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The Unlearned Lessons of Iraq, Libya

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By:Srdja Trifkovic | October 09, 2016

Two weeks of atrocity management over Aleppo indicate that the Deep State is still intent on intervening in Syria. Most Americans don’t want another Middle Eastern war, but if Hillary Clinton wins on November 8 it is looks increasingly likely that they will get it.

Writing at Consortiumnews.com on October 5, Robert Parry warned that official Washington’s political/punditry class has developed a new “group think” on Syria that is even more dangerous than the one preceding the Iraq war. Like the “frenzied war fever of 2002-2003,” this new consensus is based on “a mix of selective, dubious and false information,” while excluding from the public forum all discordant voices:

Most notably, there are two key facts about Syria that Americans are not being told: one, U.S. regional “allies” have been funding and arming radical jihadist groups, including Al Qaeda terrorists, there almost since the conflict began in 2011 and, two, the claim about “moderate” Syrian rebels is a fraud; the “moderates” have served essentially as a P.R. cut-out for the U.S. and its “allies” to supply Al Qaeda and its allies with sophisticated weapons while pretending not to. . . . The neocons and their liberal-hawk sidekicks only talk about stopping the “barbarism” of the Syrian government and its Russian allies as they try to finally wipe out Al Qaeda’s jihadists and their “moderate” allies holed up in eastern Aleppo.

Perry notes that these calls for a U.S. military action against the Syrian government—and implicitly the Russians—are coming from some of the most enthusiastic advocates of the war in Iraq, such as Sen. John McCain, Washington Post chief editorialist Fred Hiatt, and New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman. He did not name some other influential names urging intervention, such as ex-CIA director and former U.S. Cenral Command chief David Petraeus, Sen. Lindsey Graham, and Ashton Carter’s likely successor at the Pentagon if Hillary Clinton wins, Michele Flournoy.

Specific options are actively under consideration. According to a Reuters report of September 29, discussions were being held at “staff level,” and “include allowing Gulf allies to supply rebels with more sophisticated weaponry, something considered more likely despite Washington’s opposition to this until now. Another is a U.S. air strike on an Assad air base, viewed as less likely because of the potential for causing Russian casualties . . . ”

As for the first option, the unresolved problem is that in today’s Syria there are no “vetted moderates” to whom such “more sophisticated weaponry” (presumably including man-portable ground-to-air missiles, MANPADS) can be safely delivered. On the same day the Wall Street Journal warned that some of Syria’s major rebel factions were “doubling down on their alliance with an al Qaeda-linked group, despite a U.S. warning to split from the extremists or risk being targeted in airstrikes.”

A predictable interventionist ploy is to try to present various non-ISIS jihadists and Salafi fanatics as “moderates.” In reality, as the BBC reported last week, the recent US-Russian cessation of hostilities deal—which was meant to lead to joint Russian-US air strikes on the Islamic State group and al-Qaeda’s Syrian subsidiary Jabhat Fateh al-Sham [aka al-Nusra Front]—collapsed because “many of the more moderate rebel groups that the US backs have formed a strategic alliance with Jabhat Fateh al-Sham and now fight alongside it.” State Department spokesman Mark Toner admitted that the U.S. had not targeted al-Nusra “for months” because they had become “intermingled” with other groups and civilians, but he claimed that “these moderate opposition forces are under increasing pressure from the regime, that they are driven into the arms [of al-Nusra], and they have to fight side by side.”

Toner’s statement makes no sense. If al-Nusra has been spared by the U.S. “for months” because of the “intermingling,” then the Administration had never seriously intended to carry out its part of last month’s deal with the Russians. Furthermore, the “intermingling” happened because those “moderate groups” had formed their “strategic alliance” with al-Nusra well before the recent escalation in Aleppo, and not because they were driven into al-Nusra’s arms by the fighting in the city. This key fact was stressed by Russia’s foreign minister Sergey Lavrov in a BBC interview on September 29:

They [the US] pledged solemnly to take as a priority an obligation to separate the opposition from Nusra…. They still, in spite of many repeated promises and commitments... are not able or not willing to do this, and we have more and more reasons to believe that from the very beginning the plan was to spare Nusra and to keep it just in case for Plan B or stage two when it would be time to change the regime.

In the name of the “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P), which is the basis of demands for intervention to “stop the slaughter in Aleppo,” the U.S. has already made Libya safe for Jihad. The hypocrisy at the core of that nebulous “doctrine” is evident from the subdued U.S. response to last Saturday a Saudi air strike killed 140 and wounded over 500 civilians in Yemen. “U.S. security cooperation with Saudi Arabia is not a blank check,” said U.S. National Security Council spokesman Ned Price in a statement. “In light of this and other recent incidents, we have initiated an immediate review of our already significantly reduced support to the Saudi-led coalition and are prepared to adjust our support so as to better align with U.S. principles, values and interests, including achieving an immediate and durable end to Yemen’s tragic conflict.” No accusations of “barbarism,” no threat of punitive action or international legal proceedings.

In reality, Plan B now appears to have been the plan all along. Its advocates are proposing, and will demand in the weeks to come, the imposition of no-fly zones enforced by U.S. air power, the establishment of designated “safe areas” inside Syria protected by American and “allied” forces, and attacks on Syrian government airfields and other installations with cruise missiles. All such proposals entail enormous risks of escalation—potentially more dangerous than during the Cuban Missile Crisis 54 years ago—over an issue that has no bearing on any key U.S. strategic interests. Existential risks are being undertaken with jaunty disregard for any balance between ends and means. Like in Iraq and Libya, there is no coherent strategy and no rational end-game scenario. The true U.S. enemy in Syria is neither Bashar nor Russia; it is the army of Islamic Jihad, under whatever name and in whichever disguise.

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