Today we are watching bloody counterrevolution, imperialist barbarism, in its most naked form, most visibly in the combined Blitzkrieg against the people of Aleppo and its northern countryside being carried out by the invading Russian air force, the fascistic regime of Bashar Assad with his barrel bombs, the invading Iranian Revolutionary Guards and their imports including Iraqi Shiite-sectarian death squads, Hezbollah and various manipulated, impoverished Shia troops from Afghanistan and Pakistan, with ISIS to some extent, and the US-backed Kurdish YPG on a huge scale, opportunistically joining in from either side like vultures.
Meanwhile, much the same continues in the south, with people still starving to death, even as world attention has gone away, in the various towns surrounding Damascus that are being carpet-bombed by Assad and Russia, besieged and starved by Assad and Hezbollah. This scene from some apocalypse (https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10153676629524823&set=gm.495267943990549&type=3&theatre) is actually between Moadamiyeh and Daraya; this picture of Hiroshima is actually what the regime has done to to the once beautiful city of Homs: https://www.facebook.com/Channel4News/videos/10153492613721939/?pnref=story. Further south, regime and Russian bombing continues day and night against the mighty, and starkly moderate, Southern Front of the FSA, which has had its already miserable level of “support” cut off by Jordan and the US; 150,000 people have been uprooted in the latest offensives.
Returning to Aleppo, the bombing has reached extraordinary levels http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/feb/06/aleppo-under-bombardment-fears-siege-and-starvation?CMP=Share_AndroidApp_Gmail:
“The bombs are falling so fast in Aleppo now that often rescuers don’t have time to reach victims between blasts. If the deadly explosions that struck on just one day last week had been evenly spaced, they would have struck every other minute around the clock.
“Sometimes there are so many airstrikes, we are just waiting and waiting at our headquarters, and the jets don’t leave the skies,” says Abdulrahman Alhassan, a 29-year-old former bank engineer from the city who coordinates “white helmet” rescue teams in the city.
“When at last we can’t see any more, we have to rush to all the sites to rescue people and evacuate them at once,” he said. On Friday, the group counted 900 airstrikes by government forces and their Russian backers, apparently throwing every weapon they have at the already devastated city.”
That is, 900 airstrikes on the city in one day.
As is widely reported, the targets include countless hospitals, schools, markets, bakeries, mosques and so on. This video shows the results of the deliberate Russian bombing of the children’s and maternity hospital in Azaz: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/not-terrorists-or-fighters-just-babies-syrian-charity-video-shows-devastation-after-azaz-hospital-a6875496.html, on the same day in mid-February that three other hospitals and two schools were bombed (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/16/world/middleeast/syria-hospital-airstrike-doctors-without-borders.html).
Of course, a bloody counterrevolution being carried out by a fascistic regime does not always involve “imperialist barbarism,” as I put it above; the Syrian regime has been doing the same for years before the Russian invasion. But as far as any foreign intervention by a world-class military power savaging a small country far from home goes, the current Russian invasion and terror bombing of Syria is second to only few.
However, Russian imperialism has been the chief armer of the regime with massive quantities of advanced weaponry for years, so there are no surprises here, and apart from our outrage, perhaps no need to dwell on the obvious (though if an anti-war movement existed in the West, calling for an end to this Russian barbarism would be its obvious aim; but alas).
US policy and the Oslo-style “peace process”
Yet it is the calculated indifference of the United States that stands out here; while this should not be a surprise, it is to those who still think the US was merely a weak and ineffective supporter of Syrian freedom. In fact, US Defence Secretary John Kerry was being completely truthful when he recently stated, not only that that the US does not support regime change in Syria (old news), but also that the US and Russia see the Syrian conflict “fundamentally very similarly” (http://abcnews.go.com/International/john-kerry-meets-russian-president-vladimir-putin-seek/story?id=35782171).
It may seem ironic that the current Russian Blitzkrieg is taking place in the shadow of the US-Russian driven Vienna/Geneva “peace process.” This process supposedly aimed to forge a ceasefire, and press a select group of oppositionists into a “transitional” government with the regime or parts of it, who would then jointly wage a war, supported by all the imperialist powers, against ISIS, Nusra and any other opposition forces declared to be “terrorists.”
However, while accepting negotiations for some kind of “political solution,” the Syrian opposition had some red lines. One was that, before real negotiations could begin, the regime needed to show some good faith by first implementing UN resolutions on lifting starvation sieges, stopping barrel bombing, releasing detainees and so on. Secondly, while the opposition was willing to begin negotiations with Assad, their bottom line for eventually agreeing to any political solution was that, at some point, Assad himself and his immediate entourage had to step down, so that the “transition” government they were to join would be formed with parts of the regime but not Assad himself.
However, the US, the UK, France and other western states began falling over each other to declare that Assad’s alleged “stepping down” can take place at the “end” of the “transition government” period rather than at the beginning; and then the length of this Assad-led “transition” kept getting lengthened beyond the “several months” initially discussed. This was made even more emphatic in an internal US State Department document which specified that Assad would continue to head the “transitional” regime, which the opposition was expected to join, until March 2017 (http://news.yahoo.com/apnewsbreak-us-sees-assad-staying-syria-until-march-081207181–politics.html); and then further, the US delivered new Russian-Iranian diktats to the opposition, moving from the concept of “transition” to that of the opposition forming a “national unity government” with Assad, while strongly rejecting the opposition’s conditions regarding sieges and so on.
