Russia’s initial withdrawal from Syria was announced about the same time Obama’s voluminous ‘interview for the ages’ was published in The Atlantic. Both are meant, in part, to control a narrative concerning the approaching end-game in Syria. Obama seems intent upon deflecting blame for the sorry showing of the US and its ambivalently “anti-ISIS” allies. Especially he wants to divert blame for the propagation of terrorism and failed states during his Presidency away from his Presidency. With enthusiasm and aplomb, and over the skeptical views of his interviewer Jeffrey Goldberg, Obama thrusts the blame back onto a motley group of war-mongers who, truth be told, historically have spearheaded these activities — neo-cons, liberal interventionists, DC ‘think-tank land’ stooges, and Turkish, Saudi, and Israeli lobbying interests. These are indeed the people that have dominated US foreign policy in the 21st century, or more precisely since the PNAC group got their wished-for “new Pearl Harbor” with 9/11 precisely a year after summoning it up as an inviting prospect.
Obama may be well advised to take distance from the record of his 8 years in office. To be sure, his precise role in all this remains ambiguous. The Nobel Peace Laureate has destroyed more countries than the Bushes after entering the White House on a peace platform. But we would be naive to think the Bushes, Clintons and other DC Houses have left Obama much prerogative after the corporate lobbies and especially AIPAC have exercised theirs. As Obama has always been more a power-broker than a power-holder, so shirking responsibility is perhaps an easier task for him than for the CEOs of earlier US regimes.
The Atlantic interview seems most intent to counter Seymour Hersh’s recent “Military to Military”, where Obama takes a beating. Hersh’s high-ranking but anonymous Pentagon source lumps Obama in with the crowd he condemns in the Atlantic interview. Reflecting the slant of his source, Hersh tries to defend the good sense of General Martin Dempsey and the Joint Chiefs, along with Gen. Flynn and the DIA, while fingering the president and the CIA for facilitating Middle Eastern chaos through Turkey and Saudi Arabia. This continues a campaign of damning reports, including “The Red Line and The Rat Line” by Hersh, which eviscerate the illegal and ill-advised tunnelling of Ghedaffi’s weaponry to unvetted fighters willing to sign on to the CIA’s plan to destroy Syria. These articles are particularly damaging for Hillary Clinton, but accuse Obama too of facilitating the rise of mercenary and takfiri terrorism throughout the Middle East. If we look back at Hersh’s 2007 “The Re-direction”, we see how little, in fact, changes in direction from Republican to Democrat administrations.
Now that Putin’s bombing campaigns in Syria, and an ever more assertive Baghdad, have exposed the close ties between the US, its allies, and ISIS, the rats are abandoning ship. Pointing fingers at each other as they go, the Western-led faux jihadist alliances unravel, revealing much about the intricacies of this Gordion knot of collusive, corporate-industrial violence.
As Obama fingers Clinton and Kerry for inadvisable support for unvetted militants, Rudy Giuliani, himself deeply implicated in 9/11, says Clinton should be considered “a founding member of ISIS”, not because she funneled arms there from Libya, but because she refused to back US troops on the ground. Meanwhile, out in Syria, Pentagon-backed ‘rebels,’ mostly Kurds, now clash with CIA-backed mercenaries and takfiri terrorists. Paraphrasing Donovan “The United States ain’t really united.” In a later article I will break down the various factions, both domestic and foreign, that these new events bring to light. Today, I will concentrate on Obama, a few close figures, and only the most important institutional actors.
What is the catalyst for this mass of mutual accusations and allegations, the legacy-salvaging, the finger-pointing and gun-pointing on the part of US Imperial officialdom and proxydom alike? The answer is obvious: Russia’s revealing success in Syria.
Putin’s “withdrawal” is but a strategic stepping-down, and only many more steps would constitute true withdrawal. Mainly he has replaced his big fighter-bombers with smaller ones, more apt for the terrain and enemies that now confront them. Its main effect is so far largely ‘for show’. But it ‘shows’ Putin keeping the word he gave going in. It also ‘shows up’ the US propaganda campaigns, that he was not serious about going after ISIS, or that he was bent on a permanent expansion of a neo-Soviet empire.
