[Marxism] The Trump-Putin coalition for Assad lays waste to Syria: Imperial agreement and carve-up behind the noisy rhetoric

Chris Slee chris_w_slee at hotmail.com
Sat Sep 16 07:40:12 MDT 2017


A further response to Michael Karadjis
(Part 1)

In my previous message I noted that during the Obama period, some US allies had either bombed Syria (Israel) or supplied arms to the rebels (Turkey and the Gulf states).  I expressed the view that "initially the US probably wanted Assad to be replaced", because he was not totally reliable.

Michael responded:

'The silly trope about “reactionary” or ”US-backed” regimes supporting
the Syrian opposition (albeit “for their own reasons”) relies on the
idea that such regimes are limited to Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey....The majority of “reactionary” and “US-backed” states
in the region either vigorously back the reactionary Assad regime, are
neutral, or are effectively pro-Assad and anti-revolutionary.

'All that aside, these states are not puppets of the US, on either
side, they act on their own interests'.

I agree that reactionary and/or US-backed regimes have taken different positions on the Syrian conflict.  Some have supported Assad, while others have supported various rebel groups.  

One factor has been the desire of some regimes to promote religious sectarianism, both inside Syria and elsewhere.  They wanted their own people, and the people of the broader Middle East, to see the Syrian war as a religious conflict rather than a struggle for democracy.  Hence they took opposite sides, based in part on the religious affiliations of the various participants in the Syrian conflict.

These regimes act in their own interests, which often coincide with US interests, but sometimes do not.

Michael says:

"If Chris thinks Turkey, for example, backed the Syrian rebels because it is a 'US ally,' then he
presumably thinks the US told Turkey to send the Mavi Mamara to try to
break the siege of Gaza too".

That is not a good analogy.  A government permitting its citizens to join a humanitarian aid convoy is not the same as a government arming rebels to overthrow another government.

Michael says:

"Chris should also consider that, to the
extent that the US had any relation to the arming of the Syrian rebels
by these three states, its main role was always to try to limit the
quantity and quality of the arms sent, restrict who they could be sent
to, act to coopt those who got a few arms to divert them away from the
struggle against Assad, and above all to ensure that no anti-aircraft
weaponry got to the rebels ever, in an overwhelmingly air war launched
by the regime".

If the "main role" of the US had "always" been to "limit the quantity and quality of the arms sent", the  simplest way would have been to ban its allies from giving any arms at all to the rebels.  To enforce this edict, it could have threatened these allies with sanctions (e.g. a ban on new weapons supplies from the US).

The US did not do this, because it wanted SOME arms to flow to the rebels.  This was because the US wanted to put pressure on the Assad regime, leading to a negotiated transition, similar to what happened in Yemen.

Therefore the US allowed Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar to supply weapons to the rebels (within certain limits).

It should also be noted that US policy is not static.  It has changed as circumstances changed.  The goal of removing Assad, while not formally renounced, was in practice abandoned in subsequent years.

One factor leading to this change was recognition that, because of Russian and Iranian support, the Assad regime was not about to collapse.

Another factor was the rise of ISIS.  The US became alarmed, particularly after the capture of Mosul by ISIS in 2014.  Replacing Assad ceased to be a priority.

Turkey, by contrast, was much more alarmed at the Rojava revolution, and saw ISIS as an ally in crushing it.  Hence Turkey's policy began to diverge from that of the US.  (I will say more about Turkey in another message)

IRAN AND THE UNITED STATES

In my previous message I argued that the US rulers have "reluctantly accepted" that Iranian-led forces are likely to take over a large part of Deir Ezzor province.  I said:

"I suspect that the US might originally have had the aim of trying to
seize Deir Ezzor using forces trained at al-Tanf, thereby preventing
Iranian-led forces from controlling the various roads through the
province, but then realised that their proxy force was not up to the
task".

Michael criticises this statement, saying:

"Once again, we are all entitled to think what might be in the back of
some imperialist leaders’ minds. However, I did not merely “imply” US
support for Assad taking over Deir Ezzor, I also had this quote from
the Pentagon (along with tons of other quotes, evidence facts etc):

"On June 23, US-led Coalition spokesman Colonel Ryan Dillon explained
that if the Assad regime or its allies “are making a concerted effort
to move into ISIS-held areas” then “we absolutely have no problem with
that.” Dillon said that "if they [ie, Assad regime] want to fight ISIS
in Abu Kamal and they have the capacity to do so, then that would be
welcomed".

