When Trump’s UN ambassador, Nikki Haley, asserts – as she did recently – that the US is sending “not only Assad” but also “Russia and Iran a message”, and that Washington is putting them “on notice,” she does so as the tribune of a rogue state.
Haley issued her ‘warning’ on the back of the dubious claim that Washington had intelligence confirming Syrian forces were preparing a chemical weapons attack. The claim and resulting threat revealed that the US continues to arrogate to itself the status of the world’s policeman, with the right to act as judge, jury, and – as the people of Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya have learned to their disastrous cost in recent years – executioner. It describes arrogance beyond measure, conforming to the worldview of an empire whose guiding mantra is “Rome has spoken; the matter is finished”.
The “matter” so far as Syria is concerned is regime change, which it becomes increasingly clear is Washington’s main objective going forward, using its military campaign against ISIS as a stalking horse to justify the build up of its military presence in the country with this in mind. Seen in this light, the recent spate of US attacks on Syrian forces on the ground and in the air take on an entirely different connotation – i.e. less to do with protecting US-backed ground forces, as claimed, and more to do with testing Russia’s response and resolve when it comes to supporting its Syrian ally.
In the immediate and short term the partition of Syria between east and west appears underway – at least if Washington has its way – evidenced in the recent visit to Syria by Brett McGurk of the US State Department. The stated purpose of his visit was to meet the “council planning to run Raqqa” after it is taken from ISIS. So here we have a US official visiting a sovereign state without the prior permission of said sovereign state’s legitimate government to discuss the administration of a part of its territory. This is imperialism by any other name, consonant with the actions of a country that is inebriated with that most potent of cocktails, unipolarity and might is right.
It is also no accident that the uptick in US military aggression in Syria – a country which, again, it is worth pointing out it has zero right to be in – has ensued in the wake of President Trump’s visit to the region in May, during which he enjoyed extensive talks with key US allies, Saudi Arabia and Israel. As everybody knows, King Salman and Benjamin Netanyahu are leaders who go to bed at night and wake up in the morning dreaming of destroying Iran as a regional power, and with Trump likewise leaving no doubt of his administration’s enmity towards Iran, it doesn’t take a genius to discern the strategy that is now underway. It is a strategy which confirms that Riyadh’s recent and on-going aggression against Qatar was undertaken with Tehran rather than terrorism in mind, given the positive relations that Qatar has long enjoyed with Iran, while Israel’s continued air and missile strikes against targets in Syria only confirm that rather than ISIS or Nusra, for Tel Aviv the enemy is Assad and Hezbollah, both of whom are fighting ISIS and Nusra.
With the conflict in Syria entering its post-ISIS stage, the smoke has cleared to reveal that where Washington and its regional allies are concerned the road to Tehran runs through Damascus and southern Lebanon. Thus what we have in the region is the formation of two countervailing blocs – an axis of resistance and non-sectarianism comprising Syria, Hezbollah and Iran, which is supported by Russia, and an axis of regime change and sectarianism comprising Saudi Arabia and Israel, supported by the US. States such as Turkey and Egypt, meanwhile, have been oscillating between both blocs, though their ability to continue doing so as tensions deepen further is doubtful.
What should be borne in mind when surveying these events is the fact that Washington’s determination to destabilize Syria and overthrow its government has not arrived out of nowhere. As far back as 2006 the US Embassy in Damascus was preparing and distributing a memo outlining ways to “exploit” the supposed weaknesses of the Syrian government. Then, too, we have Washington’s part in funding, training, and arming rebel groups that have been fighting Syrian government forces at various points throughout the conflict. In so doing it has only succeeded in prolonging the suffering of the Syrian people and providing succour to ISIS, Nusra, and various other Salafi-jihadi groups.
An important factor arising from these developments is the need to abandon any hope in the prospect of a resetting of relations between Russia and the US with Trump at the helm. Rather than any kind of departure from the status quo, the current president is on course to achieving the onerous status of the status quo times ten where the assertion of US unipolarity is concerned. He is a man whose irrationality and caprice is only matched by his vanity and atrocious judgment. Whether the unleashing of illegal missile strikes based on unfounded allegations of chemical weapons attacks, or whether his withdrawal from the Paris Climate Change Agreement, the world finds itself dealing with an administration whose every decision is worse than the one preceding it.
As the conflict in Syria continues, two of its participants find themselves with a serious decision to make. Firstly the Kurds of the YPG, who make up the bulk of the US-backed SDF ground forces currently engaged in an operation to take Raqqa, need to decide if they are willing to be used as a proxy in service to Washington’s wider strategic objectives vis-à-vis direct confrontation with the Syrian goverment and Iran in the months ahead. In this respect history confronts the Kurds and their supporters with the treachery that resides in Washington. In 1991 Bush Sr and his administration encouraged them to rise up against Saddam Hussein in Iraq at the end of the First Gulf War, only to abandon them to their fate in the event.
Secondly, and more crucially, Russia is being placed in an increasingly intolerable position by Washington and Israel with their increasing violation of Syrian sovereignty and attacks on pro-government forces. Up to this point Moscow has been a model of restraint in the face of what are repeated provocations. How long it can afford to exercise such restraint is questionable, however. The harm to Russia’s security and national interests if the Assad government is forced from power by the aforementioned axis of regime change is unthinkable. It is why Putin and Trump’s anticipated bilateral meeting at the G20 summit in Germany next month carries with it even more importance than a meeting between the heads of the world’s two foremost nuclear powers normally would.
It bears emphasizing that the biggest danger the world faces today is not Salafi-jihadism or Islamist extremism. The biggest danger the world faces is the entity which gave birth to them – Western imperialism.