seal of approval or European diplomats from meeting with its political officers. [20]

Not only are the “moderates” ideologically similar to al-Qaeda, if not direct clones, they are part of the al-Qaeda nexus in all but name. As early as 2012, the paragon moderate rebel group, the Western-backed Free Syrian Army, was reported by the New York Times’ Tim Arango and Anne Barnard to have been working closely with al-Nusra. Not only that, FSA members expressed admiration for the al-Qaeda franchise. [21] Echoing the Times, the Wall Street Journal reported that the Western-backed rebel group cooperated with al-Qaeda in Syria. [22] Indeed, the conclusion drawn by Cockburn that “there is no dividing wall between” ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra “and America’s supposedly moderate opposition allies” [23] is underscored almost daily in the leading US newspapers.

• “Many of the anti-Assad groups aligned with the United States fight alongside the Nusra Front.” New York Times, February 23, 2016 [24].
• “Nusra Front…fights alongside both Western-backed and Islamist rebels.” Wall Street Journal, February 22, 2016 [25].
• Nusra Front “forces are intermingled with moderate rebel groups.” Washington Post, February 19, 2016 [26].
• “The rebel groups that the West considers relatively moderate are … intertwined in places with the Nusra Front.” New York Times, February 12, 2016 [27].
• “Al-Nusra has fought alongside rebel units which the U.S. and its regional allies have backed.” Wall Street Journal, November 20, 2015 [28].
• “CIA-backed Free Syrian army factions and extremist elements such as Nusra Front and Ahrar al Sham…have been collaborating.” Wall Street Journal, October 9, 2015 [29]
• “…insurgents who have been trained covertly by the Central Intelligence Agency…are enmeshed with or fighting alongside more hard-line Islamist groups, including the Nusra Front, Al Qaeda’s Syria affiliate.” New York Times, July 27, 2015 [30]
• “Some of the same groups being backed by Washington are liaising and cooperating with the Nusra Front.” Wall Street Journal, July 3, 2014 [31]

Aligned with, fighting alongside of, liaising with, intermingled with, intertwined with, collaborating with, enmeshed with, cooperating with: In how many ways is it possible to say that the “moderate” rebels backed by the United States and its allies are part of an alliance dominated by al-Qaeda and its offshoot Islamic State—that they are nothing more than al-Qaeda’s foot soldiers?

“U.S. officials said the CIA has trained and equipped nearly 10,000 fighters sent into Syria over the past several years.” [32] In view of the reality that the moderates are mislabelled Islamists who are a part of an al-Qaeda-led alliance and that they “fight under license” to al-Nusra and Islamic State, as Cockburn reports, [33] who has the CIA been training and equipping over the past several years? The answer is clear: al-Qaeda-led jihadists. As Assad observes, “If Obama said the moderate opposition is fantasy, so who do you send the money and armaments to? Reality. You don’t send to the fantasy, you send it to the reality, and the reality are the extremists.” [34]

Hence, the idea that there exist in Syria secular moderates who follow the traditions of the Enlightenment is a con, designed to appeal to Western publics who are more likely to back efforts to aid secular democrats than al-Qaeda-led jihadists. British prime minister David Cameron claimed improbably—to hoots of well deserved derision—that there are 70,000 moderate fighters in Syria, which is indeed true if, like Humpty Dumpty, Cameron uses words to mean whatever he chooses them to mean. He probably meant, moderate fighters are whoever the West and its allies train and equip, regardless of the groups’ ideologies and methods.

Politicians and corporations are no strangers to this sort of definitional legerdemain. The Obama administration insists there are no more than 3,870 US troops in Iraq. Others say there are as many as 5,000. Who’s right? It depends of what definition of “in Iraq” you accept—the commonsense one, or Obama’s. If the number of US troops in Iraq at this moment is simply tallied, then, there are in the vicinity of 5,000 US military personnel in the country. On the other hand, if you mean what Obama, following Humpty Dumpty, means, then, there are indeed 3,870 US troops in Iraq. The key here is to understand that the US president defines “troops in Iraq” as US military personnel in the country minus those rotated in on a temporary basis. [35] The same principle would apply were it claimed that there are no US troops in Iraq, by defining US military personnel as all active US soldiers operating between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers who are over the age of 65. In other words, one can define “troops in Iraq” in whichever way one wants—and Obama does. The same definitional stratagem is used to deceive Western publics into believing that their governments back secular fighters in Iraq who thirst for democracy, by defining the word “moderate,” which everyone believes to mean one thing, and which connotes something desirable, to mean something entirely different, without disclosing the fact that the word is being used in a singular way.

Veteran Middle East correspondent Robert Fisk had challenged Cameron’s claim that there are tens of thousands of moderate fighters in Syria, putting the number at closer to 70, on par with the complement of about four dozen moderates the Pentagon was able to recruit despite a $500 million budget that would have been the envy of Croesus. [36]

The US plan, then, to up the ante if the Geneva talks fail to produce a political transition in Syria (i.e., Washington’s desired goal of regime change) by equipping al-Qaeda-led “moderate” rebels with more powerful weapons is a scheme to strengthen al-Qaeda’s Syrian franchise militarily. If it is not already clear that rebel groups will pass on US-supplied arms to the al-Qaeda franchise they are enmeshed with, cooperate with, fight alongside of, liaise with, and are ideological similar to, if not clones of, consider this: The rebel group Division 13, which received aid from the United States [37], “had a tacit collaboration with Nusra and even shared with the group some of its ammunition supplies,” according to the Wall Street Journal. [38]

Syrian rebels 2Still, concern that Western-backed rebels may act as an arms conduit to al-Qaeda if Washington carries through on its Plan B ought to go further. Shouldn’t we object just as strenuously to the arming of the so-called “moderates” themselves, since they are virtual replicas of al-Qaeda? They are ideologically similar to, if not clones, of the Sunni Islamist organization, and like al-Nusra, practice sectarian violence and are animated by an intolerant, ultra-conservative Saudi Wahhabi-inspired Islam which they aspire to make the constitutional foundation of a Syrian state. As if to underscore the similarities, in 2012, the West’s “moderate” jihadist darlings declared that “We are all Jabhat al-Nusra.” Arming the “moderates,” then, is equal in effect and principle to arming al-Qaeda. Washington and its allies, including the reactionary Gulf monarchies, have already accoutred al-Qaeda-led jihadists with weapons in Syria, and are now threatening to up the ante by giving their Islamist proxies even more deadly arms if they don’t get their way at the Geneva talks, visiting even more misery, bloodshed and terror than they have already done on Syria.

Washington cares not one iota for the welfare of the residents of this hapless country, long savaged by Western imperialism. On the contrary, it is willing to spill rivers of Syrian blood and foment sectarian terror, through its al-Qaeda-led proxies, in order to overthrow a government that insists on charting its own course to meet its people’s needs in their own way. This is the outcome of the United States’ imperialist project to secure a self-assigned “leadership” position in the Middle East, which is to say, to deny the region’s people the right to determine their own lives and future. Fortunately for humanity, but unfortunately for the US elite, on whose behalf the US imperial project pivots, the targets of imperialist eruptions have often felt it better to fight than to submit, Syrians no less so than the long string of heroes in the service of human progress who have resisted programs of exploitation by fighting back.

1. Adam Entous, “U.S. readies ‘Plan B’ to arm Syria rebels,” The Washington Post, April 12, 2016.

2. C.J. Chivers, “Life with Syria’s rebels in a cold and cunning war”, The New York Times, August 20, 2012; Ben Hubbard, “Islamist rebels create dilemma on Syria policy”, The New York Times, April 27, 2013; J. David Goodman and Nick Cuming-Bruce, “Syria bars 17 Western diplomats and allows increased aid agency presence”, The New York Times, June 5, 2012.

3. http://www.judicialwatch.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/Pg.-291-Pgs.-287-293-JW-v-DOD-and-State-14-812-DOD-Release-2015-04-10-final-version11.pdf

4. Michael R. Gordon and Anne Barnard, “US places militant Syrian rebel group on list of terrorist organizations,’ The New York Times, December 10, 2012

5. Mark Landler, Michael R. Gordon and Anne Barnard, “US will grant recognition to Syrian rebels,” the New York Times, December 11, 2012.

6. Thomas L. Friedman, “Obama on the world,” the New York Times, August 8, 2014.

7. Patrick Cockburn, “Britain is on the verge of entering into a long war in Syria based on wishful thinking 6and poor information,” The Independent, December 1, 2015

8. Eric Schmitt and Ben Hubbard, “U.S. revamping rebel force fighting ISIS in Syria,” The New York times, September 6, 2015.

9. Patrick Cockburn, “Syria conflict: Turkish threats of intervention after Ankara bombing taken seriously by Barack Obama,” The Independent, February 20, 2016.