However, my ability to read the minds of imperialist leaders has been confirmed by none other than....Michael Karadjis!  In his Marxist Left Review article, Michael says:

"Meanwhile, in the south, the US cobbled together the New Syrian Army. In November 2015, the NSA, backed by US air strikes, expelled ISIS from the al-Tanf border crossing with Iraq, releasing a video showing copious US weaponry. Later it launched a failed raid on Abu Kamal, where the going was tough, because many Deir Ezzor rebels “distrust its American backers”, especially because the NSA’s introductory video made no mention of fighting the regime".

http://marxistleftreview.org/index.php/no-14-winter-2017/147-us-vs-free-syrian-army-vs-jabhat-al-nusra-and-isis-history-of-a-hidden-three-way-conflict

Thus the US did indeed try to use a proxy force (the New Syrian Army) to advance into Deir Ezzor (the province in which Abu Kamal is situated), but found it was (as I said) "not up to the task".   

Somewhat later, Colonel Dillon "welcomed" the advance of the Assad regime and its allies into Deir Ezzor.  But this was only after the initial (and presumably preferred) US plan had failed.

The US and Iran are currently allies in Syria.  But there is no guarantee this will continue.  The fact that Colonel Dillon politely "welcomes" advances by the Assad regime and its allies (including Iranian-led forces) does not prove he is happy about them.

Chris Slee







________________________________
From: mkaradjis . <mkaradjis at gmail.com>
Sent: Wednesday, 13 September 2017 2:43:37 AM
To: Chris Slee
Cc: Activists and scholars in Marxist tradition
Subject: Re: [Marxism] The Trump-Putin coalition for Assad lays waste to Syria: Imperial agreement and carve-up behind the noisy rhetoric

Response to Chris Slee (first part - re Turkey etc, will post later).

Chris:

“The reference to "the complete absence of any military clash between
the US and Assad in the Obama years" could be taken as implying that
the US has always supported Assad, ever since the start of the
uprising in 2011.

“But in considering the lack of direct military clashes between the US
and Assad during the Obama period, we should not forget that allies of
the US did intervene militarily.  Israel bombed Syria on a number of
occasions.  Turkey and the Gulf states supplied weapons to rebels
(albeit limited in quantity and quality).”

“Allies of the US” are not the US. For example, Iraq is a close ally
of the US, in fact essentially a creature of the US invasion and
occupation, the crowning act of US aggression this century, and Iraq
actively supports Assad, in fact, as my article documents (see links),
this involves nothing less than an invasion of Syria by 20,000 troops
of the US/Iran-backed Iraqi regime. Al-Sisi’s bloody Egyptian tyranny
is a US ally, and has sent arms and even military personnel to Syria
to aid the Assad regime. Jordan is a US ally and has used its leverage
over the southern FSA (given geography) to wind down the southern
front against Assad, and when tasked jointly by the US and Russia to
draw up a list of “terrorist” organisations to be excluded from talks,
came up with a list of some 160 rebel groups, about half the
insurgency! A list partly based on an earlier list drawn up by the
UAE, another US ally. Lebanon is a US ally (5th largest recipient of
US arms in the world), and it is quite remarkable how US arms manage
to turn up with Hezbollah in Lebanon.

The silly trope about “reactionary” or” US-backed” regimes supporting
the Syrian opposition (albeit “for their own reasons”) relies on the
idea that such regimes are limited to Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey
(and even that needs to take into account how hostile the first is to
the second two, and hence their “support” was based precisely on their
own rivalries). The majority of “reactionary” and “US-backed” states
in the region either vigorously back the reactionary Assad regime, are
neutral, or are effectively pro-Assad and anti-revolutionary.

All that aside, these states are not puppets of the US, on either
side, they act on their own interests. If Chris thinks Turkey, for
example, backed the Syrian rebels because it is a “US ally,” then he
presumably thinks the US told Turkey to send the Mavi Mamara to try to
break the siege of Gaza too. Chris should also consider that, to the
extent that the US had any relation to the arming of the Syrian rebels
by these three states, its main role was always to try to limit the
quantity and quality of the arms sent, restrict who they could be sent
to, act to coopt those who got a few arms to divert them away from the
struggle against Assad, and above all to ensure that no anti-aircraft
weaponry got to the rebels ever, in an overwhelmingly air war launched
by the regime.

