Washington’s Long War on Syria: An Update

October 22, 2020

Washington’s long war on Syria has not been kind to the country’s citizens. The war has been fought in many ways over many decades, occasionally as a hot war, mainly as a cold war, at times visible, at other times concealed, at times fought directly, at other times fought through proxies, at times pursued through military means, and often through economic measures.

The war has by no means diminished in its intensity, despite the Syrian government largely prevailing, with the assistance of Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah, in its struggle against foreign-sponsored jihadists.

Here are the consequences of the war for the people of Syria.

  • The economy has contracted by two-thirds since 2011 [1], the year the United States and its Western allies, along with the Turks, Saudis, Emiratis, and Qataris, assisted by the Israelis, fanned the embers of an Islamist insurgency that has burned since the 1960s into a conflagration.
  • Over 80 percent of Syrians now live below the poverty line. [2]
  • Once classified as a lower middle income country, the World Bank in 2018 reclassified Syria as a low-income country. [3]
  • According to the country’s president, Bashar al-Assad, Syrians are trapped “between hunger and poverty and deprivation [created by the long war] on one side and death [from the coronavirus] on the other.” [4]
  • Food prices have increased more than 23 times over the past decade. [5]
  • The World Food Program warns of an impending famine. [6]
  • Syria’s healthcare system, once one of the finest in the region, is in disarray. The country suffers a dearth of doctors, drugs and medical equipment. [7]
  • Dams and oil fields barely function. [8]
  • Industrial areas have been completely devastated. [9]
  • Schools and hospitals lie in ruins. [10]
  • Entire neighborhoods have been reduced to rubble. [11]

Conditions are so desperate, that the lash of poverty has spurred a number of Syrians to enrol in Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s growing army of Syrian mercenaries. They fight in Libya and Azerbaijan, and in their own country, in the service of a neo-Ottoman sultan, trying to recover the old Ottoman domains. [12]

Syria badly needs to be rebuilt. But the United States and it allies have acted to ensure that reconstruction does not happen.  Having arranged the incineration of Syria, the United States intends that the country—or rather those parts of it under the control of the legitimate government—remain a heap of ashes. 

Here’s the intended future of Syria if Washington has its way. The knee of US sanctions, designed to economically suffocate, will remain on the collective neck of the Syrian people, as it remains on the collective necks of Venezuelans, North Koreans, Cubans, and Iranians, until they do what the United States demands of them, namely, clear the way for governments acceptable to Washington to come to power. 

According to The New York Times, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said “the administration will not end the pressure campaign on Mr. al-Assad and his backers unless they agree to a …. transition of power,” [13] which is to say, unless they agree that Assad will be replaced by a successor vetted and approved, but more likely hand-picked, by Washington.

To give you an idea of what kind of leader Washington might choose for Syria, a declassified 1986 CIA report prepared by the agency’s Foreign Subversion and Instability Center, expressed the view that “US interests would be best served by a Sunni regime controlled by business-oriented moderates [who] would see a strong need for Western…investment to build Syria’s private economy.” [14]

Why is Washington so keen on replacing the Syrian government?

We can answer the question if we acknowledge that the United States is a society dominated by business interests, and that those interests must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, and establish connections everywhere, if they are to thrive. In contrast, the Syrian government exists not to help US investors and corporations find markets and investment opportunities, but to be responsive to the needs of Syrians. In the US view, the contradiction must be resolved: Either the Assad government serves US corporate and investor needs and the underlying US strategic interests that support them, or it exits the stage.

In the preface to the Russian edition of his book on imperialism, Lenin wrote that it was impossible to understand and appraise modern war and modern politics, without understanding the fundamental economic question, which he defined as the question of the economic essence of imperialism. [15]

Following Lenin, I’ve tried to explicate, in my book Washington’s Long War on Syria, the economic imperatives that underly the US predation. Free trade, or an open door policy, or even more descriptively, a we-need-you give policy,  is central to the story of why the United States has waged a long war on Syria. The Syrian government’s failure to open its economy to US investment and exports on US terms, and insistence on independent economic development, is the causa sine qua non of US hostility. 

In December Assad said, “We didn’t have a [neo-]liberal policy, we’re still socialist, we still have a public sector, a very big public sector.”  [16]

If you examine the United States’ list of countries whose governments must be replaced, you’ll discover that those countries all have substantial public sectors, that is, monopolies closed to the profitable investment of US capital, or which compete with US enterprises, or which restrict or narrow US profit-making opportunities.

Since the Second World War, the United States has incorporated most of West Asia into its empire, largely relying on a system of veiled colonialism, in which Washington exercises influence indirectly through local rulers, who act as de facto viceroys behind a cover of constitutional independence.  These viceroys ensure that their governments establish attractive climates for foreign investment and for the pursuit of the US strategic interests that support investor opportunities.

But one country in West Asia, over the post-war period, has not allowed itself to be integrated into the US empire; has refused to become a party to the practice of veiled colonialism: Syria. Syria is the last remaining independent Arab nationalist state dedicated to independent economic development guided by local interests rather than Wall Street demands. Today, in West Asia, only two governments, and one movement, exist independent of the US empire: Iran, since 1979; Hezbollah, founded in the wake of Iran’s Islamic Revolution; and Syria.

No surprise that these are the forces which Washington deems its West Asian enemies—enemies around which it has created black legends, depictions of irredeemable evil, contrasted with the golden legend of fundamental US benevolence.

Washington also deems as a West Asian enemy those Islamist groups which are inspired by the Osama bin Laden strategy of carrying the war to the distant enemy, defined as the United States. Washington, in contrast, cultivates the Islamist groups which follow the alternative strategy of war on the local Arab nationalist, communist, and religious minority enemy. The so-called Al Qaeda Khorasan group plans operations against the United States, and remains a target of US overt and covert warfare. By comparison, the various name-changing, shape-shifting, locally oriented Al Qaeda organizations which focus exclusively on doing battle with what they define as the local Takfiris, or the unbelievers, remain the United States’ allies of convenience in the fight against secular Arab nationalists and communists. These fanatical and intolerant sectarian Islamists have proved to be a useful instrument of US imperialism in dividing the Arab world by attacking Shia, Alawi and other religious minorities and waging war on Arab nationalists and communists.

From the birth of the US empire as 13 English colonies in a stolen land to the present day, the foundation of the empire’s foreign policy has been to crush any force of local independence and national assertiveness that stood in the way of enlarging the empire’s dominant economic interests, whether it was those of land speculators, slave holders lusting after land, manufacturers seeking foreign markets, or financiers pursuing profitable investment opportunities abroad.  In the grips of an expansionary profit-making imperative, Washington is driven to replace all foreign governments which resist integration into the US economy, including the Syrian, Cuban, North Korean, Venezuelan, and Iranian governments.

Sadly, the largely successful struggle of the Syrian Arab Army, backed by Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah, against the foreign sponsored Islamist insurgency, has not brought the profit-driven juggernaut of US imperialism to a halt.

As Lenin argued, “An imperialist war does not cease [until] the class which is conducting the imperialist war, and is bound to it by millions of economic threads (and even ropes), is really overthrown and is replaced at the helm of state by the really revolutionary class, the proletariat.” [17]  We’re far from that.

Some believe, with an unduly sanguine cast of mind, that because the jihadist war in Syria is largely over, that the forces of local independence and national assertiveness have won, and that the United States has been defeated. Nothing could be further from the truth. What Lenin called the imperialist predatory war may appear to have been succeeded by what he also called the imperialist predatory peace, but the imperialist predation continues, as does the war, even if the war is now largely concealed.

Having reduced Syria to rubble and its citizens to penury,  the United States silently wages war by blocking the reconstruction of Syria. It does this in two ways:

First, through the so-called Caesar Act, a sanctions regime introduced last summer to punish individuals and corporations anywhere in the world dealing with those sectors of the Syrian economy crucial to restoring Syria to some semblance of economic health. These sectors are:  construction, electricity, and oil. Any company that deals with the Syrian government in any reconstruction effort will be sanctioned by the US Treasury Department and prohibited from accessing the US banking system—a virtual economic death sentence. The Act is deliberately designed, as two US scholars put it, “to make reconstruction impossible.” [18]

The second way the United States prevents Syrians from rebuilding their country is by denying Damascus access to the revenue it needs to fund whatever reconstruction projects might be undertaken by firms willing to defy US sanctions. It does this through a large-scale military occupation that goes virtually unnoticed.

US forces, assisted by opportunistic Kurds—who believe that the United States is about to help them establish a second Israel in West Asia on territory stolen from Syria, (just as Israel was founded on land pilfered from what was once called Greater Syria)—have established an open-ended occupation of territory comprising one-third of Syria, and containing most of Syria’s oil wealth and its best farm land. The ostensible purpose of the US occupation is to continue the fight against ISIS, but the genuine purpose, is otherwise.

The larger purpose, as acknowledged by US special representative for Syria, James Jeffrey, is to turn Syria into a Japanese-style veiled US-colony, in which the United States installs an open-ended military occupation and writes the country’s constitution. Jeffrey revealed that the goal is to establish “a degree of control over Syria similar to what it had in Japan at the end of the Second World War.” [19]

The more immediate purpose, as acknowledged by the bloviating US president, is to prevent Syria from recovering its oil fields. This Washington does to deny Damascus a source of revenue for reconstruction. 

To quote Trump:

“We are out of Syria other than we kept the oil. I kept the oil. We have troops guarding the oil. Other than that, we are out of Syria.” [20]

No reference to ISIS.

So, the United States says to Syria: We will not rebuild your country, and we will not allow our allies to do the same, and we will prevent your allies from rebuilding your country by occupying your oil wells and your best farmland to deny you revenue to underwrite reconstruction.

There’s another US goal, also acknowledged by Jeffrey, and that is to turn Syria into “a quagmire” for Russia, like the one the United States faced in Vietnam, in order to evict the Russians from the region. [21] The thinking is that if Russia gets bogged down in Syria, it will eventually surrender its military bases in the country and retreat from the Mediterranean, leaving West Asia and the Mediterranean free for total US domination. 

How many troops has Washington in Syria?

Officially 750. But that was before another 100 were added in August. So, let’s say 850. Insignificant.

But the official number is what the Pentagon calls an “artificial construct”[22]—in other words, it’s meaningless. The number doesn’t include aircrew, which enforce a no-fly zone over US occupied territory, and are a very important part—perhaps the most important part—of the occupation, for US air supremacy makes the occupation zone virtually impregnable.

Neither does the artificial construct number include Special Operations personnel, or US personnel assigned to classified missions.  [23]

And it doesn’t include the assistance US occupation forces receive from the Israeli air force, which regularly carries out airstrikes on targets in Syria. [24]

Moreover, it doesn’t include what The Wall Street Journal called “an unspecified number of contractors,” [25] or what, in plain language, means, a whole lot of mercenaries.

In December 2019, Assad said:

“The funny thing in American politics is that they announce the number between thousands and hundreds. When they say thousands: it is to make the the-pro-war lobby – particularly the arms companies, happy that they are in a state of war. When they say hundreds: they are addressing the people who oppose the war by saying that they are only ‘a few hundred.’ In actual fact, both figures are incorrect for a simple reason … they are based on the number of American soldiers and not the number of individuals fighting with the American army. The American regime relies significantly in its wars on private firms like Blackwater… So even if they had a few hundred American soldiers in Syria, they still have thousands – maybe tens of thousands [of mercenaries fighting alongside acknowledged US troops.]” [26]

The occupation is flagrantly illegal. US forces weren’t invited into Syria. On the contrary, the Syrian government has stated repeatedly that US forces need to withdraw.

