Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Obama Oversees Endless War in Syria

 Brahimi Resigns

By  mid June 2014 the march toward Baghdad by Sunni ISIS militias had overtaken the headlines, nevertheless there was no diminution of suffering and destruction in the ongoing Syrian civil war.  That the international community has been unable  to put together  even a fig leaf of ongoing diplomacy was underlined in mid-May 2014, when Lakhdar Brahimi, the United Nations mediator for Syria, resigned after two years of frustrated efforts. In his last press conference, Brahimi called out   “everybody who has a responsibility and an influence in the situation” reminding them “that the question is: How many more dead? How much more destruction there is going to be before Syria becomes again the Syria we have known?”

I suspect I wasn't alone in surmising that Brahimi had in mind the U.S. and Israel as the major powers preventing an end to the war.  The cynicism driving Israeli policy is understandable.  The war weakens Syria's position as a front-line state opposing Israeli hegemony and Israeli oppression of the Palestinians. The war also forwards Israeli suppression of Hezbollah and Iranian influence. Nevertheless I  didn't expect to see pro-Israeli sentiment  so  baldly proclaimed as it was a year ago in a New Jersey Jewish community monthly,  The Jewish Voice and Opinion, where the long headline regarding the Syrian war concluded:  “The Best Scenario May Be for No One to Win” (April 2013).[1]

Surprisingly or not, a similar wish for continual fighting was advocated in a New York Times op-ed just a few months later by military strategist and historian, Edward N. Luttwak. In his article,  “In Syria, America Loses if Either Side Wins,” (August 24, 2013) Luttwak  argued that it would be  “ disastrous” if  Syrian President  Bashar al-Assad wins, since Israel and the Sunni Arab states would be the losers.  Nor, he wrote, would it be better for the U.S. and its allies if the rebels win, since, once in power, they would probably turn against their Western and Arab supporters.

Evidence that U.S. has intended long term stalemate in Syria appeared a year ago in Z Magazine in an article by  British  journalist  and author Nicolas J.S. Davies under  the unambiguous title:  “How the West Fueled the Ever-Growing Carnage in Syria,” (May 2013).   Davies wrote:

The more one studies the actions of the U.S. and its allies throughout this crisis, the more they seem to have been designed only to lead to ever-escalating violence. This raises the inescapable question whether, in fact, the slaughter and chaos taking place in Syria are in fact the intended result of U.S policy rather than the tragic but unintended result of its failure, as Western propaganda would have us believe.   (my emphasis) 
In stark contrast to cautious statements by U.S. officials, their actual policy appears to have consistently fostered the militarization and escalation of the crisis and to have undermined every peace initiative. In fact, their public statements may be only a smokescreen for a darker, more cynical policy. 

Davies listed a number of glaring instances of “actual” U.S. policy – which he averred contrasted with Obama administration rhetoric. For example, after Kofi Annan launched his peace plan in April 2012, the U.S. joined France and other allies for “Friends of Syria” summits promising aid, weapons and money to their Syrian proxies, ensuring the frustration of any peace plan. And after the Western allies dropped their preconditions for Assad’s departure they returned in June 2012 and “reasserted all their preconditions, killing the plan before it could get off the ground.” The U.S. also, Davies implies, tolerated, if not promoted, increased supplies to the rebels since June 2012 from the Saudis, Qatar, Libya, and other Arab monarchies.

Similarly the author of a recent article on “The shadowy flow of US weapons into Syria,” (April 2014)  doesn’t see U.S. policy as contributing to peace and stability in Syria.  The “ middle path being pursued by the US, of covertly training and arming assorted rebel groups, is likely to perpetuate the conflict, destabilize the region, and accelerate the growth of a new generation of international jihadists.”

By 2014  it’s become public  that the U.S. is providing  lethal as well as non-lethal aid to the anti-Assad forces. In May 2014, Ahmad Assi al-Jarba, Syrian rebel president of the (presumably moderate) opposition coalition, led a delegation to Washington  and confirmed reports that the rebels  had received American TOW antitank missiles.[2]   In what may have been a trial balloon, the Syrian leader pressed the Obama administration for even more powerful weaponry, including antiaircraft missiles.

Optimism in some quarters that Assad’s government may be gaining the upper hand, and might be on the verge of winning the war, especially after the ouster of rebel forces from  the key Syrian city of Homs in early May 2014,  seem to be premature.  Bill Weinberg’s WW4 Report summarized some of the evidence that the rebels remain a potent force.

The Free Syrian Army (FSA) and allied groups are gaining ground in the areas around Latakia, Dara'a, al-Qunaitra and Aleppo. The FSA is in control of most of Dara'a, where a southern front is reportedly being organized. And the most reactionary elements in the insurgency, the Nusra Front and ISIS, are engaged in their own mini-civil war in Deir Al Zour and north of Aleppo.

Evidence that the suffering only increases has been noted in media reports such as a New York Times  story  headlined, “Syria Death Toll Reported to Rise by 10,000 in less than 2 Months,” (20 May 2014)   The story cited a Britain based group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights,  which found that the death toll ‘in the three year war  had risen to 162,000.” The director of the group, Rami Adbdul Rahman, suggested that the death count could well be even higher: “No one,” he said, “can claim to know ‘the entire reality.”  The Times speculated that the conflict has “also displaced nearly half of the country’s population" of more than 21 million.  The regional instability due to the flight of  millions of Syrian refugees can hardly be measured. Jordan and Lebanon are the leading hosts with about a million or more refugees in each country.


