By JEFF MACKLER
When a June 16 New York Times front-page article blared, “51 U.S. Diplomats Urge Strikes Against Assad in Syria,” I could almost hear the war drums beating at the U.S. State Department and White House. These “mid-level diplomats,” with varying U.S. government Syria assignments over the years, “urged the United States to carry out military strikes against the government of President Bashar al-Assad to stop its persistent violations of a cease-fire in the country’s five-year-old civil war.”
Both the U.S. government and its diplomats charge that Russia’s “violations” consist in targeting U.S.-backed and funded terrorist groups aimed at overthrowing the Assad government. Heaven of heavens! Unlike the U.S. government and its reactionary allies in the region, and NATO, neither the Russians nor the Syrian government distinguish between U.S.-organized and fostered terrorists like the Al Qaida-affiliated Al Nusra Front and ISIS. The latter group and its offshoots are funded and/or abetted by one or another U.S. imperialist ally in the region, including Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the other Gulf monarchies as well as NATO, while the U.S., not too secretly these days as we shall see below, turns a blind eye to the Nusra Front, whose forces freely intermingle with and regularly collaborate with U.S.-armed groups aimed at Assad’s removal.
The “51” called for a “a judicious use of stand-off and air weapons, which would undergird and drive a more focused and hard-nosed U.S.-led diplomatic process.” This “judicious” U.S. air war, essentially a “no fly zone,” would signal a direct confrontation with the Russians, who presumably would be given the option to have their aircraft “stand off” or be shot down.
In September 2015, Russia accepted the Syrian government’s request to intervene against the ISIS and the Nusra Front/Al Qaida terrorist attacks, not to mention against the attacks of the 1400 armed militias organized by the Saudis, Qataris and their allies, and the tens of thousands of armed jihadi fighters that joined the effort as they freely filtered though Turkish borders with Turkish government aid and approval (see The New York Times editorial of June 29, 2016). The fact that Al Nusra is formally on the U.S. list of terrorist organizations is ignored when its terror is directed against the Syrian government.
While these diplomats employ the polite language of their trade, few would deny that their recommended “hard-nosed” and “stand off “ use of “air weapons” signals nothing less than a potential military confrontation with Russia, an existential confrontation that may not exclude a nuclear war.
With the commencement of Russia’s bombing of any and all terrorist groups in Syria, there has been no “diplomatic” agreement of just who is to be bombed, or better, which terrorist organizations are to be bombed. The “51” memo argues that unless a U.S. air war is contemplated, “Mr. Assad will feel no pressure to negotiate with the moderate opposition or other factions fighting him.” Note the delicate reference to “other factions,” that is, as we will see below, Saudi and U.S.-armed factions hired to do imperialism’s bidding.
What began in Syria in 2011 with mass peaceful protests against the neoliberal austerity measures imposed by the capitalist Bashar al-Assad government, undoubtedly and initially a promising and welcome component of the Arab Spring mobilizations that challenged the status quo in the region, rapidly devolved into a U.S. and allied imperialist war aimed at “regime change” American style. The Assad government’s firing on peaceful demonstrators proved to be the perfect pretext to accomplish in Syria what the U.S./NATO “humanitarian” and “regime change” war did in Libya. That one-year onslaught leveled the Libyan nation’s infrastructure and murdered ten of thousands.
While The Times argued in its June 16 article that “there is little evidence that the Obama administration has plans to change course” and that it “has emphasized the military campaign against the Islamic State over efforts to dislodge Mr. Assad,” the opposite has been the case. The very next day a Times headline read that “[Secretary of State] John Kerry Is Said to Side With Diplomats’ Critical Memo on Syria.”
With the Russia intervention a year ago, along with the Iranian militias and Hezbollah fighters, U.S. imperialism’s fortunes in Syria have been significantly diminished. Large swaths of the country, including important cities previously under ISIS or Al Qaida control, have been retaken by Syrian government forces. It is in this context that the “51” memo can best be understood.
Classified C.I.A. reports reveal U.S war aims
The corporate media-promoted fiction that the central U.S. military target in Syria is ISIS, and not a U.S.-imposed regime change to remove Assad, is belied by the facts. A June 26 New York Times article entitled “C.I.A. Arms for Syrian Rebels Supplied Black Market, Officials Say” asserts: “The theft of only a small portion of the U.S. weapons bound for Syria and stolen by corrupt Jordanian officials highlights “… the messy, unplanned consequences of programs to arm and train rebels—the kind of programs the C.I.A. and Pentagon have conducted for decades—even after the Obama administration had hoped to keep the training program in Jordan under tight control.”