Syrian oil is being plundered. Indeed, a US energy company, Delta Crescent Energy, manages the oil wells and sells the oil to the Turks, just as earlier ISIS did the same. [27] It’s piracy, pure and simple.

“The Americans,” said Assad in March, “ are occupiers; they occupy our lands. The Americans are thieves stealing our oil.” [28]

And US forces are not the only occupier. There is also a Turkish occupation zone in the north, an Al Qaeda occupation zone in Idlib, and an Israeli occupation zone (which has lasted 53 years) in the Syrian Golan.

While the United States has arranged for Syria to be burned to the ground; while it has organized and connived in the partition of Syria into multiple occupation zones; while it acts to prevent Syria from rebuilding, it has, despite these predations, failed to achieve its ultimate goal of replacing the Syrian government—a government acceptable to the Syrian people and responsive to its needs.

What’s more, the United States has failed to crush Syria’s will to overcome US imperialism.

Quoting Assad.

“[O]ur policy is to … liberate remaining territories to restore our territorial integrity and protect our people. Timing will depend on the readiness of our armed forces to march into battle. When the battle starts, we will not distinguish between … Zionists, Turks, and Americans. On our territory, they are all enemies. [29]

“We have said that we’re going to liberate every inch of Syria…This is our land [and] this is our duty. “[30]

There is another duty—one that falls on the shoulders of internationalists—the duty to ruthlessly expose the machinations of our “own” countries; to support—in deed, not merely in word—Syria’s efforts to resist its recolonization and recover its territory; to demand the end of foreign occupations; and to inculcate in the hearts of our compatriots an attitude of true brotherhood with Syrians acting to liberate and defend their country from the imperial predations of the United States and its satellites. [31]

1. Raja Abdulrahim and Nazih Osseiran, “Reviving Syria’s economy is an uphill battle for Assad after years of war,” The Wall Street Journal, January 31, 2020

2. Ibid

3. Ibid

4. Ben Hubbard, “Syria’s Economy Collapses Even as Civil War Winds to a Close,” The New York Times, June 15, 2020

5. Patrick Cockburn, “A choice between bread and masks’: Syrians face calamity as Trump’s new sanctions combine with surging coronavirus,” The Independent, August 21, 2020

6. Patrick Cockburn, “The next Gaza Strip? Daily battle of survival for those left in Idlib,” The Independent, October 7, 2020

7. Aleksandr Aksenenok, “War, economy and politics in Syria: broken links,” Russian International Affairs Council, April 17, 2020

8. Abdulrahim and Osseiran

9. Ibid

10. Ibid

11. Ibid

12. Kareem Fahim, Isabelle Khurshudyan and Zakaria Zakaria, “Deaths of Syrian mercenaries show how Turkey, Russia could get sucked into Nagorno-Karabakh conflict,” The Washington Post, Oct. 14, 2020

13. Pranshu Verma and Vivian Yee, “Trump’s Syria Sanctions ‘Cannot Solve the Problem,’ Critics Say,” The New York Times, Aug. 4, 2020

14. “Syria: Scenarios of Dramatic Political Change, 30 July 1986, Central Intelligence Agency, https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/docs/CIA-RDP86T01017R000100770001-5.pdf

15. V.I. Lenin, Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism: A Popular Outline, International Publishers, 1939, p. 8.

16. “The interview that Italian Rai News 24 refrained from broadcasting…President al-Assad: Europe was the main player creating chaos in Syria,” SANA, December 9, 2019

17. V.I Lenin, The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky, 1918, Lenin’s Collected Works, Progress Publishers, Moscow, Volume 28, 1974, pages 227-325

18. Joshua Landis and Steven Simon, “The Pointless Cruelty of Trump’s New Syria Sanctions, Foreign Affairs, August 17, 2020

19.Cockburn,  August 21, 2020

20. “US convoy transports stolen Syrian oil to Iraq: SANA,” Press TV,  20 September 2020

21. Cockburn, August 21, 2020

22. John Ismay, “US says 2,000 troops are in Syria, a fourfold increase,” The New York Times, December 6, 2017

23. Ibid

24. Han Goldenberg, Nicholas A. Heras, Kaleigh Thomas, and Jennie Matuschak, “Countering Iran in the Gray Zone: What the United States should learn from Israel’s operations in Syria,” Center for a New American Security, 2020

25. Nancy A. Yousef, “US to remain in Syria indefinitely, Pentagon officials say,” The Wall Street Journal, December 8, 2017

26. “President al-Assad: ‘The Belt and Road Initiative’ constituted worldwide transformation in international relations…There will be no prospect for US presence in Syria,” SANA, December 16, 2019

27. Lara Seligman and Ben Lefebvre, “Little-known U.S. firm secures deal for Syrian oil,” Politico, August 3, 2020; “US convoy transports stolen Syrian oil to Iraq: SANA, Press TV”, 20 September 2020; “Another US convoy smuggles Syrian oil to Iraq: SANA”, Press TV, 11 October 2020

28. “President al-Assad: Erdogan fights beside terrorists out of his brotherhood ideology…Our military is Idleb as its liberation  means that we move towards liberating the eastern regions,” SANA, March 5, 2020

29. Quoted in Statement by H.E. Walid Al-Moualem, Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates of the Syrian Republic at the General Debate of the 75th Session of the United Nations General Assembly, September 26, 2020

30. “President al-Assad to Mail on Sunday: UK publicly supported White Helmets that are a “President al-Assad to Mail on Sunday: UK publicly supported White Helmets that are a branch of Al Qaeda, US and French existence in Syria is invasion,” SANA, June 10, 2018

31. See condition 8 of V.I. Lenin, The Terms of Admission to Communist International, 1920, https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1920/jul/x01.htm

Cruelty with a Point: The Continuing US Immiseration of Syria

[We] take our rewards in the goodies of the imperial marketplace and in the false coin of self-righteousness. – William Appleman Williams*

By Stephen Gowans

August 19, 2020

Two US scholars, writing in the unofficial journal of the US State Department, Foreign Affairs, have denounced the cruelty of US intervention in Syria, while passing over its criminal and imperialist nature, and accepting as legitimate assumptions underlying US foreign policy about the fundamental goodness of the United States and the fundamental depravity of its victims.

In The Pointless Cruelty of Trump’s New Syria Sanctions, Joshua Landis, a professor of Middle East studies at the University of Oklahoma, and Steven Simon, Senior Director for Middle Eastern and North African Affairs at the White House from 2011 to 2012, denounce the sanctions Washington has inflicted on Syria. However, far from being an anti-imperialist j’accuse, the piece perpetuates myths about the aims of US foreign policy and sanitizes the nature of the US intervention.

washingtons-long-war-on-syriaThe problem with US sanctions, the authors argue, is that they’re pointlessly cruel, which is to say that they are at the same time highly punitive and incapable of achieving the goals they are putatively designed to achieve. Presumably, cruelty, if it worked, would have a point, and would be acceptable; but the current cruelty does not work and therefore is pointless and should be brought to an end, the scholars contend.

What sanctions have failed to achieve, and will continue to fail to achieve, Landis and Simon argue, is the replacement of the current Syrian government with one acceptable to the United States. If the Syrian government has yet to fall, despite the enormous efforts the US government has made to see that it does, more sanctions are not the answer. Landis and Simon write:

“Assad and his supporters won the country’s civil war against considerable odds. They did not crack when rebels massacred their entire national security team early in the war; they did not crack when they lost Palmyra, Idlib, half of Aleppo, the oil fields, the northeast, or the southeast; they brushed off Trump’s 60-second bombing campaign; and they withstood an energetic U.S. effort to equip and train the armed opposition. If nine years of brutal violence … did not defeat Assad and his military, economic embargoes are unlikely to faze him.”

The most conspicuous aspects of the US intervention in Syria are its flagrant illegality and manifest imperialism, yet at no point do the scholars point out that the US occupation of northeastern Syria, the US take-over of Syria’s oil fields, US training and funding of insurgents, US missile strikes on Syria, and the imposition of coercive economic measures, are criminal, murderous, and anti-democratic, though they openly acknowledge that Washington has pursued all of these means to achieve its goal of overthrowing the Syrian government.  It’s as if Landis and Simon set out to write an article about the history of Hiroshima and somehow overlooked the fact that it was the site of the first atomic bombing. Landis and Simon fail to mention the following additional expressions of US imperialism: US complicity in Turkey’s military occupation of northern Syria and US endorsement of the Israeli annexation of the Syrian Golan.

The goal of the US intervention, thoroughly anti-democratic in stamp, is to impose the US will on another people. Landis and Simon fail to question the legitimacy of this goal. Instead, they accept the aim as a desirable part of a larger US project of constructing “an international liberal order premised on the conviction that free trade and a vital middle class [will] produce democratic governance and societal well-being.”  What free trade will produce, pace Landis and Simon, is not democratic governance and societal well-being, but continued poverty for poor countries, and continued affluence for the wealthy. Poor countries are incapable of competing on a global level against rich countries, and can only develop economically by emulating the policies rich countries themselves pursued to become rich: tariff barriers to nurture infant industries, industrial planning, subsidies, state-owned enterprises, and restrictions on foreign investment. [1]

Free trade is central to the story of why the United States has waged a long war on Syria. The Syrian government’s failure to open its economy to US investment and exports on US terms, and insistence on independent economic development—emulating what the rich countries did to become prosperous—is as much a part of the reason Washington has tried to oust the Assad government as is the fact that Damascus has long irritated Washington by acting as a beacon of local independence and national assertiveness in the Arab world.  Assad vowed in 2013 that “Syria will never become a western puppet state” and that his government would do whatever was necessary to “best serve the interests of the Syrians,” not the West.  [2] Promoting the interests of a republic’s citizens is what a president is supposed to do, remarked Robert Mugabe during an address to the United Nations General Assembly, but under a US-superintended liberal order, what presidents are really supposed to do is submit to a global order based on free trade designed to promote the interests of US investors. Syria has been non-compliant with the US-agenda, operating what US government researchers described in a 2005 report as a largely publicly-owned, state-planned economy based on “Soviet models” while supporting Hamas and Hezbollah, [3] enemies of US-attack dog, Israel, the Zionist state in colonized Palestine.

From the birth of the US empire as 13 British colonies in a stolen land to the present day, the foundation of the empire’s foreign policy—guiding its continental expansion, and then its extra-continental enlargement through formal and informal colonialism—has been to crush any force of local independence and national assertiveness that stands in the way of US economic interests.  Washington must replace the Syrian government with one that accepts the international liberal order, an order which various figures in the US foreign policy establishment have described as: created by US officials with US interests in mind and US prosperity (though unmentioned, specifically that of corporate America) as its goal.

The late John McCain wrote that “We are the chief architect and defender of an international order governed by rules derived from our political and economic values. We have grown vastly wealthier and more powerful under those rules.” [4] Barak Obama described the US-superintended international order as one upon which US prosperity depends. [5] The recently deceased Brent Scowcroft, a US national security power broker,  “for decades mentored generations of national security professionals … in a realist brand of foreign policy that championed a U.S.-led international order … and looked on revolutionary change with suspicion.” [6] Revolutionary change, it should be noted, often involves transferring ownership of economies from foreign investors to local governments or local business people, an act inimical to US investor interests.

