The “you’re a weakling” baiting of President Obama to get him to attack the Syrian government is unrelenting, stretching from the neocon Right to some elements of the liberal Left. And, there are doubts he is strong enough to rebuff the warmongers and pursue a path toward a negotiated peace, as Rick Sterling describes.
By Rick Sterling
Recently Counterpunch published an article “Obama’s Legacy: An Abyss Gazing Backwards” by Muhammad Idrees Ahmad. It exemplifies the faulty analysis and conclusions of those advocating direct U.S. military intervention in Syria, from right-wing neoconservatives to liberals and even some self-styled Marxists.
Because of the dangerous consequences of these assumptions and conclusions, it is important that they be critically examined. We can use the above mentioned article as an example. The same article with different title was published one week earlier in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) paper “The National.” The title was “Obama’s legacy is tarnished as Putin fills the vacuum in Syria.”
The Syrian “vacuum” is a popular myth promoted by those who want the U.S. to become more aggressive in Syria. In reality, the U.S. has very actively aided and abetted the violent opposition in Syria from the start.
The Defense Intelligence Agency report from August 2012 confirms that weapons were flowing to the Syrian armed opposition after the overthrow of the Libyan government in fall 2011. The claim that the U.S. was only supplying communications equipment and other non-lethal supplies in 2012 and 2013 was for public consumption and “plausible deniability.” In reality, the U.S. was supplying great quantities of weapons.
The “dark side” included a huge budget for CIA operations including training and arming the Syrian armed opposition. Also, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar and UAE were spending billions of dollars annually in support of mercenaries and fanatics trying to overthrow the secular Damascus government.
Contrary to what Ahmad says, the U.S.-backed “moderate” rebels of the Free Syrian Army were largely a fiction. Apart from the Islamic State (also known as ISIL, ISIS and Daesh), the most effective fighting force was the official Al Qaeda franchise, Jabhat al Nusra, the Nusra Front. Out of the public view, to the extent it existed, FSA was working closely with Nusra/Al Qaeda.
In a confusing use of terms, Ahmad contrasts “counter-terrorism” with “counter-insurgency.” What he means by “counter-insurgency” is regime change via direct intervention or invasion. What he means by “counter-terrorism” is regime change via coup or proxy army.
Pakistan-born Muhammad Idrees Ahmad suggests that President Barack Obama is spineless because he has opted for “counter-terrorism” (proxy armies, drone strikes, etc.) instead of “counter-insurgency” (direct U.S. attacks). This analysis is short-sighted and ahistorical.
There is no public desire for another U.S. invasion of another country in the Middle East. This is partly because the Iraq invasion and the ensuing disaster are still fresh in the public mind. It also follows a pattern from the past: after the defeat of the U.S. invasion of Vietnam in the 1970s, the U.S. reverted to using a proxy army (the Contras) against Nicaragua in the 1980s.
But warmongers in the media, such as Ahmad, are not the public. More often than not, they reflect the views of their sponsors. It’s no surprise that Ahmad’s article was first published by UAE’s “The National.” The United Arab Emirates is closely allied with Saudi Arabia and vigorously promotes conflict with Iran.
A recent exposé on the UAE Ambassador to Washington shows the level of corruption in Washington, how easy it is to win influence throwing money around, and the core policy of the United Arab Emirates. This policy is aligned with Israel and opposed to Iran, Syria and Russia. UAE’s celebrity ambassador, Yousef al Otaiba, is vigorously campaigning for the U.S. to intervene or attack Syria directly. The subtitle of the article succinctly describes the UAE Ambassador:
“Yousef Al Otaiba is the most charming man in Washington: He’s slick, he’s savvy and he throws one hell of a party. And if he has his way, our Middle East policy is going to get a lot more aggressive.”
What connects Ambassador Otaiba and writer Ahmad is the tiny wealthy monarchy known as the United Arab Emirates and promotion of U.S. aggression against Syria.
Ahmad says, “Obama betrayed his hand long ago when he failed to match hot rhetoric with even modest action … [when President Bashar al-] Assad brazenly breached his ‘red line’ by using chemical weapons.”
This assertion is standard fare for journalists promoting war. In reality, the accusation has been largely disproved. The Human Rights Watch “vector” analysis — purporting to trace missiles carrying sarin back to a Syrian military base nine kilometers from the impact site — was dubious from the beginning and then entirely discredited when aeronautic experts determined that the one missile found to carry sarin could only fly about two kilometers.
The most thorough investigations concluded that the launch site was in territory held by the armed opposition. American investigative reporters Seymour Hersh, Robert Parry and Gareth Porter, plus former CIA officer Ray McGovern, have all written that the attacks were likely by the armed opposition trying to trick the U.S. into bombing Syrian government forces.
Muhammad Idrees Ahmad, like nearly all mainstream journalists promoting the war, ignores this contrary evidence, simply repeating the discredited rush to judgment that followed the sarin attack in August 2013, blaming Assad’s forces.
In tandem with “Obama is weak” goes “Russia is strong” or “Russia looks strong” or “Putin looks strong because Obama is weak.” The media warmongers are like kids on a school playground, trying to egg on a fight. Except in this case it’s not a bloody nose at stake; it’s the lives of tens of thousands of Syrians and potentially millions if not billions in World War III.
Ahmad outdoes himself in the charge for war by claiming “Russian actions in Syria are an act of aggression against the country’s beleaguered people.” In contrast with his assertion, many Syrians are hugely relieved and happy that Russia has started providing air support, modern laser-guided weapons and satellite information to help reverse the tide of Islamist gains.
An American Syrian friend who lives in Latakia recently reported that people in the city were extremely worried in August through mid-September with increasing car bombs and jihadi-fired missiles coming into the city. They are now starting to feel safe again. The mood has dramatically changed for the better.
Another Syrian friend reported that in his home village near Homs, women were ululating in happiness when Russian jet fighters attacked nearby ISIS and Nusra camps.
Those seeking direct U.S./NATO intervention in Syria describe the conflict as “weak Obama vs. strong Putin.” They are unhappy and critical because the proxy rebel army has failed to overthrow the Syrian government. So, they want direct invasion even if it risks world war.
It’s a very dangerous and deluded mindset. Above all it profoundly ignores or distorts the wishes of the Syrian people who have consistently and increasingly made clear they do not support the violent opposition. Two years ago, an assessment by NATO of Syrian public opinion found that 70 percent of the population supported the government, including many Sunnis who had grown disillusioned and fearful of the extremist fighters linked to Al Qaeda.
The conflict in Syria shows what happens when international law is ignored with impunity. Both the UN Charter and customary international law prohibit one country using force, directly or by proxy army, against another.
The Syrian conflict shows what happens when the “rule of the jungle” prevails. The “abyss” is not Syrian government and military getting support from Russia and starting to prevail over mercenaries and sectarian fanatics. The “abyss” is the death and destruction of the cradle of civilization caused by clear aggression.
The Obama legacy significantly depends on whether the President resists or caves in to warmongers such as Muhammad Idrees Ahmad and the Ambassador from UAE.
Rick Sterling is an independent researcher/writer and co-founder of Syria Solidarity Movement. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org