10. James Clapper: US Director of Intelligence: http://www.cfr.org/homeland-security/james-clapper-global-intelligence-challenges/p36195

11. Nour Malas, “Islamists gain momentum in Syria,” The Wall Street Journal, February 27, 2013.

12. Patrick Cockburn, “Saudi Arabia intervening in the Syrian civil war would risk Russian wrath,” The Independent, February 11, 2016.

13. Joshua Landis and Steven Simon, “Assad has it his way: The peace talks and after,” Foreign Affairs, January 19, 2016.

14. Glen Greenwald, “BBC protects UK’s close ally Saudi Arabia with incredibly dishonest and biased editing,” The Intercept, October 26, 2015.

15. Yaroslav Trofimov, “To US allies, Al Qaeda affiliate in Syria becomes the lesser evil,” The Wall Street Journal, June 11, 2015.

16. Patrick Cockburn, “Syrian conflict: Al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front abduct leader of US-backed rebels dealing blow to plans to build moderate opposition to regime,” The Independent, July 30, 2015.

17. Patrick Cockburn, “Egypt plane crash: This attack shows that Russia is hurting ISIS,” Independent. November 7, 2015.

18. Nour Malas, “Terrorist designation beleaguers Syria talks,” The Wall Street Journal, February 10, 2016.

19. David E. Sanger, “John Kerry adds voice to those urging bigger push against Islamic State in Syria,” The New York Times, November 23, 2015.

20. Ben Hubbard, “In Syria, potential ally’s Islamist ties challenge US,” The New York Times, August 25, 2015.

21. Tim Arango, Anne Barnard and Hwaida Saad, “Syrian rebels tied to al Qaeda play key role in war,” The New York Times, December 8, 2012.

22. Maria Abi-Habib, “Al Qaeda emissary in Syria killed by rival Islamist rebels,’ Wall Street Journal, February 23, 2014.

23. Belen Fernandez, “Book review: The Jihadis Return: ISIS and the New Sunni Uprising,” The Middle East Eye, September 3, 2014.

24. Neil Mac Farquhar, “Questions linger over Russia’s endgame in Syria, Ukraine and Europe,” The New York Times, February 23, 2016.

25. Jay Solomon, “U.S., Russia agree to implement Syria cease-fire,” The Wall Street Journal, February 22, 2016.

26. Karen de Young, “U.S. Russia hold Syria cease-fire talks as deadline passes without action,” The Washington Post, February 19, 2016.

27. Karen Zraick and Anne Barnard, “Syrian war could turn on the battle for Aleppo,” The New York Times, February 12, 2016.

28. Farnaz Fassihi, “U.N. Security Council unanimously votes to adopt France’s counterterrorism resolution,” The Wall Street Journal, November 20, 2015.

29. Sam Dagher, “Syria’s Bashar al-Assad Tries to Force the West to Choose Between Regime, Islamic State,” The Wall Street Journal, October 9, 2015.

30. Anne Barnard and Michael R. Gordon, “Goals diverge and perils remain as U.S. and Turkey take on ISIS,” The New York Times, July 27, 2015.

31. Sam Dagher, “Militants seize oil field, expand Syrian domain”, The Wall Street Journal, July 3, 2014.

32. Greg Miller and Karen De Young, “Secret CIA effort in Syria faces large funding cut,” the Washington Post, June 12, 2015.

33. Patrick Cockburn, “Britain is on the verge of entering into a long war in Syria based on wishful thinking and poor information,” The Independent, December 1, 2015.

34. President al-Assad to Portuguese State TV: International system failed to accomplish its duty… Western officials have no desire to combat terrorism, SANA, March 5, 2015.

35. William McGurn, “Obama hides his Iraq war,” the Wall Street Journal, April 11, 2016.

36. Robert Fisk, “David Cameron, there aren’t 70,000 moderate fighters in Syria—and whosever heard of a moderate with a Kalashnikov anyway?”, The Independent, November 29, 2015.

37. Dion Nissenbaum, Nathan Hodge, and Sam Dagher, “U.S. rebukes Russia over Syria strikes,” The Wall Street Journal, September 30, 2015.

38. Sam Dagher, “Al Qaeda affiliate attacks Western-backed Syria rebels,” The Wall Street Journal, March 13, 2016.

Written by what's left

April 17, 2016 at 3:19 pm

Posted in Al Qaeda, Islamism, Syria

Tagged with , , ,

Zionism, Genocide and the Colonial Tradition in Contemporary Syria

April 2, 2016

By Stephen Gowans

ISIS “is genocidal by self-proclamation, by ideology, and by actions.” – US Secretary of State, John Kerry. [1]

“If we had to choose between ISIS and Assad, we’ll take ISIS.” – Former Israeli ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, now a member of Israel’s Knesset. [2]

The International Association of Genocide Scholars has accused ISIS of carrying out a genocide against Shiite Muslims, as well as Yazidis and Kurds in the Middle East. The Knights of Columbus has expressed concern about the militant Sunni organization’s efforts to expunge Christians from its Caliphate in Syria and Iraq. And US Secretary of State John Kerry has denounced ISIS for its genocidal nature, expressed, he says, “in what it says, what it believes, and what it does.” [3] And yet, if given a choice between ISIS and Assad, Israel—a state which liberally invokes the Nazi anti-Jewish genocide to justify its existence—would take ISIS. At least, that’s what former Israeli ambassador to the United States and Knesset member, Michael Oren, says, and his view appears to be in the mainstream of Israeli strategic thought. Shimon Peres, when he was Israel’s president, anticipated Oren. He said he hoped the Syrian rebels—dominated by Al Qaeda and its progeny—would win. [4]

Al Qaeda’s official branch in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra, controls the Syrian border with Israel [5], and along the Golan Heights, the Israeli military coordinates with the Qaeda militants. [6] Israeli military forces talk of having arrived at “an understanding” with a group Washington and its allies officially condemn as a terrorist organization, and of “familiarity” with Al Qaeda’s “forces on the ground.” The Israeli-Al Qaeda alliance is “extremely tactical,” Israeli military officials say. [7] This hasn’t escaped the attention of the government in Damascus. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad told Foreign Affairs that the Israelis “are supporting the rebels in Syria.”

It’s very clear. Because whenever we make advances in some place, they make an attack in order to undermine the army. It’s very clear. That’s why some in Syria joke, ‘How can you say that al Qaeda doesn’t have an air force? They have the Israeli air force.” [8]

“Sunni elements…control some two-thirds to 90 percent of the border on the Golan (and) aren’t attacking Israel,” says Amos Yadlin, a former head of Israel’s military intelligence, noting that the Qaeda militants “understand who is their real enemy” and it “isn’t Israel.” [9]

Israeli paramedics “patrol the border and provide treatment for casualties they encounter. Once (rebels) are evaluated, some are sewn up and treated on the ground. Others are taken to a makeshift field hospital for basic surgery and recovery. But patients who require extensive surgery are sent to a civilian hospital, Ziv Medical Center, in the Israeli town of Tsflat, about an hour away.” [10] From 2013 to 2015, 1,500 Sunni militants crossed into Israel to receive treatment. [11] Some, if not the bulk of the militants, were members of Al Qaeda’s Syrian branch.

So, if Israel isn’t Al Qaeda’s real enemy, as Yadlin says, who is? And why?

The Axis of Resistance

“There is no doubt that Hezbollah and Iran are the major threats to Israel, much more than the radical Sunni Islamists…” – Amos Yadlin. [12]

The philosopher Thomas Kapitan argues that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can be posed in terms of a Western-Arab one, since Israel was created and has been sustained by Western intervention in the Middle East. At the same time, it can be posed as a Western-Islamic conflict, since it involves the implantation of a foreign Jewish state in the heart of the Islamic world. [13]

I would argue that Iran understands the conflict as a Western-Islamic one, Syria as a Western-Arab one, and Hezbollah, as both. The perspectives of these three parties, who make up what has been labelled the “Axis of Resistance,” are anti-imperialist, anti-colonialist, and anti-Zionist, though the parties have arrived at these positions from different starting points. The common thread of the alliance is political, not religious. As the New York Times’ Anne Barnard explains, “While President Bashar al-Assad and many security leaders belong to the Alawite sect, related to Shiism, they consider themselves secularists allied with Iran and Hezbollah for strategic and political, not religious, reasons.” [14]

The common political thread which unites the alliance is opposition to Zionism, which is to say, hostility to the idea that a Jewish state can be implanted on territory stolen from, and ethnically cleansed of, its indigenous Palestinian (and largely Muslim) population. Support for Palestinian self-determination is the central political theme of the Axis of Resistance.