If we’re to be honest, the prosperity of investors and high-level executives of major corporations is the principal aim of the liberal (note, not liberal democratic, but liberal sans democratic) international order which Landis and Simon cite as the desired end of US policy. The prosperity of US citizens en masse—Main Street not Wall Street—is not the primum mobile of US foreign policy. Neither is building democratic governance and middle-class societies abroad an authentic goal, however much this deceit figures in the rhetorical flourishes of various US experts in casuistry, Landis and Simon included.

One need only look at Latin America, a region on which Uncle Sam has long imposed his will. The outcome of the United States’ smothering influence after hundreds of years is that Latin America remains poor, despite its being forced, often at the point of a US gun, to accept US economic prescriptions based on free trade, a regime William Appleman Williams once described as a piratical “We need, you give.” [7] Those prescriptions, while dishonestly presented as the key to a future Latin American prosperity, have left the region stagnating in poverty. Meanwhile, the United States has prospered.

Landis and Simon have constructed their argument within a framework of assumptions that accepts without question that the United States wants to “make a positive contribution to regional development” and create “freedom and advancement” in Syria (presumably just as it promised but failed to do in its Latin American backyard.) Clearly, the United States has delivered neither freedom nor advancement to either Syrians or Latin Americans. Instead, in Syria, US policies have led to the strangulation of the Syrian economy, immiseration of the Syrian people, and creation of public health and refugee crises.

To explain the contradiction of an allegedly benevolent US foreign policy producing obviously malevolent results (the foreign policy equivalent of the theodicy problem—How can an omnipotent God be benevolent if he allows misery and cruelty to flourish?), Landis and Simon point, not to the obvious answer that US foreign policy is not benevolent, but to US-produced malignancies as the unintended consequences of policy missteps by the US foreign policy establishment. US intentions are good, they contend, but US officials have blundered; they’ve drawn from the wrong policy set. Economic warfare ought never to have been pursued against Syria, they argue, because “there is little evidence that economic sanctions ever achieve their objectives. Even the best designed sanctions can be self-defeating, strengthening the regimes they were designed to hurt and punishing the societies they were supposed to protect.”

What Landis and Simon don’t accept, despite the evidence staring them in the face, is that sanctions were never intended to protect foreign populations. Instead, they were deployed to do precisely what they almost invariably do—immiserate.  If the stated aim of policy x is to produce y but almost always produces z, at what point do you accept that z is the real aim and that y is a misdirection?

The point of immiserating a people—what makes the cruelty rational, rather than pointless—is to weaken local forces of independence and national assertiveness to the point that they’re no longer capable of challenging US power. A further objective is to make an example of such forces so that other countries never emulate them, seeing subordination to the US will as preferable to being sanctioned (and in some cases bombed) back into the stone age. For the United States, the fewer independently-minded rich countries to compete against, the better. Washington doesn’t want Syria or Iran following a development model that will monopolize profit-making opportunities, exclude US investors and exports, and set the two countries on a path to becoming future Chinas (though on a much smaller scale.) The US grievance against China is that it used its opening to US economic penetration to acquire the capital and know-how necessary to build, under a regime of dirigisme and industrial planning, home-grown enterprises which now compete against—and sometimes out-compete—US enterprises for the same profit-making opportunities. Washington is dead-set against allowing Syria and Iran do the same.

In her study of the Vietnam wars, Marilyn B. Young wrote that by the early 1950s, the US foreign policy establishment “had accepted a set of axioms … as unquestionable as Euclid’s.” The first axiom, she wrote, could be summarized as follows:

“The intentions of the United States are always good. It is possible that in pursuit of good ends, mistakes will be made. But the basic goodness of US intentions cannot ever be questioned. The intentions of the enemies of the United States are bad. It is possible that in the pursuit of bad ends, good things will seem to happen. But the basic badness of enemy intentions cannot ever by questioned.” [8]

The axiom reverberates throughout the Landis and Simon piece; indeed, it is the glue that holds it together. Not only are US intentions in Syria good, but the basic badness of the Syrian government (demonized accordingly as a regime) cannot be questioned. This leads Landis and Simon to argue that sanctions should be abandoned because “Assad doesn’t care if more of his people starve.”

We have no evidence of whether Assad cares or doesn’t care about whether Syrians starve, except this: By failing to bow to US aggression, he allows US sanctions policy to continue, and therefore condemns Syrians to starvation as victims of US policy. This is tantamount to saying that FDR didn’t care about whether US conscripts died in a terrible war, citing his failure to bow to Japanese aggression as evidence. According to the axioms of US foreign policy, standing up to foreign aggression is heroic when it’s done by US leaders, but sinister when done by foreign leaders in response to US aggression.

While we don’t have evidence of indifference to the suffering of Syrians on the part of Assad, we do have evidence of US indifference to the fate of Syrians. It is after all, Washington, not Assad, that pulled the trigger on the starvation policy. Blaming sanctions-related Syrian deaths on Assad is equal in principle to attributing WWII US military casualties in the Pacific to Roosevelt.

We have further evidence of Washington’s indifference to the misery of foreign populations. Washington cared not one whit that it killed over half a million Iraqi children under the age of five through sanctions-related disease and malnutrition. When this figure was cited by a UN agency in 1995, and accepted by the US government as valid—and moreover, defended as ‘worth it’—sanctions continued for another eight years, and the US-produced Golgotha grew ever larger. No tears were shed by US leaders.

What’s more, the US government doesn’t care if Iranians starve.  The “Iranian leadership,” warned US secretary of state Mike Pompeo, “has to make a decision that they want their people to eat.” [9] Unless Tehran accepts US demands—a long list that amounts to Iran surrendering the right to make consequential decisions independent of US oversight—Pompeo is prepared to see this grim outcome brought to fruition.

But in the morally astigmatic view of Landis and Simon, it is Assad, Saddam, and the Ayatollah who starve their people by refusing to submit to a US-superintended international liberal order of free trade, and not the United States, which punishes states that are refractory to this demand by strangling their economies and starving their populations.  Domenico Losurdo cited Frantz Fanon. “When a colonial and imperialist power is forced to give independence to a people, this imperialist power says: you want independence? Then take it and die of hunger.” Losurdo continued: “Because the imperialists continue to have economic power, they can condemn a people to hunger, by means of blockades, embargoes, or underdevelopment.” [10]

For all its failings, the Landis and Simon article reveals the depravity of the US intervention in all its repugnant detail. The scholars acknowledge that:

a) Washington is pursuing a “scorched-earth policy” whose aim is “to gain enough leverage to reconstitute the Syrian government along the lines that the United States imposed on Japan after World War II.”

b) To that end, the US is “systematically bankrupting the Syrian government.”

c) “To increase pressure” on Syria, Washington has “endorsed Israeli strikes against Syrian territory and Turkish expropriation of Syrian energy resources. It has also closed the main highway to Baghdad to choke off trade.”

(d) Washington has hired “a U.S. firm to manage the oil fields”  (that are now under an illegal US military occupation. Not only is Turkey freebooting in Syria; so too is the United States.)

e) Washington has designed its sanctions “to make reconstruction impossible. The sanctions target the construction, electricity, and oil sectors, which are essential to getting Syria back on its feet.”

f) The United States has added humanitarian exemptions to its sanctions, but the exemptions are “deliberately vague” to produce “overcompliance”—a phenomenon in which nongovernmental organizations decline to provide humanitarian aid out of fear that they will become inadvertently entangled in complex legal issues and will themselves to be subjected to US sanctions.

g) “Blocked from reconstructing their country and seeking external assistance, Syrians face mass starvation or another mass exodus.”

It is important to emphasize that the opposition of Landis and Simon to US intervention in Syria is predicated, not on the intervention’s  imperialist and criminal character, but on its cruelty. This suggests a parallel with the opposition that arose in the West to the rape of the Congo by Belgium’s King Leopold.  There were two classes of critics: those who opposed Leopold’s imperialism (mainly ignored) and those who viewed the intervention as legitimate but objected to the cruelty of Leopold’s methods (frequently lionized.) The latter believed that Africans were inferior to Europeans and should submit to European rule, but felt that European rule ought to be more humane. Their attitude to Africans paralleled that of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals; dogs and cats were clearly inferior creatures, which must be kept in servile relations to their masters, but they were to be treated humanely. So too Africans.

Another parallel exists between those who criticize US military interventions on the grounds that they are unjust and imperialist, and those whose concern is limited to whether the interventions conform to conventions related to the just conduct of war. The following oppositions are equivalent in principle: to Leopold’s intervention in the Congo because it was cruel (not imperialist); to the wars on Iraq, because they violated the principle of jus in bello (not because they transgressed the principle of jus ad bellum); to the US intervention in Syria, because its methods are cruel (not owing to the repugnance of Washington seeking to replace the Syrian government with another acceptable to the United States and US investor interests.)

Landis and Simon believe that Syrians ought to submit to US rule, but that US rulers ought to avoid pointless cruelty in bringing Syrians under their boot. In their Foreign Affairs article they have set out to portray the US war on Syria as a masterpiece of incompetence and pointless cruelty which dishonors the basic goodness of US goals. In reality, US intervention in Syria has been a masterpiece of cruelty with a point—an enterprise redolent with the stench of criminality and imperialism, aimed at imposing the US will on a foreign population for the benefit of corporate America.

That Landis and Simon should have a favorable attitude to a US-led liberal international order based on free trade is no mystery. They are a fellow and research analyst respectively at The Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, a think tank funded by some of corporate America’s largest foundations: among others, The Charles Koch Foundation, The Ford Foundation, The Rockefeller Brothers Fund, and billionaire investor George Soros’ Open Society Foundations. Foreign Affairs, the journal in which the scholars’ article appears, is owned by The Council on Foreign Relations, an organization Laurence H. Shoup has described in books by the same names as Wall Street’s Think Tank and an Imperial Brain Trust.

*  William Appleman Williams, America Confronts a Revolutionary World, 1776-1976, William Morrow & Company, 1976, p. 183.

1) Erik S. Reinert, How Rich Countries Got Rich, Why Poor Countries Stay Poor, Public Affairs, 2007.

2) Syrian Arab National News Agency, August 27, 2013.

3) Alfred B. Prados and Jeremy M. Sharp, “Syria: Political Conditions and Relations with the United States After the Iraq War,” Congressional Research Service, February 28, 2005.

4) John McCain, “John McCain: Why We Must Support Human Rights,” The New York Times, May 8, 2017.

5)  Letter of outgoing US President Barack Obama to incoming President Donald Trump.

6) Warren P. Strobel, “Brent Scowcroft, a U.S. National Security Power Broker, Dies at 95,” The Wall Street Journal, August 7, 2020.

7) William Appleman Williams, “Confessions of an Intransigent Revisionist,” in ed. Henry W. Berger, The William Appleman Williams Reader, Ivan R. Dee, 1992, p. 343.

8) Marilyn B. Young, The Vietnam Wars: 1945-1990. Harper Perennial.1991. p.27.

9) Mike Pompeo, November 7, 2018, quoted in ”Iran letter to the UNSG and UNSC on Pompeo provocative statement,” Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran, November 30, 2018.

10) Domenico Losurdo, “The New Colonial Counter-Revolution,” Revista Opera, October 20, 2017.

We should applaud the Syrian military’s actions in Idlib, not deplore them

The US news media perversely view the prospective liberation of millions of Syrians from a Turkish-backed Al Qaeda tyranny in Idlib as a humanitarian tragedy, betraying their allegiance to Washington’s geopolitical agenda and its aim of dominating every country in West Asia without exception, even if it means relying on Al Qaeda to accomplish its goal.

