US Confusion over the Syrian War

Official Washington is in a tizzy over Russia’s decision to join the fight in Syria to defeat Al Qaeda and ISIS, though one might have thought the U.S. would welcome Moscow’s help. But there are other factors, including the wishes of Israel and Saudi Arabia, complicating matters, writes Lawrence Davidson.

By Lawrence Davidson

On May 1, I wrote an analysis on “Changing Alliances and the National Interest in the Middle East.” In this piece, I made the argument that, at least since September 2001 and the declaration of the “war on terror,” the defeat of Al Qaeda and its affiliates has been a publicly stated national interest of the United States. This certainly has been the way it has been presented by almost continuous government pronouncements and media stories dedicated to this “war” over the years.

Given this goal, it logically follows that, with the evolution of Al-Qaeda-affiliated organizations such as the so-called Islamic State (aka ISIS or Daesh) and Jabhat al Nusra (aka Al Qaeda in Syria), those who also seek the destruction of such groups are America’s de facto allies in the “war on terror” and warrant our assistance. Likewise, those who openly or clandestinely support these religious fanatics are opponents of a central U.S. national interest, and their relationship with the United States should at least be open to review.

Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

Then came the shocker: Who has been and continues to actively oppose these al-Qaeda derivatives with soldiers on the ground? It turns out to be, among others — Iran, Hezbollah and Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian government. And, who are clandestinely aiding the Al-Qaeda affiliates, the enemies of Washington? It turns out to be Israel and Saudi Arabia.

As I explain in my original analysis, this latter development has much to do with the fact that both the Israelis and the Saudis have decided that regime change in Syria is a high priority, even if it means ISIS and al-Nusra end up taking over Syria and, as Robert Parry puts it in a Consortiumnews.com article, ISIS “chopping off the heads of Christians, Alawites, Shiites and other ‘heretics’ and/or Al Qaeda having a major Mideast capital from which to plot more attacks on the West.”

Has the U.S. government, or for that matter the U.S. media, brought this anomalous situation to the attention of the general public? No. Has Washington altered its policies in the region so as to ally with the actual anti-al-Qaeda forces? Not at all. Why not? These are questions we will address below, but first we must look at a recent complicating factor.

Russia to the Rescue

This screwball situation has now taken yet another turn. The Russian government, which also sees Al Qaeda and its affiliates as a growing threat, has decided that the U.S. will not meaningfully act against the religious fanatics now threatening Syria – a country with which it, Russia, has strong ties. Having come to this conclusion, Moscow has decided to take the initiative and increase its military assistance to Damascus.

According to a New York Times article of Sept. 5, this includes bringing into Syria as many as a thousand military advisers and support staff. Russia already has a naval base at the port city of Tartus. Now it is establishing a presence at the main airbase outside the city of Latakia.

All of this has raised alarms in Washington. Secretary of State John Kerry, who has met several times with Russian officials about the Syrian civil war, was reported by the Philadelphia Inquirer on Sept. 10 to have called his Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, to tell him that the Russian moves will only increase the level of violence rather than help promote a negotiated settlement.

If this report is accurate, Kerry must have come across as rather lame. After over four years of protracted internecine slaughter, over 4 million refugees, and numerous failed attempts at a negotiated a settlement, all one has as a result is the growth of rampaging religious fanatics who now control much of Syria and part of Iraq as well.

It might just be the case that Moscow has come to the conclusion that a negotiated settlement is not possible, and what one really needs is a military victory that destroys organizations such as ISIS and al-Nusra. Oddly, the U.S. government seems to be alarmed at this prospect. No doubt this is because Moscow sees no reason to displace its ally, Bashar al-Assad, while “regime change” is a cause celebre for U.S. and Israeli leaders.

Washington has gone so far as to request NATO-affiliated countries to deny Russian transport planes permission to overfly their territory on their way to Syria. At least one such country, Bulgaria, has done just that. Fortunately, this does not really hamper the Russian effort. Iran, another enemy of Al Qaeda, has granted permission for the over-flights, thus opening up a convenient and more or less direct route for the Russian supply line.

The goal of destroying Al-Qaeda-like organizations is, supposedly, what the “war on terror” is all about. Nonetheless, the U.S. government’s policies in this regard are inconsistent. Does the U.S. want to destroy Al Qaeda and its affiliates or not? The answer is, mostly, yes. However, something often holds the government back – something that the Russians don’t have to contend with.

That something breaks down into three parts: (1) longstanding, conservative Washington-based special interest lobbies, the most powerful of which is sponsored by Israel; (2) the pro-war neoconservative elements within American society that often cooperate with these lobbies; and (3) an American military bureaucracy parts of which are committed to maintaining a system of land, air and naval bases situated mostly in dictatorial Middle East states hostile to both Russia and Syria. It is this combination of forces that prevents meaningful changes even as evolving realities would seem to demand them.