In its constitution, Syria declares its enmity to an exclusivist Jewish state constructed on stolen Palestinian territory, and does so in the context of reference to Western colonial intervention in the Arab world. The constitution’s preamble declares that Syria is “the beating heart of Arabism, the forefront of confrontation with the Zionist enemy and the bedrock of resistance against colonial hegemony on the Arab world and its capabilities and wealth.” [15]

Iran’s opposition to Zionism is no less resolute, but has been misconstrued in the West as a military threat rooted in anti-Jewish xenophobia. But as the Washington Post’s Glen Kessler explains, Iran’s Supreme leader Ali Khamenei “has been consistent, stating repeatedly that the goal is not the military destruction of the Jewish state but the defeat of Zionist ideology and the dissolution of Israel through a popular referendum.” [16]

According to Khamenei,

The Islamic Republic’s proposal to help resolve the Palestinian issue and heal this old wound is a clear and logical initiative based on political concepts accepted by world public opinion…We do not suggest launching a classic war by armies of Muslim countries, or throwing immigrant Jews into the sea…We propose holding a referendum with the Palestinian nation. The Palestinian nation, like any other nation, has the right to determine their own identity and elect the governing system of the country. [17]

Hezbollah, formed to repel the 1982 Israeli invasion of southern Lebanon, to recover Lebanese territory still not returned by Israel (Shebaa Farms), and to safeguard Lebanon from future Israeli aggression, is also committed to the promotion of Palestinian self-determination. Its goal, as explained by its leader Sayyed Nasrallah, “is to topple the Zionist project,” by which he means dismantling the apparatus of the Zionist state established on stolen land and founded on the denial of Palestinian self-determination. [18] Achieving that goal, in Hezbollah’s view, means the return to the Palestinians, the rightful owners, of “all of Palestine…from the (Mediterranean) sea to the (Jordan) river”. [19]

The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a Palestinian resistance organization, plays a small but important role in the Axis of Resistance. It sees the Arab-Zionist conflict as one that cannot be completed or ended through a two-state solution, but only with the establishment of a secular democracy on all of the land of historic Palestine, with equality for all its people. [20] The historical goal of the PFLP is to have a single democratic state in Palestine. [21] Ahmed Saadat, the group’s jailed leader, says the Middle East conflict can only be resolved through the creation of a state shared by Palestinians and Jews. [22] Significantly, the PFLP, a secular, Marxist, organization, is largely funded by Iran [23], belying the fiction that the Axis of Resistance is based on religious, rather than political, anti-Zionist, viz., anti-colonialist, ties.

The project of dismantling the Zionist state apparatus in Palestine is tantamount to the struggle against Apartheid in South Africa. The anti-Zionist project is no more anti-Jewish and aimed at the destruction of Jews than the anti-Apartheid struggle was anti-White and aimed at the destruction of South Africa’s European settler community. At the center of both is the fight against colonialism and for self-determination of indigenous peoples.

Saudi Arabia: Base of Arab Reaction

The perspective of Saudi Arabia, and that of its fellow Gulf tyrannies, is one of “loyalty to neo-colonial and Zionist forces,” a charge levelled by Arab parties in Israel’s Knesset, after the oil monarchs labelled Hezbollah a terrorist organization. [24] Hezbollah’s joining in the fight with Syria, Iran, and Russia against the sectarian depredations and terrorism of Al Qaeda and its offshoots is presumably the underlying reason for the reactionary Arab monarchies’ denunciation of the Lebanese resistance organization.

Hezbollah’s Nasrallah points out that “the only state or entity or existence that ‘Israel’ views as posing an existential threat is the Islamic Republic in Iran.” [25] But why not Saudi Arabia? An Arab and Muslim state–and therefore, if Israeli rhetoric is to be believed, one that ought to be adamantly hostile to Israel–Saudi Arabia has the world’s fourth largest military budget, exceeded only by the defense outlays of the United States, China and Russia. [26] Riyadh spends more per capita on the military than does any other country in the world, including Israel, which is second ranked, and the United States, ranked third. At $81 billion, the Saudi state’s annual military expenditures are over six times greater than Iran’s comparatively meager annual defense budget of $13 billion. Surely, given this significant imbalance, Israel should regard Saudi Arabia as a far larger threat than Iran. What’s more, the military outlays of the Saudi tyranny are five times greater than Israel’s military budget. And Israel spends more on its military than Iran does on its own. How, then, can Iran, but not the Saudi military colossus, be an existential threat to Israel? It doesn’t add up, unless we acknowledge that Saudi Arabia is, as the Arab parties in Israel’s Knesset observe, servants of “neo-colonial and Zionist forces.”

The Arab monarchies have, from their birth, been entangled with Western imperialism and have acted as their local agents in return for protection against their own people. Indeed, the states are creations of the West. The “artificial borders that demarcate their states, were designed by imperialists seeking to build fences around oil wells in the 1920s.” [27] Saudi Arabia is no exception. As Nasrallah observes, the Saud family dictatorship was “established with British support, British money, and British artillery, as part of the British colonial scheme to control” the Arabs. [28] British support for the Saud family tyranny remains as strong as ever. Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron had the Union Jack lowered last year to mark the death of the Saudi despot, King Abdullah, emblematic of the utter hypocrisy of the British elite, which ingratiates itself with the head-chopping, misogynistic, Islamist tyrants on the Arabian peninsula, while strutting around the globe at the heels of their US master posing absurdly as champions of democracy.

Today, Saudi Arabia, along with Israel, stands as one of the most important regional allies of the international dictatorship of the United States. And, as protégés of the dictatorship, the Saudi rulers long ago reconciled themselves to the existence of a Jewish state as an outpost of Western imperialism in the middle (literally) of the Arab nation, bisecting its African and Asian spheres. As much as Israel, Saudi Arabia is a satrapy of the United States. It sends vast sums of its oil wealth to US investment banks and spends lavishly on the purchase of US arms; hence, its improbable position as the world’s fourth largest military power despite having a population of only 30 million, less than one-tenth of the United States’.

The dictatorship on the Arabian Peninsula leads from within the region a war against anti-neo-colonial forces which reject the hegemony of the United States and Israel and implacably insist on Palestinian self-determination. It seeks to weaken and undermine these progressive forces by using religion to achieve the profane end of diverting resistance to the Western imperialist project into wars on “apostates” and “infidels.” The infidels and apostates turn out to be none other than the region’s anti-colonialists, either secular nationalists, socialists or communists, or Iranians and the Iranian-backed Hezbollah, all of which reject Western intervention in the Arab and Muslim worlds, whether the intervention is direct, or through the proxies of Israel and the Arab monarchies. To obscure these political differences, Saudi-inspired political Islam denounces as infidels the secularists for rejecting the organization of society on the basis of the Qur’an, while the Iranians and Hezbollah are excoriated for “apostasy” because they hold a different view of Islam. Religious questions of infidelity and apostasy are exploited in Machiavellian fashion as a smokescreen to obscure signal political differences and to mobilize the Sunni faithful against progressive forces.

The nature of the Saudi tyranny was acknowledged recently in The New York Times. Reporter Ben Hubbard wrote, “The country was founded on an alliance between the Saud family, whose members became the monarchs, and a cleric named Sheik Muhammad ibn Abdul-Wahhab, whose teachings were used to justify military conquest by labelling it jihad against those deemed to be infidels, most of whom were other Muslims.” [29] Nothing has changed. With Saudi Arabia ensconced in the US empire, Wahhabi-inspired ideologies, such as those adhered to by Al Qaeda and its offshoots, are used to justify military conquest of territories in which there exists strong opposition to US domination and Zionist colonialism, by labelling it jihad against secular infidels (the Syrian government) and apostates (Shiite Iran and Hezbollah.)

Nasrallah points out that Arab and Muslim resistance to Israel has been continually channeled into other projects, to the delight of the Israelis. He questions the priorities of fighters “from all over the word” who joined “the war in Afghanistan” in the 1980s against a Marxist-Leninist government and Soviet military that intervened to prop it up. It is not that he questions the legitimacy of the fight, but he challenges the priority, defining the defeat of Zionist ideology and the dismantling of an exclusivist Jewish state apparatus in the middle of the Arab nation and Muslim world as the single most pressing objective for his co-religionists.

Saudi Arabia took a lead role in propagating Islamism, and “at various times over the past century” Islamists have been “useful allies” of Western powers, Israel, and Arab monarchies.

As one of many examples, during the 1980s, the Muslim Brotherhood in Gaza and the West Bank for years eagerly sent radical young Palestinian Muslims off to Afghanistan to combat the Soviet Army…It did so on the basis of the curious argument that the path of ‘true jihad’ could be found not in resisting the Israeli occupation of the Gaza Strip, but rather far away in Central Asia. The covert agencies of numerous states were involved in sponsoring this ‘jihad’ not the least of them the CIA and the Saudi and Pakistani intelligence services. Needless to say, the Israeli military occupation authorities and their attentive intelligence services regarded this development with benevolent indulgence, encouraging any movement that fostered the departure of these young radicals and that weakened the unpalatable nationalism represented by the PLO. [30]

After Afghanistan, they “immediately manufactured a new priority for us,” Nasrallah recounts. The Saudis “manufactured a war and invented a new enemy called the Iranian expansion.” He continued: They “implanted the notion that Iran is the enemy in the minds of many Islamic groups, that the priority is confronting the Shia danger, Shia thought and Shia expansion, and that this Shia danger is a bigger threat to the (Muslim world) than Israel and the Zionist scheme.” And yet, the Saudis evinced no hostility to the Shah of Iran, a Shiite, who was “close to ‘Israel’” and one of Washington’s policemen on the beat. [31] Most adherents to Saudi-inspired ideology believe that that fighting apostates and opposing Shiism is more important than opposing Zionist colonialism. [32] This, of course, has pleasing implications for the colonialists and their Western sponsors.