Lakhdar Brahimi was not the first high profile UN sponsored mediator to recognize that he could do nothing in the face of strong powers determined that the conflict should continue. Kofi Annan, the former UN Secretary General, took on the job of UN–Arab League Joint Special Representative for Syria, but lasted less than a year (February –August 2012) before he resigned in frustration.  Among other things he had called for Iran to be part of the solution -- a proposal opposed by Israel and the U.S.

In mid-May 2014, The New York Times took note of a growing consensus that the U.S. has been a decisive actor perpetuating the crisis. The pull-quote from an article entitled, “U.S. Envoys See a Rwanda Moment in Escalating Syrian Crisis,” pointed to the Syrian “shadow that hangs over the Obama White House.” The article highlighted a comment made in early May 2014 by Samantha Power, U.S. Ambassador to the U. N., in a speech at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum which amounted to a rebuke of White House policy.  Power rejected the all-or- nothing U.S. position on the Syrian crisis which President Obama had offered: either disengagement – as if the U.S. was actually disengaged -- or the dispatch of U.S. troops. She “bluntly declared that the world’s response had been inadequate,” making an implicit connection to U.S. inaction in the face of the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

Similarly the anguish of David Miliband, the president and CEO of the International Rescue Committee, was evident in his op-ed entitled “Why Syria is America’s Concern,” (New York Daily News, May 7, 2014.). It is not in the U.S. interest, he wrote, to be “witness … to the violent disintegration of a country at the heart of the Middle East, with untold consequences not just for innocent civilians but for the future of regional and global policies.”

There is every reason to think that President Obama well understands that the “violent disintegration” of Syria is not in the interests of the U.S. -- not to mention the Middle East or the world. The disturbing question is why he continues to promote policies that further the continued destruction of the country and the endless suffering of its people.  

Is it simply that President Obama is bound to Israeli interests, that he is in effect a prisoner of the potent Israel lobby?  Personally I doubt it. I think it more likely that he mirrors the policy of the previous George W. Bush administration and uses the screen of the Lobby to promote policies that he understands will receive pro-Zionist support.

Ironically, when it comes to Syria and other foreign and domestic policy issues President Obama has been lambasted for indecisiveness, and weakness. But when it comes to the sheer ruthlessness that it takes to implement plans  resulting in such massive suffering as we have seen, for example, in Syria and Palestine, a rather  different Obama can be discerned behind the screen of his rhetoric  and his projection of a disengaged, even  passive executive.

Instead of  decelerating from  the bloody path of unprovoked aggression  of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice et. al. he has double downed on  their terrible precedents and, in his own fashion,  he continues to oversee  the continuation of endless war and boundless suffering,
A terrible example of such ruthlessness is President Obama’s drone assassination program which has been operative since his fourth day in the White House in January 2009. The  drone program is in conflict with international law, destabilizes countries, makes civil society difficult or impossible, promotes terror rather than suppresses it, and sets a horrific precedent, as it encourages copycat imitations by state and non-state entities.

 The drone program together with the Joint Special Operations Command assassination/destabilization squads in as many 50 or more countries, highlighted in the work of journalist and author Jeremy Scahill and others, are continuations and escalations of  President George W. Bush’s unprovoked aggression. The existence of such programs points to the unstated mission of U.S. Empire which seems bent on the promotion of maximum international instability and terror as pretexts for intervention and control.

Who is Barack Obama?

Whatever one thinks of President Obama there is little doubt that he's been a disappointment to his supporters. The key difference between the Obama and Bush regimes is that the latter enabled strategies that satisfied or delighted their base. Except on the margins, Obama has done the opposite: he has overseen and institutionalized programs both at home and abroad which have demoralized and frustrated his partisans.  If we take it as a rule that policies enacted over the course of an administration are the result of White House intentions, we are left with the question of: Who is Barack Obama?

Many of the people of Syria and their neighbors and much of the rest of the world know the answer to this question.
The End

[1] The complete headline reads: “The Syrian Civil War is a Microcosm of the Religious Shifts in the Middle East that Israel Will Have to Contend With; The Best Scenario May Be  for No One to Win”
[2] “Rebels to Ask for Antiaircraft Missiles,” New York Times, 8 May 2014. By Michael R. Gordon and Eric Schmitt


Ronald said...

MH posted on facebook:
The mess in Syria and Iraq have more to do with British and French colonialism/map drawing than with Israel or Obama. India/Pakistan is another example of the aftereffects of colonial rule. Even Ukraine can be explained by Russian colonial domination. In all these cases, peace will always be fragile and short lived.
PH wrote:
Thanks Ronnie. You know about the region you describe and your ideas are very informative.
But while I did not support O in '08 I did in '12. I do not know what can be done in the area. The human suffering is horrible!! But I would not want my son, or daughter, sent into the area to help one side or the other... win?
I lost my 21 year old nephew in the Iraq mess. He died state-side in an accident two days b/4 being deployed to Iraq.
I've seen the problems the American vets have after returning from battles in far off lands, and I do not want to see any more. Enough!
I know stuff is constantly going on behind the scenes. But I support the president. I hope he stays clear of the mess. But what a horrible tragedy it is for the innocent folks.

Ronald said...

Ronald responds to MH.
Thanks MH. Do you think that when Brahimi and Kofi Annan accepted their posts they felt that the main enemies to peace were post WWI map-makers and not the arms and support of world powers -- Israel and the US and their proxies?

Anonymous said...

How many times does one have to read your article to see that you all you do is complain but do not, and evidently cannot, contribute anything towards a solution?