The headline in the Washington Post said it all: “Trump ends covert CIA program to arm anti-Assad rebels in Syria, a move sought by Moscow.” The madness that has infected what passes for journalism today could not be more starkly dramatized: everything is seen through the distorting lens of Russophobia. It doesn’t matter that that the program had failed to achieve its ostensible goal, and that the US-vetted rebels had for the most part defected to al-Qaeda, al-Nusra, and ISIS. Atrocities committed by the “moderate” rebels go unmentioned. That real experts on the region like Joshua Landis hailed the move as a step toward a peaceful settlement is ignored. The only thing that matters is that, as one unnamed “current official” cited in the article puts it, “Putin won in Syria.”
From this perspective, the Syrian people are merely pawns in a geopolitical game between Washington and Moscow. Elsewhere in the piece, the authors – Washington Post reporters Greg Jaffe and Adam Entous – bemoan the fact that the US has somehow “lost” Syria. Under the cover of citing anonymous former White House officials, they write:
“Even those who were skeptical about the program’s long-term value, viewed it as a key bargaining chip that could be used to wring concessions from Moscow in negotiations over Syria’s future.
“’People began thinking about ending the program, but it was not something you’d do for free,’ said a former White House official. ‘To give [the program] away without getting anything in return would be foolish.’”
The Syrian people are mere “bargaining chips” as far as the movers and shakers of the American empire are concerned: they have no reality outside the cold calculations of power politics, the maneuvers of our know-it-all political class, who think they are qualified to run the world.
This is the same mentality that led us into the disastrous invasion of Iraq, and the equally tragic and bloody intervention in Libya, both of which resulted in chaos and the triumph of terrorism. In both cases we destroyed a secular authoritarian regime and paved the way for the growth of radical Islamist factions, enabling the spread of al-Qaeda, ISIS, and similar terrorist formations. And for what?
When the history of this era is written, the motivations of US policymakers under both President Obama and President George W. Bush will be called into question: why did they destroy the Middle East? Was it simply an error of judgment, or was something more sinister involved? Did they deliberately upend these societies, actively aiding Islamist barbarians, much as the late Roman emperors invited the Teutonic barbarians into the empire as mercenaries – who eventually turned on them and sacked Rome?
The rebel forces, both those “vetted” by the CIA and freelancers like al-Nusra, al-Qaeda, and ISIS, all have a program in common: the establishment of an Islamic state in the whole of Syria, which will be ruled according to the medieval strictures of Sharia law. Christians, Alawites, Kurds, and other minorities will be either subjugated, or driven out: genocide is a likely outcome of a rebel victory. Under these circumstances, any support to these elements is criminal – so why did we undertake this project to begin with?
The reason is simple: our Sunni Arab “allies,” Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, have enormous influence in US ruling circles, and they utilized it to forge a bipartisan pro-Islamist coalition consisting of Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, and the liberal imperialists over at the Center for a New American Century, and the John McCain-Lindsey Graham wing of the GOP. Obama reluctantly went along with what was an aid-to-terrorists program, while putting some limits on it and ultimately balking at full-scale US intervention in Syria when the public rose up against it.
The framing of this issue in terms of whether it helps Russia signals a strategic shift for the War Party: during the Bush years, the alleged enemy was al-Qaeda and associated terrorist groups, but under the Obama administration we saw the beginning of a new turn, away from fighting radical Islamism and toward a policy of accommodating and even allying with it, starting with the so-called Arab Spring. With the Obama foreign policy in the region largely farmed out to then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, this culminated in the Libyan intervention and the arming of Islamist groups in Syria. Simultaneously, Mrs. Clinton started denouncing Putin as the modern-day equivalent of Hitler, and the foreign policy mandarins in Washington began to characterize “Putinism,” rather than radical Islamism, as the principal enemy of the United States.
Sen. McCain, one of the loudest advocates of arming the Islamist rebels and overthrowing Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad, was quite explicit recently about this radical reorientation of the War Party’s strategic vision: Russia, he declared in a visit to Australia, is the "premier and most important threat, more so than ISIS.” Clinton supporter and leading neoconservative Max Boot, a former CIA analyst, said the same thing during his recent lambasting by Tucker Carlson: asked why Russia is supposed to be a threat, he answered because “they have nuclear weapons.” Well, so do many countries, including China, Pakistan, Israel, and France. Why single out Russia for special opprobrium?
I answered that question here, at least in part, and won’t reiterate what I wrote back then. Suffice to say that what the War Party requires is a credible enemy, one with some size, a history of conflict with the US, and preferably a nuclear capability. Russia qualifies on all three counts, and Putin in particular has aroused the ire of the political class by criticizing Washington’s pretensions of global hegemony. And of course there’s the sheer political opportunism of the Democrats: rather than admit that Mrs. Clinton lost fair and square, because she was a terrible candidate, they’re claiming Putin “stole” the election on Trump’s behalf. Add to this the influence – and wealth – of exiled Russian oligarchs, and the stage is set for an anti-Russian crusade, the likes of which we haven’t seen since the 1950s.
Despite the relentless propaganda campaign waged in the media, the Trump administration has – finally! – been able to keep at least one of the promises made during the campaign: that “regime change” was no longer going to be an American goal in Syria. And with the ceasefire in southern Syria, and probably more to come along those lines, it looks like we are cooperating with Russia in an effort to bring peace to the region – this despite the hate campaign being waged against both Trump and the Russians here at home.
Progress is slow, inconsistent, and subject to sudden setbacks – but it’s happening all the same. And that is good news indeed.
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.
I’ve written a couple of books, which you might want to peruse. Here is the link for buying the second edition of my 1993 book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, with an Introduction by Prof. George W. Carey, a Foreword by Patrick J. Buchanan, and critical essays by Scott Richert and David Gordon (ISI Books, 2008).
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.