The Times continues, “The United States and Saudi Arabia are the biggest contributors [in Syria], with the Saudis contributing both weapons and large sums of money, and with C.I.A. paramilitary operatives taking the lead in training the rebels to use Kalashnikovs, mortars, antitank guided missiles and other weapons.”
And further, “The existence of the program is classified as are all details about its budget. American officials say that the C.I.A. has trained thousands of rebels in the past three years, and that the fighters made substantial advances on the battlefield against Syrian government forces until Russian military forces—launched last year in support of Mr. Assad—compelled them to retreat.”
And again, “The training program is based in Jordan because of the country’s proximity to the Syrian battlefields. From the beginning, the C.I.A. and the Arab intelligence agencies relied on Jordanian security services to transport the weapons, many bought in bulk in the Balkans and elsewhere around Eastern Europe.”
The Times continues, “The program is separate from one that the Pentagon set up to train rebels to combat Islamic State fighters, rather than the Syrian military. That program was shut down after it managed to train only a handful of Syrian rebels.” Indeed, the figure is estimated at five rebels! The remainder of these U.S.-trained anti-ISIS fighters literally turned over their U.S. weapons to ISIS and/or to groups fighting Assad. Others just quit.
Further exploding the myth that “Syrian moderates” were leading the fight against Assad, The Times reveals that “President Obama authorized the covert arming program in April 2013, after more than a year of debate inside the administration about the wisdom of using the C.I.A. to train rebels trying to oust Mr. Assad.”
And finally, “The decision was made in part to try to gain control of a chaotic situation in which Arab countries were funneling arms into Syria for various rebel groups with little coordination. The Qataris had paid to smuggle shipments of Chinese-made FN-6 shoulder-fired weapons over the border from Turkey, and Saudi Arabia sent thousands of Kalashnikovs and millions of rounds of ammunition it had bought, sometimes with the C.I.A.’s help. By late 2013, the C.I.A. was working directly with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other nations to arm and train small groups of rebels and send them across the border into Syria.”
I couldn’t help but note the hypocrisy of these “51” diplomats concluding their recommendation for an air war against the Assad government by asserting, “It is time that the United States, guided by our strategic interests and moral convictions, lead a global effort to put an end to this conflict once and for all.” Could it be that these “moral” diplomats were unaware that almost from day one of the Syrian events, the deadly hands of U.S. imperialism and its allies were revved up to prepare for Assad’s removal?
Indeed, six months earlier, a January 23, 2016, Times article entitled, “U.S. Relies Heavily on Saudi Money to Support Syrian Rebels” essentially reported the same information, but with regard to Saudi Arabia, stating, “When President Obama secretly authorized the Central Intelligence Agency to begin arming Syria’s embattled rebels in 2013, the spy agency knew it would have a willing partner to help pay for the covert operation. It was the same partner the C.I.A. has relied on for decades for money and discretion in far-off conflicts: the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”
“Since then,” the article continues, “the C.I.A. and its Saudi counterpart have maintained an unusual arrangement for the rebel-training mission, which the Americans have code-named Timber Sycamore. Under the deal, current and former administration officials said, the Saudis contribute both weapons and large sums of money, and the C.I.A takes the lead in training the rebels on AK-47 assault rifles and tank-destroying missiles.”
And finally we are informed that “The support for the Syrian rebels is only the latest chapter in the decades long relationship between the spy services of Saudi Arabia and the United States, an alliance that has endured through the Iran-contra scandal, support for the mujahedeen against the Soviets in Afghanistan and proxy fights in Africa. Sometimes, as in Syria, the two countries have worked in concert. In others, Saudi Arabia has simply written checks underwriting American covert activities.”
To fuel the drive to increase U.S. and allied imperialist intervention in Syria, we are once again witness to a demonization campaign, this time directed at President Assad, who is charged by the “51,” and a host of other imperialist warmongers, of violating all the so-called cease-fire agreements negotiated in February, including denying food shipments to “starving people” in Darya—a suburb outside of Damascus—and of bombing U.S.-backed rebels who are supposedly fighting ISIS. Headlines screamed in late June that Assad had promised to retake “every inch” of his country from his invading foes.
