A month ago, the city of Idlib fell to opposition fighters, mainly al-Qaeda and its affiliates and allies. It was a major blow to the Syrian army. Last Saturday, the nearby town of Jisr al-Shughour also fell, mostly to the same groups.
Fighting against the Syrian government and army are a mixture of Syrian and foreign mercenaries from dozens of countries. They are supplied, trained, armed and paid by Saudi Arabia, the Gulf monarchies, Israel, Turkey, NATO, and of course the United States. Their weapons are becoming increasingly sophisticated, and it is appears that TOW wire-guided missiles supplied by Saudi Arabia (and indirectly the US) made a major difference in the battles for Idlib and Jisr al-Shughour. The Syrian government is backed mainly by Russia and Iran, plus a few thousand fighters from Hezbollah in Lebanon. It is also backed by a substantial majority of the Syrian population, as determined by foreign intelligence estimates as well as a multi-candidate 2014 election with astonishing participation even by expatriate Syrians.
NATO, the US and the relatively marginalized secular Syrian opposition, say they want to replace the current Syrian government with one that is secular, democratic, respectful of human rights, and which represents all the people of Syria.
Really? The US has undermined and overthrown democratic governments in Iran (1953), Guatemala (1954), Brazil (1964), Congo (1965), Chile (1973), Turkey (1980), Nicaragua (1981-90), Haiti (2004), and the occupied Palestinian territories (2007), and it is trying to do the same in Venezuela. Why? Because the democratic choice of the people did not result in a compliant government, subservient to the West and multinational corporations. That’s the real agenda of the US and NATO.
It’s also hard to imagine that Saudi Arabia, the Gulf monarchies, Israel and Turkey care about democracy and human rights. They are more interested in advancing their regional objectives and suppressing potential rivals, principally and obsessively Syria’s ally, Iran. The US and Israel have been pursuing destruction and regime change of at least seven Middle Eastern countries for two decades or more. Israel’s policy since its formation has been to keep its neighbors weak and divided and in a constant state of war.
Be careful what you wish for
Regime change is full of unintended consequences. From the late 1970s to the early 1990s, US-backed Islamic resistance fighters, including Osama Bin Laden, battled a secular government in Afghanistan and eventually replaced it with the repressive Taliban regime. This support helped to create al-Qaeda, which spread to Yemen, East Africa and other places. It resulted in major attacks against US installations in Yemen, Kenya and twice against the World Trade Center in New York. The US then invaded Afghanistan in 2002, which became a quagmire and potentially the longest war in US history, at a cost of a trillion dollars, a crumbling domestic infrastructure and economy, and thousands more American lives. That war is not yet over, and the putative benefits to the US are hard to find. In fact, the U.S. is probably less secure as a result. And that is just Afghanistan.
If we add in the US interventions in Iraq, Libya, Yemen and Syria the costs mount to more trillions of dollars and more thousands of American lives, to say nothing of the more than one million deaths among the local populations. In all these cases, we left behind crippled and failed states, with al-Qaeda and its successors (Daesh, AKA ISIS, AKA the takfiri movement) filling the vacuum.
In the case of Syria, our opposition to the Assad government is so obstinate that we are apparently promoting the defeat of a government that is not our enemy in order to replace it with one that is. The paid mercenary remnants of the “moderate opposition” are all allied with al-Qaeda and fight under its direction. Al-Qaeda and Daesh control most of opposition-held Syria and are doing most of the fighting. Our allies, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, with lesser support from the Gulf monarchies and Israel, are supplying nearly all the weapons and money, and are supporting the recruitment operations of the most fanatical movements under an Islamic flag, which promise to spread death, misery, intolerance and oppression in the territories they controls, and to commit ethnic cleansing of populations that they considers to be “heretical”, including non-Muslims and Muslims alike. Why would we want them to take control of Syria?
Unfortunately, good sense seems to have little to do with US decision making. Saudi Arabia and Israel consider al-Qaeda and Daesh to be better options than a government allied with Iran, and have no objection to allowing Syria to be taken over by terrorists. Both have powerful friends in the US, including war hawks in Congress like Senators John McCain, Lindsay Graham and Ted Cruz, as well as Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. They have the support of the vast military-industrial complex, the largest in the world, and of the neoconservative press, advisers, government officials and members of Congress, as well as the Israeli lobby.
These groups are paralyzing US policy and placing the interests of a tiny fraction of US companies and wealthy individuals – to say nothing of foreign governments like Saudi Arabia and Israel – above the rest of the country. They either have not learned from our many past mistakes or they are comfortable with them, making a fortune from them, and would like to repeat them.
Only the efforts of people of conscience, with the support of economic interests that are not benefiting from destruction, death and mayhem, are likely to put an end to this rampant corruption. Presidents George Washington and Dwight Eisenhower both warned us of the consequences of allowing foreign powers and special interests to gain too much power, but it is uncertain whether this nation will summon the means to reverse the co-dependent relationship between ascendant terrorist groups like al-Qaeda and Daesh and the US interests that profit from the mass killing that is their agenda.
Paul Larudee is a co-founder of the Syria Solidarity Movement.