In Nasrallah’s view, the Saudis have cloaked political questions in “sectarian garb.”

“In Egypt today there is a political conflict, a deep polarization. Is this conflict sectarian? It isn’t sectarian but political. In Libya there is a major conflict and deep polarization. Is it sectarian? In Tunisia there is a major political conflict and in Yemen too. Yes, when we come to countries which are marked by religious pluralism and diversity, like Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Bahrain, the issue becomes a sectarian one when it is, in fact, a political conflict. This conflict is political. Why are you turning it into a sectarian one? They do this intentionally, not out of ignorance. Today, this sectarianism is one of the most destructive weapons in the region.” [33]

“It is not a conflict between religions, but one between one force with a program of resistance” (Iran-Syria-Hezbollah) “and one that is pro-colonialist” (the Arab monarchies.) But they would like to make it seem like a religious conflict.” [34]

The Colonial Tradition

At the root of the conflict in the Middle East is the question of whether an exclusivist Jewish state settled on lands usurped from the Palestinians has the right to exist. The answer is clear: it has as much right to exist as did the Apartheid state of South Africa—which is none at all. This does not mean, however, that Jews should not be welcome in an equal, democratic, state in the territories of historic Palestine. On the contrary, it is unrealistic to expect that the eviction of Jewish settlers from Palestine is a workable solution to the conflict, anymore than it was reasonable to expect that by the 1990s the eviction of European settlers from South Africa was workable. But a single, democratic state, in which all citizens are equal, regardless of religion—given the resonance of this kind of arrangement with widely accepted political principles of equality and the precedent of the dismantling of a racist European settler regime in South Africa—appears to be not only desirable, but imaginable and able to command popular support throughout the world, if it doesn’t already. It’s not global public opinion that stands in the way of ending Zionist colonialism; it is the support Israel garners from Washington as an outpost of US imperialism in the Middle East that is the obstacle.

Finally, the recently WikiLeaks-disclosed e-mails of Hillary Clinton written while she was US secretary of state show that a goal of Washington’s Syria policy is to overthrow the pro-Palestinian Arab nationalist government in Damascus to weaken the Axis of Resistance, and its central cog, Iran. Nasrallah pointed this out publically almost three years ago. “Israel knows that the source or one of the most important sources of the strength of the resistance in Lebanon and Palestine is Syria and of course the Islamic Republic of Iran. For this reason it wants to take out Syria from the equation and corner the resistance in Palestine and Lebanon.” [35]

To accomplish the goal of “taking out” Syria, Israel, a state established in part as a refuge from anti-Jewish genocidal stirrings in Europe, is colluding with organizations pursuing their own genocidal agenda, as part of a larger neo-colonial project of fostering divisions in the Middle East to weaken forces committed to the project of the self-determination of the region’s indigenous people. Europe’s colonial project frequently relied on genocide to clear the way for the mastery of European settlers over indigenous populations. But it is not genocide itself that ought to agitate our minds, but a fortiori, it is its parent, the colonial tradition, of which Zionism itself is an expression, and of which genocide has been one of its accustomed practices, which deserves our resolute opposition.

The greatest holocaust of all was not the one carried out against Jews in Europe by Nazi Germany, though that genocide, accompanied by the systematic extermination of others, including Roma, communists and Slavs, was as obscene as any other. If we have to attach priority to genocide, as is done in capitalizing the anti-Jewish holocaust as the Holocaust, then a much larger genocide, of which there is little discussion if even acknowledgement, has a more compelling claim to this grim mantle—the holocaust of the indigenous people of the Americas. In terms of the number of human beings exterminated, the American Holocaust is perhaps the greatest crime of the European colonial tradition.

Hitler’s regime, it should be noted, represented European colonial ideology and practice in its highest form. Its methods were based on those pioneered by Britain, France and the United States to build vast empires, and Belgium and Portugal, to build smaller ones. What made Hitler reprehensible to the Western mind, was not the brutality of his methods and his racist ideology—for these came directly from the European colonial tradition—but his seeking to build a German empire to the East, thus bringing home to Europe the methods and racism the British had used in India, the French in Africa and Indo-China, and the young United States had used to build a continental empire. Hitler said Central and Eastern Europe, including Russia, would be to Germany what the American West was to the United States and India was to Britain. In Discourse on Colonialism, Aime Cesaire remarked that “What (Westerners) cannot forgive Hitler for is not the crime itself…it is the crime against the White man, and the fact that he applied to Europe colonial procedures which had until then been reserved exclusively for the Arabs of Algeria, the ‘coolies’ of India and the ‘niggers’ of Africa.” [36] Nazism was colonialism let loose on Europeans. Viewed from the perspective of the Nazi’s colonial horrors brought to Europe, Westerners may begin to understand the tantamount colonial horrors and oppressions the West visited upon Arabs and Persians and continues through its Israeli outpost to visit upon the Palestinians, to say nothing of the political character of the practices and ideology which Western governments and their allies follow, even to this day, in the Middle East.

1. Matthew Rosenberg, “Citing atrocities, John Kerry calls ISIS actions genocide,” The New York Times, March 17, 2016.

2. Yarolsav Trofimov, “Israel’s main concern in Syria: Iran, not ISIS,” The Wall Street Journal, March 17, 2016.

3. Rosenberg, March 17, 2016.

4. Patrick Seale, “Only a ceasefire will end the nightmare in Syria,” Gulf News, July 26, 2012.

5. Yarolsav Trofimov, “Al Qaeda a lesser evil? Syria war pulls U.S., Israel apart,” The Wall Street Journal, March 12, 2015; Trofimov, March 17, 2016.

6. Isabel Kershner, “Scanning borders, Israel surveys new reality of tunnels and terror,” The New York Times, February 11, 2016.

7. Trofimov, March 12, 2015.

8. “Syria’s president speaks,” Foreign Affairs, January 25, 2015.

9. Trofimov, March 12, 2015.

10. Ashley Gallagher, “Some wounded Syrians seek treatment from Israeli hospitals,” Al Jazeera America, March 18, 2014.

11. Trofimov, March 12, 2015.

12. Trofimov, March 12, 2015.

13. Thomas Kapitan, “The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict,” in Thomas Kapitan ed., Philosophical Perspectives on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, 1997.)

14. Anne Barnard, “Muslim shrine stands at crossroads in Syria’s unrest,” The New York Times, April 8, 2014.

15. http://sana.sy/en/?page_id=1489

16. Glen Kessler, “Did Ahmadinejad really say Israel should be ‘wiped off the map’?” The Washington Post, October 6, 2011.

17. Kessler, October 6, 2011.

18. “Sayyed Nasrallah: Never to leave Palestine, ‘Israel’ scheme toppled in Lebanon,” http://www.english.alahednews.com.lb/essaydetails.php?eid=30020&cid=385#.Vv_xacv2bcs

19. “Sayyed Nasrallah’s full speech on Al-Quds day,” July 10, 2015. http://www.english.alahednews.com.lb/essaydetails.php?eid=29890&cid=564#.Vv_xm8v2bcs

20. “PFLP affirms that PLO membership does not mean acceptance of the ‘two-state solution’”, PFLP web site, retrieved March 2, 2009, http://www.pflp.ps/english/?q=pflp-affirms-plo-membership-does-not-mean-acceptan

21. Paula Schmitt, “Interview with Leila Khaled,” 972 blog, May 17, 2014.

22. “Jailed PFLP leader, “Only a one-state solution is possible,” Haaretz, May 5, 2010.

23. Creede Newton, “Paradise is in the life, not the next: the Marxists of Gaza are fighting for a secular state,” vice.com, February 25, 2016.

24. Trofimov, March 17, 2016.

25. “Sayyed Nasrallah’s full speech on Al-Quds day,” July 10, 2015.

26. Bank of America Merrill Lynch, “Transforming World Atlas,” August 4, 2015.

27. Robert Dreyfuss, The Devi Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam, Holt, 2005, p. 99.

28. Full speech delivered by Hizbullah Secretary General Sayyed Nasrallah, on the commemoration ceremony held in honor of Sheikh Mohammad Khatoun, delivered on January 3, 2016. http://en.abna24.com/service/middle-east-west-asia/archive/2016/01/03/728497/story.html

29. Ben Hubbard, “ISIS turns Saudis against the Kingdom, and families against their own,” The New York Times, March 31, 2016.

