Syria: Imperialism on the back foot
As the Syrian Arab Army, in a strategy coordinated with the Russian airforce, continues to liberate ever new swathes of territory from the grip of Islamic State and their brothers in terror, imperialism is growing nervous as its proxies scatter and the UN-brokered Geneva talks make a faltering start.
The Syrian Arab Army advances
As 2015 drew to a close the liberation forces liberated both the Kweyris army base and the town of Al-Hader, just 15 miles from rebel-held Aleppo. Shortly after it was announced that the liberation of Homs had at last been completed, enabling humanitarian assistance to go through.
Then on 12 January 2016 came the liberation of the village of Salma in the north-east of Latakia province. Its strategic position close to the border with Turkey had enabled Jabhat al-Nusra and the ‘Free Syrian Army’ (FSA) to build tunnels to connect them with their friends in the Turkish military. The capture of Salma, another step in the direction of liberating the city of Aleppo, was a combined effort of patriotic forces: beside the Syrian Arab Army stood the National Defence Forces (NDF), the Desert Hawks brigade and others, not least the Russian airforce.
Then on January 23 the Syrian Arab Army liberated the town of Rabia, again in the north of Latakia province and closer to the Turkish border. Its capture gave the army the upper-hand in the struggle to secure the north of Latakia. Already it is reported that the hillsides overlooking the city of Latakia have been cleared of terrorists.
On 26 January the Syrian news agency SANA was able to report the liberation of the city of al-Sheikh Miskeen in Daraa province in a ground operation that was backed by the combined air power of Syria and Russia. The liberation of the city is of strategic importance, enabling the army to control the main highway between Damascus and Daraa.
These key successes are just some highlights of a steady rolling back of the terrorists, coordinated all the while with the fraternal Russian air power and putting dismay into the hearts of all terrorists and their sponsors near and far. On 11 January the Syrian news agency SANA quoted the Russian Chief of Staff, Lt.Gen. Sergei Rudskoy as saying that, in just the first 10 days of January, Russian bombers carried out 311 sorties, targeting 1,097 terrorist positions in 10 provinces. Rudskoy explained that the airstrikes focus on weakening the capabilities of terrorist organisations and giving direct support to the Syrian Arab Army. This tally is itself only a fraction of the efforts made since Russia began its air campaign on 30 September, at the request of the Syrian government.
At the time of writing the liberation forces are advancing rapidly towards Aleppo itself.
Madaya: Lie machine gears up ahead of Geneva
As the tide turns decisively in favour of Syria, it becomes obvious that the US-led coalition has been playing a double game all along, playing at “fighting terror” but in reality using Islamic State as a pretext for bombing Syrian infrastructure and intensifying its surveillance of the country. Public opinion is starting to wake up to the fact that IS is a Frankenstein’s monster created by the West to serve variously as a pretext for intervention or as a proxy force. When its terrorist activities start to blow back on the imperialist homelands, imperialism may seek to control the monster, but it has no interest in exterminating it.
When these dangerous truths begin to percolate into public consciousness, the imperialist lie machine cranks back up into top gear, threatening to drown us all in crocodile tears. In 2013 the Big Lie with which the US sought to justify all-out war on Syria was the false accusation that Damascus had used chemical weapons. When reports started to seep out that it had been terrorists, actively assisted by Turkey, who were dabbling in chemical weapons, the story was put on the back-burner.
Now, with the Geneva talks making a faltering start and the US desperate to reclaim the diplomatic advantage, the Big Lie is that Damascus is using starvation as a weapon of war, blocking the West’s valiant efforts to get humanitarian assistance into besieged towns and cities. Publicity has homed in on Madaya, a town which has been occupied by terrorists and surrounded by the Syrian Arab Army. Needless to say, the fact that the suffering population of Madaya have been turned effectively into human shields by the terrorists is downplayed or not reported at all. Nor is the fact that in Madaya, as in countless other towns and cities, Damascus is moving heaven and earth to try to get humanitarian aid to citizens trapped by the conflict.