Dare we assert that the imperialist-occupied portions of Syria—at one point some 50 percent or more of the country—represent a fundamental violation of the right of oppressed nations to self-determination? Here we are reminded of the rueful refrain of antiwar activists during the period when 500,000 U.S. troops for 10 years rained death and destruction on Vietnam, murdering four million people, mostly civilians. “We must teach the Vietnamese not to invade the land they were born in!”
We must teach Assad to never say that he is intent on retaking Syria from the imperialist invaders! We must bomb that nation to smithereens until the Assad government agrees to the imperialist propositions laid out by the U.S.-constituted and Saudi-led coalition of every imperialist backed force—almost all external to Syria—31 groups to date, that seek a piece of Syria!
Dare we comment on the alleged starvation of the people in cities previously taken over by U.S.-backed terrorist groups and today surrounded by Assad’s forces? Do these include the “rebel”-controlled Damascus suburbs from which U.S. and Saudi-backed terrorists had been daily lobbing bombs and rockets into Damascus? Should we side with ISIS forces who have been expelled from Palmyra and are now fleeing? Or the similar forces in the northern city of Aleppo? Should we lend credibility to confirmed reports that the “cease fire” had been used by U.S.-backed “rebels” to re-arm themselves? On this latter point, the evidence affirms Assad’s position.
A more accurate version of what is happening in the previously “rebel-controlled” Aleppo appeared in the Feb. 18 Boston Globe as an opinion piece by Brown University researcher Stephen Kinzer, who wrote: “Coverage of the Syrian war will be remembered as one of the most shameful episodes in the history of the American press. Reporting about carnage in the ancient city of Aleppo is the latest reason why.
“For three years, violent militants have run Aleppo. Their rule began with a wave of repression. They posted notices warning residents: ‘Don’t send your children to school. If you do, we will get the backpack and you will get the coffin.’ Then they destroyed factories, hoping that unemployed workers would have no recourse other than to become fighters. They trucked looted machinery to Turkey and sold it.”
Kinzer presents accounts that “Turkish-Saudi backed ‘moderate rebels’ showered the residential neighborhoods of Aleppo with unguided rockets and gas jars.”
Beware the “negotiated” settlement!
Today, at the behest of the U.S., the Saudi government was assigned to form a “High Negotiations Committee” supposedly to represent at the bargaining table all forces that seek the overthrow of the Syrian government—terrorists and U.S. stooges alike. There are no “progressive” or “moderate” forces in this imperialist cabal.
With the Russian intervention, again at the invitation of the Syrian government, the influence of U.S.-backed forces is declining, hence the heightened threats of a U.S. air war signaled by the “51” U.S. diplomats.
Today the UN reports that there are 65 million refugees and displaced people in the world, the great majority in the Middle East and Africa—almost all the victims of the chaos reigned on poor nations by the imperial powers, who seek the re-colonization of the planet by whatever means required. These include endless covert and overt wars, drone wars, privatized death squad wars and wars orchestrated by subservient U.S. allies.
On Russian intervention
The fact that the Russian, Iranian, and Hezbollah interventions in Syria have thwarted U.S. regime change efforts, at least for the moment, is a plus for Syria regardless of Russian intentions. Syria’s right to self-determination, that is, its freedom from U.S. imperialist intervention, however constricted under the present circumstances, opens far greater opportunities for Syrians to rebuild and organize for their own class interests than under the imperialist boot.
While the Russian government has repeatedly indicated its willingness to partner with the U.S. in a brokered “negotiated” settlement wherein President Assad could be “peacefully transitioned” out of office, the objective effect of Russia’s intervention has been to weaken the imperialist grip on Syria. Such a defeat for the U.S. government would represent a significant gain for the Syrian masses.
Few doubt that the Vladimir Putin government is qualitatively less concerned with Syria’s right to self-determination than it is with Russia advancing its own interests, including privately seeking U.S. assurances to lessen the European Union and U.S.-imposed sanctions on Russia imposed after the EU-U.S.-backed fascist-led coup in Ukraine and perhaps to diminish U.S. and NATO’s ongoing moves to place troops and nuclear weapons on Russia’s borders. While these are certainly vital and legitimate concerns of the beleaguered Russian state, my point here is also to be absolutely clear that while for capitalist Russia Syria’s right to self-determination is negotiable, for antiwar fighters in the U.S. and the world over it is not. Our starting point must be to reject any “right” of imperialism to impose any “negotiated settlement” on any oppressed nation.
Self-determination for Syria! U.S. Out Now! Abolish the U.S. war machine!