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The Syrian Nightmare: No End in Sight
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“Washington’s strategic objectives in Iraq and Syria are not those of “fighting terrorism,” but rather consolidating US hegemony over the oil-rich Middle East and preparing for war against the principal obstacles to this objective, Iran and Russia. For US imperialism, undisputed control over both the Persian Gulf and Central Asia would provide the means to cut off energy supplies to its global rival, China.”

— Bill Van Auken, World Socialist Web Site

On June 10, the Syrian Army blitzed across an arid stretch of countryside in southeastern Syria to reach the Iraqi border for the first time in three years. The move, which caught US war-planners off guard, prevents US-backed rebels from moving north from al Tanf to join the fight against ISIS in Raqqa and Deir Ezzor. More important, the move makes it impossible for Washington to achieve its broader strategic objective of consolidating its territorial gains into a contiguous landmass along the Euphrates River. Washington wants to control the eastern part of the country so it can continue its attacks on the regime while overseeing the construction of gas pipelines from Qatar to Turkey. The prospects of that plan succeeding are now greatly in doubt due to the surprise advance of the SAA.

Aside from the humiliation of being caught flat-footed by a Syrian Army that has been battered by 6 consecutive years of war, Washington has allowed loyalist troops to seize a swath of land that splits US proxies on the ground and establishes a critical land corridor connecting Damascus to Baghdad to Tehran, a Shia superhighway that allows for the transport of commercial goods, people and weapons from east to west. Washington wanted to avoid that linkage at all cost, but simply wasn’t prepared to respond. Now any attempt to reverse the situation will involve crossing SAA lines which increases the probability of a direct confrontation with Russia. This is why it is essential to pay attention to events on the ground as they take place. The US and Russia are basically cheek-to-jowl on a topsy-turvy battlefield where any miscalculation could have grave consequences.

This latest move by the Syria Army has only added to Washington’s frustration. Ever since Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the creation of four “de-escalation zones” on May 5, the so called Axis of Resistance (Russia, Syria, Iran and Hezbollah) has been marching eastward along three parallel tracks with the clear intention of liberating cities captured by ISIS and reestablishing Syria’s sovereign borders. It’s been a hard-fought slog, but the progress has been steady and ISIS has been pushed back or beaten wherever they’ve been met.

At the present pace, the fight against ISIS could be over in a matter of months, but that doesn’t mean the hostilities will end. No one really knows whether the Turks, the Kurds or the US-backed militias will agree to withdraw from the territories they’ve captured during the war, but the general consensus seems to be that they won’t. In fact, the US has actually accelerated its operations in order to grab as much land as possible before ISIS is defeated. Here’s a clip from an article in the New York Times that helps to explain what’s going on:

“American-backed forces have begun an assault on Raqqa, the Islamic State’s hub in northern Syria, and signs are that they could capture the long-sought target with relative ease. Yet the militant group’s commanders, who have already withdrawn their toughest forces from the city, and most everyone else in Syria’s multifaceted war are looking ahead to an even more decisive battle in the south.

There, a complex confrontation is unfolding, with far more geopolitical import and risk. The Islamic State is expected to make its last stand not in Raqqa but in an area that encompasses the borders with Iraq and Jordan and much of Syria’s modest oil reserves, making it important in stabilizing Syria and influencing its neighboring countries.

Whoever lays claim to the sparsely populated area in this 21st-century version of the Great Game not only will take credit for seizing what is likely to be the Islamic State’s last patch of a territorial caliphate in Syria, but also will play an important role in determining Syria’s future and the postwar dynamics of the region.

With the stakes so high, the United States, Iran and Russia are all scrambling for advantage. They are building up their forces and proxy fighters and, increasingly, engaging in inflammatory clashes that threaten to escalate into a larger conflict…..

What is really at stake are even larger issues. Will the Syrian government re-establish control of the country all the way to its eastern borders? Will the desert straddling the Syrian-Iraqi border remain a no man’s land ripe for militant control? If not, who will dominate there — forces aligned with Iran, Russia or the United States? Which Syrian factions will wield the most influence?” (“Beyond Raqqa, an Even Bigger Battle to Defeat ISIS and Control Syria Looms”, New York Times)

Repeat: The outcome of the battle for east Syria will determine “the postwar dynamics of the region.”

