What is going on in Syria? On the one hand, there was a temporary «ceasefire» to mark Eid al-Fitr and the end of Ramadan. John Kerry, the US Secretary of State, said there were discussions underway to extend it. Since the United States did not support the previous February ceasefire, one has to suppose that Kerry’s comments were just American jive. On the other hand, I put the word ceasefire in quotation marks because there appears to be heavy fighting underway just about everywhere in Syria. A Russian helicopter, for example, was shot down last Saturday by jihadists near Palmyra. Were they using American MANPADS?
In February the Russian and US governments agreed to cooperate in starting peace negotiations while continuing to fight Daesh and its al-Qaeda affiliates. That agreement had no value whatsoever. At the time Syrian commentators were dismissive. No one should be surprised because the American side never intended to respect its commitments to Moscow. US policy is still to support what it calls the «moderate» opposition to overthrow the Syrian government in Damascus. The so-called moderates, backed by the United States, are not moderates at all and are «embedded» in al-Qaeda forces. The Russian government, playing along, asked its US «partners» to extract their «moderates» from the jihadist al-Nusra front.
«Impossible, we can’t», the Americans replied, we need more time, say, two or three months. Therefore, please don’t bomb al-Qaeda.
«Don’t bomb al-Qaeda?» the Russians asked incredulously: «What do you mean?»
Well, it means that the Obama administration seeks to protect al-Qaeda, or the al-Nusra front, sheltered by imbedded «moderates», and that it is playing the Russian government for a fool. It means that the Obama administration is a part of the problem and not part of the solution. How many generals with a free hand would accept this sort of sorry, dishonest pleading? The United States and its vassals are in fact allied with al-Qaeda and Daesh either directly or indirectly.
Russia actually halted its air strikes around Aleppo to conciliate Washington, not understanding – otherwise why do it? – that conciliation of the Obama administration is pointless. The Iranians and Syrians apparently said as much, but the Russian authorities did not listen to them. Hope springs eternal in Moscow apparently when it comes to winning over Washington.
If you are a Russian ally, however, such behaviour naturally raises questions about Russian reliability. Iranians were reported to have been unhappy because the «ceasefire» led to heavy Iranian casualties. The Russians, who are anything but fools, got the message. «I am under the impression that there is a game here», Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov recently commented, «and they [the United States] may want to keep al-Nusra Front in some form and later use it to overthrow the [Bashar el-Assad] regime». Syrians got the message too. «I have started to feel», one Syrian recently said to me, «that they [the Russians] are not going to leave us alone until we all die». In fact, Russia seems to be sticking with Syria in spite of its manoeuvres to wean the US government away from its jihadist proxies. It goes without saying that Russia needs allies too.
In an article I wrote in March, I said that it made no sense to agree to a ceasefire before the Daesh/al-Qaeda enemy was beaten because they would simply use the ceasefire to reinforce and resupply which is in fact what they did. Media reports indicated that several thousand fresh jihadists crossed the frontier from Turkey to replenish mauled Daesh and al-Qaeda forces in northern Syria. They then launched fresh attacks around Aleppo on Syrian forces which paid the price in dead and wounded for the «ceasefire».
Russian officials continue to refer to the United States as a «partner» – one hopes that now such references are mere irony – but sometimes one has to wonder. There is after all a price to pay in lives for attempts to wean the US government away from its destructive policies. Does the Obama administration think it is immune to terrorist attacks from its al-Qaeda and Daesh proxies? Apparently it does. France and Belgium were not immune although perhaps they thought they were.
It’s called «blowback», a term coined by the late American scholar Chalmers Johnson. Professor Johnson argued for years in favour of a more sensible, less destructive US foreign policy. To no avail. Now the Turks are paying the price in blowback for backing Daesh.
And let’s not forget the Iraqis. They are victims of blowback on a weekly basis, though it’s not of their own making.
