The photo of the three-year-old Syrian boy, Aylan Kurdi, dead, face down on a Turkish beach, will be remembered not just for its emotional impact, but because once and for all it revealed the grotesque and deadly motives of those who press for, and profit from, the never-ending expansion of Western war-making in the Middle East. In a triumph of opportunistic cynicism over truth, restraint, or good taste, they quickly blamed Kurdi’s death on the failure of the US and European governments to depose Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad (“Abusing Dead Syrian Children,” by Daniel McAdams, SLL, 9/4/15).
What is really going on in Syria? SLL posted a good background report, “Unmasking ISIS,” by Washington’s Blog on September 13. Ostensibly, Assad, an Alawite Shiite, is trying to fend off a revolution led by Sunni ISIS, which now controls a large chunk of land in eastern Syria and western Iraq. Who controls ISIS, how much support is it getting from allies outside Syria, who are those allies, why are they supporting ISIS, who is supporting or opposing Assad, and why are they supporting or opposing him, are questions that, once answered, reveal the duplicity of those stumping for “more Western involvement.”
ISIS is a creature of US involvement in Iraq. After defeating and deposing Sunni Saddam Hussein, the US led coalition inflicted democracy, which in majority-Shiite Iraq meant a Shiite government. Justifiably claiming that they were being persecuted, disaffected Sunnis became the base for the establishment of Al Qaeda in Iraq, which was responsible for much of the guerrilla warfare directed at the Iraqi military and occupying US forces. Significant numbers of both the leadership and rank and file of ISIS come from Al Qaeda in Iraq, many having been radicalized during incarcerations in US prison camps.
The other fountainhead of ISIS has been the Syrian rebellion, which began as protests during the “Arab Spring” of 2011 and morphed into a full-scale civil war. The Sunni Arab regimes—Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, and Turkey—have long been hostile to Alawite Shiite Assad. Their hostility goes beyond the sectarian difference. Syria has been allied with the Soviet Union since the 1960s and is now allied with Russia and Shiite Iran, while the Sunni regimes have been in the US orbit. Assad, at the behest of his Russia ally, has blocked construction of a natural gas pipeline from Qatar, through Syria, to Turkey, which would supply Europe and allow it to lessen its dependence on Russian natural gas.
The US has dreamed of regime change in Syria since Assad’s father, Hafez Assad was president and cozied up to the Soviet Union. Father and then son have been on the neoconservative hit list with Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gaddafi, and Iran’s government since the early 1990s. An Arab spring rebellion in 2011 appeared to present the perfect opportunity for the regime changers in the US government. Like it had with other “spontaneous” uprisings against regimes it didn’t like, the US government supported the rebels in their effort to topple Assad.
There was one problem with the plan: the groups that were spearheading the rebellion were al Qaeda and allied offshoots, including the embryonic ISIS branch in Syria. It would have been a bit unseemly if the US teamed up with the al Qaeda, responsible for the 9/11 tragedy and number one on the terrorist organization most wanted list. Lacking an ally that would pass muster in the US, the neoconservatives and their allies in the Obama administration simply made one up: moderate Syrians who despised both Assad and Islamic extremists! The Free Syrian Army (FSA), led by a group of Syrian Army defectors, would take down Assad, set up a US-backed democracy, and keep the radical Islamic groups at bay. Senator John McCain showed up in Syria and got his picture taken with members of the FSA, our guys.
The US directly supplied these “moderate” rebel groups with weapons, training, intelligence, and other forms of support. In Iraq, ISIS had commandeered weaponry left by the US, and as it expanded into Syria, it ended up with much of the weaponry ostensibly meant for those imaginary rebels. Out of fear, opportunism, or ideological affinity, most of those upon whom US hopes rested joined ISIS and brought their US-supplied weapons with them. Senator McCain’s photo-op mates signed up with ISIS!
After a three-year, half-a-billion dollar effort to find, vet (recruits had to swear on a stack of Korans that they were good, US-friendly, Muslims, not those barbaric, US-hating Muslims) and train a moderate force that was to number 5,000, the US managed to muster 54 approved Syrian moderates to fight the forces of Assad and ISIS. By the end of this summer they had all been captured or killed, or had deserted. Even McCain has admitted that this fiasco is “a bad, bad sick joke” (“The Pentagon’s Syria debacle,” by Phillip Ewing and Austin Wright, SLL, 9/12/15).
An effective, moderate Syrian fighting force was nothing more than a neoconservative fantasy. Now, they’re boxed in by reality. As it has been since it started, the real fight there is between Shiite Assad’s Syrian government and the Sunni extremists led by ISIS. The primary aim of US allies in the region—the Sunni states and Israel—is to depose Assad (Israel does not like Assad because he supports Hezbollah in Lebanon). The Sunni states have provided funding, weapons, and other support for ISIS, but they swear they’ll go after them once Assad is taken out. Under the pretext of fighting ISIS, Turkey, long plagued by Kurdish separatists, is bombing Syrian and Iraqi Kurds, who are, with Assad’s Syrian army, the only effective fighting forces against ISIS.
Vladimir Putin has deftly illuminated the dissembling behind US policy in Syria. He is sending military advisers and weaponry to help Assad fight ISIS, and he has offered to work with the US. It would be sensible to make common cause with Russia against ISIS (“Putin: Friend or Foe in Syria?” by Patrick Buchanan, SLL, 9/18/15), but such an alliance would severely diminish the likelihood of realizing the neoconservative dream: deposing Assad, installing a puppet more to the liking of the US, the Sunni states, and Israel, and loosening Russia’s grip on Europe’s natural gas supply with the Qatari pipeline through Syria. So the neocons are left muttering about Russia’s dark designs in the Middle East, although Russia, unlike the US, learned its lesson in Afghanistan and has shown no desire to get stuck on the Middle East tar baby. Further mutterings about the dark designs of Assad ally Iran are thrown in for good measure, usually in the same breath as condemnation of the nuclear agreement.
The neoconservatives ultimate goal—US garrisons in Shiite Iran, Iraq, and Syria, puppet governments, and a Middle East made safe for oil interests, Israel, and the repressive Sunni states—would require World War III. To stump for such a war would not play well with a US public grown weary and disgusted after fourteen years of maladroit US adventures in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Egypt, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen.
Aylan Kurdi will only take you so far. The public has no more enthusiasm for war in Syria now than it did when Assad supposedly crossed President Obama’s red line, and wider conflict is out of the question. So presidential candidates make hay condemning Obama’s irresolution and lost opportunities in the Middle East, but do not specify what they would do there, other than be “tougher” on Assad, ISIS, Iran, Russia, terrorists, and anybody else who doesn’t like the US. Fourteen years of such toughness has killed millions, cost trillions, and prompted a refugee wave that threatens to overwhelm Europe. The looming danger is that one of these tough guys or gals, upon election, puts up rather than shuts up, for putting up could lead to world war. Then there would be no winners and a lot more dead three-year-olds.
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