Russian and American imperial collaboration to bleed Syria and deny the people’s right to self-determination

As Russian warplanes continue to pound rebel-held Eastern Aleppo and pro-government forces including Iraqi Shia sectarian militias begin their ground assault on the sixth day of the Syrian government’s offensive to retake all of the northern Syrian city, neither a political solution nor a military solution seems likely to materialize in the short-term unless either Russia or the United States alters its current approach to the conflict.  Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid al-Moaellem, speaking to the pro-regime Mayadeen TV, declared today that the government was still open to participating in a unity government that included sections of the opposition.  The opposition has repeatedly dismissed this offer in the past and particularly at this moment when the Assad government backed by Russian air power and Iranian ground forces is pursuing a strategy of “Offer Surrender, Kill Whoever Stays”   and escalating its tactics by raining ground-penetrating bombs known as bunker-busters on the residents of Aleppo, an about-face on the part of the opposition remains unthinkable.  The Syrian revolution was founded in 2011 on the demand that Assad must go and given the enormity of the war crimes which he and his sponsors have committed against the Syrian people since then, this precondition will never be abandoned nor should it be.  In fact, yesterday, the Syrian Opposition High Negotiations Committee and the Syrian National Coalition cut their trip to New York for the United Nations General Assembly short and returned to Syria in response to the “military escalation and the war of annihilation being waged by Russia on Aleppo which caused the martyrdom of hundreds, most of them women and children” and, according to HNC spokesmen Riyad Naasan Agha, “in order to coordinate the actions of the military, political, and revolutionary forces.”   Whether or not Aleppo falls, the war will continue as long as Russia backs Assad remaining in power, and no action to counter Russia is taken by the United States.  Indeed, rebels seized the key village of Maan in Northern Hama province on Saturday, edging closer to Hama city.  In recognition that they have been severely screwed over by previous ceasefire agreements including the most recent one negotiated by Russia and the United states, thirty-one rebel factions released a statement on Sunday declaring that any future ceasefire agreement or cessation of hostilities must include a halt “to all bombardments, killings, and forced displacements by any means.”  It goes on to say that “all sieges must be broken and humanitarian supplies must be delivered under United Nations supervision,” and that all those forcibly displaced by the “agreements” extracted from the Syrian people by Assad’s “Kneel or Starve” policy must be allowed to return to their homes.  As clear as day, the opposition refuses to capitulate and presses on with its noble struggle.  Frankly, I believe that both Putin and Obama are engaged in a sort of holding pattern with respect to their Syrian interventions.  Given the intransigence of Assad, the steadfastness of the opposition, and the powerful presence of anti-western Islamists among the opposition neither superpower can be assured of having their interests met in Syria if Assad was to be overthrown today.  In other words, both Russia and the United States continue to intervene in Syria so as to maintain Assad in power, because no faction among the opposition, either military or political, is willing to submit to the imperial diktat of either superpower.  This is what analysts such as Charles Lister fail to understand.  As I explained in my first blog post , the Obama administration’s policy with regards to Syria has not been a failure.  All the rhetoric, the bluster, the red lines, the condemnations, including John Kerry’s and Samantha Power’s latest condemnations of Russia’s merciless bombardment of Eastern Aleppo represent a smokescreen.  Behind the smokescreen, hides the fact that the Obama administration continues to refuse to take any action to stop Russia from conducting its ruthless slaughter in support of the Baathist regime.  Behind the smokescreen, also hides the fact that the Obama administration, since Spring 2012 when the CIA and Pentagon first intervened in the joint operations room established by Turkey, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia on Turkey’s Southern border in order to prevent anti-aircraft weapons from reaching the rebels, has worked assiduously to undermine the Syrian revolution at every turn.  Charles Lister, in his latest article for Foreign Policy entitled “Obama’s Syrian Strategy is the Definition of Insanity”  exhibits incredulity at the Obama administration’s assertion that there are no alternatives to its current policy.  Of course, from the standpoint of ensuring civilian protection, entrance of humanitarian aid, an end to the genocide, and a transition to a new governing power in Syria there exist plenty of alternatives.  However, these alternatives have existed for five and a half years and eventually Charles Lister has to stop exhorting the Obama administration to do the right thing from his perspective and indeed the perspective of any decent human being, and try to understand and analyze why the United States has consistently done the wrong thing, the immoral and unconscionable thing.  There is a moral value to thinking and philosophizing about what ought to be, but the more important task is to apprehend and comprehend what is and how it came to be so.  I mean I wish that George W. Bush had never invaded Iraq, but are the American people any closer to stopping a future president from taking a similar action without understanding why such action was taken in the first place?  Of course not.  It is past time to stop hoping against hope, to cease operating under the illusion that states, especially the United States of America, are moral actors.  Lister spends this entire article laying out the “mistakes” the Obama administration has committed in Syria from a moral perspective.  He writes, “Washington has indirectly abetted the wholesale destruction of a nation-state, in direct contradiction to its fundamental national security interests and its most tightly held values.”  To what values is he referring?  Over the course of its existence and indeed in present-day, the United States has directly abetted the wholesale destruction of numerous nation-states including Iraq, Palestine, Haiti, Cuba, Guatemala, Iran, Yemen, Argentina, Chile, Indonesia, East Timor, and many more.  Why is Lister so surprised the the U.S. has been indirectly abetting the destruction of Syria by Bashar and his sponsors? He seems not to apprehend the fact that the foreign policy arena is one in which nation-states exert hard and soft power against one another in order to advance what they perceive to be in their national interest, not one in which they encourage one another to adopt democratic forms of governance and advance the cause of self-determination of oppressed peoples.  