February 23, 2020

By Stephen Gowans

Imagine journalists deploring the Allies’ liberation of Europe because the project created refugees, and you’ll understand the US news media’s reaction to the prospect of the Syrian military liberating Idlib from the rule of a branch of Al Qaeda. Implicit in the condemnation is support for the status quo, since any realistic attempt to end an occupation will trigger a flight of civilians from a war zone. What is in fact support for continued occupation by reactionaries, and their imposition of a terrorist mini-state on millions of Syrians, is slyly presented by the US news media as concern for the welfare of Syrian civilians.

Washington's Long War on Syria
http://www.barakabooks.com/

On February 20, The Wall Street Journal ran an article on what it said could be the “biggest humanitarian horror story of the 21st century,” namely, the advance of the Syrian military into Idlib, “backed by Russian airstrikes and pro-Iranian militias” which has “forced the flight of some 900,000 people” as Syrian president Bashar al-Assad vows “to retake every inch of Syria.” [1]

To illustrate the so-called impending horror, Journal reporter Raja Abdulrahim follows “Amro Akoush and his family” as they flee “their home in northwest Syria with no time to pack a bag and no vehicle to escape the machine-gun fire and falling bombs.” [2]

“I feel like this is the end, the army will advance and kill us all and that will be the end of the story,” Abdulrahim quotes Akoush as saying. “We no longer have hope for anything other than a quick death, that’s it. That’s all we ask for.” (3)

In Abdulrahim’s narrative, Assad is a tyrant setting in motion a humanitarian catastrophe to satisfy his urge (are we to construe it as greed?) to “retake” every inch of his country (not recover or liberate it.) Assad’s foil, his nemesis in this tale, is Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, presented as the personification of the calvary, rushing to the aid of hapless Syrian civilians, by dispatching tanks across the Turk-Syrian border.

Erdogan, Abdulrahim writes, “has threatened to launch a full attack on Syrian government forces if Mr. Assad doesn’t halt the military offensive. Turkey has sent more than 10,000 troops and more than 2,000 pieces of artillery, tanks and armored vehicles into Idlib.” (4)

It all seems fairly simple: Assad is a brute who has launched a military offensive “to defeat the remnants” of Syria’s “armed opposition”, sparking a humanitarian catastrophe in embryo, while Erdogan, our hero, acts to stay the tyrant’s hand.

It’s a good story, but wrong. The “armed opposition” is not a group of plucky liberal democrats fighting for freedom, but Al Qaeda; Turkey is not the calvary, but a foreign aggressor with designs on Syria that has long backed Al Qaeda as its proxy in Idlib; and Erdogan’s goal isn’t to rescue Syrians from a tyrant, but to impose a Turkish tyranny by proxy on Idlib. All of this has been reported previously in the US news media, including in Abdulrahim’s own Wall Street Journal, but has since been lost down to the memory hole. Additionally, other realities have been minimized, including the continued Al Qaeda attacks on the Syrian military and Syrian civilians.

In early March, 2015 Erdogan flew to Riyadh to meet Saudi Arabia’s recently crowned King Salman, to agree on a new strategy to oust Assad. Both leaders were keen to see Syria’s Arab nationalist republic dissolved. Erdogan, an Islamist with connections to the Muslim Brotherhood, objected to Syria’s secularism and long-running war with the Muslim Brotherhood. Salman, a misogynistic, democracy-abominating monarch backed to the hilt by Washington, objected to Syria’s anti-monarchism, Arab nationalism, and insistence that the Arab world achieve independence from US domination–ideologies which threatened his family’s rule over the Arabian peninsula and its vast oil resources.

To overcome the Syrian menace, Erdogan and Salman agreed to establish a joint command center in Idlib in order to coordinate the activities of Al Qaeda (operating in Syria at the time under the alias Jabhat al-Nusra.) Al Qaeda and other jihadist groups had taken up the Muslim Brotherhood’s struggle against the Assad government’s secularism and Arab nationalism. The jihadists were threatening to seize control of all of Idlib, and the Turkish Islamist and Saudi despot were eager to lend a hand. [5]

Erdogan wanted to run Idlib through his Al Qaeda proxies to gain leverage in order to shape the outcome of post-conflict talks on a new political arrangement for Syria. [6] This would allow him to further his Islamist agenda in a neighboring country—he had taken numerous steps to Islamize his own country—and to acquire profit-making opportunities in Syria for Turkish business people.

Erdogan’s plans were soon brought to fruition. By February, 2018, Brett McGurk, the U.S. envoy to the US campaign against ISIS, could call Idlib “the largest al Qaeda safe haven since 9/11.” [7] The veteran foreign affairs correspondent Robert Fisk would refer to the Syrian province as a territory teeming with “the Islamist fighters of Isis, Nusrah, al-Qaeda and their fellow jihadists.” [8] In September, 2019 The New York Times’ Eric Schmitt said that Idlib province contained “a witch’s brew of violent Islamic extremist groups, dominated by the larger Qaeda-linked organization Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, formerly the Nusra Front.” [9] Hayat Tahrir al-Sham would control 99 percent of Idlib and surrounding areas. [10], creating what Cockburn dubbed an “al-Qaeda-run mini-state” [11]—behind which sat Erdogan, on the Sultan’s throne.

Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) and Al Qaeda are one and the same. After undergoing a previous rebranding as Jabhat al Nusra, Al Qaeda’s Syrian branch morphed once again, this time into HTS. As the Syrian delegate to the United Nations, Bashar Ja’afari, explained to the UN Security Council in May,

Hayat Tahrir al-Sham … is the Al-Nusra Front, which itself is part of Al-Qaida in the Levant, which in turn is part of Al-Qaida in Iraq, which in turn is part of Al-Qaida in Afghanistan. Therefore, we are all talking about Al-Qaida, regardless of its different names; all are designated by the [UN Security] Council as terrorist entities. [12]

The Washington Post described Hayat Tahrir al-Sham as “an extremist Islamist group that began as al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria and has tried to rebrand itself several times during the war.” [13] The New York Times says Hayat Tahrir al-Sham “is affiliated with Al Qaeda,” [14] while The Wall Street Journal lists the group as “a branch of al Qaeda.” [15]

But of Western mainstream journalists, Cockburn perhaps describes the group best. Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, he wrote in early 2019, is “a powerful breakaway faction from Isis which founded the group under the name of Jabhat al-Nusra in 2011 and with whom it shares the same fanatical beliefs and military tactics. Its leaders wear suicide vests studded with metal balls just like their Isis equivalents.” [16]

HTS’s size is a matter of dispute. Cockburn estimates that it “can put at least 50,000 fighters into the field” [17] while The New York Times puts the number closer to “12,000 and 15,000 fighters.” [18] The Syrian government says that the group has “tens of thousands of foreign terrorists, including 15,000 Europeans.” [19]

Hayat Tahrir al-Sham has “centered its agenda on combating the government of Mr. al-Assad, with no interest in conducting attacks abroad, according to a recent United Nations assessment.” [20] This makes the Al Qaeda group acceptable to the United States, and, in train, to the US news media. It also explains why an organization seen as terrorist outside of Syria, is often described by US new media in neutral language when it operates in Syria, like “armed opposition” and “rebels.” Following this convention, we could talk of the “armed opposition” and “rebels” who attacked the United States on 9/11, and Washington’s 19 year war on Al Qaeda as the war on “the armed opposition to the US regime.”

“In September 2018, Russia and Turkey brokered a cease-fire agreement for Idlib to forestall a military offensive,” explained The Wall Street Journal. “The deal required that” Al Qaeda fighters “withdraw from a demilitarized buffer zone along the front line.” [21] Rather than withdrawing, Al Qaeda expanded areas under its control. [22] while continuing to carry on its fight against the Syrian military. The jihadists attacked Syrian army positions, targeted the Russian airbase at Khmeimim, and shelled towns and villages, “killing civilians and forcing more than 10,000 to flee,” according to the United Nations. [23] Turkey stood by while its proxies violated the cease-fire, failing “to meet its commitment to disarm” its fighters. [24]

In response, the Syrian army, backed by its Russian and Iranian allies, launched an offensive to liberate Idlib. It has done this because Al Qaeda’s attacks have never stopped and because the government of Syria has an obligation to protect its citizens and control its own territory.

When Ja’afari addressed the Security Council in May he asked:

When will it be recognized that the right we are exercising is the same right others have exercised in confronting terrorist attacks against the Bataclan theatre and the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris, as well as terrorist acts in Niece, London, Boston and other cities? The terrorists that members have confronted in their own countries were not equipped with Turkish rocket launchers and tanks. [25]

Apart from glossing over such inconvenient facts as the true character of the “armed opposition” and Erdogan’s connection to it, the US news media have failed to address a number of key questions.

First, is it legitimate for a government to use force to recover territory occupied by an armed enemy, even if the use of force endangers civilians or sparks their flight? If the answer is no, then the Allies acted illegitimately during World War II in liberating Europe from Nazi occupation, for their project was impossible without endangering some civilians and creating refugees.

Moreover, if civilian casualties and their displacement were acceptable consequences of US forces taking Raqqa from ISIS—the US defense secretary at the time, James Mattis responded to concerns about the effect of the US siege on civilians by noting that “Civilian casualties are a fact of life in this sort of situation” [26]—how is it that they are unacceptable in the case of Syrian forces liberating Idlib from Al Qaeda?

A still more basic question is, Is it acceptable to respond in force to attacks from an enemy? The answer is obvious, which may be why it is never asked, for if asked, Syrian military operations against continued Al Qaeda attacks would have to be accepted as legitimate, rather than falsely portrayed as acts of aggression against Syrian civilians.

Third, is Turkey’s presence on Syrian soil legitimate? The answer is categorically in the negative. The invasion of Syria by Turkey and the occupation of part of Syrian territory by Turkish forces is no different in law, politics, or morality than the Nazi invasion of Poland, France, the low countries, the Soviet Union, and so on. It is clearly illegal, and an affront to the ‘rules-based international order’ to which the United States, Turkey, and other NATO countries so conspicuously and hypocritically profess allegiance. The invasion and occupation have been carried out in defense of Turkey’s Al Qaeda proxy, and to advance the interests of Turks and Islamists against the interests of Syrians and secularists. Erdogan is no hero, but a villain, whose hands are as maculated by the blood of Al Qaeda’s Syrian victims as are those of his Al Qaeda proxies.

Finally, what are the costs of Al Qaeda’s continued rule over millions of Syrians in Idlib? Are they greater than the costs in civilian casualties and displacement of bringing that rule to an end? The US news media have been generally supportive of the immense costs in blood and treasure Washington has incurred to wage its war on Al Qaeda in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Yemen. While noting the civilian cost of driving ISIS from its strongholds in Iraq and Syria, the US news media have never denounced the US war on ISIS as a humanitarian horror story, a term it uses to denounce Syria’s war on Al Qaeda. Instead, ISIS itself is portrayed as a humanitarian horror story, and efforts to undermine and defeat it are welcomed. This should be true too of Syria’s war on Al Qaeda. It is Al Qaeda that is the humanitarian horror story and it is the actions of the Syrian military in undermining and defeating it that ought to be welcomed and met with approbation.

The Syrian military advance to recover Idlib and liberate it from Al Qaeda, a terrorist organization which has imposed a harsh regime of religious intolerance and Islamist despotism on millions of Syrians, has not been welcomed by the US news media. Although the campaign is praiseworthy on multiple levels—it recovers national territory held by proxies of a foreign aggressor, and aims to liberate millions of people who have been tyrannized by a rule imposed on them by an organization made up of thousands of foreign fighters—US media, betraying their commitment to US geopolitical agendas, portray the commendable as indefensible. We ought to applaud the actions of the Syrian military, along with those of its Russian and Iranian allies, not deplore them. These actions are blows against reaction, oppression, and foreign aggression, and in defense of democracy on an international level, as well as in the furtherance of the welfare of the Syrian people.