30. Rashid Khalidi, The Iron Cage: The Story of the Palestinian Struggle for Statehood, Beacon Press, 2006, xxx.

31. Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah’s speech on al-Quds Day, July 10, 2015. http://www.english.alahednews.com.lb/essaydetails.php?eid=29846&cid=385#.Vv_yjsv2bcs

32. Radwan Mortada, “Why isn’t the Islamic state fighting Israel?,” Al Akhbar English, August 2, 2014.

33. Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah’s live speech on al-Quds Day, 2013.

34. Workers World, June 1, 2008.

35. Sam Dagher, “Hezbollah says weapons coming from Damascus,” The Wall Street journal, May 9, 2013.

36. Aime Cesaire, Discourse on Colonialism, Monthly Review Press, 2000, p. 36.

Written by what's left

April 2, 2016 at 9:02 pm

What US Congress Researchers Reveal About Washington’s Designs on Syria

Seeing the government in Damascus as too far to the left, Washington has been trying to orchestrate a regime change in Syria since at least 2003

February 9, 2016

By Stephen Gowans

Documents prepared by US Congress researchers as early as 2005 revealed that the US government was actively weighing regime change in Syria long before the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011, challenging the view that US support for the Syrian rebels is based on allegiance to a “democratic uprising” and showing that it is simply an extension of a long-standing policy of seeking to topple the government in Damascus. Indeed, the researchers made clear that the US government’s motivation to overthrow the government of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad is unrelated to democracy promotion in the Middle East. In point of fact, they noted that Washington’s preference is for secular dictatorships (Egypt) and monarchies (Jordan and Saudi Arabia.) [1] The impetus for pursuing regime change, according to the researchers, was a desire to sweep away an impediment to the achievement of US goals in the Middle East related to strengthening Israel, consolidating US domination of Iraq, and fostering free-market, free enterprise economies. Democracy was never a consideration.

The researchers revealed further that an invasion of Syria by US forces was contemplated following the US-led aggression against Iraq in 2003, but that the unanticipated heavy burden of pacifying Iraq militated against an additional expenditure of blood and treasure in Syria. [2] As an alternative to direct military intervention to topple the Syrian government, the United States chose to pressure Damascus through sanctions and support for the internal Syrian opposition.

The documents also revealed that nearly a decade before the rise of Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra that the US government recognized that Islamic fundamentalists were the main opposition to the secular Assad government and worried about the re-emergence of an Islamist insurgency that could lead Sunni fundamentalists to power in Damascus. A more recent document from the Congress’s researchers describes a US strategy that seeks to eclipse an Islamist take-over by forcing a negotiated settlement to the conflict in Syria in which the policing, military, judicial and administrative functions of the Syrian state are preserved, while Assad and his fellow Arab nationalists are forced to leave office. The likelihood is that if this scenario plays out that Assad and his colleagues will be replaced by biddable US surrogates willing to facilitate the achievement of US goals.

+++

In 2005, Congress’s researchers reported that a consensus had developed in Washington that change in Syria needed to be brought about, but that there remained divisions on the means by which change could be effected. “Some call for a process of internal reform in Syria or alternatively for the replacement of the current Syrian regime,” the report said. [3] Whichever course Washington would settle on, it was clear that the US government was determined to shift the policy framework in Damascus.

The document described the Assad government as an impediment “to the achievement of US goals in the region.” [4] These goals were listed as: resolving “the Arab-Israeli conflict;” fighting “international terrorism;” reducing “weapons proliferation;” inaugurating “a peaceful, democratic and prosperous Iraqi state;” and fostering market-based, free enterprise economies. [5]

Stripped of their elegant words, the US objectives for the Middle East amounted to a demand that Damascus capitulate to the military hegemony of Israel and the economic hegemony of Wall Street. To be clear, what this meant was that in order to remove itself as an impediment to the achievement of US goals—and hence as an object of US hostility—Syria would have to:

o Accept Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state on territory seized from Palestinians, and quite possibly also Syrians and Lebanese, possibly within borders that include the Golan Heights, annexed from Syria by Israel in 1987 and occupied by Israel since 1967.
o End its support for militant groups seeking Palestinian self-determination and sever its connections with the resistance organization Hezbollah, the main bulwark against Israeli expansion into Lebanon.
o Leave itself effectively defenceless against the aggressions of the United States and its Middle East allies, including Israel, by abandoning even the capability of producing weapons of mass destruction (while conceding a right to Israel and the United States to maintain vast arsenals of WMD.)
o Terminate its opposition to US domination of neighboring Iraq.
o Transform what the US Congress’s researchers called Syria’s mainly publicly-owned economy, “still based largely on Soviet models,” [6] into a sphere of exploitation for US corporations and investors.

+++

US government objections to Syrian policy, then, can be organized under three US-defined headings:

o Terrorism.
o WMD.
o Economic reform.

These headings translate into:

o Support for Palestinian and Lebanese resistance groups.
o Self-defense.
o Economic sovereignty.

Terrorism (support for Palestinian and Lebanese resistance groups)

The researchers noted that while Syria had “not been implicated directly in an act of terrorism since 1986” that “Syria has continued to provide support and safe haven for Palestinian groups” seeking self-determination, allowing “them to maintain offices in Damascus.” This was enough for the US government to label Syria a state sponsor of terrorism. The researchers went on to note that on top of supporting Palestinian “terrorists” that Damascus also supported Lebanese “terrorists” by permitting “Iranian resupply via Damascus of the Lebanese Shiite Muslim militia Hezbollah in Lebanon.” [7]

US Secretary of State Colin Powell travelled to Damascus on May 3, 2003 to personally issue a demand to the Syrian government that it sever its connections with militant organizations pursuing Palestinian self-determination and to stop providing them a base in Damascus from which to operate. In “testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on February 12, 2004, Powel complained that ‘Syria has not done what we demanded of it with respect to closing permanently of these offices and getting these individuals out of Damascus’.”

The Syrian government rejected the characterization of Hezbollah and Palestinian militants as “terrorists,” noting that the actions of these groups represented legitimate resistance. [8] Clearly, Washington had attempted to discredit the pursuit of Palestinian self-determination and Lebanese sovereignty by labelling the champions of these causes as terrorists.

WMD (self-defense)

“In a speech to the Heritage Foundation on May 6, 2002, then US Under Secretary (of State John) Bolton grouped Syria with Libya and Cuba as rogue states that…are pursuing the development of WMD.” [9] Later that year, Bolton echoed his earlier accusation, telling the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the Bush administration was very concerned about Syrian nuclear and missile programs. By September 2003, Bolton was warning of a “range of Syrian WMD programs.” [10]

Syria clearly had chemical weapons (now destroyed), though hardly in the same quantities as the much larger arsenals of the United States, Russia and (likely) its regional nemesis, Israel. [11] Citing the Washington Post, Congress’s researchers noted that Syria had “sought to build up its CW and missile capabilities as a ‘force equalizer’ to counter Israeli nuclear capabilities.” [12] It should be noted, however, that the idea that chemical weapons can act as a force equalizer to nuclear weapons is not only untenable, but risible. In WWI it took 70,000 tons of gas to produce as many fatalities as were produced at Hiroshima by a single US atom bomb. [13] To have any meaning at all, the concept of WMD must include weapons that kill massive numbers of people (nuclear weapons) and exclude those that don’t (chemical weapons.) Otherwise, it is a propaganda term used to magnify the non-threat posed by countries seeking independence outside the US orbit which have CW and biological weapons, but which weapons are no match for the United States’ nuclear weapons and are dwarfed by the Pentagon’s own CW and BW arsenals. Deceptively labelling these weapons as WMD, makes a non-threat a large threat that must be dealt with through military intervention and thereby provides a public relations rationale for a war of aggression.

As to the substance of Bolton’s assertion that Syria had a wide range of WMD programs, the CIA was unable to produce any evidence to corroborate his claim. Alfred Prados, author of a 2005 Congressional Research Service report titled “Syria: U.S. Relations and Bilateral Issues,” listed CIA assessments of Syrian nuclear and BW programs but none of the assessments contained any concrete evidence that Syria actually had such programs. For example, the CIA noted that it was “monitoring Syrian nuclear intentions with concern” but offered nothing beyond “intentions” to show that Damascus was working to acquire a nuclear weapons capability. Prados also noted that Syria had “probably also continued to develop a BW capability,” this based on the fact that Damascus had “signed, but not ratified, the Biological Weapons Convention.” Prados conceded that “Little information is available on Syrian biological programs.”

US president George H.W. Bush is responsible for rendering the concept of WMD meaningless by expanding it to include chemical agents. Before Bush, WMD was a term to denote nuclear weapons or weapons of similar destructive capacity that might be developed in the future. Bush debased the definition in order to go to war with Iraq. He needed to transform the oil-rich Arab country from being seen accurately as a comparatively weak country militarily to being seen inaccurately as a significant threat because it possessed weapons now dishonestly rebranded as being capable of producing mass destruction. It was an exercise in war propaganda.