So, Washington may have been caught flat footed, but it is prepared to make every effort to succeed in maintaining its regional hegemony. That said, the fighting ahead is likely to be more ferocious than ever.

Deir Ezzor is shaping up to be the decisive battle of the war. Washington needs the provincial capital to control the territory east of the Euphrates to establish military bases and create a launching pad for future attacks on the Assad government. The US also wants to control the eastern border with Iraq so the land route from Baghdad and Tehran is permanently blocked. But the US simply doesn’t have the military assets to win the war outright, which means the battlefield losses will continue to mount until government troops retake large sections of the border and the main population centers in the east. This isn’t a war the US can win without putting more boots on the ground. (some say 150,000 are needed) But, as yet, there’s no sign that the Pentagon Brass is willing to do that.

At present, all of the warring parties are racing to seize as much land as possible. In some respects, that’s a positive development because it suggests that everyone thinks the war may be coming to an end so they’re positioning their armies in a way that best favors their territorial claims. But resolving the territorial issues won’t alone bring peace. There are deeper issues that can’t be resolved by merely granting greater autonomy to the Kurds, or allowing the Turks to maintain a “safe zone” in the northwest, or letting local (mainly Sunni) councils settle their own affairs in cities like Raqqa. For example, neither Putin nor Assad will ever agree to a deal in which Washington establishes a base in the east where it harbors and deploys jihadists back into Syria-proper to wreak havoc, terrorize the public, and threaten the central government. That’s not going to happen. So while Putin may be flexible about Syria’s borders or greater regional autonomy, he’s not going to give ground on the fundamental issues of national security or terrorism. Those are non negotiable.

Any peace deal is going to require give and take. No one is going to get everything they want. Washington will have to abandon its plan of annexing all the territory east of the Euphrates and Assad will have to accept a smaller sovereign Syria than the one that existed before the war broke out. All parties will have to lower their expectations. The problem is that Washington won’t accept a half-loaf solution because it remains committed to its goal of breaking up Syria, removing Assad, and controlling the vital resources in the Middle East in order to maintain its global primacy.

It’s going to take time and patience to discourage Washington’s aggressive behavior. There’s no easy fix. The resistance must be firm but flexible. Their national interests must be defended, but a broader war must be avoided. Washington must be gradually acclimated to the idea that it no longer rules the world, that its interests aren’t served by its erratic and destabilizing foreign policy, and that it must comply with international law.

Nudging the United States in the direction of a multipolar world in which its own narrow interests are not paramount, is going to take time. But what other choice is there; World War 3?

Let’s hope not.

MIKE WHITNEY lives in Washington state. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press). Hopeless is also available in a Kindle edition. He can be reached at [email protected].

(Republished from Counterpunch by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: ISIS, Russia, Syria 
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  1. Pierre says:

    This is not an oil war. US is fighting Israel’s war for the Greater Israel project. It seems every one knows this except the author of this article.

    • Agree: Mark Green
    • Replies: @RobinG
  2. You and Saker give far too much credit to US intentions. I doubt the US FedGov has the slightest idea what they want to do. That’s the reason for such a disjointed foreign policy. Granting any credit for competence to the Obama admin, particularly, is stupid in the extreme. The jury is still out on Trump, and will remain so for awhile as Obama’s mess will take awhile to unravel.

  3. Make goy fight goy.

    Works like magic.