1. Raja Abdulrahim, “’I feel like this is the end’: A million fleeing Syrians trapped by Assad’s final push,” The Wall Street Journal, February 20, 2020.
2. Abdulrahim, February 20, 2020.
3. Abdulrahim, February 20, 2020.
4. Abdulrahim, February 20, 2020.
5. Desmond Butler, “Turkey officials confirm pact with Saudi Arabia to help rebels fighting Syria’s Assad,” AP, May 7, 2015.
6. Carlotta Gall, “Syrian attacks draw Turkey deeper into Syrian war,” The New York Times, February 12, 2020.
7. Sune Engel Rasmussen and James Marson, “Syrian offensive creates new frictions among foreign powers,” The Wall Street Journal, February 4, 2018.
8. Robert Fisk, “To unlock the diplomatic mysteries behind the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, take a look at Syria,” The Independent, November 22, 2018.
9. Eric Schmitt, “U.S. Officials Warn of Rising Threat From Qaeda Branch in Northwest Syria.” The New York Times, September 29, 2019.
10. Kareem Fahim and Sarah Dadouch, “Russian-backed Syrian offensive kills dozens, displaces tens of thousands,” The Washington Post, December 25, 2019; Vivian Yee and Hwaida Saad, “Syrian forces move into strategic town, tightening grip on rebels,” The New York Times, August 20, 2019; Patrick Cockburn, “Trump says Isis has been defeated, but he is ignoring the bigger and much more worrying picture,” The independent, February 8, 2019; Russian Ambassador Vasily Nebenzia, 553rd meeting of the United Nations Security Council, June 18, 2019.
11. Patrick Cockburn, “Trump says Isis has been defeated, but he is ignoring the bigger and much more worrying picture,” The independent, February 8, 2019.
12. Mr. Ja’afari (Syrian Arab Republic) United Nations Security Council, 8535th Meeting, May 28, 2019.
13. Kareem Fahim and Sarah Dadouch, “Russian-backed Syrian offensive kills dozens, displaces tens of thousands,” The Washington Post, December 25, 2019.
14. Vivian Yee and Hwaida Saad, “Syrian forces move into strategic town, tightening grip on rebels,” The New York Times, August 20, 2019.
15. Raja Abdulrahim, “Syrian government captures strategic town in last opposition stronghold,” The Wall Street Journal, August 20, 2019.
16. Patrick Cockburn, February 8, 2019.
17. Patrick Cockburn, February 8, 2019.
18. Eric Schmitt, “U.S. Officials Warn of Rising Threat From Qaeda Branch in Northwest Syria.” The New York Times, September 29, 2019.
19. Syrian Ambassador Bashar Ja’afari, 553rd meeting of the United Nations Security Council, June 18, 2019.
20. Eric Schmitt, “U.S. Officials Warn of Rising Threat From Qaeda Branch in Northwest Syria.” The New York Times, September 29, 2019.
21. Raja Abdulrahim, February 20, 2020.
22. Raja Abdulrahim, February 20, 2020.
23. Vivian Yee and Hwaida Saad, “Syrian forces move into strategic town, tightening grip on rebels,” The New York Times, August 20, 2019; Russian Ambassador Vasily Nebenzia, 553rd meeting of the United Nations Security Council, June 18, 2019.
24. David Gauthier-Villars and Nazih Osseiran, “Turkish troop losses mount after clash with Assad forces,” The Wall Street Journal, February 10, 2020.
25. Mr. Ja’afari (Syrian Arab Republic) United Nations Security Council, 8535th Meeting, May 28, 2019.
26. Raja Abdulrahim and Nour Alakraa, “Civilian casualties mount as coalition moves to oust ISIS in Raqqa,” The Wall Street Journal, June 16, 2017.

The United States has produced very few anti-imperialists. Noam Chomsky is not among them.

Imperialism has penetrated the fabric of our culture, and infected our imagination, more deeply than we usually think.—Martin Green. [1]

[Americans] have produced very, very few anti-imperialists. Our idiom has been empire.—William Appleman Williams. [2]

November 3, 2019

By Stephen Gowans

In a recent Intercept interview with the beautiful soul Mehdi Hassan, Noam Chomsky resumed his efforts to recruit the political Left into a scheme to support US imperialism.

In the interview, Chomsky spoke about his reasons for trying “to organize support for opposition to the withdrawal” of US troops from Syria. US troops ought to remain in Syria, he said, to deter a planned Turkish invasion and to prevent what he warned would be the massacre of the Kurds. Yet weeks after the Turks moved into northeastern Syria nothing on the scale of massacres had occurred.

The high-profile anarchist, former champion of international law, and one-time outspoken critic of wars of aggression, supports the uninterrupted invasion of Syria by US forces, despite the fact that the invasion is illegal and contravenes the international law to which he had so frequently sung paeans.

http://www.barakabooks.com/

But the principles he once upheld appear to have been sacrificed to the higher goal of defending the anarchist-inspired YPG, the Kurdish group which had sought and received support from Washington to establish a Kurdish mini-state in Syria in return for acting as a Pentagon asset in the US war on the Arab nationalist government in Damascus. In this, the YPG recapitulated the practice of political Zionism, offering to act as muscle in the Levant in exchange for imperialist sponsorship of its own political aspirations. For Chomsky, the desired end-state—what he would like the political Left to rally in support of—is the restoration of the status-quo ante, namely, robust US support for a Kurd mini-state in Syria.

Washington’s illegal military intervention has been the guarantor of the YPG’s aspirations to create a state on approximately one-third of Syrian territory. A YPG state east of the Euphrates would be an asset to the US imperialist project of expanding Washington’s already considerable influence in the Middle East. A Kurd-dominated state under the leadership of the YPG would function as what some have called a second Israel. As Domenico Losurdo put it in a 2018 interview,

In the Middle East, we have the attempted creation of a new Israel. Israel was an enclave against the Arab World, and now the US and Israel are trying to realize something similar with the Kurds. That doesn’t mean to say that the Kurds don’t have rights and that they haven’t been oppressed for a long time, but now there’s the danger of them becoming the instruments of American imperialism and Zionism. This is the danger—this the situation, unfortunately. [3]

To make the US invasion palatable to the political Left, Chomsky misrepresents the US aggression as small-scale and guided by lofty motives. “A small US contingent with the sole mission of deterring a planned Turkish invasion,” he says, ‘is not imperialism.” But the occupation is neither small, nor guided by a mission limited to deterring a planned Turkish invasion. Either Chomsky’s grasp of the file is weak, or he’s not above engaging in a spot of sophistry.

Last year, the Pentagon officially admitted to having 2,000 troops in Syria [4] but a top US general put the number higher, 4,000. [5] But even that figure was, according to the Pentagon, an “artificial construct,” [6] that is, a deliberate undercount. On top of the infantry, artillery, and forward air controllers the Pentagon officially acknowledges as deployed to Syria, there is an additional number of uncounted Special Operations personnel, as well as untallied troops assigned to classified missions and “an unspecified number of contractors” i.e., mercenaries. Additionally, combat aircrews are not included, even though US airpower is critical to the occupation. [7] There are, therefore, many more times the officially acknowledged number of US troops enforcing an occupation of parts of Syria. Last year, US invasion forces in Syria (minus aircrew located nearby) operated out of 10 bases in the country, including “a sprawling facility with a long runway, hangars, barracks and fuel depots.” [8]

In addition to US military advisers, Army Rangers, artillery, Special Operations forces, satellite-guided rockets and Apache attack helicopters [9], the United States deployed US diplomats to create government and administrative structures to supersede the legitimate government of the Syrian Arab Republic. [10]

“The idea in US policy circles” was to create “a soft partition” of Syria between the United States and Russia along the Euphrates, “as it was among the Elbe [in Germany] at the end of the Second World War.” [11]

During the war on ISIS, US military planning called for YPG fighters under US supervision to push south along the Euphrates River to seize Syria’s oil-and gas-rich territory, [12] located within traditionally Arab territory. While the Syrian Arab Army and its allies focused on liberating cities from Islamic State, the YPG, under US direction, went “after the strategic oil and gas fields,” [13] holding these on behalf of the US government. The US president’s recent boast that “we have secured the oil” [14] was an announcement of a longstanding fait accompli.

The United States has robbed Syria of “two of the largest oil and gas fields in Deir Ezzour”, including the al-Omar oil field, Syria’s largest. [15] In 2017, the United States plundered Syria of “a gas field and plant known in Syria as the Conoco gas plant” (though its affiliation with Conoco is historical; the plant was acquired by the Syrian Gas Company in 2005.) [16] Russia observed that “the real aim” of the US forces’ (incontestably denominated) “illegal” presence in Syria has been “the seizure and retention of economic assets that only belong to the Syrian Arab Republic.” [17] The point is beyond dispute: The United States has stolen resources vital to the republic’s reconstruction, using the YPG to carry out the crime (this from a country which proclaims property rights to be humanity’s highest value.)

Joshua Landis, a University of Oklahoma professor who specializes in Syria, has argued that by “controlling half of Syria’s energy resources…the US [is] able to keep Syria poor and under-resourced.” [18] Bereft of its petroleum resources, and deprived of its best farmland, Syria is hard-pressed to recover from a war that has left it in ruins.

To sum up, the notion that the US occupation is small-scale is misleading. The Pentagon acknowledges that it deliberately undercounts the size of its contingent in Syria.  But even if there are as few US boots on the ground in Syria as the US military is prepared to acknowledge, that still wouldn’t make the US intervention trivial.

US boots on the ground are only one part of the occupation. Not counted are the tens of thousands of YPG fighters who operate under the supervision of US ground forces, acting as the tip of the US spear. These troops, it should be recalled, acted as muscle for hire to seize and secure farmland and oil wells in a campaign that even US officials acknowledge is illegal. [19]

Another part of the occupation—completely ignored by Chomsky—is US airpower, without which US troops and their YPG-force-multiplier would be unable to carry out their crimes of occupation and theft. US fighter jets and drones dominate the airspace over the US occupation zone. Ignoring the significant role played by the US Air Force grossly distorts the scale of the US operation.

What’s more, Chomsky’s reference to the scale of the intervention as anodyne is misdirection. It is not the size of an intervention that makes it imperialist, but its motivations and consequences.

http://www.barakabooks.com

Additionally, Chomsky completely misrepresents the aim of the US occupation. It’s mission, amply documented, is to: sabotage Damascus’s reconstruction efforts by denying access to revenue-generating territory; to provide Washington with leverage to influence the outcome of any future political settlement; and to block a land route over which military assets can easily flow from Tehran to its allies Syria and Hezbollah. [20] In other words, the goal of the occupation is to impose the US will on Syria—a textbook definition of imperialism.

The idea that it is within the realm of possibility for Washington to deploy forces to Syria with the sole mission of deterring aggression is naïveté on a grand scale, and entirely at odds with the history and mechanisms of US foreign policy. Moreover, it ignores the reality that the armed US invasion and occupation of Syrian territory is an aggression itself. If a man who has been called the principal critic of US foreign policy can genuinely hold these views, then Martin Green’s contention that “Imperialism has penetrated the fabric of our culture, and infected our imagination, more deeply than we usually think,” is surely beyond dispute.