In 1989, Bush pledged to eliminate the United States’ chemical weapons by 1999. Twenty-seven years later, the Pentagon is still sitting on the world’s largest stockpile of militarized chemical agents. US allies Israel and Egypt also have chemical weapons. In 2003, Syria proposed to the United Nations Security Council that the Middle East become a chemical weapons-free zone. The proposal was blocked by the United States, likely in order to shelter Israel from having to give up its store of chemical arms. Numerous calls to declare the Middle East a nuclear weapons-free zone have also been blocked by Washington to shelter Israel from having to give up its nuclear arsenal.

Bolton, it will be recalled, was among the velociraptors of the Bush administration to infamously and falsely accuse Saddam Hussein’s Iraq of holding on to WMD that the UN Security Council had demanded it dismantle. In effect, Iraq was ordered to disarm itself, and when it did, was falsely accused by the United States of still being armed as a pretext for US forces to invade the now defenceless country. Bolton may have chosen to play the same WMD card against Syria for the same reason: to manufacture consent for an invasion. But as Congress’s researchers pointed out, “Although some officials…advocated a ‘regime change strategy’ in Syria” through military means, “military operations in Iraq…forced US policy makers to explore additional options,” [14] rendering Bolton’s false accusations academic.

Since the only legitimate WMD are nuclear weapons, and since there is no evidence that Syria has even the untapped capability of producing them, much less possesses them, Syria has never been a WMD-state or a threat to the US goal of reducing WMD proliferation. What’s more, the claim that Washington holds this as a genuine goal is contestable, since it has blocked efforts to make the Middle East a chemical- and nuclear-weapons-free zone, in order to spare its protégé, Israel. It would be more accurate to say that the United States has a goal of reducing weapons proliferation among countries it may one day invade, in order to make the invasion easier. Moreover, there’s an egregious US double-standard here. Washington maintains the world’s largest arsenals of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, but demands that countries it opposes should abandon their own, or foreswear their development. This is obviously self-serving and has nothing whatever to do with fostering peace and everything to do with promoting US world domination. One US grievance with Assad’s Syria, then, is that it refused to accept the international dictatorship of the United States.

Economic reform (economic sovereignty)

In connection with Syria impeding the achievement of US goals in the Middle East, the Congressional Research Service made the following points in 2005 about the Syrian economy: It is “largely state-controlled;” it is “dominated by…(the) public sector, which employs 73% of the labour force;” and it is “still based largely on Soviet models.” [15] These departures from the preferred Wall Street paradigm of free markets and free enterprise appear, from the perspective of Congress’s researchers, to be valid reasons for the US government to attempt to bring about “reform” in Syria. Indeed, no one should be under the illusion that the US government is prepared to allow foreign governments to exercise sovereignty in setting their own direction economically. That this is the case is evidenced by the existence of a raft of US sanctions legislation against “non-market states.” (See the Congressional Research Service 2016 report, “North Korea: Economic Sanctions,” for a detailed list of sanctions imposed on North Korea for having a “Marxist-Leninist” economy.)

+++

To recapitulate the respective positions of Syria and the United States on issues of bilateral concern to the two countries:

On Israel. To accept Israel’s right to exist as a settler state on land illegitimately acquired through violence and military conquest from Palestinians, Lebanese (the Shebaa Farms) and Syrians (Golan), would be to collude in the denial of the fundamental right of self-determination. Damascus has refused to collude in the negation of this right. Washington demands it.

On Hezbollah. Hezbollah is the principal deterrent against Israeli territorial expansion into Lebanon and Israeli aspirations to turn the country into a client state. Damascus’s support for the Lebanese resistance organization, and Washington’s opposition to it, places the Assad government on the right side of the principle of self-determination and successive US governments on the wrong side.

On WMD. Syria has a right to self-defense through means of its own choosing and the demand that it abandon its right is not worthy of discussion. The right to self-defense is a principle the United States and its allies accept as self-evident and non-negotiable. It is not a principle that is valid only for the United States and its satellites.

On opposition to the US invasion of Iraq. The 2003 US-led aggression against Iraq was an international crime on a colossal scale, based on an illegitimate casus belli, and a fabricated one at that, and which engendered massive destruction and loss of life. It was the supreme international crimes by the standards of the Nuremberg trials. Applying the Nuremberg principles, the perpetrators would be hanged. US aggression against Iraq, including the deployment of “sanctions of mass destruction” through the 1990s, which led to hundreds of thousands of Iraqi deaths, and was blithely accepted by then US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright as “worth it,” was undertaken despite the absence of any threat to the United States. The deliberate creation of humanitarian calamities in the absence of a threat, as a matter of choice and not necessity, in pursuit of economic gain, is an iniquity on a signal scale. What, then, are we to think of a government in Damascus that opposed this iniquity, and a government in Washington that demands that Damascus reverse its opposition and accept the crime as legitimate?

Whatever its failings, the Assad government has unambiguously adopted positions that have traditionally been understood to be concerns of the political left: support for self-determination; public ownership and planning of the economy; opposition to wars of aggression; and anti-imperialism. This is not to say that on a spectrum from right to left that the Assad government occupies a position near the left extreme; far from it. But from Washington’s point of view, Damascus is far enough to the left to be unacceptable. Indeed, it is the Syrian government’s embrace of traditional leftist positions that accounts for why it is in the cross-hairs of the world’s major champion of reactionary causes, the United States, even if it isn’t the kind of government that is acceptable to Trotskyists and anarchists.

+++

In 2003, the Bush administration listed Syria as part of a junior varsity axis of evil, along with Cuba and Libya, citing support in Damascus for Hezbollah and groups engaged in armed struggle to achieve Palestinian self-determination. [16] An invasion of Syria following the US take-over of Iraq in 2003 was contemplated, but never followed through on after the Pentagon discovered its hands were full quelling resistance to its occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. As an alternative to direct military intervention to topple the Syrian government, the United States chose to pressure Assad through sanctions and by strengthening the opposition in Syria, hoping either to force Assad to accept Israel’s territorial gains, end support for Hezbollah and Palestinian militant groups, and to remake the economy—or to yield power. However, as Congress’s researchers reveal, there were concerns in Washington that if efforts to bolster the opposition went too far, Assad would fall to “a successor regime (which) could be led by Islamic fundamentalists who might adopt policies even more inimical to the United States.” [17]

On December 12, 2003, US president George W. Bush signed the Syria Accountability Act, which imposed sanctions on Syria unless, among other things, Damascus halted its support for Hezbollah and Palestinian resistance groups and ceased “development of weapons of mass destruction.” The sanctions included bans on exports of military equipment and civilian goods that could be used for military purposes (in other words, practically anything.) This was reinforced with an additional (and largely superfluous) ban on US exports to Syria other than food and medicine, as well as a prohibition against Syrian aircraft landing in or overflying the United States. [18]

On top of these sanctions, Bush imposed two more. Under the USA PATRIOT Act, the US Treasury Department ordered US financial institutions to sever connections with the Commercial Bank of Syria. [19] And under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, the US president froze the assets of Syrians involved in supporting policies hostile to the United States, which is to say, supporting Hezbollah and groups fighting for Palestinian self-determination, refusing to accept as valid territorial gains which Israel had made through wars of aggression, and operating a largely publicly-owned, state-planned economy, based on Soviet models. [20]

In order to strengthen internal opposition to the Syrian government, Bush signed the Foreign Operations Appropriation Act. This act required that a minimum of $6.6 million “be made available for programs supporting democracy in Syria…as well as unspecified amounts of additional funds (emphasis added).” [21]

By 2006, Time was reporting that the Bush administration had “been quietly nurturing individuals and parties opposed to the Syrian government in an effort to undermine the regime of President Bashar Assad.” Part of the effort was being run through the National Salvation Front. The Front included “the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist organization that for decades supported the violent overthrow of the Syrian government.” Front representatives “were accorded at least two meetings” at the White House in 2006. Hence, the US government, at its highest level, was colluding with Islamists to bring down the Syrian government at least five years before the eruption of protests in 2011. This is a development that seems to have escaped the notice of some who believe that violent Islamist organizations emerged only after March 2011. In point of fact, the major internal opposition to secular Syrian governments, both before and after March 2011, were and are militant Sunni Islamists. Syria expert Joshua Landis told Time that White House support for the Syrian opposition was “apparently an effort to gin up the Syrian opposition under the rubric of ‘democracy promotion’ and ‘election monitoring,’ but it’s really just an attempt to pressure the Syrian government into doing what the United States wants.” [22]

+++

The US Congress researchers noted that despite “US calls for democracy in the Middle East, historically speaking, US policymakers” have tended to favor “secular Arab republics (Egypt) and Arab monarchies (Jordan and Saudi Arabia.)” [23] They noted too that since “the rise of political Islam as an opposition vehicle in the Middle East decades ago, culminating in the 1979 overthrow of the Shah of Iran, US policymakers have been concerned that secular Arab dictatorships like Syria would face rising opposition from Islamist groups seeking their overthrow.” [24] “The religiously fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood,” which the Bush administration enlisted to pressure the Assad government, had long been at odds with the secular Syrian government, the researchers noted. [25]

Today, Islamic State operates as one of the largest, if not the largest, rebel groups in Syria. A 2015 Congressional Research Service report cited an “unnamed senior State Department official” who observed:

[W]e’ve never seen something like this. We’ve never seen a terrorist organization with 22,000 foreign fighters from a hundred countries all around the world. To put it in context—again, the numbers are fuzzy—but it’s about double of what went into Afghanistan over 10 years in the war against the Soviet Union. Those Jihadi fighters were from a handful of countries.” [26]

Islamic State differs from other militant Islamist opponents of the Syrian government in seeking to control territory, not only in Syria, but in Iraq and beyond. As such, it constitutes a threat to US domination of Iraq and influence throughout the Middle East and north Africa. In contrast, ideologically similar groups, such as Jabhat al-Nusra, limit the scope of their operations to Syria. They, therefore, constitute a threat to the Syrian government alone, and have proved, as a consequence, to be more acceptable to Washington.