The proxy war against Syria, and the anti-imperialist resistance against that war, is not easy to map. Some towns, like Madaya, are infested by terrorists and surrounded by the army. Others, like al-Foua and Kefraya, are enduring cruel and protracted siege by the jihadist cut-throats. Of these latter we hear little in the media.
It is not fair to blame the media alone. On 7 January the UN itself put out a statement which included this paragraph: “ The UN welcomes today’s approval from the Government of Syria to access Madaya, Foah and Kefraya and is preparing to deliver humanitarian assistance in the coming days. International humanitarian law prohibits the targeting of civilians. It also prohibits the starvation of civilians as a tactic of war” (Eva Bartlett, Global Research, 16 January 2016, ‘Not Tweetworthy: UN selectively tweeting Syrian villages’). Whilst at first glance this statement may seem to be praising Syria, it carries two clear implications: Firstly, that Damascus has been dragging its feet, and secondly, that Damascus has been using starvation of civilians as a war tactic. Both are lies.
The UN statement was made on 7 January. Yet as long ago as last October Damascus facilitated shipment of enough supplies to Madaya to last for two months – had the shipments not been waylaid by terrorists, stashed in private warehouses and sold at exorbitant prices. Responding to this desperate situation, on 27 December Damascus urgently requested further aid for Madaya and other besieged towns. The UN failed to act on this, citing ‘logistical problems’. So who is it that is really using the sufferings of the Syrian people as a tactic of war – in this case, the propaganda war against Syria?
Syria’s ambassador to the UN, Dr Al-Ja’afari, made all this and more plain in a statement on 11 January.
“We would like to highlight that the humanitarian assistance sent to Madaya in mid-October was sufficient for two months. And this testimony was corroborated by the representative of the ICRC in Syria a few days ago… The Syrian government approved the requests of the resident coordinator of Unicef, WFP and ICRC to deliver humanitarian and relief assistance, including medical assistance, to Madaya, al-Foua and Kafraya, on 8 January, 2016… The Syrian government previously approved the requests of the United Nations and ICRC to deliver humanitarian assistance to Zabadani , Madaya, al-Foua and Kafraya on 18 October, 2015. We would like to add here that some of the humanitarian assistance sent to restive areas has been looted by the armed terrorist groups on several occassions. And this is exactly what happened in Madaya and al-Zabadani. Furthermore, the Turkish authorities hindered the delivery of humanitarian assistance through the borders to other restive areas… On October the 18th, we sent enough humanitarian assistance for more than 2 months, and the representative of the ICRC corroborated this 2 days ago on Syrian TV saying that there is no starvation problem in Madaya. December 27th, we asked the resident coordinator to send immediately convoys of humanitarian assistance again to Madaya, and to Kafraya and al-Foua. The UN did not send. When we asked them why you didn’t, they said ‘we were facing logistical problems. We are not responsible of this.’… There is a problem, yes. But the problem is this. The terrorists are stealing the humanitarian assistance from the Syrian Red Crescent as well as from the United Nations, and they are keeping this assistance in their warehouse, and then they use it as a leverage of political and financial gain for them to survive” (ibid.).
It is clearly the goal of imperialism to generate as many Big Lies as possible as the proximity talks in Geneva get under way, hoping either to set the scene for a diplomatic reversal of Syria’s battlefield successes or, failing that, simply to wreck the talks and blame Damascus. As Dr Al-Ja’afari also pointed out on 11 January, ” whenever there is a step forward towards a political solution in Syria, certain incidents are fabricated to defame the Syrian government and to negatively impact the political process…. The examples of such incidents are many and happened before certain United Nations Security Council meetings, as well as before Geneva 2 meeting, and Moscow 1 and Moscow 2 consultative meetings. Now, and when the Syrians are going to meet in Geneva, end of this month, certain regional and international parties supporting terrorism in Syria are not satisfied that the Syrian government is engaging positively in the political process. And thus are trying to demonize it…torpedoing the meeting in Geneva” (ibid.).
