Saturday, April 16, 2016
SYRIA: OBAMA’S BAY OF PIGS
No one is going to get rich reading tea leaves to predict the outcome of the US-backed terrorist invasion of Syria. There are so many confusing events that it’s difficult to keep track of trends that might indicate which way the war on Assad (and the majority of Syrians) is going. That’s why few people have noticed certain positive developments that may indicate that Obama is seeking a way out with what is left of America’s honor. Whether this will lead to a stand down of US efforts at regime change will depend on whether Obama is willing to risk yet another confrontation with influential neocons who are still intent on crippling Iranian influence in the region through destabilizing the Syrian government.
The most recent round of peace talks are not likely to be the sham that previous ones were. Despite Kerry’s tough talk of a Plan B, the US has dropped demands that Assad step down as a precondition to a deal. The alternative to a negotiated resolution, recently leaked to the Wall Street Journal, would involve escalating the conflict by providing more dangerous weapons to the jihadist “rebels.” However, the plan is most likely being presented as the only credible alternative to capitulation to Russian demands in Geneva. Knowing how man-portable air defense systems (Manpads) could be used by the terrorists in the wake of a collapse of the Syrian government, supplying them to the al Qaeda-affiliated anti-Assad forces would be lunacy. It would make little sense for Obama to give in to Saudi demands to do so at this point, when he has resisted the temptation for five years.
Erdogan may be starting to see the futility of further attempts to take down Assad. The most recent evidence of this is a series of high level Turkish visits to Saudi Arabia and Iran. While Turkey and Iran have common economic interests and a mutual desire to prevent the emergence of an independent Kurdish state, it is hard to imagine that they could make much progress on working together as long as Turkey is pursuing a foreign policy course that is an existential threat to Iran’s status as a regional power. There are other compelling reasons for Erdogan to try to make nice with the Sauds, but it is unlikely that he will be able to thaw relations at the same time he is negotiating with their nemesis. Unless, that is, they are also discussing letting go of the goal of toppling Assad.
There are also clues that the Obama administration US efforts are being stepped up to curb further Saudi aid to terrorist “rebels.” The barrage of criticism that the Saudis are taking in the US media is unprecedented and most likely orchestrated. It is also somewhat risky, in that it highlights the cynicism of US “humanitarian interventions” against targeted dictators while it is allied with the most brutal, repressive regime in the region. From Biden pointing out that it is the chief financial sponsor of terrorists in the region to recent critical reports on the generally politically correct Frontline and 60 Minutes to Obama’s announcement that the government is about to make a decision after two years on declassifying the 28 pages of a report said to implicate high level government officials in financing the 9/11 attack, the heat is clearly being turned on these feckless “allies.”
Cynics who charged that this was only a ruse to buy time to regroup for a renewed attack on Syrian forces seem to be ignoring evidence that the situation has changed since the earlier attempts to “negotiate” a US-dictated solution in Geneva. Realists in the Obama administration seem to be serious this time. Kerry was forced into agreeing to talks by the timely intervention of Russia. He had no real choice. Had the offensive continued unchecked, Assad’s forces would have routed ISIS and Putin would have been able to dictate terms. This is what forced Kerry to agree to peace talks despite having to bargain from a weak position.
In addition, Erdogan’s panicked response to the prospect of new peace talks suggests that he believes that the Americans are looking for resolution. Having responded to advances by the Russian and Syrian militaries and Kurdish defense forces by stepping up threats, he doubled down once talks were announced, at one point declaring that an invasion was not off the table although when directly confronted with Russian accusations, he denied any such intent. The Turkish military was reported to be against such an ill-advised action, but troop buildups along the border had convinced many that he was serious.
The Turkish call for invasion was echoed by Saudi Arabia, which offered to take part in a joint campaign if it was led by the US. This was obviously just bluster. After all, the threat of invasion was the result of Erdogan’s frustration at US unwillingness to prioritize defeating Assad or to abandon its alliance with Syrian Kurds in the fight against ISIS. There was no way that the US was going to support an invasion that would risk WWIII by targeting both the Kurdish YPG and Assad, backed by Russia and Iran.
