The fighting in Syria is shaping up as a military showdown between the Syrian army on one side and “rebel” fighters openly backed by the U.S.-NATO imperialist powers, along with Israel, on the other. These “rebels” are being armed directly through NATO-member Turkey and the Qatari and Saudi Arabian monarchies.
The Western imperialist powers have targeted the Syrian state for regime change because it is one of the few states in the region with some independence from the imperialists, because it is allied with Iran and with the Hezbollah movement in Lebanon, and because it has supported Palestinian self-determination.
According to Gen. Wesley Clark, in his book, “Winning Modern Warfare,” every country in the Northwest Africa/Southwest Asia region with some measure of independence from imperialism has been on Washington’s hit list since September 2001: “beginning with Iraq, then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Iran, Somalia and Sudan.”
This strategy has nothing to do with democracy or human rights or with the wishes of the Syrian people. It is aimed at imperialist conquest of the oil-rich region.
The corporate media in the imperialist countries have waged an intense propaganda war against the Assad government since protests started in March 2011. They blamed the regime for massacres of civilians even where they knew there was conflicting evidence, as in the town of Houla. The media published opposition press releases as if these were facts.
Despite the media’s overall anti-Assad bias, some reports are finally beginning to reveal the extent of U.S.-led Western intervention and the armed opposition’s crimes.
U.S. role revealed
Until now, the U.S. administration had played down its meddling in the Syrian fighting except in the diplomatic arena and especially in the United Nations. Republican militarists like Sen. John McCain have even criticized the U.S. policy as being too cautious and called for military intervention.
This changed as August began. The following story was reported throughout the media: “President Barack Obama has signed a covert directive authorizing U.S. support for Syrian rebels battling President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, U.S. officials told CNN on [Aug. 1]. The secret order, referred to as an intelligence ‘finding,’ allows for clandestine support by the CIA and other agencies.” (CNN, Aug. 1)
“White House Press Secretary Jay Carney did not deny that the United States is helping the Syrian rebels,” said a Voice of America report on Aug. 2.
Anyone closely following the events in Syria would have known of the U.S. role. Veteran Washington Post editorialist and executive, David Ignatius, who has a direct line to the CIA, had already revealed in his July 18 column, that “the CIA has been working with the Syrian opposition for several weeks under a non-lethal directive that allows the United States to evaluate groups and assist them with command and control. Scores of Israeli intelligence officers are also operating along Syria’s border, though they are keeping a low profile.”
Ignatius undoubtedly was briefed by the CIA before writing these words. A veteran of 42 years with the CIA, Melvin Goodman, now with the Center for International Policy, has called Ignatius “the mainstream media’s apologist for the Central Intelligence Agency.” (The Public Record, July 16, 2009)
The New York Times on Aug. 5 also spelled out the State Department and Pentagon’s plans for material and propaganda aid for the Syrian opposition: “The planning is being closely coordinated with regional allies like Turkey, Jordan and Israel, and it coincides with an expansion of overt and covert American and foreign assistance to Syria’s increasingly potent rebel fighters.”
The Times notes that the “administration has authorized $25 million in direct assistance for medical supplies and communication equipment to help the fighters and civilian opponents of Mr. Assad coordinate their activities and, crucially, disseminate reports about the fighting to the rest of the world.”
The administration denies supplying weapons, but in any case, the Times continues, “Other countries, including Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, are providing weapons, assisted by a small number of officers from the Central Intelligence Agency who are vetting the fighters receiving them and working with State Department officials trying to unify the fighters with political leaders inside and outside the country.”
The Times also reported in the same article that “the American ambassador to Syria, Robert S. Ford, who closed the embassy in Damascus in February — and is now based in Washington — met in Cairo last week with more than 250 Syrians to shape plans for the inchoate opposition groups to form a transitional government.”
Ford was appointed ambassador in January 2011. He is a protégé of John Negroponte, who organized death squads in El Salvador during that country’s civil war. Ford was Ambassador Negroponte’s number two in Iraq in 2004-05, where he again organized terror squads, that time to tear apart Iraqi society and sow sectarian hatred in order to divide the Iraqi resistance.
British imperialism is also involved. A British newspaper on July 22 reported: “The Daily Mail can reveal some rebels inside Damascus have been trained by former SAS [Special Air Service, a corps of the British army] soldiers working for teams of private security contractors from two companies based in the Middle East.”
These reports clarify that the U.S. is coordinating its NATO and regional allies in an all-out attack on Syria much as it did on Libya in 2011. One difference is that Russia and China have so far resisted U.S.-NATO efforts to get a United Nations Security Council mandate for military intervention. In Libya, such a vote opened the door to a months-long NATO bombing campaign that eventually ground down the forces supporting Moammar Gadhafi’s legitimate Libyan government.
