Libby’s Stew: A Serious Assessment of the Syrian War
Stephen M. Walt writes in “What is the U.S. REALLY Doing in Syria?”:
1. The Syrian conflict has become a proxy fight between the opposition and its various allies (Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United States, Turkey, etc.) and Bashar al-Assad's regime and its various outsider supporters (Iran, Russia, Hezbollah).
2. For Washington, this war has become a golden opportunity to inflict a strategic defeat on Iran and its various local allies and thus shift the regional balance of power in a pro-American direction.
3. ... a conflict that undermines Iran, further divides the Arab/Islamic world, and distracts people from the continued colonization of the West Bank is a net plus. So Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu won't object if the United States gets more deeply engaged.
4. Barack Obama's administration does not want to play a visible role in the conflict. This is partly because Americans are rightly tired of trying to govern war-torn countries, but also because America isn't very popular in the region.... Instead, Washington can use Qatar and Saudi Arabia as its middlemen, roles they are all too happy to play for their own reasons.
5. Since taking office, Obama has shown a marked preference for covert actions that don't cost too much and don't attract much publicity, combined with energetic efforts to prosecute leakers. ....
6. In this scenario, the Obama administration may secretly welcome the repeated demands for direct U.S. involvement made by war hawks like Sen. John McCain. Rejecting the hawks' demands for airstrikes, "no-fly zones," or overt military aid makes it look like U.S. involvement is actually much smaller than it really is.
If the United States is now orchestrating a lot of arms shipments, trying to pick winners among the opposition, sending intelligence information to various militias, and generally meddling in a very complicated and uncertain conflict, don't you think the president owes us a more complete account of what America's public servants are or are not doing, and why?
Pat Buchanan in “Who Are the War Criminals in Syria?” asserts:
According to the Huffington Post poll, Americans oppose U.S. air strikes on Syria by 3-to-1. They oppose sending arms to the rebels by 4-to-1.
They oppose putting U.S. ground troops into Syria by 14-to-1. Democrats, Republicans and independents are all against getting involved in that civil war that has produced 1.2 million refugees and 70,000 dead.
A CBS/New York Times poll found that by 62-to-24 Americans want to stay out of the Syrian war. A Reuters/Ipsos poll found that by 61-to-10 Americans oppose any U.S. intervention.
The portrait of America that emerges is of a nation not overly interested in what is going on in Syria, but which overwhelmingly wants to stay out of the war.
Buchanan points out that despite the strong will against US intervention in Syria, our foreign policy “deciders” and supposed Washington “representatives” are not on the same page with us and don’t seem to care that they are not.
But it is also a nation whose foreign policy elites are far more interventionist and far more supportive of sending weapons to the rebels and using U.S. air power. From these polls, it is hard not to escape the conclusion that the Beltway elites who shape U.S. foreign policy no longer represent the manifest will of Middle America.
But who is speaking up for that great silent majority? Who in the U.S. Senate is on national TV standing up to the interventionists?
Who in the Republican Party is calling out the McCainiacs?
Buchanan brings up the accusations of the use of chemical weapons:
"United Nations human rights investigators have gathered testimony from casualties of Syria's civil war and medical workers indicating that rebel forces have used the nerve agent sarin, one of the lead investigators said Sunday."
The U.N. commission has found no evidence that the Syrian army used chemical weapons. ....
If the Syrian military did not use sarin, but the rebels did, who in the U.S. intelligence community blew this one? From whom did U.S. agencies get their evidence that sarin had been used by Damascus? Were we almost suckered by someone's latest lies about weapons of mass destruction into fighting yet another unnecessary war?
Yifat Susskind in “How Not to End the War in Syria” maintains the US militarily intervening is a “false solution” worsening the situation. She writes:
Syrians are facing one of the most severe humanitarian crises in the world as President Bashar al-Assad clings to power amidst an escalating civil war. More than one in three Syrians needs urgent assistance, according to the United Nations, and more than 1.4 million refugees have flooded into neighboring countries, a number that grows by the day. Women and girls have been targeted with sexual violence deliberately used to terrorize, a threat many cited as their primary reason for fleeing the country.
We are all witness to this suffering and the urge for action to alleviate it is a compassionate impulse that must guide US policy. But today’s growing call for military intervention is a false solution that would only intensify the conflict.