Mainly, Putin’s smug “mission almost accomplished” announcement ‘shows up’ the US “anti-ISIS”military campaigns as farcical theatre. In a short period of time, Russian airstrikes against ISIS actually laid waste to their operations. As one commentator remarked, it took the West so much by surprise because Putin actually did what he said he would. There is basically no precedent for this in the West. The start of a withdrawal at this point corresponds closely to the stated objectives of the Russian campaign in Syria, given in the political terms of sovereignty and international law at his UN speech, and in strategic terms at the start of the airstrikes.
Obama has necessarily changed his tune since the UN General Assembly speeches, which came days before the Russians initiated their bombing runs. This too took the West completely by surprise, though days before, at the UN, Putin had given a complete set of his rationales and parameters for action against terrorism, their need for immediate application in Syria, and indeed practically the date and time for the intervention.
At the UN, Obama mouthed a very different philosophy, indistinguishable from the interventionism he now criticizes. The present caution of an elder statesman represents a return to the non-interventionist platform with which Obama’s career began. Unfortunately intervening are 8 years in which war parties have clearly had the upper hand in his administration. To be sure, Obama pushed through the Iran deal, and has taken righteous verbal issue with the worst abuses of the Houses of Sa’ud and Likud, but the bright points are few, and the trail of destruction dark, smoking, and long.
Obama was first elected as a fresh face who had exhibited uncommon common sense by opposing the Iraq War. But once he was President and Nobel Peace Laureate, Obama has steadily called for surges and invasions. He is now the world’s undisputed champion of drone assassinations and arms-trading, and it will take future Presidents a long time to match his record of collateral massacres of Pakistani marriage and funeral parties.
Obama is hardly the only Democrat to march in lock-step with the neo-conservatives, whatever they profess on the campaign trail. In the early days of the 2008 campaign “liberal interventionist” erstwhile candidate, ex-General, state-secret-sharing David Petraeus told the world, in mock horror, about the neo-con “policy coup” following 9/11 and its plan to take down “7 countries in 5 years”. If Obama has followed the basic lines of the overly optimistic brain-child of Cheney and Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and Perle, so too Wesley Clark would have fulfilled their same demands had he been elected Commander in Chief. Last August, ex-General Clark, fresh from being mildly chastised for sharing top secret security leaks to his biographer/girlfriend, recommended the US formally ally with al-Qaeda to oppose Assad.
Nevertheless, with some good reason, Obama, along with his recently-retired Joint Chiefs Chairman General Martin Dempsey, long have been considered the ‘cautious’ members of a generally war-mongering administration dominated by the fetishists of “credibility” who pushed on Obama the idea of the “red line”, and then conspired to push him over it. However, though Obama has now further upped the volume of differences between his more cautious policies and those of the interventionists, including Kerry, still the contrasts are flexible and relative. Of course, this is the US. Rarely does actual policy correspond even in broad terms with stated intentions.
We should remember that Obama’s main difference with the neo-cons was how to take down Assad and Syria (and control Pipelinestan). They concurred completely in setting aside international law and all respect for national sovereignty, and cooperatively doctored a picture of Syria and Assad that would fit their recipe for takeover. Obama (and Wesley Clark) preferred to do national destruction and asset-stripping with proxies, run mainly through the CIA, (and their specialties — finance, trade, and privatization “agreements”) while Pentagon hardliners, spokesfolk for the military-industrial complex like McCain, and the Israel-first neo-cons wanted US “boots” on the ground (bodies rather).
Nothing conveys more eloquently the tight corner into which contradictory US rhetoric and action has painted itself than the overt squirming, and hemming and hawing, exhibited by Mark Toner, US State Department’s endlessly befuddled spokesguy, when asked if they’d prefer the SAA or ISIS to be holding Palmyra.