After the George W. Bush administration’s negative experience sending in tens of thousands of U.S. troops to occupy Iraq and Afghanistan, the Pentagon and the Obama administration appear to have shifted gears. They are minimizing ground forces even as they continue efforts to reconquer the former colonial countries. The ultimate version of this strategy is the drone war — using pilotless planes to hunt and kill.
The Pentagon used this model based on air power in 1999 to destroy Yugoslavia and in 2011 in Libya. War and subversion in Libya put its oil and gas in the hands of the Western monopolies, with no casualties among imperialist troops.
The downside is that instead of a stable puppet ruling Libya, NATO has left much of post-Gadhafi North Africa destabilized. In Syria, too, it is unlikely the imperialists will have complete control of the anti-Assad forces. However, they are going through with this strategy whatever the costs to the Syrian people.
Al-Qaida-type forces in Aleppo
In the fighting around the two major Syrian cities, Damascus and Aleppo, an ever-greater role is being played by al-Qaida-like groups of fighters. These include mercenaries from Afghanistan, Chechnya and Libya that even some anti-Assad fighters admit make up as much as 10 percent of the forces. One of these groups of mercenaries uploaded a video on Aug. 3 showing them executing people who supported the Assad government.
The imperialists call these groups their “enemies” in the so-called war on terror, as they spread prejudice against all Muslims, persecuting them in the U.S. and Europe. However, by conspiring for “regime change” in Syria, the Western powers have created a situation where these al-Qaida-like forces can flourish.
These groups get special treatment from the Saudi Arabian and Qatari funders and they are well armed. They grow in importance as the battle becomes more military than political. By spreading religious intolerance and even executing people who belong to a different sect, they spread fear throughout Syria.
Washington has promoted these groups before. In Afghanistan starting in 1979, even before the Soviet Union intervened, the U.S. armed the al-Qaida-like groups through the Pakistani secret service. The U.S. called them “freedom fighters” and funded them through Saudi Arabia to fight first the progressive Afghan government and later the Soviet troops. Even after 9/11, the imperialist Cold-War strategist, Zbigniew Brzezinski, said it was well worth it to promote al-Qaida and the Taliban since that helped bring down the Soviet Union.
The New York Times, however, worried aloud about the role of al-Qaida-type groups with the so-called Free Syrian Army in a July 30 article: “Syrians involved in the armed struggle say it is becoming more radicalized: homegrown Muslim jihadists, as well as small groups of fighters from Al Qaeda, are taking a more prominent role and demanding a say in running the resistance.”
Syrians say there are 26 different religious groupings in the country. There are also Kurds and Iraqi and Palestinian refugees. All feel threatened by the foreign fighters, whether or not they support the government.
The Palestinian neighborhood of Yarmuk in suburban Damascus already came under attack from opposition fighters, killing 15 Palestinians. (Prensa Latina, Aug. 3) The New York Times report on this assault implied that the government forces were responsible for the killing.
Imperialists train leaders of SNC and FSA
To get a handle on the fighters, the U.S. has focused on nurturing the external umbrella organization known as the Syrian National Council. They believe that this would allow them to marginalize the al-Qaida-type groups and to push aside whatever remains of popular organizations inside Syria. Many in these latter groups were oriented toward compromising with the Assad government to resolve the differences peacefully.
Charlie Skelton’s article in the Guardian on July 12 showed how many of the leaders of the main opposition located outside Syria have been groomed, trained and built up by U.S. government agencies or imperialist think tanks. Here are three examples that are just the tip of the iceberg in Skelton’s article:
Bassma Kodmani is head of foreign affairs and a member of the executive bureau of the Syrian National Council. She says, “No dialogue with the ruling regime is possible.” In 2005, Kodmani worked for the Ford Foundation in Cairo, where she was director of their governance and international co-operation program. In September, she became “the executive director of the Arab Reform Initiative — a research program initiated by the powerful U.S. lobby group, the Council on Foreign Relations.”
Radwan Ziadeh, the SNC’s director of foreign relations, also gets lots of coverage in the corporate press. “Ziadeh has an impressive CV,” writes Skelton, “he’s a senior fellow at the federally funded Washington think tank, the U.S. Institute of Peace.”
Ausuma Monajed, adviser to the SNC president, writing for Huffington Post UK, called for “direct military assistance” and “foreign military aid” to the SNC. Monajed is “the Founder and Director of Barada Television,” a pro-opposition satellite channel based in Vauxhall, South London. “In 2008, a few months after attending Syria In-Transition conference, Monajed was back in Washington, invited to lunch with George W Bush,” says Skelton.
U.S. imperialism and the other NATO powers — that is, the former colonialist powers that still dominate the world — are on one side of the battle for Syria. At this point, the only contending force is the Syrian national army directed by the Assad government. For anti-imperialist and working-class forces, the only choice is to defend the Syrian government against imperialism.