Susskind points out that Senators John McCain and Lindsay Graham are insisting on a “no-fly zone” to disable the Syrian government’s air force. Such an action would kill and injure many more Syrians. Susskind points out that 10% of the casualties of the Assad regime have been from the air force, the major part of citizen brutalization has taken part on the ground.
Senator Robert Menendez is pressuring the administration to arm the Syrian rebels. The rebels are made up of foreign fighters sent by Saudi Arabia and other countries, all hostile to Iran, and “reactionary Islamist forces, including some allied with Al-Qaeda.
Susskind stresses the sea change in the situation in Syria from the citizen protests of two years ago:
The secular, democratic voices that were at the forefront of the uprising two years ago have been sidelined.
She further addresses the war-mongering willfulness going on in Washington and from Israel and NATO and Arab nations demanding U.S. military intervention.
Syria is already awash in weapons that will be circulating in the area for years to come. Funneling more arms to the opposition would fuel their brutal battle tactics, intensify the war, and further diminish chances of a democratic outcome for Syria.
Many of the politicians now calling on President Obama to “step up” and help topple Syria's Assad are those who invariably champion the use of force to project US power abroad. Among them are the architects of the Iraq War and the cheerleaders for a US/Israeli attack on Iran.
Franklin Lamb in “UN General Assembly Vote Reflects Shift in Syrian Public Opinion” has some disclosures about the current Syrian scenario that are not making it to the US corporate media:
... [the] US-Qatari-Saudi drafted General Assembly Resolution that was designed to increase pressure on the Assad government stumbled badly and fell far short of what the Saudi Ambassador to the UN and other US allies predicted would be an overwhelming vote in favor. snip
One reason the vote fell short of the 130 favorable votes that the basically same resolution garnered the past two times is that it is widely viewed as ignoring the crimes and atrocities committed by the armed jihadist groups in Syria and the flow of thousands of international terrorists backed by the West, the Gulf states and Turkey who provide them with weapons and money.
Over the past four or five months it has become increasingly clear that public opinion in Syria is shifting ...
... public service announcement and even text messages demonstrate that the government is aware of the degree of suffering among the population, accept partial blame, and are focusing on remedial measure and crucially, ending the crisis with its horrific bloodshed.
One observes here a definite trend of the pulling together of a high percentage of Syrians who share a very unique history and culture and who are deeply connected to their country and who are increasingly repelled by the continuing killing from all sides including the recent barbarisms of body mutilations and summary executions videotaped and broadcast on utube by jihadist elements. The latter who these days come from nearly three dozen countries, paid for and indoctrinated by enemies of Syria’s Arab nationalism and deep rooted pillar of resistance to the occupation of Palestine. In addition, many among Syria’s 23 million citizens, who initially supported the uprising following government reaction to event in Deraa in March 2011, now have serious second thoughts about who exactly would replace the current government.
Events in Syria are also making plain that the army is still loyal to the Assad government, and according to Jane’s Defense Weekly, is actually gaining experience and strength as well as the well-known fact that as western diplomats are admitting, the “opposition militias” are hopelessly fractured, turning one another, many essential mafia outfits, and beginning to resemble their fellow jihadists from Libya, Chechnya and in between.
Opinion in Damascus and surrounding areas visited this past week, confirms this observers experience the past five months of a sharp and fairly rapid shift in opinion that now strongly favors letting the Syrian people themselves decide, without outside interference, whether the Assad regime will stay, and indeed, whether, the Baathist party will continue to represent majority opinion, not through wanton violence but rather via next June’s election. Many express confidence in the run up to this critical vote, noting that the election will be closely monitored by the international community to assure fairness. Perhaps aided by the current glorious May weather, a certain optimism, that was more scarce in the past, pervades many neighborhoods.”
Alex Lantier in “Video shows US-backed opposition fighter cannibalizing Syrian soldier” writes:
A gruesome video posted on YouTube shows Khalid al-Hamad, the leader of the opposition Farouq Brigade, desecrating the corpse of a Syrian soldier, cutting out his internal organs and biting into one of them.