  4. mike is engaging in hyperbole [email protected] i suppose this what generates clicks and site interest but in this case he is in error.

    the war is over in syria irrespective how much longer it takes to kill off or drive out the remaining takfiri’s.

    syria/russia/hezbollah/iran have won.

    the jet shootdown is typical pentagon rage at losing yet another war now too numerous to mention over the past decade or two.

    moscow will ultimately decide where syrias borders begin and end and if putin’s speeches are to be believed syria will regain all her territory including the golan the israelis so deeply covet.

    moscow is now the go to place for these decisions not washington. all you need to know who dc sends to the middle east to work peace……jared kushner? a kid in an expensive suit although arguably no less incompetent than that classic…. poser…. john kerry.

    when you watch how the pentagon and dc polticial establishment screws up every conflict they touch its a wonder the usa remains as powerful as it is although this power is now rapidly diminishing. americas moral power is all but gone here and now, financial power will remain a bit longer until the petrodollar falter a bits more and chinas bond market becomes deep enough to park vast sum within. i would venture to guess washington is on its last 15-20 years of dollar supremacy, at the very best and perhaps much much less if they keep blundering their way through the world.

    all that remains genuinely strong is usa military power but that does not include the army or land forces which against a first rate woe will be decimated without air supremacy something the pentagon will NOT have if they choose to fight iran/russia/syria within syria or anywhere else in the middle east

  5. RobinG says:

    Yes, and keep saying that, because it’s not just Whitney. There’s a whole chorus (including RFK Jr., rather prominently) pushing the oil story, but it’s an oil-pipeline-story. They’re sufficiently cowed to not think of, much less mention, Israel.

    A 2003 Congressional Research Service study cited Israel as a primary motive for manufacturing regime-change in Syria.
    The Revolutionary Distemper in Syria That Wasn’t

  6. Sean says:

    There really is no appetite for Imperialism now. The US says it is engaged in peacekeeping when it intervenes around the world, and since I really cannot think what America would want control of a dump like Syria for I believe it. Israel only needed to build up on the Golan to draw the Syria army off the rebels, it hasn’t and we can safely conclude they don’t want to overthrow Assad, what they want is for the war to go on without end.US fracking technology and resources are closing down the options for both Saudi and Iran, even Russia will be hurting. Only the US the worlds most advanced country has freedom of action and it seems extremely reluctant to use that power to advance what Whitney asserts the US considers its own interests are. I think American strategy is to have a New World order

    Robert Reich, Clinton’s labour secretary, described progressive globalisation in his 1991 book, The Work of Nations. “There will be no national products or technologies, no national corporations, no national industries. There will no longer be national economies. At least as we have come to understand that concept.”

    The Assad minority based regieme rules a a third rate country without resources or meaningful strategic importance, one the US could have crushed with one massive air raid, but didn’t. Remember Obama on Syria. The US deep state could not fake an excuse to overthrow Assad before the Russians went in? Yes, and they still could, because Russia is scared of the US and did not send their piddling expeditionary force and its primitive airplanes, which they falsely claimed was not intended for large scale offensive operations against the rebels, until Congress’s decisions to reject Obama’s request for military action. The rebels haven’t got Stingers or anything else that the US could give them and it’s beyond me how can anyone really believe that the US is going all out to grab Syria,

    Nudging the United States in the direction of a multipolar world in which its own narrow interests are not paramount, is going to take time. But what other choice is there; World War 3?

    In my opinion it is unarguable that the US under Obama could have crushed the Assad regieme, if it wanted to. The US sat on its hands even as the Russians came in. It is encouraging that the US has finally shot down a Syrian jet though. But I’m all in favour of a multipolar world, because as John Mearshiemer says, it it is the most likely route to world war 3; the greatest threat to humanity is the normative narrative of peace that has almost universally been subscribed to for centuries. We are making steady ethical ideological progress to universal cooperation and peaceful technological leaps.

    In 1939 a war leader wrote an essay Winston Churchill: alien life is out there But now we cam monitor light speed radio waves and there is nothing out there so Fermi’s paradox applies to extant aliens existence; we know none of myriad intelligent life forms in the Universe has hitherto got past our point (more or less on the brink of the Singularity) without exterminating themselves.

    George Lansbury, British Labour Party leader sid on the outbreak of WW2 “that in the end force has not settled, and cannot and will not settle anything” Itseems to have worked rather well for Assad , at least while he is up against the Golobalising West. The lesson of Syria is to, pace Lansbury, “put its trust in poison gas, in the massacre of little children and universal slaughter”.

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