[Marxism] Obama’s Disastrous Betrayal of the Syrian Rebels: How the White House is handing victory to Bashar al-Assad, Russia and Iran.

Michael Karadjis mkaradjis at gmail.com
Fri Feb 5 23:57:56 MST 2016

This is far and away one of the better commentaries in mainstream media 
in recent days on the bloodthirsty Russian-Assadist-Iranian Blitzkrieg 
on Aleppo. Of course, "words" like "betrayal" and the idea that the US 
is "handing" Syria over to Russia and Iran (clearly the US is handing it 
to Assad) still reveal a hint of the grand illusion that perhaps "real" 
US interests would have been to act differently, or that the open 
US-Russia ad US-Iran collaboration in Syria is somehow the US abandoning 
its own interests in favour of those of others.

In fact, the author only just still borders on these illusions - to any 
serious observer, the facts have long ago depleted such illusions. The 
author writes for example "Washington seems oblivious to the simple 
truth that diplomacy has a cost, as does its failure — probably because 
this cost would carried by the rebellion, for which the United States 
has little respect or care anyway." He is right that the US has "little 
respect" ("none" would be more correct) for the rebellion, but this very 
fact makes the word "oblivious" at the beginning of the sentence 
meaningless. But clearly, this author can be congratulated on having 90% 
cynicism of basic US motives and positions on Syria throughout the 
conflict, and only 10% of the US being "oblivious" to its interests 
stuff. Far ahead of most.

It is high time, in my opinion, to call a spade a spade. It has nothing 
to do with "US intervention". At this point, it doesn't even have much 
to do with the many years of extremely active US intervention to ensure 
that no Syrian rebels, not even the most "moderate", could get their 
hands on any anti-aircraft weapons, the major defensive need of the 
rebels since mid-2012, that sympathetic regional states were blocked 
from sending them, and that the FSA was even blocked when they tried to 
get them from the black market. No, it is even more than that. All the 
reports from recent weeks, if not months, tell of the US winding down, 
if not cutting off the already pathetic level of "support" to some 
"vetted" rebels (or, put more correctly, of the US forcing Saudis, Qatar 
and Turkey to wind down or cut off their support). As the author notes 
in the article below: "In the south, the United States has demanded a 
decrease in weapons deliveries to the Southern Front, while in the 
north, the Turkey-based operations room is reportedly dormant" (see my 
article on the US "betrayal" - wrong word - of the very moderate 
Southern Front of the FSA: 

So let's call the spade by its name: the US is opposed to, and has 
always been opposed to, the Syrian revolution. Period. Things have 
worked out this way not because the US was "weak," or "incoherent," or 
endlessly (for 5 years) makes "mistakes," or "bungled it," or 
unwittingly "handed over victory" to someone opposed to US interests 
etc; no, things turned out this way, have been this way for five years, 
because it is US policy.

One final comment: The author says it is "ironic" that this 
international Blitzkrieg against Free Syria is occurring at the moment 
the US and UN have been organising the Oslo-style Geneva "peace 
process". Here I'll allow a little conspiratorial thinking currently 
prevalent among many Syrians, who have more right to be cynical than 
anyone. That the Geneva farce - such an obvious farce - was organised as 
a cover to politically disarm and distract and try to divide the Syrian 
rebellion while the "final military solution" was being planned all 


Obama’s Disastrous Betrayal of the Syrian Rebels

How the White House is handing victory to Bashar al-Assad, Russia and 


FEBRUARY 5, 2016


What a difference a year makes in Syria. And the introduction of massive 
Russian airpower.

Last February, President Bashar al-Assad’s regime and its Shiite 
auxiliaries mounted a large-scale attempt to encircle Aleppo, the 
northern city divided between regime and rebels since 2012 and battered 
by the dictator’s barrel bombs. Islamist and non-Islamist mainstream 
rebels — to the surprise of those who have derided their performance, 
let alone their existence — repelled the offensive at the time. What 
followed was a string of rebel advances across the country, which 
weakened Assad so much that they triggered Moscow’s direct intervention 
in September, in concert with an Iranian surge of forces, to secure his 

Fast-forward a year. After a slow start — and despite wishful Western 
assessments that Moscow could not sustain a meaningful military effort 
abroad — the Russian campaign is finally delivering results for the 
Assad regime. This week, Russian airpower allowed Assad and his allied 
paramilitary forces to finally cut off the narrow, rebel-held “Azaz 
corridor” that links the Turkish border to the city of Aleppo. The city’s 
full encirclement is now a distinct possibility, with regime troops and 
Shiite fighters moving from the south, the west, and the north. Should 
the rebel-held parts of the city ultimately fall, it will be a dramatic 
victory for Assad and the greatest setback to the rebellion since the 
start of the uprising in 2011.