The video makes clear the barbaric character of the Sunni Islamist militias Washington has mobilized in its proxy war against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The video was made to terrorize Syria’s Shiite Alawite community, from which most of the Assad government is drawn, and to encourage donations from the Farouq Brigade’s financial backers in the Persian Gulf oil sheikhdoms.
While desecrating the Syrian soldier’s body, an action that legally is a war crime, Hamad screams: “I swear we will eat from your hearts and livers, you dogs of Bashar… Look at the heroes of Baba Amr, slaughtering the Alawites and eating their hearts.”
Founded as the Syrian war began in mid-2011, the Farouq Brigade has been active around the Baba Amr area of the city of Homs, an early center of armed Islamist opposition to Assad. There are varying reports of its strength, ranging from a few thousand to 20,000 men.
Hamad contacted Time magazine on Tuesday to confirm that he had indeed bitten one of the dead soldier’s organs, as shown in the video.
He then called for a sectarian genocide of Alawites, telling Time: “Hopefully we will slaughter all of them. I have another video clip that I will send to them. In the clip, I am sawing another shabiha [pro-Assad militiaman] with a saw, the saw we use to cut trees. I sawed him into small piece and large ones.”
Significantly, Western officials speaking to the BBC described the Farouq Brigade as a “moderately Islamist” tendency inside the US-backed opposition, as compared to supposedly more extremist forces like the Al Nusra Front, which is affiliated to Al Qaeda.
While Hamad’s video is particularly gruesome, numerous graphic videos posted by the US-backed opposition have made its bloody, sectarian character clear from early on. To name only a few, such videos include Sunni Sheikh Adnan al-Arour’s July 2011 threat to run Syrian Alawites through a “meat grinder,” and 2012 videos of opposition fighters beheading a prisoner and another forcing a child to do so.
The anti-Assad militias have all along enjoyed the support of governments, political parties and the media. The Obama administration has continued funding them to the tune of $500 million—as its Persian Gulf allies also poured money and thousands of tons of weapons into the opposition—even after Washington formally designated Al Nusra as a terrorist group last December.
As part of this pro-war agitation, the media has largely sought to divorce Hamad’s video from the US-led war, or to present it as an isolated incident posing a vexing obstacle to attempts by Washington and its allies to escalate the war.
John Hudson in “Rand Paul: My Colleagues Just Voted to Arm the Allies of al Qaeda” writes:
Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) blasted members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Tuesday, which voted overwhelmingly to arm elements of the Syrian opposition in a bill co-sponsored by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN). "This is an important moment," Paul said, addressing his Senate colleagues. "You will be funding, today, the allies of al Qaeda. It's an irony you cannot overcome." The legislation, which would authorize the shipment of arms and military training to rebels "that have gone through a thorough vetting process," passed in a bipartisan 15-3 vote. Paul offered an amendment that would strike the bill's weapons provision, but it was rejected along with another Paul amendment ruling out the authorization of the use of military force in Syria. (Connecticut Democrat Chris Murphy was the only senator to join Paul in support of the weapons amendment.)
Paul's two amendments constituted his first legislative act to soften the Menendez-Corker bill, which earned the support of powerful lawmakers from Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) to Barbara Boxer (D-CA) to Marco Rubio (R-FL) -- all of whom rejected Paul's allegations. "I don't think any member of this committee would vote for anything we thought was going to arm al Qaeda," said Rubio. "Al Qaeda, unfortunately, is well-armed," added Menendez. "That is the present reality in Syria."
The dispute centers on the issue of whether the United States could properly vet Syrian rebels so that weapons and body armor would not fall into the hands of extremist groups, such as the al Qaeda-aligned al-Nusra Front. The Pentagon's top brass has vacillated about whether it's logistically possible to keep track of weapons as they enter a conflict involving a complex mix of opposition groups, as the new bill would require.
Johannes Stern in “European powers fund Al Qaeda looting of Syrian Oil” writes:
According to a report yesterday in Britain’s Guardian newspaper, the European Union (EU) is directly funding US-backed Sunni Islamist terrorist groups fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. These groups are looting oil in parts of eastern Syria that they control and then re-selling it to EU countries at rock-bottom prices.
These events also expose the so-called “war on terror”—the claim that Washington and the EU are fighting Al Qaeda, which served as the justification for US-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan—as a lie. Imperialism is arming and financing Al Qaeda-linked terrorist groups that commit terrible crimes against the Syrian population, handing over its wealth to the EU and Washington.