The US government has publicly drawn a distinction between Islamic State and the confined-to-Syria-therefore-acceptable rebels, seeking to portray the former as terrorists and the latter as moderates, regardless of the methods they use and their views on Islam and democracy. The deception is echoed by the US mass media, which often complain that when Russian warplanes target non-Islamic State rebels that they’re striking “moderates,” as if all rebels apart from Islamic State are moderates, by definition. US Director of Intelligence James Clapper acknowledged that “moderate” means little more than “not Islamic State.” He told the Council on Foreign Relations that “Moderate these days is increasingly becoming anyone who’s not affiliated with” Islamic State. [27]

The rebels are useful to the US government. By putting military pressure on Damascus to exhaust the Syrian army, they facilitate the achievement of the immediate US goal of “forcing a negotiated settlement to the conflict that will see President Assad and some his supporters leave office while preserving the institutions and security structures of the Syrian state,” [28] as Congress’s researchers summarize US strategy. Hence, Islamic State exists both as a useful instrument of US policy, and as a threat to US domination and control of Iraq and the broader Middle East. To Washington, the terrorist organization is a double-edged sword, and is treated accordingly. US airstrikes on Islamic State appear calculated to weaken the terrorist group enough that it doesn’t gain more territory in Iraq, but not so much that pressure is taken off Damascus. A tepid approach to fighting the hyper-sectarian terrorist group fits with US president Barack Obama’s stated goal of degrading and ultimately destroying Islamic State, which appears to mean destroying it only after it has served its purpose of exhausting the Syrian army. In the meantime, the anti-Shiite cut-throats are given enough latitude to maintain pressure on Syrian loyalists.

Congress’s researchers concur with this view. They conclude that “US officials may be concerned that a more aggressive campaign against the Islamic State may take military pressure off the” Syrian government. [29] This means that the US president is moderating efforts to destroy Islamic State to allow a group he decries as “simply a network of killers who are brutalizing local populations” [30] continue their work of brutalizing local populations. If he truly believed Islamic State was a scourge that needed to be destroyed, the US president would work with the Syrian government to expunge it. Instead, he has chosen to wield Islamic State as a weapon to expunge the Syrian government, in the service of building up Israel and fostering free market and free enterprise economies in the Middle East to accommodate US foreign investment and exports on behalf of his Wall Street sponsors. [31]

REFERENCES

1. Alfred B. Prados and Jeremy M. Sharp, “Syria: Political Conditions and Relations with the United States After the Iraq War,” Congressional Research Service, February 28, 2005.

2. Prados and Sharp.

3. Ibid.

4. Ibid.

5. Ibid.

6. Ibid.

7. Alfred B. Prados, “Syria: U.S. Relations and Bilateral Issues,” Congressional Research Service, March 13, 2006.

8. Ibid.

9. Ibid.

10. Ibid.

11. Israel signed the global treaty banning the production and use of chemical weapons, but never ratified it.

12. Ibid.

13. Stephen Gowans, “Rethinking Chemical Weapons,” what’s left, August 14, 2015.

14. Prados and Sharp.

15. Ibid.

16. Steve R. Weisman, “US threatens to impose penalties against Syrians,” The New York Times, April 14, 2003.

17. Prados and Sharp.

18. Prados.

19. Ibid.

20. Ibid.

21. Ibid.

22. Adam Zagorin, “Syria in Bush’s cross hairs,” Time, December 19, 2006.

23. Prados and Sharp.

24. Ibid.

25. Ibid.

26. Christopher M. Blanchard and Carla E. Humud, “The Islamic State and U.S. Policy,” Congressional Research Service, December 28, 2015.

27. James Clapper: US Director of Intelligence: http://www.cfr.org/homeland-security/james-clapper-global-intelligence-challenges/p36195

28. Blanchard and Humud.

29. Christopher M. Blanchard, Carla E. Humud Mary Beth D. Nikitin, “Armed Conflict in Syria: Overview and U.S. Response,”Congressional Research Service,” October 9, 2015.

30. Blanchard and Humud.

31. Virtually every member of the Obama administration, past and present, is a member of the Wall Street-dominated Council on Foreign Relations, or additionally, has spent part of his or her career on Wall Street. Wall Street was a major source of Obama’s election campaign funding. The strong interlock between Wall Street and the executive branch of the US government is not unique to the Obama administration. See my “Aspiring to Rule the World: US Capital and the Battle for Syria,” what’s left, December 15, 2015.

Written by what's left

February 10, 2016 at 12:58 am

US Role as State Sponsor of Terrorism Implied in US Congressional Research Service Report on Syria Conflict

January 10, 2016

By Stephen Gowans @GowansStephen

The implication of a report written for the US Congress is that the United States is a state sponsor of terrorism in Syria. At the same time, the report challenges widely held beliefs about the conflict, including the idea that the opposition has grass-roots support and that the conflict is a sectarian war between Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s Alawite sect and the majority Sunnis.

Written in October 2015, the report was prepared by the Congressional Research Service, an arm of the United States Library of Congress. The Congressional Research Service provides policy and legal analysis to committees and members of the US House and Senate.

Titled “Armed Conflict in Syria: Overview and US Response,” the report reveals that:

1. The Syrian conflict is between Islamists and secularists, not Sunnis and Alawites.

Media reports often emphasize the dominant Sunni character of the rebels who have taken up arms against the Syrian government, while depicting the Syrian government as Alawite-led. What is almost invariably overlooked is that the largest Sunni fighting force in Syria is the country’s army. Yes, the rebels are predominantly Sunni, but so too are the Syrian soldiers they’re fighting. As Congress’s researchers point out, “most rank and file military personnel have been drawn from the majority Sunni Arab population and other (non-Alawite) minority groups” (p. 7). Also: “Sunni conscripts continue to fight for Assad” (p. 12). Rather than being a battle between two different sects, the conflict is a struggle, on the one hand, between Sunni fundamentalists who want to impose their version of Islam on Syrian politics and society, and on the other hand, Syrians, including Sunnis, who embrace a vision of a secular, non-sectarian government.

2. The Syrian Opposition Coalition is dominated by Islamists and is allied with foreign enemies of Syria.

According to the report, the Syrian National Council (whose largest member is the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood) is the “largest constituent group” of the Syrian Opposition Coalition (SOC). The SOC is based “in Turkey and considered to be close to foreign opponents of Assad.” (p. 14) The Muslim Brotherhood seeks to base political rule on the Quran, which it sees as divinely inspired, rather than on a secular constitution.

3. “Political opposition coalitions appear to lack…grass roots support” (p. 27).

This is consistent with the findings of a public opinion poll taken last summer by a research firm that is working with the US and British governments. That poll found that Assad has more support than the forces arrayed against him.

Syrians rally for Assad,  October, 2011.

Syrians rally for Assad, October, 2011.

The survey, conducted by ORB International, a company which specializes in public opinion research in fragile and conflict environments, found that 47 percent of Syrians believe that Assad has a positive influence in Syria, compared to only 35 percent for the Free Syrian Army and 26 percent for the SOC. [1]

An in-country face-to-face ORB poll conducted in May 2014 arrived at similar conclusions. That poll found that more Syrians believed the Assad government best represented their interests and aspirations than believed the same about any of the opposition groups. [2]

According to the poll, only six percent believed that the “genuine” rebels represented their interests and aspirations, while the ‘National Coalition/transitional government,” a reference to the SOC, drew even less support, at only three percent.

Assad has repeatedly challenged the notion that he lacks popular support, pointing to his government surviving nearly five years of war against forces backed by the most powerful states on the planet. It’s impossible to realistically conceive of his government’s survival under these challenging circumstances, he argues, without its having the support of a sizeable part of its population. [3]

4. A moderate opposition doesn’t exist. The United States is trying to build one to act as its partner.

The report refers to US efforts to create partners in Syria, a euphemism for puppets who can be relied upon to promote US interests.