In parallel, Russia has put Syria’s neighbors on notice of the new rules 
of the game. Jordan was spooked into downgrading its help for the 
Southern Front, the main non-Islamist alliance in the south of the 
country, which has so far prevented extremist presence along its border. 
Turkey’s shooting down of a Russian military aircraft that crossed its 
airspace in November backfired: Moscow vengefully directed its firepower 
on Turkey’s rebel friends across Idlib and Aleppo provinces. Moscow also 
courted Syria’s Kurds, who found a new partner to play off the United 
States in their complex relations with Washington. And Russia has agreed 
to a temporary accommodation of Israel’s interests in southern Syria.

Inside Syria, and despite the polite wishes of Secretary of State John 
Kerry, the overwhelming majority of Russian strikes have hit non-Islamic 
State (IS) fighters. Indeed, Moscow and the Syrian regime are content to 
see the United States bear the lion’s share of the effort against the 
jihadi monster in the east, instead concentrating on mowing through the 
mainstream rebellion in western Syria. Their ultimate objective is to 
force the world to make an unconscionable choice between Assad and IS.

The regime is everywhere on the march. Early on, the rebels mounted a 
vigorous resistance, but the much-touted increase in anti-tank weaponry 
could only delay their losses as their weapons storages, command posts 
and fall-back positions were being pounded. Around Damascus, the 
unrelenting Russian pounding has bloodied rebel-held neighborhoods; in 
December, the strikes killed Zahran Alloush, the commander of the main 
Islamist militia there. In the south, Russia has fully backed the regime’s 
offensive in the region of Daraa, possibly debilitating the Southern 
Front. Rebel groups in Hama and Homs provinces have faced a vicious 
pounding that has largely neutralized them. Further north, a combination 
of Assad troops, Iranian Shiite militias, and Russian firepower 
dislodged the powerful Islamist rebel coalition Jaish Al-Fatah from 
Latakia province.

But it is the gains around Aleppo that represent the direst threat to 
the rebellion. One perverse consequence of cutting the Azaz corridor is 
that it plays into the hands of the al Qaeda-affiliate Jabhat Al-Nusra, 
since weapons supplies from Turkey would have to go through Idlib, where 
the jihadist movement is powerful. Idlib may well become the regime’s 
next target. The now-plausible rebel collapse in the Aleppo region could 
also send thousands of fighters dejected by their apparent abandonment 
into the arms of Nusra or IS.

The encirclement of Aleppo would also create a humanitarian disaster of 
such magnitude that it would eclipse the horrific sieges of Madaya and 
other stricken regions that have received the world’s (short-lived) 
attention. Tens of thousands of Aleppo residents are already fleeing 
toward Kilis, the Turkish town that sits across the border from Azaz. 
The humanitarian crisis, lest anyone still had any doubt, is a 
deliberate regime and Russian strategy to clear important areas of 
problematic residents — while paralyzing rebels, neighboring countries, 
Western states, and the United Nations.

Assad all along pursued a strategy of gradual escalation and 
desensitization that, sadly, worked well. Syrians already compare the 
international outcry and response to the IS’ siege of Kobane in 2014 to 
the world’s indifference to the current tragedy.

To complicate the situation even more, the regime’s advances could allow 
the Kurdish-dominated, American-favored Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) 
to conquer the area currently held by the Free Syrian Army and Islamist 
militias between the Turkish border and the new regime front line north 
of the Shiite towns of Nubl and Zahra. This would pit the SDF against IS 
on two fronts: from the west, if the Kurds of Afrin canton seize Tal 
Rifaat, Azaz and surrounding areas, and from the east, where the YPG is 
toying with the idea of crossing the Euphrates River. An IS defeat there 
would seal the border with Turkey, meeting an important American 

The prospect of further Kurdish expansion has already alarmed Turkey. 
Over the summer, Ankara was hoping to establish a safe zone in this very 
area. It pressured Jabhat al-Nusra to withdraw and anointed its allies 
in Syria, including the prominent Islamist group Ahrar al-Sham, as its 
enforcers. True to its record of calculated dithering, President Barack 
Obama’s administration let the Turkish proposal hang until it could no 
longer be implemented. Turkey faces now an agonizing dilemma: watch and 
do nothing as a storm gathers on its border, or mount a direct 
intervention into Syria that would inevitably inflame its own Kurdish 
problem and pit it against both IS and an array of Assad-allied forces, 
including Russia.