In other words, while Israel and Saudi Arabia can act in ways they consider to be in their national interests, their agents and allies in Washington exercise enough influence to discourage U.S. policymakers from doing the same thing when it comes to the Middle East. That is why Washington is not pointing up the fact that two close “allies” are helping the same sort of people who attacked the World Trade Center, while simultaneously chastising the Russians for actually acting forcefully against those same terrorists.

The inability to adjust to changing realities is a sure sign of decline, particularly for a “great power.” And, unfortunately that seems to be the situation for the U.S. At least at this point, one can only conclude that the Obama administration’s ability to secure the Iran nuclear agreement is an isolated example of realism.

Current U.S. policy toward Syria shows that Washington has not made the turnaround leading to a permanent clear-sighted ability to assess national interests in the Middle East.

Lawrence Davidson is a history professor at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He is the author of Foreign Policy Inc.: Privatizing America’s National Interest; America’s Palestine: Popular and Official Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli Statehood; and Islamic Fundamentalism.

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11 comments for “US Confusion over the Syrian War

  1. Mortimer
    September 15, 2015 at 17:18

    “So who by any democratic measure would advocate fighting against the Assad government?

    I have said this before, that if”… .

    rid the world of these terrorists.”
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    A comparison of concurrent recent realities have distinct hints of varying degrees of disaster in totality.

    By example, the present Horrors in the Middle East, murderous explosions in diverse countries, or Fukushima spewing radiation across the Pacific, or crazy weather patterns in the world, producing humongous floods, earthquakes, droughts, fires, or economic tsunami’s w/their “volatilities” and the Threat of a new Depression.

    varying degrees of total disasters that most of us would never encounter — but can creepily lurk more and more present in our Familiar Realities.

    Syrian Refugees, their plight, Dispossession of their lives and/or current Refugee Status — on this very day — also can be figuratively compared, for example, to those families who’ve been devastated and uprooted by Consuming Fire, in Middletown and Cobb, California. I sincerely despair for those families as well.

    Years ago, in my child rearing years, we’d vacation in Lake County, Ca. and spent many happy days throughout the area. Cobb is a mountainous, forest community and Middletown, (was) a basic drive-thru community of everyday hard working Americans.

    Photo images of Fire Destroyed Middletown and Displaced Families, along with The Devastation in Cobb, where we once phantasized as we explored for sale properties “in the mountains.”

    Achieving a peaceful life anywhere in this world gets more and more political, and violent as Opposing Views multiply creating more and more Division.
    More and more ( exponential ) divisiveness which creates more and more weakness.

    California is a dry tender box. (Like Dornan in Winter)
    Middle East awash in blood of cultural genocide
    provoked by the divide and rule angloestablishment.

    but Lake County is near and dear to us
    we bought a golf course lot in Clear Lake
    and talked about retiring there,
    among the deer and walnut trees.

    Maybe the most evil terrorists
    are them who call the shots ??

  2. Jaylin
    September 15, 2015 at 14:47

    Interesting that this same nexus of interests: Al Qaeda, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the Neocons, are the very same players and “coincidences” that pop up again and again when you dig into into the 9-11 attacks. Add to the list the well-known historical ties b/t the CIA and Al Qaeda, and you have a pretty good short list for a perp walk.

    • dahoit
      September 15, 2015 at 18:53

      Oh yeah!
      Do we have a shadow Zionist govt that instructs our nominal leaders into stupidity and repetitive failure,along with a propaganda effort second to none in world history?
      A gnat would agree,if he decipher his language.(wing beats?)

  3. Joe Tedesky
    September 15, 2015 at 14:09

    Was the P5+1 agreement a trade off. Knowing full well that Iran wasn’t building any nuclear weapons, this trade off wouldn’t be much of a trade off. So Netanyahu loses the Iranian nuclear bomb issue, but in return Washington allows Israel and Saudi Arabia right of passage in Syria. What I bring up here may not be what is going on, but it sure does look that way.

    If anyone truly cared to put an end to ISIS or any other name the terrorist call themselves, then you would think our teaming up with the Russians would be good news. The Syrians have given up a lot of unpopulated land, as to save their populated cities. Twenty percent of the Syrian people have become refugees. Seventy five percent have forgotten their differences with Assad, and now back him. The last five percent have either joined, or have learned how to put up with their terrorist captors. So who by any democratic measure would advocate fighting against the Assad government?

    I have said this before, that if America and Russia, and let’s not forget China, and how this type of alliance would be good to rid the world of these terrorists. Lastly, send a memo to the American NGO’s and the CIA while you are at it. Peace!