In the first few years, Israel (US ally, but once again, not puppet)
was strongly pro-Assad, but with the greater Iranian involvement on
Assad’s side by late 2013, together with the 2013 overthrow of the
anti-Assad MB regime in Egypt (which had threatened an
Egypt-Hamas-Syrian rebel alliance with heavy MB influence, but this
danger was now reduced with Sisi's coup), Israel developed a new
policy aimed largely at keeping Hezbollah away from the Golan and
hitting warehouses or convoys where it suspected advanced weapons were
being delivered to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Yet it has still never armed
any rebel faction, the rebels remain relentlessly in support of
regaining the Golan, and no Israeli hits on Hezbollah have ever
directly aided rebels while clashing with Hezbollah.

However, Chris continues:

“I think that initially the US probably wanted Assad to be replaced.
While he had collaborated with the US in some ways, he was not totally
reliable. Thus I think the US had a perspective of removing Assad, and
bringing a section of the opposition into the government, while
keeping the regime largely intact.”

We are all entitled to think what we want. Evidence is better.
Initially the US - Hilary Clinton no less - strongly supported Assad
the “reformer”, while telling “US ally” Mubarak to “step down” within
a week or so of the beginning of the Egyptian uprising. The equivalent
Obama statement asking Assad to “step aside”, by contrast, came some 6
months, and thousands of killings, later. But as Chris says, the aim
was only ever replacing the Assad figure, not the regime - the US
aimed to keep the regime intact, strengthened by removing the highly
destabilising figure of Assad himself and by broadening its base by
bringing in some conservative elements of opposition leadership.

But such a conservative, regime-preserving outcome, could not be
achieved by providing any significant level of arms to the FSA, whose
aim was the destruction of the regime. So pointing out that the US,
eventually, came to the conclusion that Assad should “step down” is
entirely different to thinking the US was trying to support anyone to
militarily oust Assad, or to support any kind of revolutionary
overthrow.

Hence the nature of the arming. Let me be as clear as I can, and I
think any realistic look at the arms supplied to the rebels by any
quarter, compared to those possessed by and supplied to the regime,
would show that the *aim* of this micro-arming was NOT:

i. to help the rebels overthrow the regime, NOR

ii. to help the rebels make on the ground tactical or strategic gains
against the regime, NOR

iii. to “help both sides win” by maintaining a “balance” (helping one
when the other side was too strong etc)

NO. The *aim* was simply to allow *bare survival* of a heavily
weakened group of moderate rebels, weakened enough so that maximum
pressure could be placed on them to go along with US dictates, which
as I documented in my article in the current Marxist Left Review
(http://marxistleftreview.org/index.php/no-14-winter-2017/147-us-vs-free-syrian-army-vs-jabhat-al-nusra-and-isis-history-of-a-hidden-three-way-conflict),
was above all to divert them away from the fight against Assad into
mere US pawns in its “war on terror”, ie, to agree to fight ISIS and
Nusra *only* and *not* the regime. The US in the same way had tried to
preserve the core of a weakened Fatah in order to find its Abbas, not
its Arafat: In Syria the US also searches for its Abbas.

If you haven’t read my MLR piece Chris, and only this latest piece, I
recommend you do.

2. The US and Iran in Syria

Chris thinks I “downplay hostility between the US and Iran as a factor
influencing events in Syria.” Yes, I do. Because if this “hostility”
was a major factor *in Syria*, then I expect we would see more of an
anti-Assad position, at least to some extent, than we do. The fact
that Trump’s rhetoric is far more anti-Iran than Obama’s, yet US
intervention, as Chris acknowledges, is more pro-Assad under Trump,
underlines this nicely.

Now one way to interpret this is that the US under Trump prefers Assad
be bolstered by Russia rather than Iran, and in the process hope to
exploit Russian-Iranian differences on Syria to drive a wedge between
them (more or less the Israeli line). While there is no doubt
something to this, what I documented in great detail is that has no
relation to anything the US is doing *in practice* either anywhere in
the region, or anywhere in Syria, at the moment. Of course, I cannot
rule out a change at a later date, but this is the reality now, which
in class terms I see as the global and regional counterrevolutionary
alliance (open or covert) against the Syrian people’s revolt against
the tyranny.

Chris writes:
“Michael seems to imply that the US would be unconcerned if
Iranian-led forces were able to take over a large part of Deir Ezzor
province.  I think it is more likely that the US rulers have
reluctantly accepted that they have no realistic way of preventing it.
I suspect that the US might originally have had the aim of trying to
seize Deir Ezzor using forces trained at al-Tanf, thereby preventing
Iranian-led forces from controlling the various roads through the
province, but then realised that their proxy force was not up to the
task.”