The US occupation, then, is more substantial than Chomsky alleges; it is an aggression under international law, not to say under any reasonable definition; the claim is untenable that the sole motivation is to deter Turkish aggression; and the US project in Syria is imperialist. All the same, one could still argue that US troops should not be withdrawn because their presence protects the YPG and the foundations of the mini-state is has built. If so, one has accepted the YPG’s and political Zionism’s argument that it is legitimate to rent oneself out as the tool of an empire in order to achieve one’s own narrow aims, even if it is at the expense of the right of others to be free from domination and exploitation.

  1. Quoted in William Appleman William, Empire as a Way of Life, IG Publishing, 2007, p. 10.
  2. Ibid. p. 33-34.
  3. Domenico Losurdo, “Crisis in the Imperialist World Order,” Revista Opera, March 2, 2018
  4. Nancy A. Yousef, “US to remain in Syria indefinitely, Pentagon officials say, The Wall Street Journal, December 8, 2017.
  5. Andrew deGrandpre, “A top US general just said 4,000 American troops are in Syria. The Pentagon says there are only 500,” The Washington Post, October 31, 2017.
  6. John Ismay, “US says 2,000 troops are in Syria, a fourfold increase,” The New York Times, December 6, 2017; Nancy A. Yousef, “US to remain in Syria indefinitely, Pentagon officials say,” The Wall Street Journal, December 8, 2017.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Dion Nissenbaum, “Map said to show locations of US forces in Syria published in Turkey,” The Wall Street Journal, July 19, 2017.
  9. Michael R. Gordon, “In a desperate Syrian city, a test of Trump’s policies,” The New York Times, July 1, 2017.
  10. Nancy A. Yousef, “US to send more diplomats and personnel to Syria,” The Wall Street Journal, December 29, 2017.
  11. Yaroslav Trofimov, “In Syria, new conflict looms as ISIS loses ground,” The Wall Street Journal, September 7, 2017.
  12. Ibid.
  13. Raj Abdulrahim and Ghassan Adnan, “Syria and Iraq rob Islamic State of key territory,” The Wall Street Journal, November 3, 2018.
  14. Michael R. Gordon and Gordon Lubold, “Trump weights leaving small number of troops in Syria,” The Wall Street Journal, October 21, 2019.
  15. Abdulrahim and Adnan, November 3, 2018.
  16. Ibid.
  17. Raja Abdulrahim and Thomas Grove, “Syria condemns US airstrike as tension rise,” The Wall Street Journal, February 8, 2018.
  18. Joshua Landis, “US policy toward the Levant, Kurds and Turkey,” Syria Comment, January 15, 2018.
  19. Michael Crowley, “’Keep the oil’: Trump revives charged slogan for new Syria troop mission,” The New York Times, October 26, 2019.
  20. Gordon Lubold and Nancy A. Youssef, “US weights leaving more troops, sending battle tanks to Syria,” The Wall Street Journal, October 24, 2019; Gordon and Lubold, October 21, 2019.

Even if true, The New York Times’ secret torture prison allegations hardly make Syria a rogue state

May 13, 2019

By Stephen Gowans

Reporter Anne Barnard has written a long piece in The New York Times titled Inside Syria’s Secret Torture Prisons: How Bashar al-Assad Crushed Dissent. The undoubted effect of the article—which accuses the Syrian government of running “a sprawling system of secret prisons” in which opponents of the Syrian state are maltreated, even raped and tortured—is to cast Syria as a rogue state operating outside the bounds of international norms.

It’s difficult to assess whether Barnard’s accusations are true. Exaggerated and even false atrocity stories are the norm in times of war, and the United States is unquestionably at war with Syria, and has been since the 1950s. This doesn’t mean that Barnard’s story is, ipso facto, false or exaggerated, only that it must be treated with scepticism appropriate to the context in which the story has been published, i.e., by a US newspaper with myriad connections to the US state, reporting on an officially designated enemy.

Barnard relies on the work of an outfit called The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR). It is a civil society organization, likely reliant on funding from Western and allied governments and wealthy individuals. Judging by its partnership with The International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect, the SNHR is part of the civil society apparatus of human rights imperialism, a movement which accepts a view, at odds with international norms, that Washington has a unilateral right—indeed, an obligation—to abridge the sovereignty of foreign states in response to major violations of human rights. In practice, the responsibility to protect movement gives license to the United States to intervene against whichever of Washington’s adversaries it can prepare a human rights case against, but never against its allies, many of which, by the US State Department’s own accounting, are major human rights violators. Expecting the United States—long a de jure white supremacist state, now a de facto one, which boasts the world’s greatest per capita incarceration rate, and which, until recently, ran a sprawling network of CIA secret torture prisons and continues to carry out targeted assassinations of political opponents—to act as the world’s champion of human rights, makes as much sense as asking Al Capone to protect banks from robbery.

All the same, the basic accusation levelled by Barnard and the SNHR—that the Syrian government jails its opponents—is beyond dispute. Imprisoning political opponents, especially during times of war, is hardly a departure from international norms. A fundamental characteristic of all states is to deny the freedom of state opponents who seek to organize the state’s demise.

It is also likely that some opponents of the Syrian government have been maltreated, even tortured, by state authorities. Maltreatment of prisoners appears to be an invariable characteristic of states, across time and place.

Barnard’s accusations do not demonstrate that Syria is a rogue state, or that it is in violation of international norms.

  • Syrian government actions toward its opponents, principally jihadists, including those belonging to, or affiliated with Al Qaeda, are not out of line with the accustomed practice of states facing existential emergencies.
  • Indeed, the United States itself ran a sprawling system of secret prisons, in which Al Qaeda and other jihadists were imprisoned and tortured, many to death.
  • Human rights issues including allegations of torture by security officials are hardly unique to Syria, but are typical of the United States’s closest allies in the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, and Turkey.

The US State Department has long viewed Middle East oil as “a stupendous source of strategic power, and one of the greatest material prizes in world history.” [1] But in order to seize this prize, Washington has had to overcome an obstacle—the Arab and Persian peoples. The people of the Middle East have formed, or backed, what one State Department official called “local forces of independence and national assertiveness.” These forces have sought to control the great material prize of Middle East oil for their own development.  The Arab nationalist movement has been counted among local forces opposed to US control of the region’s resources, and Syria has been a principal state representative of the movement. Indeed, it remains the sole state representative today.

From the 1950s, Washington sought to undermine, degrade and eventually destroy Arab and Persian nationalist opposition to US control of the Middle East. In addition to intervening directly in Arab Asia, Washington has worked through three proxies to crush Arab nationalist opposition to US hegemony: the Muslim Brotherhood and its Sunni political Islamist offshoots, Israel, and local British-imposed Arab monarchies, which depend on US protection to survive. (As US president Donald Trump recently reminded Saudi King Salman: “King – we’re protecting you – you might not be there for two weeks without us.” [2])

Syria has been at war with Israel since 1948. The Jewish settler state currently occupies part the Syrian Golan. Israeli warplanes regularly bomb Syrian territory. Israel is immeasurably stronger militarily than Syria, largely owing to generous subsidies it receives from Washington. These subsidies are provided for the purpose of weakening local forces of independence and national assertiveness which resist US control of the Middle East.

Since the 1960s, Washington has worked with the Muslim Brotherhood to overthrow Arab nationalism in Damascus.  Recently, Israel armed, equipped, and healed, Islamist fighters operating in south Syria against the Arab nationalist government.

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In 1979, the United States initiated a campaign of economic warfare against Syria, reacting to the Arab nationalist government’s alliance with the Islamic Revolution in Iran, which proclaimed its opposition to US domination of the Middle East. Washington escalated sanctions in 2003, as an alternative to a contemplated US military invasion, which was to follow the invasion of Iraq, but was abandoned when opposition in Iraq proved more vigorous than anticipated. US efforts to strangle Syria economically—to detonate an economic atom bomb (a metaphor alluding to the devastating human consequences of sanctions)—grew even more determined in 2011, as an accompaniment to an Islamist uprising Washington facilitated.

On top of Israeli occupation of the Syrian Golan, one-third of Syria is now under US military occupation.

US efforts to crush Arab nationalist opposition to US control of the Middle East are explored in two of my books, Washington’s Long War on Syria and Israel, A Beachhead in the Middle East.

In the face of the high level of threat to the Arab nationalist project posed by the United States, Israel, and US-, Israeli-, Turkish-, and Saudi-backed jihadists, the Syrian government has two choices: allow opponents operating within its territory to freely organize the government’s demise (that is commit suicide), or abridge civil and political liberties in the face of an undoubted national emergency. As Lenin said when the Bolsheviks similarly faced determined opposition to their project, “We do not wish to do away with ourselves by suicide [by allowing our opponents to freely organize against us] and therefore will not do this.” [3] This is true of all governments.

During both the First and Second World Wars, the executive branches of the US and Canadian governments assumed dictatorial powers, limited civil and political liberties, and locked up political opponents and suspected or potential fifth columnists. Significantly, neither country faced a national emergency as severe as that faced by Syria today. Both countries were protected by two vast oceans from their enemies; neither was subjected to an economic blockade; neither faced an internal insurrection supported by enemy powers; and North America wasn’t under occupation by enemy forces. On the battlefield, US and Canadian soldiers maltreated and abused prisoners, engaged in unlawful killings, and resorted to torture.

Similarly, when Al Qaeda attacked New York and Washington in 2001, the US government escalated its police state powers, and launched the most extensive program of internal surveillance any country has ever carried out, and yet the threat posed to the United States by Al Qaeda paled in comparison to the damage the same organization has inflicted on Syria. What Al Qaeda did to the United States on one day, it did to Syria every day for years. In pursuit of its Al Qaeda foe, the CIA ran a sprawling network of secret prisons, in which jihadists were tortured. At the same time, the Pentagon ran a prison at Abu Ghraib, in which opponents of the US invasion were infamously abused. Jihadists of the same stripe the Syrians have locked up, were sent to a prison at Gauntanamo Bay, which operates outside the parameters of US law.

In its war against violent jihadism, the United States tortured to death more than 100 prisoners in a sprawling system of prisons. [4] US General Barry McCaffrey said, “We tortured people unmercifully. We probably murdered dozens of them during the course of that, both the armed forces and the CIA.” [5] And when, embarrassed by negative publicity, Washington abandoned its torture program, it replaced it with targeted assassinations by drone strikes, i.e., unlawful killings.

To the extent that Barnard’s and the SNHR’s allegations are true, the actions of Damascus are no different from those of Washington. Nor are they different from the actions of Washington’s closest allies in the Middle East.

Consider, for example, the actions of the Egyptian government in connection with the Muslim Brotherhood. What follows are excerpts from a January 25, 2019 Wall Street Journal article, “Eight years after Egypt’s uprising, a new autocrat is determined not to permit a sequel.”

Mr. Sisi’s government is restricting freedom of expression more than Mr. Mubarak ever did, jailing thousands of dissidents, expanding censorship of the media and banning key opposition parties.

Mr. Sisi , a former chief of the armed forces, came to power after the military ousted Egypt’s first democratically elected president, Mohammed Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, which was the country’s largest opposition group under Mr. Mubarak.

Mr. Sisi soon began a lethal crackdown on political opponents. He has said that he wants to prevent a repeat of the 2011 uprising, arguing that his type of security state is the only alternative to the chaos gripping such Arab countries as Libya and Yemen. President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have lauded Egypt’s regime as a bulwark against extremism in the Middle East.