According to Lina Sinjab, writing from the Geneva talks, a “US official was adamant that Secretary of State John Kerry wants to end the violence, and is determined to succeed. But everyone here thinks the opposite. Almost at every corner, you hear the same thought: The US has handed over Syria to the Russians for free” (http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-35490273). And as Assadist/Russian bombing continually increased throughout the “peace” conference, Kerry claimed on February 5 that “the Russians have made some constructive ideas about how a ceasefire in fact could be implemented” (http://www.todayszaman.com/world_kerry-says-in-talks-on-syria-ceasefire-will-know-in-days-if-possible_411600.html).
As reported on February 6, Syrian aid workers said Kerry told them on sidelines of the donor conference, after the Geneva “peace” talks broke down, that “the opposition will be decimated” and to expect 3 months of bombing, blaming the opposition for the Russian Blitzkrieg: “He said, ‘Don’t blame me – go and blame your opposition’” (http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/opposition-blame-syrian-bombing-kerry-tells-aid-workers-1808021537). Another source in the same article, who claimed to have been a liaison between the Syrian and American governments, said Kerry had passed the message on to Assad in October “that the US did not want him to be removed,” but that if he stopped barrel bombing, could “sell the story” to the public.
As Russia then launched into the current apocalyptic bombing of Aleppo, Kerry and Lavrov stitched together a “ceasefire,” which, however, would begin after a week, allowing plenty of time for Russia’s hundreds of strikes a day to perform maximum devastation in the meantime, while excluding all operations against ISIS, Nusra and “other terrorists” from the ceasefire. Since Russia and Assad declare everyone they bomb to be either ISIS, Nusra or “terrorists,” this ceasefire was simply a cover for the genocide to continue, while outlawing the rebels from shooting back!
When Kerry announced the “ceasefire” alongside his Russian counterpart, he put all the blame on the Syrian opposition, and as usual praised his (new) allies to the skies, stating emphatically that “it was not Russia or Iran who stopped a ceasefire from being adopted at the very beginning. I want to make that very, very clear” (http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/feb/12/russia-big-winner-syria-flawed-truce-assad-europe-us?CMP=share_btn_tw).
Then as Russia and Assad responded to the “ceasefire” by stepping up their genocidal bombing of Aleppo, Kerry said this has to stop, but told the opposition to stop “whining” about it, telling them it won’t stop “by walking away from the table or not engaging” (https://twitter.com/USEmbassySyria/status/696046559486607360).
It may be objected that these are just statements, perhaps driven by diplomacy. However, statements have a context. In the context of such horrific crimes being committed by Russia as we speak; of the US pressuring its “allies” to cut off the miserable aid they had provided the rebels (see below); of the US pushing the opposition into a national unity government with Assad for one and a half years; in the context of US bombing never touching the regime or its death squad allies, but often hitting non-ISIS rebel targets; these “mere statements” represent policy, not diplomacy.
Below I have attached what is one of the better commentaries in mainstream media in recent weeks on the so-called US “betrayal” of the Syrian people in the face of this bloodthirsty Russian-Assadist-Iranian Blitzkrieg on Aleppo.
Of course, its use of 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 somehow represents the US abandoning its own interests in favour of those of others.
Actually, the author only just still borders on these illusions – like any serious observer, the author can see that the facts have long ago depleted most 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 be carried by the rebellion, for which the United States has little respect or care anyway.” He is right that the US has “little respect or care” (“none” would be more correct) for the rebellion, but this very fact makes the word “oblivious” at the beginning of the sentence meaningless. This author can at least be congratulated on showing 90 percent cynicism of basic US motives and positions on Syria throughout the conflict, and only 10 percent remaining illusions of the US being “oblivious” to its interests. Far ahead of most.
It is high time, in my opinion, to call a spade a spade. This has nothing to do with the fact that there has been no “US intervention,” still less a call for it. In fact, those constantly warning against “US intervention” wilfully ignore that the US has been bombing Syria for some 17 months, just that it bombs Anyone But Assad (see my article on who the US bombs: . https://mkaradjis.wordpress.com/2015/09/03/who-has-the-us-bombed-for-in-syria/).
At this point, it doesn’t even have that much to do with the many years of very active US intervention against the revolution, 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 when massive airpower became the main form of regime aggression; with the fact that sympathetic regional states were blocked from sending them, and that the FSA was even blocked when it tried to get them from the black market. No, this is all well-established; as one tweet put it concisely, “the only consistent, thorough, well-implemented US Syrian policy is tracking hunting and stopping MANPADS from reaching any opposition group since 2012” (https://twitter.com/THE_47th/status/659114328012931072); and the criminality of denying such weapons as the rebels face such apocalyptic bombing right now is for all to see. But 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.” According to Syrian National Coalition Khaled Khoja, external support for armed opposition factions in Syria came to a complete halt following the Vienna talks in October 2015 (http://www.alaraby.co.uk/english/indepth/2016/2/6/the-fate-of-the-syrian-opposition-left-without-support), while videographic evidence shows that use of Saudi-supplied TOW anti-tank weapons on the battlefield “had trickled off in the last months of 2015 and totally vanished in the first two weeks of 2016” (http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/02/05/are-u-s-missiles-taking-out-high-ranking-russian-military-officials.html).
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 along.
How the White House is handing victory to Bashar al-Assad, Russia and Iran.
BY EMILE HOKAYEM
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 survival.
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 objective.
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 theproblematic 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 intervention.
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 alreadyconceded 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.