With Trump or Hillary, The Crisis in Syria Will Only Worsen

No-fly zones, American troops on the ground, thousands more dead–that’s the future of Syria if Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have their way. Either will surely make us miss Barack Obama’s subtle restraint, at least when it comes to how he’s handled the brutal regime of Bashar al-Assad, our former ally in torture.

There’s been much rambling on the left about Vlad Putin’s challenge to US empire in Syria, and how he fended off the Yanks and preserved Syria’s Assad dictatorship. All of this, of course, is horse shit. Obama had ample opportunity to topple Assad in the early days of the Syrian uprising in 2011 had he wished to, but he refused to send troops in or raid Damascus. Instead he adopted a more hands-off approach, opting to have the CIA train some 10,000-20,000 rebels with the help of Saudi funds, which surely had little impact on the ground as the insurgency itself was at least ten times that large. In fact, aside from training small contingents of rebel forces, the CIA blocked MANPAD shipments to rebels that could have been used against Assad’s, and later Russia’s, murderous air bombardments. And for those that believe the US was solely responsible for orchestrating the uprising against Assad–I’ll just say you are dead wrong and should pick up a copy of Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War for a solid primer about what was really taking place on the ground.

However, US involvement, in any way, was and is totally unjustifiable. As was Russia’s intervention, of course, despite the rather hollow rationale that Assad seeking Russia’s military aid was legal under international law. Assad’s so-called legitimacy was shattered the moment his armed forces began slaughtering his own people who had assembled in peaceful protest against their government’s oppressive neoliberal policies. You know why many in his military turned on him? It wasn’t because the CIA forced them to, it was because they couldn’t carry out orders to murder their fellow citizens any longer. But for me, Assad’s well-documented starving of Palestinians in a Syrian camp was the last straw. The guy is scum.

There’s been plenty of debate among self-righteous Western lefties about what qualifies as “imperialism” and how such definitions fit the Syrian narrative. Some tend to believe Russia’s actions in Syria don’t qualify because these well-intentioned folks adopt some antiquated neo-colonial Leninist ideology, while others believe the US ought to stop (if they could) Russia’s and Assad’s savage ways at any cost. But for those on the ground that are under assault from all sides, they could care less about our petty debates. Every foreign fucking bomb falling from their sky is imperialistic.

Hopefully most of us can agree that when it comes to the Middle East, the US has seldom been an honest broker. As a result, the US has little to no authority to dictate or attempt to steer the Syrian quagmire in one direction or another, nor do they have the right to. How anybody could plea for the US to intervene, or at the very least supply rebel groups with more weaponry, must be delusional. The US will only make matters worse for civilians on the ground, just as Russia did.

And for all of those who hailed Russian intervention? If those piles of dead kids weren’t enough for you to oppose Putin’s bombs, perhaps what Trump and Hillary are ready to do in response to Putin’s grandstanding may do the trick. If you think Hillary won’t seek NATO action against Russia or show Putin which country really has more military might, you haven’t been paying much attention to the Queen of Chaos lately. Where Obama held back from using military force in Syria, Trump and Hillary are ready to escalate the conflict under the guise of fighting the “War on ISIS”, which would likely create a whole new proxy war. Trump’s little bromance with Putin would be over in no time.

Early on Hillary pressed Obama to overthrow Assad and has more recently flip-flopped on whether or not she would seek boots on the ground in Syria. She has, however, stated that she supports a no-fly zone. For his part, Trump has called for 30,000 ground troops. It’s one big bloody mess, and will only worsen as foreign powers, be they Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, France or the United States, continue to believe that they can kill their way to peace–as if Syrian peace is really what they are after.

So what’s to be done? I have no doubt that the brave Syrian people can navigate their future much better than we can. The left should oppose all military intervention in Syria–be it Russian or American. ISIS, for that matter, will not be eliminated by missiles or foreign armies. It will only be defeated by people that live there–those protecting their family’s land, homes and communities. Let the locals destroy them from the bottom-up. They already have the resources and will to do so. As for Assad? His days are numbered no matter how long Putin’s pit bulls guard the gate. The resilience and tenacity of the rebellion has certainly shown us that much.

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JOSHUA FRANK is managing editor of CounterPunch. His most recent book is Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, co-edited with Jeffrey St. Clair and published by AK Press. He can be reached at joshua@counterpunch.org. You can troll him on Twitter @joshua__frank

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