Tangles on Syria

by on October 6, 2016 in International affairs

As this web site has already noted, US policy on Syria is in a mess.

The leaked audio from a meeting between Secretary of State John Kerry and a group of Syrians seeking the overthrow of Assad further shows the tangled mess that US policy is in.

In his conversation with the Syrians Secretary of State John Kerry claims that “The problem is the Russians don’t care about international law, and we do”. At the same time he explains that “I think you’re looking at three people, four people in the administration who have all argued for use of force, and I lost the argument.” He specifically said that he called for the US to attack Assad. And he complains that “congress refused to vote even to allow that”. If the US were to use military force against Assad it would be in breach of international law. Kerry explains in one breath that the US “cares about international law” and in the next that he says he argued for an illegal military intervention in Syria. Also, at the same time as claiming that “the Russians don’t care about international law” John Kerry admits that the Russians are in Syria legally because they have been “invited in”. All this shows a degree of confusion.

The US started arming the Syrian opposition [1] early on in the civil war. The arms were given to the opposition forces to fight the regime. The hope obviously was that a small proxy intervention of this kind would result in the quick ‘ouster’ of Assad. No doubt they were dreaming of Obama’s “teachers and dentists” forming a new Western leaning ‘democracy’ in Syria. However; entirely predictably, the situation quickly became more complex as radical Islamists came to the front of the fight against Assad and groups which could be described as ‘moderate’ or ‘democratic’ faded into the back ground. [2] US ‘partners’ Turkey and Saudi Arabia are thought to be backing some of these right-wing Sunni groups. [3] Now the US continues to arm ‘moderates’ in Syria [4], but increasingly the emphasis is on asking these groups to fight ISIS. The situation has spiraled out of control and US policy is adrift. It is clear that the US is never going to publicly admit that (once again) they’ve bungled a foreign intervention. The policy appears to be to divert attention onto Russia – claiming that Russia is committing ‘war crimes’ in Syria. The Western media dutifully amplifies the message. But, as the leaked remarks by John Kerry reveal, the US is stuck. Their arming of proxies has failed to achieve the result they want. But, following previous disastrous illegal interventions, appetite in Congress for more foreign wars seems to be tiring – so a full-scale invasion is not an option. (Not to mention the possible conflict with Russia that would entail). They won’t go back and can’t go forwards. The result is that they continue to pour in arms [4] into a situation which is a military stalemate. It is a failed policy, but they won’t admit it. Their actions only drag out the war even longer.

The way out of this quagmire proposed by many in the Western political class is for Russia to drop its support for Assad. [5] But what then? The likely result in not a democracy run by teachers and dentists but a chaotic state with right-wing Sunni groups at the front – and possibly a new war of in-fighting between these various groups. (ISIS and Al-Qaeda are already at each other’s throats). Look at Libya for example. The call for Russia to back off is as short-sighted as the original intervention.

Notes

1. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/21/world/middleeast/cia-said-to-aid-in-steering-arms-to-syrian-rebels.html

2. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/dec/14/syria-islamist-militants-growing-strength

3. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/syria-crisis-turkey-and-saudi-arabia-shock-western-countries-by-supporting-anti-assad-jihadists-10242747.html

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/15/world/middleeast/jihadists-receiving-most-arms-sent-to-syrian-rebels.html

4. http://uk.businessinsider.com/weapons-us-sends-to-syrian-rebels-2016-4/#ak-47-and-dshk-8

5. http://thenewobserver.co.uk/the-twisted-logic-of-the-west-on-syria/

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