[Marxism] US Position on Syria Tilts in Favour of Russian Intervention

Jeff meisner at xs4all.nl
Wed Feb 10 11:12:25 MST 2016

Nothing really new here, except that the (dis-) Information Clearing House
has accidentally printed a largely accurate article about Syria. But true
to form, it is about geopolitics and makes not even a single reference (I
double-checked!) to the interests or plight of the Syrian people. And it
conflates Nusra with the rebels. 

- Jeff

Original link:

US Position on Syria Tilts in Favour of Russian Intervention
By Gareth Porter

February 09, 2016 "Information Clearing House" - " MEE" -   The major 
developments on the Syrian battlefield in recent months have brought a 
corresponding shift in the Obama administration’s Syrian policy.

Since the Russian military intervention in Syria upended the military 
balance created by the victories of the al-Qaeda affiliate al-Nusra Front 
and its allies last year, the Obama administration has quietly retreated 
from its former position that “Assad must go”. 

These political and military changes have obvious implications for the 
UN-sponsored Geneva peace negotiations. The Assad regime and its supporters 
are now well positioned to exploit the talks politically, while the armed 
opposition is likely to boycott them for the foreseeable future.

Supporters of the armed opposition are already expressing anger over what 
they regard as an Obama administration “betrayal” of the fight against 
Assad. But the Obama policy shift on Syria must be understood, like most of 
the administration’s Middle East policy decisions, as a response to external 
events that is mediated by domestic political considerations. 

The initial Obama administration’s public stance on the Russian air campaign 
in Syria last October and early November suggested that the United States 
was merely waiting for Russia’s intervention to fail.

For weeks the political response to the Russian intervention revolved around 
the theme that the Russians were seeking to bolster their client regime in 
Syria and not to defeat ISIS, but that it would fail. The administration 
appeared bent on insisting that Russia give into the demand of the US and 
its allies for the departure of President Bashar al-Assad from power.  

But the ISIS terror attacks in Paris focused the political attention of 
Europeans and Americans alike on the threat from ISIS terrorism and the need 
for cooperation with Russia to combat it. That strengthened the position of 
those within the Obama administration – especially the Joint Chiefs of Staff 
and the CIA – who had never been enamored of the US policy of regime change 
in the first place. In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, they pressed for 
a rethinking of the US insistence on Assad’s departure, as suggested 
publicly at the time by former acting CIA director Michael Morell. 

The political impact of the Paris attacks has now been reinforced by the 
significant gains already made by the Syrian army and its allies with 
Russian air support in Latakia, Idlib, and Hama provinces.

The bombing and ground offensives were focused on cutting the main lines of 
supply between the areas held by ISIS and the Nusra-led coalition and the 
Turkish border, which if successful would be a very serious blow to the 
armed opposition groups. 

Dramatic successes came in late January, when Syrian government troops 
recaptured the town of Salma in Latakia province, held by al-Nusra Front 
since 2012, and the strategic al-Shaykh Maskin, lost to anti-Assad rebels in 
late 2014, thus regaining control of Daraa-Damascus highway. Even more 
significant, the Syrian army has cut off the lines of supply from Turkey to 
Aleppo, which is occupied by al-Nusra and allied forces.

By the time Secretary of State John Kerry met with the head of the Syrian 
opposition delegation, Riyad Hijab, on 23 January, it was clear to the Obama 
administration that the military position of the Assad regime was now much 
stronger, and that of the armed opposition was significantly weaker. In 
fact, the possibility of a decisive defeat exists for the first time in 
light of the Russian-Syrian strategy of cutting off the supply lines of the 
al-Nusra front.

What Kerry told Hijab, as conveyed to the website Middle East Briefing, 
reflected a new tack by the administration in light of that 
political-military reality. He made it clear that there would be no 
preconditions for the talks, and no formal commitment that they would 
achieve the departure of Assad at any point in the future. He was unclear 
whether the desired outcome of the talks was to be a “transitional 
government” or a “unity government” – the latter term implying that Assad 
was still in control.

The armed opposition and its supporters have been shocked by the shift in 
Obama’s policy. But they shouldn’t be. The administration’s previous Syria 
policy had been based in large part on what appeared to be a favorable 
political opportunity in Syria. As described by Washington Post 
correspondent Liz Sly’s official US source, the policy was to put 
“sufficient pressure on Assad’s forces to persuade him to compromise but not 
so much that his government would precipitously collapse

The Obama administration had seen such an opportunity because a covert 
operation launched in 2013 to equip “moderate” armed groups with antitank 
missiles from Saudi stocks had strengthened the Nusra Front and its military 
allies. American Syria specialist Joshua Landis estimated last October that 
60 to 80 percent of the missiles had ended up in the hands of the Nusra 
Front in Syria. 

Those weapons were the decisive factor in the Nusra-led Army of Conquest 
takeover of Idlib province in April 2015 and the seizure of territory on the 
al-Ghab plain in Hama province, which is the main natural barrier between 
the Sunni-populated area inland and the Alawite stronghold of Latakia 
province on the sea. That breakthrough by al-Nusra and its allies, which 
threatened the stability of the Assad regime, was serious enough to provoke 
the Russian intervention in September.

But given the new military balance, the Obama administration now recognizes 
that its former strategy is now irrelevant. It has been supplanted with a 
new strategy that is equally opportunistic. The idea now is to take 
advantage of shared US-Russian strategic interests regarding ISIS – and 
downgrade the objective of forcing a change in the Syrian regime. 

A signal fact of the war against ISIS in Syria that has been ignored in big 
media coverage is that the United States and Russia have been supporting the 
same military forces in Syria against ISIS. The Kurdish Democratic Union 
Party (PYD) the leading party in Syrian Kurdistan, controls a large swath of 
land across northern Syria bordering Turkey. Its military force, the Peoples 
Defense Units (YPG), has been the most significant ground force fighting 
against ISIS.

But the YPG has also fought against al-Nusra Front and its allies, and has 
made no secret of its support for Russian air strikes against those forces. 
Moreover, the PYD has actively cooperated with the Syrian army and Hezbollah 
in northern Aleppo province. It is both the primary Syrian ally of the 
United States against ISIS but also a strategic key to the Russian-Syrian 
strategy for weakening al-Nusra and its allies.

US NATO ally Turkey has adamantly oppoed the US assistance to the PYD, 
insisting it is a terrorist organization. The United States has never agreed 
with that, however, and is determined to exploit the strategic position of 
PYD in the fight against ISIS. But that also implies a degree of US-Russian 
cooperation against the main armed opposition to the Assad regime as well.

The Obama administration is no longer counting on a military balance 
favorable to the armed opposition to Assad to provide a reason for 
concessions by the regime. Whether military success against the armed 
opposition will be decisive enough to translate into a resolution of the 
conflict remains to be seen. In the meantime, the Syria peace negotiations 
are likely to be at a standstill.  

Gareth Porter, an investigative historian and journalist specializing in 
U.S. national security policy, received the UK-based Gellhorn Prize for 
journalism for 2011 for articles on the U.S. war in Afghanistan. His new 
book is Manufactured Crisis: the Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare. He 
can be contacted at porter.gareth50 at gmail.com.

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