Since the 2013 military coup, Mr. Sisi has given the country’s security forces a free hand to detain political opponents and snuff out dissent. Many activists and intellectuals associated with the 2011 revolt are in prison or exile. [6]

“Some 40,000 people have been arrested for opposition to the government since 2013,” according to The Wall Street Journal. “Hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood officials and their supporters have been sentenced to death, including Mr. Morsi.” [7]

Volumes could be written on the draconian lengths to which the Saudi government goes to repress the very strong opposition to its illegitimate rule, but a Wall Street Journal assessment sums up the situation succinctly: “Saudi Arabia remains one of the planet’s most repressive societies, where public practice of religions other than Islam is outlawed, where women can’t drive and where critics of the government face prison or execution.” [8] The following, from a recent New York Times article, offers only a hint of the kingdoms brutality:

On Tuesday, the official Saudi news agency announced that 37 men, nearly all from the minority Shiite Muslim community, had been executed on terrorism-related charges. Executions in Saudi Arabia are usually by beheading, often in public, and the Interior Ministry said one man was also crucified, something reserved for the most grievous crimes.

According to Human Rights Watch, 11 of the men were charged with spying for Iran and 14 in connection with protests during the Arab Spring of 2011. Some of the convictions were based on confessions that the men withdrew in court, saying they had been tortured. One of those beheaded was Mujtaba al-Sweikat, who was 17 and preparing to enter Western Michigan University when he was arrested in 2012 after attending a pro-democracy rally.

The most-heralded evidence of modernization under Prince Mohammed was his lifting of a ban on women driving. The very fact that there was such a ban is ridiculous, but a few weeks before it was ended, in May 2018, several women’s rights activists were rounded up — including women who had campaigned against the driving ban — and accused of crimes against the kingdom.

According to human rights organizations and their families, at least some of the women were tortured. The techniques included beatings, electric shocks, whipping and waterboarding. [9]

About Turkey, a US ally that borders Syria, and has been instrumental in facilitating the armed jihad against the Arab nationalist government in Damascus, we can note this: The government, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, immures 50,000 political opponents in a sprawling network of prisons, “including, by several counts, more than 170 journalists and over a dozen lawmakers.” Additionally, it has dismissed or suspended “more than 140,000 Turkish workers, including several thousand academics as well as tens of thousands of teachers, prosecutors and civil servants who were believed to be critical of Turkey’s authoritarian, religiously conservative government.” [10]

The United States State Department has this to say about the Kingdom of Jordan, another US ally:

Human rights issues included allegations of torture by security officials, including at least one death in custody; arbitrary arrest and detention, including of activists and journalists; infringements on citizens’ privacy rights; undue restrictions on free expression and the press, including criminalization of libel, censorship, and internet site blocking; restrictions on freedom of association and assembly; reports of refoulement of Syrian and Palestinian refugees to Syria without adjudication of whether they had a well-founded fear of persecution; allegations of corruption, including in the judiciary; “honor” killings of women; violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons; and conditions amounting to forced labor in some sectors.

Here’s the State Department report for the United Arab Emirates, a close US ally:

Human rights issues included allegations of torture in detention; arbitrary arrest and detention, including incommunicado detention, by government agents; political prisoners; government interference with privacy rights; undue restrictions on free expression and the press, including criminalization of libel, censorship, and internet site blocking; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; the inability of citizens to choose their government in free and fair elections; and criminalization of same sex sexual activity, although no cases were publicly reported during the year. The government did not permit workers to join independent unions and did not effectively prevent physical and sexual abuse of foreign domestic servants and other migrant workers.

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Israel’s violations of the rights of Palestinian are too innumerable to mention, and are in a category of their own. The apartheid state’s treatment of the occupants of the open-air prison known as Gaza, to say nothing of its brutal treatment of other Palestinians, exceeds in cruelty Syria’s repression of internal opposition. There are 1.8 million people imprisoned in Gaza, far in excess of the number of people Barnard and the SNHR claim are locked up in Syrian prisons. Additionally, Israeli authorities jail, and in some cases assassinate, Palestinians who resist their ongoing and systematic oppression. They even shoot unarmed demonstrators. A recent independent investigation sponsored by the United Nations Human Rights Council found that Israeli security forces unlawfully killed almost 200 and wounded by gunfire over 9,000 Gaza residents last year who were peacefully protesting Israeli oppressions. More significantly, by itself, the settler colonialism on which Israel is founded as a state, is a gross violation of human rights.

Clearly, no matter how unpleasant the Syrian government’s crackdown on its opponents, the jailing and maltreatment of its opponents is by no means an indication that Syria is a rogue state operating outside the bounds of international norms. On the contrary, its actions are consistent with, if not more restrained relative to the existential threat it faces, than those of other states in the region, and with those of the United States itself.

With the able assistance of the interlocked US media, Washington has labored to make the world perceive the Syrian insurgency as the product of a vicious crackdown on pro-democracy dissent by a brutal dictator. Not only is this a misrepresentation (the insurgency is Islamist-inspired and what democratic content it had was meager at best), it is sheer hypocrisy and indicative of Washington’s lack of sincerity. Washington has no particular dislike for vicious crackdowns on pro-democracy dissent; its Arab clients—all of them anti-democratic kings, emirs, sultans, and military leaders—are doing precisely what U.S. officials accuse the Syrian government of doing, except in their case, Washington averts its gaze. “We give a free pass to governments which cooperate and ream the others as best as we can,” a U.S. official explained in a moment of candor. [11]

The Saudis, Turks, Egyptians, Jordanians, Emiratis, and Israelis cooperate with Washington in protecting US access to the stupendous strategic and material prize of Middle East oil; the Syrians do not. Accordingly, Washington’s regional allies get a free pass to crack down on dissent without restraint while the Syrian government is reamed, including by the US state-interlocked New York Times, for reacting to the eruption of jihadist violence in the same manner U.S. authorities reacted to jihadist violence from the same organization, Al Qaeda. What is clear is that the actions of the Syrian state are hardly unique, and are hardly unexpected in light of the national emergency it faces.

To be sure, the Syrian government might be admired as a moral paragon if it gave its opponents a free hand to organize its downfall, but the moral victory it would gain would come at the expense of an opportunity to build a society in the Middle East that is responsive to local needs, rather than to those of US investors bent on monopolizing the stupendous material prize of the region’s oil and a US government determined to control a stupendous strategic asset.

1] Quoted in Noam Chomsky, Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel, and the Palestinians, (Pluto Press, 1999), 61.

2] “Patrick Cockburn, “How the disappearance of a journalist and a humiliating remark by Trump shows Saudi Arabia’s weakness,” The Independent, October 5, 2018.

3] “A Letter to G. Myasnikov,” Lenin’s Collected Works, 1st English Edition, vol. 32, (Progress Publishers, 1965), 504-509.

4] Seamus Milne, “Sending troops to protect dictators threaten all of us,” the Guardian, December 10, 2014.

5] Glenn Greenwald, “The suppressed fact: Deaths by US torture,” Salon.com, June 30, 2009.

6] Jared Malsin and Amira El-Fekki, “Eight years after Egypt’s uprising, a new autocrat is determined not to permit a sequel,” The Wall Street Journal, January 25, 2019.

7] Tamer El-Ghobashy, “Egypt moves to head off popular unrest,” The Wall Street Journal, January 21, 2016.

8] Yaroslav Trofimov, “Saudi claim to lead Muslims gets a Trump boost,” The Wall Street Journal, May 25, 2017.

9] “What price profit in Saudi Arabia?”, The New York Times, April 24, 2019.

10] Patrick Kingsley, “On the road with protesters marching across Turkey to condemn Erdogan’s purge,” The New York Times, July 2, 2017.

11] Craig Whitlock, “Niger rapidly emerging as a key U.S. partner,” The Washington Post, April 14, 2013.

 

Why the United States has a special relationship with Israel. It’s not the Israeli lobby.

Israel does Washington’s dirty work in Syria where US law limits the Pentagon’s actions, former US envoy reveals

 April 23, 2019

By Stephen Gowans

In his book A World Without Islam, former Kabul CIA station chief, Graham E. Fuller, argues that the 9/11 and other attacks on the United States by aggrieved Muslims would have occurred even in a world without Islam, because the attacks were a reaction against US imperialism, and were not a product of the attackers’ religion. It “would be a mistake,” wrote Fuller, “to consider Islam as the source of the resistance; otherwise we would have to believe that if these Muslims were not Muslims, they would not be rebelling against foreign domination.” [1]

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US domination of the Middle East is attributable, above all, writes Fuller, to “the Muslim world’s oil and energy-resources.” Oil is the “key driver for incessant Western intervention.” US Middle East policy is shaped by concerns about “ownership of oil, control of the oil companies, pricing policies and shares of prices [and] political manipulation of leaders in order to obtain the best deals on oil,” [2] according to Fuller, who also served as the vice chairman of the US National Intelligence Council at the CIA.

What’s more, there’s the reality that “The United States today is, by its own reckoning, the overwhelmingly dominant power of the globe in nearly all spheres, with the determination to impose its will by one means or another.” [3] This, it does, far beyond the Middle East. As a country that began as 13 colonies on the Atlantic seaboard, but expanded across a continent, and added colonies in the Pacific and Caribbean, the United States is, and always has been, an imperialist country.

In contrast, some people believe that US domination of the Muslim world is traceable to the influence of wealthy Jews and the Jewish lobby on US foreign policy decision-makers, and that, in a world without Israel, the United States would not intervene militarily and politically in the Middle East.  John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt famously made this case in a 2006 article in The London Review of Books, “The Israel Lobby,” and in a book the following year. Others, including Jean Bricmont and Diana Johnstone, have gone further, arguing that “as far as the drive to war with Syria is concerned, it is Israel that directs U.S. policy.” [4] According to these analysts, the processes that made the United States an imperialist behemoth the world over are somehow absent in the Middle East. But to paraphrase Fuller, it would be a mistake to consider the Israeli lobby or Tel Aviv as the source of US foreign policy decisions; otherwise we would have to believe that if Israel didn’t exist, the United States would not seek to dominate the oil-rich Muslim world.

The United States has used Israel as an instrument for protecting and advancing its economic and related strategic interests in the Middle East since 1967, when the self-proclaimed Jewish state did a great service to Washington and US oil interests by handily defeating Arab nationalism—which opposed US domination of the region under the slogan “Arab oil for the Arabs” —in the June War.

Ever since, the role that Israel has played as an instrument of US power has been overlooked in the West, but rarely in the Third World. Arab opponents of US imperialism, from Gamal Abdel Nasser to Leila Khaled to Hassan Nasrallah, have understood Israel to be a cudgel used by the United States against the Arabs. For Hugo Chavez, Israel was one of the United States’ “imperialistic instruments.” [5] Even Israel’s political and military leaders, from Moshe Dayan to Benjamin Netanyahu, agreed. Dayan said that Israel’s mission is to “be a rock, an extension of the West, against which the waves of… Arab nationalism [bearing the banner Arab oil for the Arabs] will be broken.” [6] Netanyahu described his country as the “West’s outpost in the Middle East.” [7]

Only in the West has Israel’s role as an apparatus of the United States been difficult to grasp. That’s partly because the contribution of Israel to US power projection has sometimes been inconspicuous. At other times, it has hidden behind false claims of self-defense, with Israel’s actions on behalf of its US patron appearing to be motivated by purely Israeli concerns for self-preservation rather than shared US-Israeli goals of weakening forces inspired by the idea that the Arab world should exist for the Arabs, not Jewish settlers and US oil companies.