Abu Saif, an Islamist fighter of the Muslim Brotherhood-linked Ahrar Brigade, gives another account of how Islamists militias loot Syria: “Jabhat al-Nusra is investing in the Syrian economy to reinforce its position in Syria and Iraq. Al-Nusra fighters are selling everything that falls into their hands from wheat, archaeological relics, factory eq uipment, oil drilling and imaging machines, cars, spare parts and crude oil.”
To secure the oil, the terrorists murder everyone who gets in their way. In one widely reported case, Al Nusra fighters levelled the village of al-Musareb near Deir Ezzor, murdering 50 of its residents after a conflict with local tribesmen over an oil tanker. The mass killings through which terrorist groups control the territory needed to supply oil to European imperialism are documented in videos posted on YouTube.
Bill Van Auken in “Behind Syria peace talks proposal, US prepares regional war” maintains that despite talking the talk of resolution U.S. officials are bent on military intervention:
While ostensibly touring the Middle East to discuss a joint US-Russian proposal for peace talks between the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad and Western-backed “rebels,” Secretary of State John Kerry met with US allies to prepare for region-wide war.
Stopping first in Oman, Kerry held talks with the ruling Sultan, one of the string of monarchical dictators that constitute, together with Israel, the foundation of US influence in the Middle East. The secretary of state’s visit coincided with the signing of a $2.1 billion deal between the absolute monarchy and Raytheon Corp. for the sale of advanced weapons systems, including Avenger fire units, Stinger missiles, and Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missiles, part of a ring of steel that Washington has sought to erect around Iran.
From there, he flew to Amman, Jordan for a meeting Wednesday of the “Friends of Syria,” a US-led “coalition of the willing” that is fomenting the war for regime change in Syria. It consists of Washington, its European NATO allies, led by Britain, Turkey, Egypt and the various sheikhdoms and sultanates of the Persian Gulf, including the major arms suppliers to the anti-Assad militias: Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.
As the conference was convening Wednesday, Syria’s ambassador to Jordan held a press conference to denounce it as “a meeting of Syria’s enemies”
“Those who want to end the tragedy in Syria need to stop arming and training terrorist gangs in Syria. The war on Syria is unprecedented,” said the ambassador, Bahjat Suleiman.
Representatives of the Syrian National Coalition, the anti-Assad front cobbled together by the US State Department, were invited to the meeting only at the last minute. It appears there was some doubt if an agreement could be reached on whom the “rebels” would accept as their representative.
Van Auken points out that the US has presumptuously selected for the Syrians a pro-Western replacement for Assad as the head of a transitional government:
The US has promoted Ghassan Hitto, a Texas-based businessman linked to the Muslim Brotherhood who has lived in the US for over 30 years, as the “premier” of a transitional government. There have been increasing reports, however, that his role is strongly opposed by the Sunni sectarian militias that are fighting in Syria. It was reported that the coalition’s “acting chief,” George Sabra, a former member of the Stalinist Syrian Communist Party, would stand in for the “rebels.”
... it is evident that the real agenda occupying the US and its allies is how to salvage the war for regime change, under conditions in which the Syrian government is inflicting strategic reverses on the Western-backed forces.
Dana El Baltaii in “Syria Rebels Threaten to Wipe Out Shiite, Alawite Towns” focuses on the religious divisiveness of the Syrian war:
The conflict in Syria, which began in March 2011, is increasingly dividing the country and the surrounding region along religious lines.
The Shiite Lebanese militia Hezbollah and Shiite-led Iran have been key allies of the Assad government, whose upper ranks come from the Alawite sect, derived from Shiite Islam. Leaders of the rebel army and political opposition are mostly Sunni, and they are backed by key Sunni powers including Saudi Arabia and Turkey.
Matthias Gebauer in “Syrian Rebels in Trouble: German Intelligence Sees Assad Regaining Hold” writes of the strengthening of the Assad military position in Syria:
Not even a year ago, German intelligence predicted Syrian autocrat Bashar Assad's regime would soon collapse. Now, the agency instead believes the rebels are in trouble. Government troops are set to make significant advances, it predicts. Germany's foreign intelligence agency, the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), has fundamentally changed its view of the ongoing civil war in Syria. SPIEGEL ONLINE has learned that the BND now believes the Syrian military of autocrat Bashar Assad is more stable than it has been in a long time and is capable of undertaking successful operations against rebel units at will. BND head Gerhard Schindler informed select politicians of the agency's new assessment in a secret meeting.