Throughout the long years of proxy war waged by imperialism against Syria, Washington engaged in diplomacy only for form’s sake, never relinquishing the hope that jihadist boots on the ground would in the end be enough to break Syria’s resistance to imperialist diktat. Whilst Damascus from the first showed its readiness to engage in any genuine process of national reconciliation, the US and all its lackeys consistently sabotaged any such process, instead insolently demanding as a precondition the removal of Syria’s elected head of state, a demand that no sovereign people could be expected to countenance.
However, now that the tide has turned for Syria, with former terrorist strongholds tumbling like ninepins under the combined onslaught of the Syrian Arab Army, its allied popular forces and the Russian airforce, diplomacy suddenly seems to be all the rage, with the UN Security Council unanimously getting behind the proposal to broker talks in Geneva between the Syrian government and a range of “opposition” voices.
Just who these oppositionists are supposed to represent is a matter of contention. Ahead of the talks Syria rightly demanded to know with whom exactly it will be conversing. Foreign minister al-Moallem said the Syrian delegation was not intending to go to Geneva just to talk to “ghosts”, making it clear that “Syria will not let the terrorists who failed to achieve their goals by means of force to gain them through the political talks” – which is undoubtedly the outcome which Washington and London are desperate to see. (SANA, 12 January 2016, ‘Al-Moallem: Syria won’t let terrorists gain at talks what they failed to achieve by means of force’).
Now, with the talks suspended, the Syrian Arab Army is moving towards the liberation of Aleppo itself.
It does not help the imperialist cause that some of the countries playing a key role in the proxy war, like Turkey and Saudi Arabia, are themselves becoming seriously destabilised, leading to rash and unpredictable policy swings which may not always play to the advantage of the puppet-masters in Washington.
The shooting down of a Russian bomber by Turkey, and subsequent slaughter in cold blood of one of the pilots by Turkish-sponsored terrorists, was a case in point. Whilst the whole geopolitical logic of US policy is predicated on eventual direct confrontation with Russia and China, it is questionable whether Washington welcomes the prospect of getting bounced into conflict on a timetable determined by one of its own puppets. Writing in the Independent on 30 January, Patrick Cockburn suggested that the attack “had every sign of being a well-prepared ambush,” noting that the “Turkish fighters made every effort to conceal themselves by flying at low altitude, and they appear to have been on a special mission to destroy the Russian aircraft.” Concerning the likely motivation for this act of homicidal piracy, Cockburn notes that “Erdogan has a reputation for raising the stakes as he did last year when he failed to win a parliamentary majority in the first of two elections. He took advantage of a fresh confrontation with the Turkish Kurds and the fragmentation of his opponents to win a second election in November” (Patrick Cockburn, ‘Syrian civil war: Could Turkey be gambling on an invasion?’, Independent, 30 January 2016).
Now that the tide is turning in favour of Syria and all Turkey’s expansionist plans are in jeopardy, further destabilising Erdogan’s domestic rule, he faces a choice between humiliating retreat or staking everything on a direct military invasion of the north of Syria, thereby taking the world a significant step closer to World War III. It is far from obvious that in making his choice he will be governed strictly by Washington’s own war timetable.
Saudi goes off the rails
Nor is the imperialist cause best served by the antics of US lackey Saudi Arabia. This corrupt feudal sheikhdom, which owes its wealth exclusively to its oil revenues and its political survival to imperialist support, is in turmoil as those revenues suffer a major hit from the catastrophic fall in oil prices (for which Saudi itself is in large measure responsible). Those revenues normally provide the ‘universal welfare’ which sugars the pill of dictatorship, but Riyadh has been obliged to start unfolding a programme of austerity, slashing government jobs and subsidised fuel, food and housing. On top of all that, the country’s king is suffering dementia whilst his son, the defence minister Prince Mohammed bin Salman, is seen as a de facto head of state that is behaving like a loose cannon.
