Obama’s Syria policy and the illusion of Pindo power in the Middle East
Gareth Porter, Middle East Eye, Oct 7 2016
Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman w/ Steppin Fetchit (Photo: AFP)
With the collapse of the Pindo-Russian ceasefire agreement and the resumption and escalation of the massive Russian bombing campaign in Aleppo, the frustration of hawks in Washington over the failure of the Obama administration to use Pindosi military power in Syria has risen to new heights. But the administration’s inability to do anything about Russian military escalation in Aleppo is the logical result of the role the Obama administration has been playing in Syria over the past five years. The problem is that the administration has pursued policy objectives that it lacked the means to achieve. When Obama called on Assad to step down in Sep 2011, incredibly, the administration believed that he would do so of his own accord. As former Hillary Clinton aide and Pentagon official Derek Chollet reveals in his new book, The Long Game:
Early in the crisis, most officials believed Assad lacked the necessary cunning and fortitude to stay in power.
Administration policy-makers began using the phrase “managed transition” in regard to policy toward the Syrian government, according to Chollet. The phrase reflected perfectly the vaulting ambitions of policy-makers who were eager to participate in a regime change that they saw as a big win for USsrael and a big loss for Iran. Sec State Hillary Clinton would be out front pushing for a UNSCR calling for a “transition” in Syria. But Pindo regional vassals the Turks, Toads & Thanis would provide the arms to Syrian fighters. The only Pindosi role in the war would be a covert operation devised by then DCI Petraeus to provide intelligence and logistical assistance to those allies, to get arms to the groups chosen by the Sunni regimes that would pay for them. Of course there were those, led by Clinton herself, who wanted to go further and create a “no-fly zone” where the insurgents could be trained and operate freely. But Obama, supported by the Pentagon JCoS, would not support that invitation to war. Pindostan was going to play the great power role in Syria without getting its hands dirty with the arming of an opposition force. But within a few months it was already clear that the administration’s “managed transition” had gone terribly wrong. Already firmly ensconced in Iraq, AQ had begun to show its hand in a series of attacks in Damascus and elsewhere in Syria. By Aug 2012, it was widely recognised that the Jihadis were rapidly taking over the anti-Assad war. Ed Hussein of the CFR observed in the CSM that Syria was becoming “a magnet for Jihadis globally,” just as Iraq had become after the Pindo invasion. The DIA identified AQ, the Salafis and the MBs as the three major strains in the rapidly growing anti-Assad war. Furthermore the administration knew the Turks, Toads & Thanis were sending weapons, including shoulder-launched (wire-guided – RB) anti-tank RPGs, not to secular groups but to Jihadis. Chollet, who was working on Syria for Clinton’s policy planning office and later moved to the Pentagon, recalls:
The administration was concerned that the wrong elements of the opposition, the extremists, some affiliated with AQ, were being strengthened.
One might expect the administration then to call a halt to the whole thing and clamp down on its allies, especially Turkey, which was the main entry point for arms pouring into Syria. Instead, as Chollet recounts, Clinton and then-DCI Panetta were pushing for a major CIA programme to create, train and arm a Syrian opposition force, not because it would prove decisive to the outcome but because it would give Pindostan “leverage” with its vassals by acquiring “skin in the game.” Obama rejected that argument about “leverage” in 2012, but then reversed himself in 2013 under the pressure of the allegations of use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government (the E Ghoutta sarin attack – RB). Like so much of what passes for justification of aggressive Pindosi military and paramilitary activities around the world, the argument made no sense. The leverage that Pindostan has with Turks, Toads & Thanis is the range of political-military and economic benefits that each of them derives from a formal or de facto alliance with Pindostan. I asked Chollet recently why the CIA’s ginning up our own anti-Assad forces in Syria would give Pindostan more “leverage” over vassals. His reply was:
Because then the whole thing would collapse around us!
But of course the growing Pindosi “skin in the game” didn’t give the administration leverage over the vassals’ policies in Syria. It did exactly the opposite, making Pindostan complicit in the vassals’ project of using the Jihadis and Salafis to maximise the pressure for the overthrow of the Syrian regime. Not a shred of evidence has ever surfaced suggesting that Pindostan has done anything to pressure its vassals to cut off the channels of arms that were strengthening the AQ-linked Jabhat al-Nusra. As a result, the vassals’ arms-to-Jihadis strategy and the Pindos’ support for “moderates” were two parts of a broader political-diplomatic strategy of pressure on Assad to step down. As former Pindo ambassador Robert Ford observed in Feb 2015:
For a long time, the administration looked the other way while the Pindo-supported forces were coordinating with Nusra.
That strategy was upended when the Russians intervened forcefully in Sep 2015. Obama, who was firmly committed to avoiding any direct conflict with Russia over Syria, vetoed any threat to use force in Syria in response to the Russian intervention. For almost a year, Obama relied on cooperation with the Russians as his primary political-diplomatic strategy for managing the conflict, producing two ceasefires that ultimately failed. The fate of those two ceasefires has revealed more fully the illusory nature of the great power role that Pindostan has pretended to play this past year. Jackass committed Pindostan to two ceasefire agreements based on the premise that Pindostan could separate the armed groups that the CIA had armed and trained from the Jabhat al-Nusra-led military command. The reality was that Pindostan had no real power over those groups, because they were more heavily dependent on their Jihadist allies than on Pindostan for their continued viability. But underlying that failure is the larger reality that the Obama administration has allowed its policy in Syria to be determined primarily by the ambitions of its vassals to overthrow Assad. The administration has claimed that it never favoured the destruction of Syrian institutions, but that claim is contradicted by its acquiescence in the vassals’ support for Nusra. Pindo complicity in the hundreds of thousands of deaths in the Syrian war, and now in the massive civilian casualties in the Russian bombing of Aleppo, does not consist in its refusal to go to war in Syria but in its providing the political-diplomatic cover for the build-up of Nusra and its larger interlocking system of military commands. A Pindosi administration that played a true superpower role would have told its vassals not to start a war in Syria by arming Jihadis, using the fundamental fact of their vassalage as the lever. But that would have meant threatening to end that vassa;age itself if necessary, which is something no Pindo administration is willing to do. Hence the paradox of Pindo power in the Middle East: in order to play at the role of hegemon in the region, with all those military bases, Pindostan must allow itself to be manipulated by its vassals.