After thoroughly admonishing the Obama administration for its policy shortcomings on Syria, Lister lays out five key points which he argues that the U.S. must take into account going forward.  First, Assad must go because the opposition will never capitulate to his rule.  I agree, but the fact remains that the United States already apprehends this reality.  The problem remains that Assad was a reliable U.S. ally before the Syrian revolution began, and there currently exists no element of the Syrian opposition willing to submit to U.S. imperial diktat.  This is why the Obama administration continues to permit Russia to let loose its bunker-busting bombs on the people of Syria and the various opposition factions.  This is also why the CIA and the Pentagon have been actively intervening since 2012 to undermine the Syrian revolution and the military capability of its moderate nationalist armed factions, particularly the Southern Front of the Free Syrian Army.  Second, Lister argues that a purely military solution to Syria’s conflict stands outside the realm of possiblity meaning that a negotiated settlement represents the only viable route to stability.  Again, I agree, but I would contend that the Obama administration understands this point as well. Since there exists no Free Syrian Army faction willing to become an American proxy, the next best choice for the U.S. is for Assad to remain in power over at least part of Syria.  I see this outcome as unlikely to come to pass in the short-term, but perhaps in the long-term the Obama administration might be reasoning that if it allows Russia to carry on with its industrial scale slaughter in Aleppo and beyond, then it can eventually force the opposition to surrender to a power sharing arrangement with Assad.  In other words, the United States would have succeeded in imposing a political solution via military means utilizing Russia as its, oh can we say, proxy.  Opposition activist, Mahmoud al-Basha told Al Jazeera that the conquer of Aleppo would constitute a huge victory for the regime, “Aleppo is the biggest stronghold for FSA.  There are no more cities for the FSA in Syria – they lost Homs, there is no FSA in Hama and Damascus.”  The key port city of Latakia has remained under government control for the duration of the war. Indeed, the regime refers to these five major cities in Western Syria as “useful Syria, ” leading one to believe that it only intends to fight for the retention of these provinces or at least sections of these provinces.  Indeed this intention is further confirmed by the fact that the regime has been engaged in a policy of Sunni ethnic cleansing and forced population displacement of civilians and opposition fighters to rebel-controlled Idlib province from besieged neighborhoods such as al-Waer in Homs, and Darayya and Moadamieyeh in Damascus.  This brings me to address Charles Lister’s third point: that a partition would fail to resolve Syria’s conflict, and, in addition, likely aggravate the current root causes and foster new ones.  I agree with Charles that a partition map drawn against the will of the Syrian people will result in conflict for many years to come, however I do not believe that the U.S. cares particularly deeply about the will of the Syrian people.  As long as Assad retains control of these five major cities in addition to the major port city of Tartus on the Mediterranean coast which houses a key Russian naval base, I think that both Russia and the United States will be satisfied.  This brings me to tackle Charles Lister’s fourth point: that Jabhat Fateh al-Sham and other al Qaeda-linked or formerly al Qaeda-linked groups in Syria do not represent the typical counter terrorist problem for the United States and their strategy of forming military alliances with moderate nationalist and Islamist factions “means that airstrikes will fail to defeat the group, and instead we must outcompete it.”  I am not entire certain what he means by “outcompete.”  Does he mean to say that the Obama administration should seek to counter these hard line factions by ideological means?  That makes no sense, since, as he points rightly points out, these Jihadi groups have succeeded in drawing the nationalist armed factions into a military, not ideological alliance.  Does he mean to say that the U.S. should seek to draw the moderate groups outside of the Jihadi’s orbit by supplying them with weaponry and additional military assistance?  That also makes no sense, since, as I have already pointed out, none of these groups are willing to become American proxies and throw away their battle to achieve the self-determination for the Syrian people.  As is typically the case, Charles Lister resides in a world of fantasy regarding his assumption of U.S. benevolence in Syria.  I am of the opinion that the Obama administration is going to continue to allow Russia and the Assad regime to deal militarily with Jabhat Fateh al-Sham and other hard line Islamist factions.  None of these groups represent a threat to the homeland.  Idlib province has been under the control of the Jeish al-Fateh (Army of Conquest) coalition comprised of Ahrar al-Sham, Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, and other Islamist factions since 2015.  The Assad regime does not include Idlib province as part of its so-called “useful Syria” so perhaps it as well as the United States and Russia intend to leave it to be dealt with militarily after a political solution has been imposed on the rest of Syria.  For his fifth final point of advice to the Obama administration, Lister argues that if Assad remains in power for the foreseeable future and beyond, Daesh will unquestionably survive and therefore an offensive against Assad, whether political or military or both, is an absolutely essential component of the fight to eliminate Daesh once and for all.  With this last point, Charles misses the forest for the trees.  As long as the United States continues to support dictatorial and sectarian regimes in the Middle East which deny their people basic freedoms and impose neoliberal economic policies, fundamentalist terrorist groups whether they be Daesh, al Qaeda or other formations will continue to proliferate across the region.  The so-called war on terror is not a war that United States government envisions ending a year from now, five years from now, or even ten years from now.  Certainly, its support for dictatorial regimes is not going to cease any time soon.  Daesh is on the run in Iraq and Syria.  The organization has lost vast swathes of territory to the U.S.-backed Kurdish YPG and SDF in Syria and the Iraqi army, Kurdish Peshmerga, and Shiite sectarian militias in Iraq.  I think that the U.S. believes that it can use Russia to impose a political solution on the Syrian people which keeps Assad in power, defeat ISIS, and later on deal with the hardline Islamist groups in Syria’s Idlib province.  Undoubtedly such a policy will engender more chaos and sectarian bloodletting in the region for years to come.  But I believe that we have entered a point in history in which the United States can no longer achieve its national interest in the Middle East  and simultaneously ensure stability in the region.

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