Much of what Riyadh does sits well with the script supplied by imperialism, but not all. Increasingly Saudi, like fellow US satellites Israel and Turkey, has itself become so destabilised by the wars it helped to foster that it appears more and more to be running amok, as likely as not fouling up imperialism’s best-laid plans. The carpet bombing of Yemen by Saudi is, from the West’s perspective, a poorly timed distraction from the war against Syria; and Riyadh’s mass execution of 47 Shia public figures, presumably intended as retribution for the fraternal assistance from Iran and Hizbollah in defending Syria, does nothing to further Washington’s spurious detente policy towards Iran. If Washington’s decision to take a step back from confrontation with Tehran over Iran’s fictitious nuclear weapons programme was driven by the hope that Iran could somehow be coaxed away from playing its full part in the axis of resistance, then Obama must have had his head in his hands at the sight of this mass judicial slaughter. Riyadh’s actions will only exacerbate the growing unrest in the Shia areas of the kingdom – which also happen to be where most of the oil is.
Now that the US and its allies have been obliged to drop their demand that President Assad must step down before the talking can start, the US needs to tread carefully if it hopes, as al-Moallem put it, to “let the terrorists who failed to achieve their goals by means of force to gain them through the political talks”. The UN must at all costs be presented as a neutral arbiter, concealing its role as hod-carrier for Uncle Sam. But Riyadh is undermining this fiction, to the annoyance of the special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura. He complained ahead of the talks that Riyadh was complicating his efforts to find a diplomatic solution to the Syrian conflict because it kept trying to tightly control which opposition groups would be allowed to participate in the negotiations, adding that ” Parties disagree not only on substance, but what concerns me is that they also question that the UN could or should exercise its discretion in ‘finalizing’ the opposition list.” De Mistura singled out for criticism the Saudi-backed ‘High Negotiations Committee’, based in Riyadh, for insisting ” on the primacy and exclusivity of their role as THE opposition delegation” (SANA, De Mistura: Riyadh is obstructing Syria talks in Geneva, 22 January).
Saudi Arabia’s destabilising role is also drawing criticism from some of Washington’s NATO allies. At the end of 2015 Germany’s spy agency, the BND, went public with a memo warning that Riyadh had embarked on “an impulsive policy of intervention,” and that the de facto leader, Prince Mohammed ” harbours a latent risk that in seeking to establish himself in the line of succession in his father’s lifetime, he may overreach” (Patrick Cockburn, ‘Prince Mohammed bin Salman: Naive, arrogant Saudi prince is playing with fire’, Independent, 9 January 2016). Clearly some in German ruling circles are growing nervous at the prospect of getting dragged into more wars predicated on the impossible task of shoring up US imperialism’s decaying hegemony.
But whether Washington’s “over-reaching” surrogates in Riyadh, Ankara and Kiev are on or off the leash at any given juncture cannot change the overall bent of imperialist war policy, which in the end is driven by forces which lie beyond the control of imperialism and its satellites alike. The reality is that the United States, the wealthiest, most powerful and best-armed nation on earth, is incapable of leading the world anywhere other than into slump and war, and into a world where mad dogs of all breeds will feel quite at home. The only sanity to be had will be found in the revolutionary struggle to overthrow imperialism.
Victory to the Syrian government, the Syrian Arab Army and the Syrian people!
15 February: Since the above was written, both the military and the diplomatic situations have escalated dramatically. Over the weekend the Syrian Arab Army and its auxiliaries moved into Raqqa province, capturing two strategic locations along the main road from Salamiyah to Raqqa: the Tal Masbah hilltop and an important crossroads near Zakiyah. In both instances, the Syrian Arab Army was assisted by the progressive Palestinian militia, the Liwaa Al-Quds brigade.
Meanwhile the push on the Aleppo front, putting the terrorist gangs to flight and shutting down their cross-border supply lines, is also cracking wide open the alliance between Washington and Ankara. Enraged by the role of the Kurdish YPG forces in the expulsion of terrorists from the Menargh airbase, Ankara has torn up the fairy tale about ‘uniting against Islamic State’ and is now openly shelling Syrian territory.
And relentlessly throughout all this, Syria and Russia continue to demonstrate to the world what a real war against terrorism looks like.