While “7 countries in 5 years” proved to be beyond their wild dreams, and several strategic variations were then tabled, it is clear Syria was meant to follow the same trajectory as Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan, Iraq and Libya before Putin got involved. (Iran is last on the list.) Now, times have changed, the imperial farce has been exposed, and Obama wants out. As I will discuss further in a later article, so do many others of the ISIS-support crowd want out, both domestic and foreign. Only the most centrally-involved, like Clinton, McCain, and the CIA, refuse to acknowledge the end-game approaching and do not seem even to contemplate that option. Others, like Kerry, playing both sides so far, have yet to make a choice.
Struck Down by Putin On the Road to Damascus: Will Obama Regain His Sight?
In his interview Jeffrey Goldberg and Obama agree he had tried to resolve international tensions and then extricate himself from the Middle East several times during his Presidency, but each time, like the Mafia to Michael Corleone, its intransigent hold pulled him back in. He may as well have been talking about the “DC think tank establishment” he loves to hate and which in this article is reflected in the foil of Jeffrey Goldberg. (Now there’s a sentiment I share with Obama). Of course, ThinkTankistan is a varied land — there are many varieties of chickenhawk — but it is plain that Obama is speaking realistically of the pseudo-intellectual hold of the PNAC expansionist crowd in DC, the military-industrial corporate complex, the neo-cons, the Zionists, the Saudi oiligarchs, and US liberal interventionists all propounding blind religious faiths of ‘civilizational superiority’ while operating like, well, Mafiosi.
Obama would like to wash his hands of this crowd, I am sure, but in the interview, he and Goldberg agree he would like to wash his hands of the Middle East. He maintains that his high hopes for the Arab Spring were dashed by misguided rebel extremism, but it is entirely unclear whether or not he knows — he certainly never acknowledges — the full US role in radicalizing the rebellion then arming its worst elements.
As the ceasefire continues to half-hold, Putin’s pronouncement of ‘mission accomplishment’, looks to be a bit more realistic than that of W way back when we were still in year 1 of the Iraq War. But it also shows up Obama’s hand-wringing and hand-washing. The war is far from over, but Russia has turned the tide in Syria, and made transparent that the Western “anti-ISIS” alliance was anything but.
The 62 nation US-led “ambivalent alliance,” at work for a year and a half, in reality presided over the incessant expansion of ISIS to the Syrian east and al-Qaeda to the west (the CIA’s ugly twins, the CIAliphate and al-CIAduh). In six months a fairly small force of Russian aircraft managed to crush the terrorists while Russian intelligence exposed their financing and oil transfers, or rather the Turkish tip of it after the Turks illegally shot down a Russian fighter jet in Syria. The intel onslaught on Turkey continues; RT has released clips of a very damning documentary that is on the way.
That the tide has turned is suggested by events that have since transpired. This week, Palmyra, wrecked by ISIS occupation, has mostly be re-taken by the Syrian Arab Army (SAA). Barring unexpected setbacks, say, from a fresh contingent of ISIS recruits or covert US forces, the SAA, along with the remaining Hezbollah, Iranian al-Quds fighters, and the permanent Russian presence in Syria, should be able to complete the clearing of the main cities, Deir Ezzor, Aleppo, and Damascus suburbs within months. A similar positive prognosis holds for the prospects of the Iraqi Army at Mosul.
The importance of this changing tide can hardly be overstressed. If Westerners and their Middle Eastern allies had eliminated an autonomous Syria, they would have sealed a nearly complete encircling of a conjoined Russian and Iranian field of interests. This would have had powerful geo-political and economic consequences, especially for the energy industry, and left only China (with its important African power points) outside the reach of the cartel of Western corporate-empire domination.
Most concretely, Western control of Syria would have stymied access for Iranian gas to the Mediterranean. This, evidently, is why the neo-cons permitted Obama to sign an agreement with Iran. Iran was back-burnered, as Obama’s remarks in the Atlantic interview confirm. The US expects no change in the evil Iranian regime, Obama makes plain. Therefore, neither should we expect the US to entertain different long-term strategies, though tactics may have changed. Iranian containment, the Empire decided, would be applied elsewhere.