    • Joe L.
      September 15, 2015 at 14:59

      Well I think that I have read for years that the majority of Syrians back Assad but this does not fit in with our western politicians goals for “regime change”. As for Russia joining in to fight ISIS, you would think that would be a good thing UNLESS the goal is to let ISIS create the “regime change” that you want. I just find it ironic that nation after nation that the western world institutes “regime change” only leads to Al Qaeda and its’ offshoots to expand into those countries and grow stronger. I mean now even, I believe, General Petraeus is saying that we should support the Al Nusra Front, which is Al Qaeda, in Syria – that’s how truly twisted this has all become – War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength. What we are seeing in the world today could come right out of Orwell’s 1984! What saddens me about the situation in Syria along with refugees from Syria, Libya, Iraq etc. is that much of this could have been avoided and now we are witnessing what looks like “perpetual, never-ending warfare”. Had the US taken Russia’s suggestion of peace talks back in 2013 then this would have been over by now but instead the US/Britain/France armed and trained “moderate” Syrian rebels in Jordan 2012 which go onto join the Al Nusra Front and ISIS meanwhile talking tough about “regime change” and “red lines”. To me, it is obvious that our western leaders don’t want peace but rather to try to control this region as China and other countries rise – a geopolitical chess piece at the behest of the people that live there.

    • Peter Loeb
      September 16, 2015 at 06:18

      See my comment to Robert Parry’s article in today’s
      Consortium. My comment is titled ‘FOR OPENERS.

      —Peter Loeb, Boston, MA, USA

      • Joe Tedesky
        September 16, 2015 at 15:09

        After reading what you commented on to Robert Parry’s article, I agree. Russia, and any other country who would see fit, should make it unlawful for America and it’s allies to sell weapons in the lucrative war zones. The problem is that what makes decent sense in our mines, is never the option of the Neocon/Zionist way of thinking. No, these people for sure think different than most of us people think. I feel it depends on a persons priorities. If making boat loads of money for the arms industry is your goal, then you would think Neocon/Zionist think. Peter you, and the rest of us here just want peace, and there in lies our problem. Remember this, you are not alone, there are many of us who believe as you do. Peace to you Mr. Loeb, you are a good man.

    • Peter Loeb
      September 16, 2015 at 06:41

      WHO LEAVE?

      Joe Tedesky’s portrayal of which Syrians go where is very relevant
      indeed. In MSM they are always called just “Syrians” as with one
      brushstroke.

      According to Tedesky, those who “flee” would probably oppose
      the Bashar Assad regime. (One can imagine the PR interviews with
      these refugees on all media.) Not mentioned at all are any
      other Syrians.

      In another context (the US), historian Gabriel Kolko once wrote::

      “Few leave their homelands willingly…and notions that the hungry
      and oppressed came to the United States because of its social
      or intellectual virtues may be good ideology but it is poor history.”

      To be more direct, is this a calculated effort by the US to focus ONLY
      on those “Syrians” opposing Assad from whom much will be heard
      later in so-called “balanced” reporting? No one is paying any attention
      whatsoever to the Syrians with other choices. To do so would
      spoil the clear definition of Syria and Russia as evil “aggressors” etc.

      I can practically write these heartrending “reports” today.

      —Peter Loeb, Boston, MA, USA

      • Joe Tedesky
        September 16, 2015 at 15:24

        Mr. Loeb, I am not really sure who the twenty percent Syrian refugees are behind. My guess would be that they might shake out to reflect the other seventy five percent who back Assad, and the remaining five percent who do somehow survive amongst their terrorist captors. I just don’t know, but I do hope for these refugees sake that none of them become candidates for their becoming false flag patsies. I know you are aware of the evil that lurks within the western spy agencies. My biggest fear is that the refugees are not used to make a terrible tragedy somewhere in the world, look as though Iran or Russia was behind an episode as I have just described. The U.S. and Israel’s need for a false flag seems to loom pretty large, from the way I see it. Let us both hope I am being overly paranoid and leave this discussion end here. After reading many (maybe all) of your comment posts, I can tell you are a kind and thoughtful person, and this world needs many more concerned people such as yourself. I do believe you are making a difference, as many others who comment here are also.

        • Peter Loeb
          September 18, 2015 at 05:37

          TO JOE TEDESKY….

          Flattery will get you …somewhere. Many thanks for
          your most kind words.

          I would rather be correct than flattered.

          —–

          On US bases I would recommend the analysis/report
          available in —– tomdispach.com (in archives,) 9/13/15.
          As reprinted in the Nation of 9/14 David Vine’s report was
          titled “OUR BASE NATION .

          —Peter Loeb, Boston, MA, USA

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