“Secretary of Defense Carter described the ‘best’ scenario for the Syrian people as one that would entail an agreed or managed removal of Assad and the coalescence of opposition forces with elements of the remaining Syrian state apparatus as U.S. partners ….” (emphasis added, pp. 15-16).

Also: The Pentagon “sought to…groom and support reliable leaders to serve as U.S partners…” (emphasis added, p. 23).

To create partners, the United States is engaged in the project of building a “moderate” opposition. According to the report:

“On June 18, Secretary of Defense Carter said, ‘…the best way for the Syrian people for this to go would be for him to remove himself from the scene and there to be created, difficult as it will be, a new government of Syria based on the moderate opposition that we have been trying to build…” (emphasis added, footnote, p. 16).

In the report summary the researchers write that US strategy seeks to avoid “inadvertently strengthening Assad, the Islamic State, or other anti-U.S. armed Islamist groups” (emphasis added.) What’s left unsaid is that armed Islamist groups that are not immediately anti-U.S. may be looked upon favorably by US strategy. However, that “political opposition coalitions…appear to lack grass-roots support,” and that Washington can’t rely on an already-formed moderate opposition but needs to build one, shows that the set of rebels on which the US can rely to act as US partners who will rule with elements of the existing Syrian state in a post-Assad Syria is virtually empty. The conclusion is substantiated by the failure of a now-abandoned Pentagon program to train and equip vetted rebel groups. Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, the top American commander in the Middle East, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that despite the Pentagon spending $500 million training and equipping “moderate” rebels, only “four or five” were “in the fight.” [4] As the Wall Street Journal observed in late December, moderate rebels don’t exist. They’ve either been absorbed into Jabhat al-Nusra, Ahrah al-Sham and ISIS—the extremist terrorist groups which dominate the opposition—or were Islamist militants all along. [5]

5. The United States is arming sectarian terrorists indirectly and possibly directly and covertly.

The report points out that not only has the Pentagon openly trained and equipped rebels, but that the United States has also covertly armed them. According to the Congress’s researchers:

“Then Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said in a September 2013 hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the Administration was taking steps to provide arms to some Syrian rebels under covert action authorities” (p. 23).

Also:

“Secretary Hagel said, ‘it was June of this year that the president made the decision to support lethal assistance to the opposition….we, the Department of Defense, have not been involved in this. This is, as you know, a covert action’” (footnote, p.23).

If the United States was prepared to overtly arm some rebel groups, why is it covertly arming others? A not unreasonable hypothesis is that it is arming some rebel groups covertly because they have been designated as terrorist organizations. To be sure, a number of press reports have revealed that rebels who have received training and arms from the United States are operating with terrorist groups in Syria. According to the Wall Street Journal, “insurgents who have been trained covertly by the Central Intelligence Agency…are enmeshed with or fighting alongside more hard-line Islamist groups, including the Nusra Front, Al Qaeda’s Syria affiliate” [6]. Another report from the same newspaper notes that “al-Nusra has fought alongside rebel units which the U.S. and its regional allies have backed” [7]. A third report refers to collaboration between “CIA-backed Free Syrian army factions and extremist elements such as Nusra Front and Ahrar al Sham” [8]. Let’s be clear. Anyone who is enmeshed with and fighting alongside Al-Qaeda is a terrorist.

terroristAccording to Congress’s researchers, weapons the US furnished to selected groups have made their way to jihadists. “Some Syrian opposition groups that have received U.S. equipment and weaponry to date have surrendered or lost these items to other groups, including to extremist groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra” (p. 23).

When you consider that, as The Washington Post reported, “the CIA has trained and equipped nearly 10,000 fighters sent into Syria over the past several years” [9] and that, at best, there are 700, and more likely only 70 “moderate” rebels in Syria [10], then the bulk of the large rebel force the CIA has trained and equipped is very likely made up of Islamist extremists. Concealing this shameful reality from the US public is probably the principal reason the program is covert.

6. Washington wants to contain ISIS, but not eliminate it, in order to maintain military pressure on the Syrian government.

Based on the US coalition’s less than vigorous air campaign against ISIS, many observers have questioned whether the United States is at all serious about eliminating ISIS just yet, and is simply trying to contain it, to keep pressure on the Syrian government. For example, veteran Middle East correspondent Robert Fisk says: “I don’t think the U.S. is serious. Very occasionally, you can hear the rumble of American bombs. But they’re certainly not having much effect.” [11]

One day, soon after Russia began air operations in Syria, journalist Patrick Cockburn noted that “Russian planes carried out 71 sorties and 118 air strikes against Islamic fighters in Syria over the past two days compared to just one air strike by the US-led coalition – and this single strike, against a mortar position, was the first for four days.” [12] After ISIS captured Palmyra, and pushed into Aleppo, the US coalition did nothing to push back the ISIS advance, leading even rebels to question “the U.S.’s commitment to containing the group.” [13] Assad too has expressed scepticism about whether the United States is serious about destroying ISIS, pointing to the terrorist organization’s continued successes in Syria, despite the US coalition’s presumed war against it. “Since this coalition started to operate,” observed the Syrian president, “ISIS has been expanding. In other words, the coalition has failed and it has no real impact on the ground.” [14]

A tepid approach to fighting ISIS in Syria would fit with US president Barack Obama’s stated goal of degrading the Al-Qaeda offspring organization. Destroying it may be an ultimate goal, to be achieved after ISIS has served the purpose of weakening the Syrian government. But for now, the United States appears to be willing to allow ISIS to continue to make gains in Syria. The Congressional Research Service report concurs with this view: It concludes that “U.S. officials may be concerned that a more aggressive campaign against the Islamic State may take military pressure off the” Syrian government (p. 19).

By contrast, Moscow has pursued a more vigorous war against ISIS, and for an obvious reason. Unlike Washington, it seeks to prop up its Syrian ally, not give ISIS room to weaken it. It should be additionally noted that Russia’s military operations in Syria are legal, carried out with the permission of the Syrian government. By contrast, the US coalition has brazenly flouted international law to enter Syrian airspace without Damascus’s assent. It has, in effect, undertaken an illegal invasion and committed a crime of aggression, compounded by its training and arming of terrorists.

Conclusion

The report says that in the absence of grass-roots support for political opposition coalitions in Syria, the United States is relying on a number of tactics to pressure the current government in Syria to step down, including:

• Keeping ISIS alive as a tool to sustain military pressure on Damascus.
• Arming jihadist groups indirectly and (we can assume) directly (albeit covertly) to pressure Assad.
• Seeking to create a moderate opposition that will act as a US partner.
• Trying to co-opt parts of the existing Syrian state to take a partnership role in governing a post-Assad Syria.

The implication of points 1 and 2 is that the United States—as the trainer of, and supplier of arms, to rebels who are enmeshed with and fighting alongside Al-Qaeda in Syria, and in keeping ISIS alive, in order to use these terrorist organizations to achieve its political goal of installing a US-partner government in Syria—is a state sponsor of terrorism.

1. http://www.opinion.co.uk/perch/resources/syriadata.pdf

2. http://www.opinion.co.uk/perch/resources/syriadatatablesjuly2014.pdf

3. “President al-Assad: Russia’s policy towards Syria is based on values and interests, the West is not serious in fighting terrorists,” Syrian Arab News Agency, December 11, 2015, http://sana.sy/en/?p=63857

4. Philip Shishkin, “U.S. weighs talks with Russia on military activity in Syria,” The Wall Street Journal, September 16, 2015.

5. Stuart Rollo,“Turkey’s dangerous game in Syria,” The Wall Street Journal, December 28, 2015.

6. Anne Barnard and Michael R. Gordon, “Goals diverge and perils remain as U.S. and Turkey take on ISIS,” The New York Times, July 27, 2015.

7. Farnaz Fassihi, “U.N. Security Council unanimously votes to adopt France’s counterterrorism resolution,” The Wall Street Journal, November 20, 2015.

8. Sam Dagher, “Syria’s Bashar al-Assad Tries to Force the West to Choose Between Regime, Islamic State,” The Wall Street Journal, October 9, 2015.

9. Greg Miller and Karen DeYoung, “Secret CIA effort in Syria faces large funding cut,” The Washington Post, June 12, 2015.

10. Robert Fisk, “Is David Cameron planning to include al-Qaeda’s Jabhat al-Nusra in his group of 70,000 moderates?”, The Independent, December 1, 2015.

11. Thomas Walkom, “Journalist Robert Fisk explains why Canada should abandon ISIS war,” The Toronto Star, September 25, 2015.

12. Patrick Cockburn, “Russia in Syria: Air strikes pose twin threat to Turkey by keeping Assad in power and strengthening Kurdish threat,” The Independent, October 28, 2015.

13. Raja Abdulrahim, “Islamic State advances further into Syria’s Aleppo province,” The Wall Street Journal, June 1, 2015.

14. “President Assad’s interview with Russian media outlets, Syrian Arab News Agency, September 16, 2015 http://sana.sy/en/?p=54857

Written by what's left

January 10, 2016 at 2:35 am

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