If the twists and turns of US foreign policy in the Middle East were ever presented to a Hollywood producer as a script or treatment for a movie or a tv drama, it is very likely that it would be sent back for serious revision because of their seeming contradictions and sheer plot implausibility.
Imagine your wannabe scriptwriter explaining that the US is currently supporting a rebellion in Syria with the Muslim Brotherhood at its core, while providing de facto support to the al-Sisi regime’s vicious repression of the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria. Or that in Iraq, Obama is preparing to carry out air strikes against the Islamic State of Syria and Iraq (ISIS) – a Syrian rebel group which may have initially been trained by the United States military.
Other confusing narratives thicken the plot still further. After years of sabrerattling with Iran over its nuclear program – not to mention various forms of ‘cyberwar’ and special operations inside the Islamic Republic that include bombings and assassinations carried out by jihadist groups, the US has begun discussions to enlist Iranian help in countering ISIS. But such collaboration is proving difficult, because the US doesn’t want Nouri al-Maliki to remain in power, even though it wanted him back in 2010, because his administration is now deemed to be too corrupt and sectarian to deliver ‘stability.’
Instead it wants a ‘government of national unity’ possibly headed by the fraudster and all-round conman Ahmad Chalabi, another Shia politician with dubious allegiances who the Bush administration once favoured back in 2003, before it discovered that Chalabi was a possible Iranian intelligence asset. Meanwhile, the Syrian government, which the US wants to overthrow, has also begun carrying out air strikes against ISIS, which seems to signify that Syria and the United States are on the same side, except that the US is in fact continuing to promote ‘regime change’ in Syria, by supporting rebels whose most effective military forces are – ISIS!
And now the Obama administration is requesting $500 million from Congress for an ‘overseas contingency operation’ that will train and equip ‘moderate’ Syrian rebels, at which point the would-be producer of ‘US Foreign Policy – the movie’ is likely to say ‘you’ve lost me kid’ and walk away with their latte in hand.
According to National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden, this aid is intended to ‘help defend the Syrian people, stabilize areas under opposition control, facilitate the provision of essential services, counter terrorist threats, and promote conditions for a negotiated settlement.‘
Elsewhere, administration officials are saying that the aid package has been increased in response to the rise of ISIS in Iraq, and that it is intended to ‘help build the capacity of the moderate Syrian opposition and our partners in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq to manage the growing spillover effects of the Syrian conflict.’
None of these explanations make logical sense on any level. Firstly the rebels, whether ‘moderate’ or ‘extremist’ do not represent the ‘Syrian people’, any more than Assad does – they represent sections/factions of the Syrian population which the US has chosen to support in order to further its strategic interests in the region.
American military aid is not intended to ‘defend’ anyone, but to exacerbate and extend the conflict, and will ensure that many more Syrians die. The ‘provision of essential services’ is nothing but a phony humanitarian figleaf, intended to disguise what is in fact the deliberate the intensification and escalation of violence and destruction in pursuit of its ‘regime change’ agenda.
If the US was seriously interested in protecting the ‘Syrian people’, it would have used its power and influence, in partnership with all relevant parties, to try and demilitarize the conflict and stop the fighting. Instead it has done the opposite throughout the war, and now it wants to ‘stabilize areas under opposition control’, even if that means the disintegration and fragmentation of Syria itself – and perhaps Iraq too.
The notion that this will lead to a ‘negotiated settlement’ is a joke in very poor taste. The US might believe – or pretend to believe – that these ‘stabilised areas’ will give the ‘moderate rebels’ a stronger hand in future political negotiations, but the more ‘stabilised’ these areas become the least inclined they will be to pursue ‘negotiations’, and the more likely it is that these ‘stabilised’ areas will fight each other in order to dominate the rebellion, and in order to undermine the ‘stabilised’ areas controlled by ISIS.
At the end of all this, there is likely to be very little of Syria remaining. As for ‘counter terrorist threats’. Please. Everything that the US has done in Syria and the Middle East for the last ten years has facilitated, boosted and empowered ‘terrorist threats’ across the region.
It has done this essentially in three ways 1) By creating the instability/destabilisation in which groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS can prosper 3) By providing such groups with a cause celebre/rallying cause/recruitment tool and 3) Through facilitation/ training either direct or channelled through proxies.
ISIS is merely one more product of this ‘politics of chaos.’ The idea that weapons and training can be restricted to ‘moderate’ rebels rather than ‘extremists’ is another fantasy/delusion intended for propaganda consumption. Such distinctions have proven difficult, and generally impossible to enforce in Syria, and it is doubtful whether the US or any of the other states looking to overthrow Assad have any interest in enforcing them.
The most likely outcome is that ISIS will end up with more weapons, just as the al-Nusrah Front did before it – as long as the former continues to demonstrate its military capabilities against Assad. So why would the US help an organization in one country when it is supposedly seeking to prevent its ‘spillover effects’ in another? A clue may be found in a New York Times op ed by the conservative American strategist Edward Luttwak in August last year, entitled ‘Syria: America Loses if Either Side Wins.’
Luttwak is a particularly ruthless and amoral exponent of American realpolitik, who once approved the genocidal counterinsurgency campaigns waged by the Guatemalan military in the 70s and 80s. As the title suggests, his preferred outcome in Syria is a ‘prolonged stalemate’, in which the Assad regime and its opponents fight each other endlessly without either side gaining victory. In this way, Luttwak argues:
‘By tying down Mr. Assad”s army and its Iranian and Hezbollah allies in a war against Al Qaeda-aligned extremist fighters, four of Washington”s enemies will be engaged in war among themselves and prevented from attacking Americans or America”s allies.’
Neat huh? And how can the US achieve this ‘indefinite draw’? According to our imperial grand strategist, ‘ the only possible method for achieving this is to arm the rebels when it seems that Mr. Assad”s forces are ascendant and to stop supplying the rebels if they actually seem to be winning.’
Of course Luttwak notes that this is a ‘tragic’ choice, from the point of Syria, but then, he argues, things are bad enough there already so what will it matter if the war goes on and on?
There is no evidence that the US has formally adopted these recommendations, but the strategy of playing off American enemies/competitors against each other is not new. During the Iran-Iraq war the US shifted back and forth between the two sides and sometimes provided weapons and military assistance to both of them at the same time in order to ensure that both were weakened and neither gained the upper hand.
Those who approved this strategy were not concerned with how many Iraqis or Iranians died in order to achieve this outcome, and it may well be that what is about to happen in Syria will follow the direction that Luttwak has outlined.
It may well be that such an outcome requires the deaths of tens, if not hundreds of thousands of people, a trail of wrecked cities and broken states, and an endless ‘war of all against all’ throughout the Middle East. But exponents of ‘American exceptionalism’ have never shown any scruples about such matters in the past, and there are clearly those who, as Madeleine Albright once said in a different context, believe that the price is ‘worth it’ if America’s enemies can ‘bleed’ and the Imperium and its allies can inherit the ruins.