Is Russia Invading Syria?

Having given up waiting for the supposedly “imminent” Russian assault on Kiev, which we’ve been told for lo these many months is coming down the pike momentarily, our new cold warriors are now in a frenzy over the sudden discovery of a Russian presence in Syria. It started in the Israeli media, and then spread outward in waves, emanating various levels of hysteria. Ynet “reported”:

According to Western diplomats, a Russian expeditionary force has already arrived in Syria and set up camp in an Assad-controlled airbase. The base is said to be in area surrounding Damascus, and will serve, for all intents and purposes, as a Russian forward operating base.

“In the coming weeks thousands of Russian military personnel are set to touch down in Syria, including advisors, instructors, logistics personnel, technical personnel, members of the aerial protection division, and the pilots who will operate the aircraft.”

The Western media soon took up the cry: “The Russians are coming!” But by the time this old cold war meme spread to Reuters “thousands” had inexplicably shrunk down to what sounded more like dozens. Unnamed US officials pointed to “a small number of naval infantry forces.” Oh, but don’t worry, the Russians are coming: "They have started in small numbers,” one anonymous Lebanese source confided to Reuters, “but the bigger force did not yet take part.” Where is this “bigger force”? No doubt right behind those Russian troops who have been about to march on Kiev for the past year or so.

Aside from the inflated numbers of this “Russian expeditionary force,” there is also the overwrought response to the addition of a few more Russian advisors on the scene: after all, as Ishaan Tharoor points out in the Washington Post, there is nothing new about the Russian presence in Syria. They’ve been there since 1971, when Leonid Brezhnev signed an agreement with Hafez al-Assad, father of Bashar al-Assad, the current head of the Ba’athist regime. Russia has been a major source of weapons for the Syrian military, and many top Ba’athist officials were educated in the old Soviet Union. In short, there is nothing new about the Russo-Syrian alliance: Putin has backed Assad in his war against the Islamist rebels from the get-go.

So why is the media now in a frothy-mouthed frenzy over this latest “discovery” of Russian “aggression”? Why is John Kerry on the phone with the Kremlin warning them to back off?

ISIS is edging toward central Damascus, and is already in the suburbs. US airstrikes have been ineffective, and indeed the “everything’s coming up roses” scenario officially promulgated by the Obama regime has been thoroughly debunked by rebellious intelligence analysts, who have a far different story to tell.

The reality is that Washington’s real target in Syria isn’t ISIS, it’s Assad. The phony war against the Islamic State has enabled the would-be Caliphate to expand its control of territory until the very existence of the Ba’athist regime is now problematic. The US program that is supposed to be training “moderate” Islamist rebels wound up deploying around 50 “vetted” fighters – who were promptly killed and captured by Al Qaeda, including the leader. And their captors were more than likely former US-funded “moderates,” who have defected to ISIS and al-Nusra (Al Qaeda) in droves.

The US has repeatedly rejected Russian attempts to parlay a peaceful settlement that would include the Ba’athist regime, and specifically Assad, as one of the participants. The “moderate” rebels, such as they are, also reject such a proposal – and of course ISIS and al-Nusra, the Syrian affiliate of the official Al-Qaeda organization, are interested only in deposing the “infidel” Assad and slaughtering those Christians, Alawites, and Druze still resident in Syria.

Washington’s alignment with the Islamists goes much further, however, as the line between “moderate” Islamists and “extremists” – never clear to begin with – gets blurrier by the hour. For now we have none other than former CIA chief David Petraeus calling for an alliance with “moderate” elements in Al Qaeda.

Members of al Qaeda’s branch in Syria have a surprising advocate in the corridors of American power: retired Army general and former CIA Director David Petraeus.

“The former commander of U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan has been quietly urging US officials to consider using so-called moderate members of al Qaeda’s Nusra Front to fight ISIS in Syria, four sources familiar with the conversations, including one person who spoke to Petraeus directly, told The Daily Beast.

“The heart of the idea stems from Petraeus’s experience in Iraq in 2007, when as part of a broader strategy to defeat an Islamist insurgency the US persuaded Sunni militias to stop fighting with al Qaeda and to work with the American military.”

Given his former job, one has to wonder if this is a proposal or a defense of an ongoing policy. Before his disgrace in a sex-and-security scandal, Petraeus was certainly in a position to carry out this loopy idea. Indeed, he argued for arming the Syrian rebels, along with then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. Obama vetoed the plan, which would have put US arms in the hands of radical Islamists, but who knows what shenanigans Petraeus and his fellow spooks were up to before the President put the kibosh on his plan? We know that arms from fallen Libyan leader Moammar Qaddafi’s storehouses found their way to the Syrian battlefield. How did they get there? We know that entire platoons of US-trained “moderate” rebels defected to ISIS and al-Nusra almost as soon as they hit the battlefield – but who “vetted” them?

The Petraeus proposal merely makes explicit what was our covert policy all along: the destruction of Assad’s regime even if that means handing Syria over to the folks who brought down the World Trade Center and attacked the Pentagon.

The Russians have good reason to fear a jihadist state in Syria, what with the Chechen Islamists marauding throughout the Caucasus and central Asia. They are quite well aware that Washington would like to do to Putin what they’re doing to Assad – and that the West has no compunctions about allying with the heirs of Osama bin Laden in order to pull it off. US and British support to the Chechens is a matter of record – yet more evidence that the vaunted “war on terrorism” is just a façade for the same old regime-change game.

The Syrian government, in spite of its brutality, enjoys widespread support – after all, consider the alternative. It is also the only major fighting force on the ground resisting the advance of ISIS and Al Qaeda. To demand Assad’s ouster while claiming to fight “terrorism” is absurd. And remember that the same people who are self-righteously declaring “Assad must go” because he’s not a nice guy are openly backing the Saudis in their vicious assault on Yemen, where thousands are being slaughtered in a merciless air campaign made possible by US complicity.

This is where we are fourteen years after 9/11 – in a de facto alliance with radical jihadists who want to establish a “caliphate” in Syria.

Oh, and by the way: we have always been at war with Eastasia.

NOTES IN THE MARGIN

You can check out my Twitter feed by going here. But please note that my tweets are sometimes deliberately provocative, often made in jest, and largely consist of me thinking out loud.

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You can buy An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (Prometheus Books, 2000), my biography of the great libertarian thinker, here.

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Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo is editor-at-large at Antiwar.com, and a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He is a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and writes a monthly column for Chronicles. He is the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].