A Syrian ceasefire is intended to precede negotiations to end the Syrian war. The media in the west speaks of a «civil war». Even the Moscow English language Sputnik, which ought to know better, continues to use such language. It is not a civil war in Syria; it’s a proxy war of aggression, financed, brokered, supplied and led by the United States and its various European and regional vassals. These include Britain, France, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Qatar to mention the most important. Anti-government forces are not Syrian at all, but come from an estimated 40 countries; they are waging war against the secular, multi-confessional government in Damascus. The fact that Daesh and various Islamist terrorist groups are foreign, not Syrian, has disappeared almost entirely from the Mainstream Media.
This Orwellian legerdemain is essential if one wants to promote negotiations with anti-government forces, in fact, with their brokers. But why give belligerent rights to foreign terrorist mercenaries? What legitimacy do Syrian oppositionists have, dressed in expensive suits, lodged in expensive foreign hotels, subsidised by the United States and its vassals? What legitimacy do foreign jihadist terrorists have in the eyes of most Syrians? Could any of these «suits» be expected to win legitimate Syrian elections, having wrought so much death and destruction?
It beggars belief, and that’s the American problem. But you know the United States, it creates its own realities, and the western media serve as propagandists for them. That’s how it works. One hopes that the ordinary everyman will catch on. In Europe, sometimes they do, voting in referenda, but then ignored by their government elites. Half the American population labours to make ends meet, or lives from paycheque to paycheque. One supposes they don’t have the time to look up from their daily struggles for economic survival to notice what evil the US government is perpetrating in their name. But even when the times were better, the American people have rarely caught on. The last time was during the so-called Vietnam War.
There is also the issue of Turkey and the burying of the hatchet after the ambush of the Russian fighter jet and the killing of its pilot in his parachute and of a Russian marine sent to rescue him. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan signed a formal letter of apology, and Vladimir Putin immediately ordered the end of sanctions against Russian tourism in Turkey.
Wasn’t that a little too hasty? Apart from Erdogan’s scrap of paper, did the Russian government obtain any quid pro quo for the lifting of sanctions? Although we cannot know for certain, Russia apparently obtained nothing concrete from the Turkish government. Promises to discuss this or that issue were made, but is that enough for dead Russian servicemen or for Russia’s Syrian, Lebanese (Hezbollah), and Iranian allies? According to media reports, Turkey is now going to join Russia in fighting terrorism. Does that mean that Turkey will cease its support of Daesh, close down the supply routes into Syria, stop buying Daesh oil at cut-rate prices (apparently some still transits the frontier) and close the hospitals in Turkey used to treat Daesh wounded? If not, then the concept of Turkey joining «the fight against terrorism» is Orwellian newspeak.
Recently, there has been more comment in Moscow about Russia having «completed» its mission in Syria. Is this «liberal» code to prepare public opinion for a Russian «skedaddle»? Since the conflict in Syria is not a civil war but a war of aggression led by the United States, a Russian pull-out would eventually mean the defeat of the Syrian government in Damascus. It cannot hold out against all the resources of the United States and its vassals.
Russia is not pulling out of Syria – so it appears – and shame on those Moscow «liberals» who suggest that it should. Russian armed forces are fighting with their Syrian, Iranian and Lebanese allies. They have suffered losses. Russian airstrikes are supporting Syrian forces around Aleppo and elsewhere. If Syria still fights, it is because Russia has lent a hand.
But what’s next? A new ceasefire? With whom and to what end? The United States has not changed its policy; it’s still part of the problem, not the solution. Is there any point in asking for a dance with Washington, as long as it backs the al-Nusra front, and Daesh indirectly through its vassals like Turkey? Russia gave an answer which Obama and his neoliberal neocons can understand. A few weeks ago Russian bombers attacked al-Nusra and the «imbedded» US-backed «moderates» around Aleppo.
«Provocation», cried the Obama neoliberals. Not really, though Obama knows a thing or two about provoking Russia. It’s the language of force, and the only language which the US government understands.