The US government says that its goal is to not to overthrow the Syrian government militarily, something it could do easily if it were not for overwhelming public opinion against such a move. It also says that it is not allied with the Syrian rebels, an understandable public distancing since some reports indicate that about half of that motley group consists of extremely undesirable elements, including violently anti-US groups.
And yet, whenever it looks like the rebels are losing ground, the US intervenes by giving them more weapons and other means to neutralize any Syrian government advantage. President Obama’s recent expressions of a desire to attack Syria came at a time when the Syrian government seemed to be again getting the upper hand. Back in August 29, Musa al-Gharbi argued that the Obama administration’s policy to bomb Syria had been decided well in advance when it seemed like the government was overpowering the rebels, and that the use of chemical weapons in Ghouta was used as an excuse to justify the action.
The Obama Administration’s previous decision to arm the rebels came just after the fall of the pivotal city of al-Qusayr, as the Syrian Army was preparing for a major campaign to purge Aleppo of rebel forces. At the time, Saudi Arabia and France argued vehemently that some kind of immediate intervention was needed to interrupt these efforts, which were otherwise likely to be successful—and devastating for the rebellion.
This new chemical weapons incident just happened to occur at a moment when the regime is on the verge of a general de facto victory over the insurgency while the world’s attention was focused primarily on the unfolding crisis in Egypt.
So what are we to make of US policy? What is the actual goal? Why is there a drive for attacking Syria’s government while at the same time no apparent desire to have the rebels actually take over the government, a seemingly pardoxical situation captured in this Ted Rall cartoon? It seems as if the US government wants to maintain a perpetual status quo in which both sides keep killing and destroying each other and innocent civilians while neither winning nor losing. Could it be that it is the policy of the US to just have more and more people die in Syria in a civil war?
As in the case of Iraq, there are many factors that lurk beneath what seems incomprehensible on the surface. Jean Bricmont and Diana Johnstone have a good article with an exhaustive analysis of all the possible reasons that might be at play. They look at the role of Turkey and Saudi Arabia, the oil lobby, and the military-industrial complex. They also look at why Israel and its US lobby were way out ahead on this issue, pushing strongly for the attack, only to be thwarted at the last minute by public opinion and Russian diplomacy. They point to long-term US geopolitical strategy and the role that Israel plays in those plans.
People on the left are not wrong in supposing that Washington would want to defend “American geo-strategic interests”. Those certainly exist, and are a proper object of controversy. But the crucial question here is whether support for Israeli policy aims in the Middle East is among them. Indeed, there is a sector of the U.S. foreign policy establishment that promotes an aggressive global foreign policy that amounts to a sort of world conquest, with U.S. military bases and military exercises surrounding Russia and China, as if in preparation for some final showdown. But the fact is that the most active advocates of this aggressive policy are the pro-Israel neoconservatives of the Project for the New American Century that pushed the Bush II presidency into war against Iraq, and now, as the Foreign Policy Initiative, are pushing Obama toward war against Syria. Their general line is that U.S. and Israeli interests are identical, and that U.S. world domination is good, or even necessary, for Israel. Such close identification with Israel has caused the United States to be intensely hated throughout the Muslim world, which is not good for the United States in the long run.
The authors go on to argue that that does not mean that Israel wants Syrian president Assad gone. As always, their main focus is on Iran, the one remaining middle eastern country that Israel sees as a potential threat that needs to be destroyed.
Even so, it is not certain that Israel’s war aim would be to overthrow Assad. A clue to Israel’s strategy is provided by a September 5 article in the New York Times: “Israeli officials have consistently made the case that enforcing Mr. Obama’s narrow ‘red line’ on Syria is essential to halting the nuclear ambitions of Israel’s archenemy, Iran. More quietly, Israelis have increasingly argued that the best outcome for Syria’s two-and-a-half-year-old civil war, at least for the moment, is no outcome. For Jerusalem, the status quo, horrific as it may be from a humanitarian perspective, seems preferable to either a victory by Mr. Assad’s government and his Iranian backers or a strengthening of rebel groups, increasingly dominated by Sunni jihadis.”
“This is a playoff situation in which you need both teams to lose, but at least you don’t want one to win — we’ll settle for a tie,” said Alon Pinkas, a former Israeli consul general in New York. “Let them both bleed, hemorrhage to death: that’s the strategic thinking here. As long as this lingers, there’s no real threat from Syria.”
So, the real goal of the limited strikes (and the reason why they ought to be limited) would be to send a message to Iran, about its nonexistent nuclear arms program and, in Syria, let both sides “bleed to death”. How nice! Waging a war based on the flimsiest of evidence only to prolong a bloody conflict may not be a very moral endeavor for all those who claim to act out of passion for “our values” and for deep concern over the “suffering of the Syrian people”.
As appalling as such a rationale sounds, David Swanson writes that this would not be something new in the annals of geopolitical scheming. On the August 6 anniversary of one of the most shameful acts in history, the dropping by the US of nuclear bombs on Japan, he writes:
Harry Truman spoke in the U.S. Senate on June 23, 1941: “If we see that Germany is winning,” he said, “we ought to help Russia, and if Russia is winning we ought to help Germany, and that way let them kill as many as possible.”
Did Truman value Japanese lives above Russian and German? There is nothing anywhere to suggest that he did. Yet we debate, every August 6th or so, whether Truman was willing to unnecessarily sacrifice Japanese lives in order to scare Russians with his nuclear bombs. He was willing; he was not willing; he was willing. Left out of this debate is the obvious possibility that killing as many Japanese as possible was among Truman’s goals.
So we can ignore all the bogus tears shed for the victims of the chemical weapons attack that president Obama and all the other warmongers shed. What they seem to be after is a lot of deaths in Syria but spread out over a long time using conventional weapons. It looks as if the US policy is to place its hand, either overtly or covertly, on the military scale of the Syrian civil war to maintain the balance and see that the war continues until the country and its people are destroyed.
That would be pretty much consistent with what is now going on covertly in Yemen and Somalia, countries that are out of the headlines at present but that we are sadly going to hear about in the near future as they further disintegrate.