Nonetheless, at this point many analysts still assumed that Turkey and Saudi Arabia were merely following orders from Washington. Others saw Erdogan’s increasingly rash actions as desperate attempts to salvage the standing of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) amidst an economy in decline at least partly because of Russian sanctions. Rumor had it that he even had reason to worry about an impending military coup. Although the Turkish military denied it and analysts generally dismissed the idea, had he tried to order his generals to carry out a full-scale invasion in defiance of US wishes, a coup would have been much more likely.
When the US proceeded to resume peace talks on Syria while Turkey and Saudi Arabia talked war, it became clear that the actions of the three nations were not coordinated. Saudi Arabia and Turkey had become isolated on the global stage. Obama had established that he was not going to allow the tail to wag the dog, and that he was going to act in what he considered US interests. There is a reason that Obama is no longer making Assad’s departure a precondition for negotiations. It would not have changed anything unless the US had been allowed to pick his successor. The only way that was going to happen was through direct military force, which Obama has clearly been trying to avoid. He was willing to use al Qaeda associated “rebels” as proxy fighters as he did in Libya, but the goal was not so much regime change as destabilizing and ultimately balkanizing the country, a goal which has largely been achieved. The strategy of dividing a nation into smaller political entities to weaken it is the essence of the Oded Yinon plan for establishing a Greater Israel. The idea was to use this tactic against any neighboring nation that resisted Israeli hegemony.
It is important to understand this point. Given the incestuous relationship between Israel and US neocons, it is not surprising to see the Yinon strategy being used in areas in which the US has chosen to intervene. In Iraq Biden is renewing calls for the weak federal system he first proposed in 2014. It is an idea that has been partially realized with the increasingly autonomous status of the KRG, the Iraqi Kurdistan government. The divisions left in the wake of the Libya “debacle” are another example of the same idea, only much messier. Libya was not considered a failure by fans of this strategy. They did not care so much about the chaos they left as about the fact that there was no longer a strong central government to resist NATO plans for Libya and the region. In fact, in a chilling prelude to the assault on Syria, NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen enthusiastically referred to the Libyan experience as “a teaching moment.”
Despite mixed signals from the Obama administration since the cessation of hostilities for the latest round of peace talks, there is reason to believe that the President is serious about cutting his losses in Syria. As detailed in the recent Atlantic article by Jeffrey Goldberg, he was never enthusiastic about attacking Syrian forces directly in the aftermath of the false flag sarin attack on Ghouta in 2013. He dragged his feet on acting despite his harsh rhetoric, allowing saner voices to be heard. In the Atlantic article, Obama criticized all the major players in the continuing humanitarian crisis in Syria; the Saudis, Erdogan, Netanyahu and the neocons who wrote the “playbook” he says he is pressured to follow. Their game plan essentially calls for the use of US military force against any nation that stands in the way of a global corporate empire nominally led by America and its allies. The fact that Obama is so open about these politically incorrect opinions at this point suggests that he may be trying to prepare us for a shift in official US policy.
The always-doubtful argument that intervention in Syria is motivated by humanitarian concerns is wearing increasingly thin. Obama regards giving in to Clinton’s pressure to attack Libya as the “greatest mistake of (his) presidency.” If Obama wants out, Erdogan has few options but to go along. The Saudis, increasingly on the defensive in the US propaganda wars, are no doubt aware that they cannot challenge US will on their own, even if their neocon allies remain on their side. If Obama tries to push a diplomatic solution that leaves Assad in power and the “freedom fighting” al Qaeda types stranded, the still-powerful neocons are sure to push back. If he fails to act according to his realist principles, a Clinton presidency could be disastrous because she is still pushing for a no-fly zone, which would require a direct US assault on Syria’s air defenses.
That’s why this is Obama’s Bay of Pigs moment. He can do the right thing and try to limit the damage that American imperialists can do on his watch, or he can submit to the pressure of an out-of-control military industrial complex for a senseless and entirely avoidable war.