Turkey and Saudi Arabia, the rebellion’s main supporters, are now bereft 
of options. No amount of weaponry is likely to change the balance of 
power. The introduction of anti-aircraft missiles was once a viable 
response against Assad’s air force, but neither country — suspecting 
that the United States is essentially quiescent to Moscow’s approach — 
is willing to escalate against President Vladimir Putin without cover.

Ironically, this momentous change in battlefield dynamics is occurring 
just as U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura yet again pushes a diplomatic 
track in Geneva. But the developments on the ground threaten to derail 
the dapper diplomat’s peace scheme. Fairly or not, de Mistura is tainted 
by the fact that the United Nations is discredited in the eyes of many 
Syrians for the problematic entanglements of its Damascus humanitarian 
arm with the regime. Despite U.N. resolutions, international assistance 
still does not reach those who need it most; in fact, aid has become yet 
another instrument of Assad’s warfare. Neither Kerry nor de Mistura are 
willing to seriously pressure Russia and Assad for fear of jeopardizing 
the stillborn Geneva talks.

Seemingly unfazed by this controversy, de Mistura’s top-down approach 
relies this time on an apparent U.S.-Russian convergence. At the heart 
of this exercise is Washington’s ever-lasting hope that Russian 
frustration with Assad would somehow translate into a willingness to 
push him out. However, whether Putin likes his Syrian counterpart has 
always been immaterial. The Russian president certainly has reservations 
about Assad, but judging by the conduct of his forces in Chechnya and 
now in Syria, these are about performance– not humanitarian principles 
or Assad’s legitimacy. For the time being, Moscow understands that 
without Assad, there is no regime in Damascus that can legitimize its 

Ever since 2011, the United States has hidden behind the hope of a 
Russian shift and closed its eyes to Putin’s mischief to avoid the hard 
choices on Syria. When the Russian onslaught started, U.S. officials 
like Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken predicted a quagmire to 
justify Washington’s passivity. If Russia’s intervention was doomed to 
failure, after all, the United States was not on the hook to act.

Russia, however, has been not only been able to increase the tempo of 
its military operations, but also to justify the mounting cost. And 
contrary to some pundits, who hailed the Russian intervention as the 
best chance to check the expansion of IS, Washington knows all too well 
that the result of the Russian campaign is the strengthening of the 
jihadist group in central Syria in the short term. This is a price 
Washington seems willing to pay for the sake of keeping the Geneva 
process alive.

The bankruptcy of U.S. policy goes deeper. The United States has already 
conceded key points about Assad’s future — concessions that Russia and 
the regime have been quick to pocket, while giving nothing in return. In 
the lead-up to and during the first days of the Geneva talks, it became 
clear that the United States is putting a lot more pressure on the 
opposition than it does on Russia, let alone Assad. Just as Russia 
escalates politically and militarily, the Obama administration is 
cynically de-escalating, and asking its allies to do so as well. This is 
weakening rebel groups that rely on supply networks that the U.S. 
oversees: In the south, the United States has demanded a decrease in 
weapons deliveries to the Southern Front, while in the north, the 
Turkey-based operations room is reportedly dormant.

The result is a widespread and understandable feeling of betrayal in the 
rebellion, whose U.S.-friendly elements are increasingly losing face 
within opposition circles. This could have the ironic effect of 
fragmenting the rebellion — after years of Western governments bemoaning 
the divisions between these very same groups.

It’s understandable for the United States to bank on a political process 
and urge the Syrian opposition to join this dialogue in good faith. But 
to do so while exposing the rebellion to the joint Assad-Russia-Iran 
onslaught and without contingency planning is simply nefarious. 
Washington seems oblivious to the simple truth that diplomacy has a 
cost, as does its failure — probably because this cost would carried by 
the rebellion, for which the United States has little respect or care 
anyway, and would be inherited by Obama’s successor.

The conditions are in place for a disastrous collapse of the Geneva 
talks — now delayed until late February — and a painful, bloody year in 
Syria. All actors understand that Obama, who has resisted any serious 
engagement in the country, is unlikely to change course now. And they 
all assume, probably rightly, that he is more interested in the 
appearance of a process than in spending any political capital over it. 
As a result, all the parties with a stake in Syria’s future are eyeing 
2017, trying to position themselves for the new White House occupant. 
This guarantees brinksmanship, escalation, and more misery. 2016 is 
shaping up as the year during which Assad will lock in significant 
political and military gains. 

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