Pepe Escobar in “Assad talks, Russia walks”:
Well, by now everyone following the Syrian tragedy knows who most of them are. One knows that the Un-Free Syrian Cannibals, sorry, Army (FSA) is a ragged collection of warlords, gangsters and opportunists of every possible brand, intersecting with hardcore jihadis of the Jabhat al-Nusra kind (but also other al-Qaeda-linked or inspired outfits).
Syria is now Militia Hell; much like Iraq in the mid-2000s, much like the Western-imposed, "liberated" Libyan failed state. This Afghanization/Somalization is a direct consequence of NATO-GCC-Israel axis interference. So Assad is also right when he says the West is adding fuel to the fire, and is only interested in regime change, whatever the cost.
Assad is not exactly a brilliant politician - so he wasted a golden opportunity to explain to Western public opinion, even briefly, why GCC petro-monarchies Saudi Arabia and Qatar, plus Turkey, have the hots for setting Syria on fire. He could have talked about Qatar wanting to hand over Syria to the Muslim Brotherhood, and Saudi Arabia dreaming of a crypto-emirate colony. He could have talked about them both being terrified of Shi'ites in the Persian Gulf harboring legitimate Arab Spring ideals.
He could have detailed how Britain and France inside NATO, not to mention the US, as well as their petro-monarch puppets are using the disintegration of Syria to hit at Iran - and how none of these actors supplying the weaponizing and plenty of cash give a damn about the suffering of the "Syrian people". The only thing that matters is strategic targets.
While Bashar al-Assad was talking, Russia was walking. President Vladimir Putin - well aware that the Geneva talks are being derailed by various actors even before they happen - moved Russian naval vessels to the Eastern Mediterranean; and offered Syria a batch of ultra-modern ground-to-sea Yakhont missiles plus a batch of S-300 anti-aircraft missiles - the Russian equivalent to the American Patriot. Not to mention that Syria already has Russian SA-17 anti-aircraft missiles.
Assad could also have talked about - what else - Pipelineistan. It would have taken him two minutes to explain the meaning of the agreement for the US$10 billion Iran-Iraq-Syria gas pipeline that was signed in July 2012. This crucial Pipelineistan node will export gas from the South Pars field in Iran (the largest in the world, shared with Qatar), through Iraq, towards Syria, with a possible extension to Lebanon, with certified customers in Western Europe. It's what the Chinese call a "win-win" situation.
Make no mistake; Pipelineistan - once again tied up with bypassing both Russia and Iran - explains a great deal about why Syria is being destroyed.
Nicholas Blanford in “Brinkmanship in Syria Boosts Risk of Regional War with Israel”:
In the past two weeks, Israel has confirmed its unprecedented policy of airstrikes against suspected Hezbollah arms caches in Syria with two more attacks in swift succession after the inaugural bombing in January. Syria has warned of an “automatic response” should Israel stage a fourth strike.
Added to the mix is the strategic decision of Iran and Hezbollah to devote substantial resources to assist the Assad regime in crushing the rebellion. And the reported transfer of more Yakhont anti-ship missiles from Russia to Syria and the possibility of Russian S-300 air defense system also being delivered to Damascus in the coming weeks has merely added to the tensions.
... Israel has sensed a window of opportunity opened by the war in Syria to attack Hezbollah arms supplies stockpiled in Syria, calculating that there will be no reaction while the Assad regime is fighting for its existence.
So far, Israel’s calculation has paid off. But the tolerance threshold grows a little closer with each fresh airstrike.
The Syrian authorities have warned that orders have been given to the army to launch an “automatic” – if unspecified – retaliation should the Israelis launch another airstrike into Syria.
The question, however, is what form would such a retaliation take. Any response would have to be sufficiently powerful to make Israel think twice about mounting any future bombing operations inside Syria, but not to overreach to the extent that it could trigger an escalation leading to a war that neither the Assad regime, Iran, Hezbollah nor Israel want.
[cross-posted on open salon]