Even though Iranian energy production was relieved by the removal of sanctions, the Western strategists felt that they could still confine Iranian gas production to relative insignificance, by blocking it up in the Persian Gulf, by cutting off direct pipeline access to the Mediterranean and Europe, and by developing instead a pipeline, perhaps under Turkish control, from the Qatari gas fields, controlled by the House of al-Thani, number two puppet of Western oil and banking interests among the fake shaykhdoms of the Arab Gulf states. This was the prospect dangled by the US corporate-empire before Erdogan’s eyes, an illusion for which he gave up the much better offer of the Russian Gazprom Turkstream due to considerations more political than economic, more to the benefit of the corporate-empire than the Turkish people.
The effectiveness of the Russian campaigns have made obvious that the US-led “anti-ISIS” coalition was performing the opposite role of its stated intention, and rather acted in a concerted effort to support the takfiri terrorists in order to remove Assad and the Ba’ath regime in the interests of wider geo-political control, the “New World Order”, as GHW Bush conceived it on September 11, 1990 and Putin condemned at Valdai in 2014.
This, in short, is the newly-changed landscape in Syria, the ‘facts on the ground’ from which Obama is retreating and Putin withdrawing. It is a matter of time before reality shatters further the thin ‘post-reality’ facade erected by US official and media narratives concerning its Outrémere Empire. Obama is taking care not to be cut by the flying shards.
Still, it is true, US imperialists (exemplified in Kerry’s Plan B) continue to scheme, believing a battle has been lost, not the war, but ‘reality’ suggests otherwise. Syria was the crucial battle of WW3: it was Stalingrad, the Battle of the Bulge, Trafalgar, Waterloo, what have you.
Rather than keep the pressure on, the Russians now pull back. They understand dynamics: as the pendulum turns, as the swing gains its own momentum, you let go. This allows the US and its allies to save face, somewhat. It allows them to pick up the initiative and live true, for once, to their anti-terrorist rhetoric. Perhaps they will, or some of them will. They already abandoned al-Nusra in Geneva. Obama is bowing out of the support game, at least he says he is, and so are others (including King Abdullah of Jordan.)
Obama is aware the media blackout cannot last forever. It soon may dawn on long-unwary Western observers that the US military is not just singularly ineffective in its wars against terrorism, but that something far more nefarious is at work. As Brussels exemplifies, blowback is part of the same plan that uses your tax dollars to put TOW missiles in the hands of terrorists.
The Saker is among the most illuminating writers on this latest move, as on many others. He has an entirely convincing “politics first” take on Putin’s strategy, which is probably entirely beyond the scope of many military minds to understand. The Saker writes:
” instead of defeating Daesh first and then attempting to reform Syria by means of a political dialog, the Russians might be trying to reverse that sequence by first reforming Syria by means of a political dialog and only then helping a “reformatted” and united Syria to truly defeat Daesh.”
This, I believe, is the best interpretation of Putin’s move. As Saker many times has pointed out, the Russian force operating out of Syria was never very large. The weaponry and aircraft, however, were top of the line, far superior to US boondoggles that result from the cartel oligopolization of even the military industry in the US. Most importantly, the Russian campaigns were justified by wide appeal to international law and they were very intelligently strategized in the field along with the SAA, the Iranian al-Quds Force, and Hezbollah. Israel is gnashing its teeth at Hezbollah’s movements in Syria, and may be planning renewed hostilities in Lebanon, but seems to have been pacified or emasculated since Netanyahu’s visit to Moscow just before the Russian campaigns began. Now that the US President is throwing in the towel on this war, the Geneva talks may indeed harbor some hopeful prospects.
In my next posts, I hope to continue an analysis of Obama’s The Atlantic interview, and consider further the factionalization of his administration in the wake of the global tidal shift in Syria.