Once again, we are all entitled to think what might be in the back of
some imperialist leaders’ minds. However, I did not merely “imply” US
support for Assad taking over Deir Ezzor, I also had this quote from
the Pentagon (along with tons of other quotes, evidence facts etc):

On June 23, US-led Coalition spokesman Colonel Ryan Dillon explained
that if the Assad regime or its allies “are making a concerted effort
to move into ISIS-held areas” then “we absolutely have no problem with
that.” Dillon said that "if they [ie, Assad regime] want to fight ISIS
in Abu Kamal and they have the capacity to do so, then that would be
welcomed. We as a coalition are not in the land-grab business. We are
in the killing-ISIS business. That is what we want to do, and if the
Syrian regime wants to do that and they're going to put forth a
concerted effort and show that they are doing just that in Abu Kamal
or Deir el-Zour or elsewhere, that means that we don't have to do that
in those places."

Really, I’m not sure how anyone can read that differently. As I wrote,
that could hardly be clearer; and I expect the Pentagon, unlike Trump
himself, picks its words very carefully. For the Pentagon, if Assad
and allies take the Deir Ezzor region from ISIS, the US “doesn’t have
to” go there. Why go there, when your allies are headed there anyway?

Also, the failure to comprehend that the US is supporting Assad in
Deir Ezzor in particular is highly revealing of the myopia of so much
reportage (from left, right and centre) on Syria. Facts do not come
first; idealist notions that, because we think, for example, that the
US and Assad are “hostile,” we think therefore they cannot be
collaborating in Deir Ezzor, despite the fact that the *active*
US-Assad in Deir Ezzor **for the past 3 years** is clearer than
anywhere else in Syria. They are allies; tweets from the US Embassy,
State Dept, CentCom etc often refer to them as allies and hail Assad’s
advances there.

It is quite remarkable that when the Friendly Fire incident occurred
last year (ie, when the US accidentally bombed its Assadist allies in
Deir Ezzor on one occasion, then profusely apologized and offered
compensation), most commentary was along the lines of “see the US is
pretending to be fighting ISIS but instead it bombs Syrian
“government” troops fighting ISIS.” Remarkable that the thousands of
US strikes on ISIS in Deir Ezzor in active concert with Assadist and
Russian strikes on the same targets in tandem over several years were
not the issue; remarkable that the incident of Friendly Fire didn’t
highlight precisely this. Incidentally, there have been somewhat more
incidents of Russian Friendly Fire on Assadists than American; the US
has been far more careful.

Of course, again we might say that US support for Assad in Deir Ezzor
may not necessarily mean support for Iran there, especially if they
can get a strong Russian presence; yet as I pointed out, Assad’s
hollowed-out rump “SAA” necessarily relies heavily on the global
Shiite jihadist intervention forces. I expect Assad doesn’t like them
(there have been plenty of incidents), but at the moment that is his
reality.

Chris is right of course that the US proxies don’t stand a chance; but
Deir Ezzor province, and neighbouring regions in eastern Suweida and
eastern Qalamoun are awash with FSA/rebel forces that have refused to
bow to US commands to not fight Assad, and as the province was
originally a strong revolutionary base, it is likely that the basis
for an ongoing insurgency in the heavily Sunni region against Assad
and the rule of the Shiite jihad is there.

“The relationship between the US and Iran is complex.  They are
cooperating against ISIS, especially in Iraq, but the US is still
imposing economic sanctions on Iran, which means that the hostility is
not just a matter of rhetoric.”

Cooperation between the US and Iran in Iraq goes a long way back
before “cooperation against ISIS” began; it has been fundamental since
2003, and in fact is one of the causes of ISIS. On the other hand,
sanctions are indeed part of the old US-Iran relation, and so
relations are indeed “complex.” The active geopolitical/sectarian
rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia, and the active “war of
rhetoric” mediated by geographical distance between Iran and Israel,
which serves both theocratic projects, are important factors: while
Obama’s rapprochement with Iran represented, I believe, a far-sighted
policy in terms of US imperialist interests, the interests of more
traditional US allies need to be taken into account. The sanctions,
incidentally, have not prevented some pretty major world-class
imperialist firms doing great deals with Iran (Boeing, Airbus,
Mercedes-Benz, Total etc).





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