For example, Syria and Iraq declined to back the PLO in 1970 against Jordan’s King Hussein, fearing that if they acted to help topple a US puppet, that Washington would order Israeli attacks against both countries. Both Syria and Iraq knew they were no match for the powerful Israeli military, and had no intention of precipitating Israeli retaliation. As Sun Tzu observed, the best general is the one who wins without fighting, and Israel has often used its US-supplied military edge to deter local forces of independence and national assertiveness. But because in these instances it doesn’t have to fight to win, its contribution to cementing US domination of the region is difficult to see.

Israel played the lead role in preventing Iraq and Syria from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability, destroying nuclear reactors in both countries, thereby facilitating the US invasion and conquest of Iraq in 2003 and the recent US invasion and occupation of one-third of Syria. The airstrikes which destroyed the reactors were presented by Israel and its US patron as self-defensive, but since Israel was already nuclear-armed, the development of a nuclear weapons capability by either Arab country would only have established nuclear parity, not an offensive threat to Israel. Nuclear arms in the hands of Iraq or Syria, would at best, have deterred US and Israeli attacks. This was confirmed by Major General Amir Eshe, chief of the Israeli army’s planning division, who asked whether the United States would have “dared deal with …Saddam Hussein if [he] had a nuclear capability?” “No way,” he replied. [8] The same question can be asked about Syria. Would the United States have so freely installed itself in one-third of Syria had Assad possessed a nuclear capability? Doubtful.

More recently, Israel has acted as a US instrument by carrying out airstrikes in Syria against forces aligned with Damascus. The attacks—Israel carried out thousands of bombing raids in Syria in 2017 alone [9]—are portrayed as defensive strikes against Iranian efforts to establish a military presence in Syria to threaten Israel. But that’s a cover.

The truth of the matter is that the United States has no domestic legal authorization to attack Syrian and Iranian forces, both of which seek militarily to recover on Damascus’s behalf Syrian territory under US occupation. To conduct its ongoing fight to shape Syria’s post-war environment, Washington has recruited Israel, unconstrained by US law, to act as its proxy. As Brett McGurk, until recently the United States’s special envoy in Iraq and Syria, revealed a few days ago in Foreign Affairs, “The United States coordinated its approach with Israel, which in 2017 began launching air strikes against Iranian military assets in Syria [because] Washington had no legal authority to target Iranian forces inside Syria.” McGurk notes that the “combination of Israeli hard power, American diplomacy, and the U.S. military presence [in northeastern Syria have given] Washington a powerful bargaining chip with the Russians” to influence what McGurk calls “post-civil war” Syria. [10]

None of this is to say that Israeli actions on behalf of its US patron are inimical to its interests; they aren’t. Israeli and U.S. objectives in the Middle East largely overlap, which is why the two states have a special relationship. Both are keenly interested in suppressing local forces of independence and national assertiveness, though their reasons for doing so differ. Washington aspires to control the region’s petroleum resources and the sea and land routes to and from them on behalf of the US business elite, monopolizing the benefits at the expense of the local population. Israel seeks to contain, weaken, and undermine local forces of independence and national assertiveness in order to preserve its Herrenvolk democracy on land plundered from the Arabs. Both states rely on the other to achieve their respective goals.

While U.S. and Israeli objectives mesh, US foreign policy goals in the Arab world exist independently of Israel. A Middle East without Israel would still be a region bursting with “a stupendous source of strategic power, and one of the greatest material prizes in world history” [11], as a US State Department analysis described the Arab world before there was an Israel. What’s more, a world without Israel would still be a world in which the United States was dominated by titans of industry and masters of finance, scouring the globe for profit-making opportunities, acutely interested in great material prizes.

As I explain in the final paragraph of my new book Israel, A Beachhead in the Middle East,

At the heart of the unceasing wars on the Middle East reposes the question of who owns and controls Arab and Persian oil and the marine and overland routes to and from it—the natives, or the US government and the investors it represents? The Zionist answer has always been clear: Western political and economic interests must have supremacy in the Middle East. Israel began as a European colony, established anachronistically just as the great wave of decolonization was getting underway. As the United States superseded Britain and France as the dominant imperialist power in the region, Israel transitioned from the formers’ outpost of terror in the Arab world into a power projection platform for US investor interests. Throughout this transition Israel has remained interlocked with imperial power, unfailingly serving as the West’s beachhead in the Middle East.

These arguments are developed more fully in Israel, A Beachhead in the Middle East, now available from Baraka Books.

1) Graham E. Fuller. A World Without Islam, (Little, Brown & Company, 2010), 256.

2) Fuller, 262.

3) Fuller, 252.

4) Jean Bricmont and Diana Johnstone, “The People Against the 800 Pound Gorilla,” counterpunch.org, September 13, 2013.

5) “President of Venezuela Hugo Chavez: Israel Uses the Methods of Hitler, the U.S. Uses the Methods of Dracula. I’m a Nasserist who Has Crossed the Deserts, Ridden Camels, and Sung Along with the Bedouins. Al-Jazeera Plays a Role in Liberating the World,” Middle East Media Research Institute TV Monitor Project, August 4, 2006, https://www.memri.org/tv/president-venezuela-hugo-chavez-israel-uses-methods-hitler-us-uses-methods-dracula-im-nasserist/transcript August 4, 2006.

6) Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi. The Israeli Connection: Who Israel Arms and Why, Pantheon Books, 1987), 5.

7) Adam Shatz, “The sea is the same sea,” The London Review of Books, (Vol. 40 No. 16 · 30 August 2018).

8) Ethan Bronner, “Israel sense bluffing in Iran’s threats of retaliation”, The New York Times, January 26, 2012.

9) David Morrison, “Israel complains about violation of its sovereignty while being a serial violator,” Open Democracy, March 1, 2018; Gregory Shupak, “Painting an Israeli attack on Syria as Israeli ‘retaliation’,” Fair.org, February 21, 2018.

10) Brett McGurk, “Hard truths in Syria: America can’t do more with less, and it shouldn’t try,” Foreign Affairs, April 16, 2019.

11) Quoted in Noam Chomsky, Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel, and the Palestinians, (Pluto Press, 1999), 61.

So, you think Washington’s long war on Syria is almost over. Think again.

April 11, 2019

 By Stephen Gowans

If you think Washington’s long war on Syria has been largely defeated by the combined opposition of Syria, Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah, think again.

While attention turns to another US regime change campaign, this one in Venezuela, the long war on Syria grinds on.

http://www.barakabooks.com

“The United States still has cards to play in Syria,” concludes two analysts linked to the US foreign policy establishment. “If it plays them well, the U.S. intervention in Syria may yet become an enduring American success.”

Indeed, the US intervention in Syria has already been a success in at least one respect.

“Syria is currently in a state of de-facto partition,” observe Merve Tahiroglu and Andrew Gabel, research analysts at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a think-tank that is interlocked with the US government.

The SDF, the 60,000-strong US-superintended Kurd-led army, controls about one-third of the country, containing “more than 90 percent of Syria’s remaining oil reserves and a significant portion of its viable agricultural land.”

To repeat: Through its SDF proxy army, Washington controls a substantial part of Syria—and not just any part, but the richest part. What’s more, Washington has no intention of giving this territory back to any government not under its sway. Indeed, one of the United States’ goals is “to prevent the Syrian [government] from attempting to [recover] the country’s northeast with Iranian and Russian assistance.”

And with Washington’s 60,000 SDF boots on the ground and the United States Air Force’s unchallenged supremacy over northeastern Syria, Washington is much farther along the road to calling the shots in Syria than it was in 2011. Why, then, would anyone believe that Washington’s war on Syria has failed?

Writing in Foreign Affairs, the unofficial journal of the US foreign policy establishment, Tahiroglu and Gabel point out that without northeastern Syria, Assad lacks “access to almost all of Syria’s remaining oil reserves, in addition to much of its arable land, on the heels of Syria’s worst crop yield since 1989.”

Denying Damascus access to the country’s oil and arable land ties in with US sanctions that have ravaged Syria’s economy for the past 40 years—and were put in place long before the 2011 Islamist uprising that is mistakenly believed to mark the beginning of US efforts to oust the Assad government. By strangling the economy, the United States is hurting not only Syria, “but its backers in Moscow and Tehran, who [are] stuck propping up an expensive, economically moribund partner.”

These are the other respects in which the US intervention has scored successes. It has greatly weakened Syria, a pole of opposition to US hegemony in the Middle East. And it has drawn Russia and Iran into a conflict that strains their treasuries.

No less part of the US war on Syria is Washington’s recent declaration of two-thirds of the Syrian Golan as part of Israel, an event greeted with yawns by much of the world.

Golan, a New York Times reporter once observed, is the forgotten occupied territory. By contrast, northeastern Syria may become the occupation that will never be forgotten for the simple reason that it was never noticed.

As to Washington’s long war on Syria, it was largely unnoticed until 2011, and appears to be returning to an unnoticed-in-the-West phase, partly because it depends in large measure on economic coercion (which attracts far less attention than does kinetic warfare, even though economic ‘atom bombs’ can be equally, if not more, devastating) and partly because it relies on diplomatic measures, like recognizing Israel’s annexation of Syrian territory, which also largely fly under the radar of public attention. Also, the US and other Western forces in Syria are mainly special operations forces that operate covertly.

Another factor explaining the near invisibility of the US war on Syria is that it is hardly talked about anymore in the Western mass media. As the White House-driven media agenda diverts attention to other matters, the real business of extending the reach of the international dictatorship of the United States goes on unobserved.

http://www.barakabooks.com

Meanwhile, some friends of Syria are in raptures over the possibility of Tulsi Gabbard, the US representative for Hawaii, capturing the Democratic nomination for US president. Gabbard, who volunteered to join the US occupation force in Iraq, recycles US war propaganda about Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. “There is no disputing the fact that Bashar al-Assad in Syria is a brutal dictator,” she announced on the TV talk show The View. “There is no disputing the fact that he has used chemical weapons and other weapons against his people.”

Gabbard believes US interventions are motivated by humanitarian goals, but are misguided because they fail to achieve their humanitarian objectives. Presumably, she would favor any US intervention that lived up to the humanitarian ideals she believes undergird US foreign policy. It’s not imperialism or the international dictatorship of the United States she opposes—just US imperialism that produces outcomes that make the United States look bad.

You cannot turn US citizens away from policies that facilitate their country’s imperialism by reinforcing the myths that are used to justify them. Rather than challenging these myths, Gabbard accepts them, and offers, instead, an appeal to US citizens’ self-interest. The interventions are costly, she says, and cause harm to US military personnel.

The trouble with this approach is that Washington uses tools deliberately designed to minimize and disguise the burden on US citizens of its interventions in order not to arouse public opposition. These tools include economic warfare, cyber-warfare, covert CIA operations, special operations forces, mercenaries, proxy armies, and reliance of proxies to act in place of US boots of the ground—weapons of war that can be concealed behind a cloak of secrecy and which minimize the involvement of the US public. For example, we don’t know how many US troops are in Syria, but we do know that the number is greater than Washington will say. The Pentagon has admitted that its number of 2,000 troops is an “artificial construct”—that is, a low-ball figure that excludes special operations forces and other troops on secret missions. It also excludes the British, French, and German special operations forces that work under US leadership. For all we know, there could be 10,000 Western troops and mercenaries or more occupying northeastern Syria, on top of the 60,000 strong SDF proxy army.

Gabbard also invokes the idea that US interventions make matters worse for the people of the countries in which the interventions take place. This inevitably invites the reply, “But how can we stand by idly while brutal dictators gas babies?’ Having reinforced the very myth that enkindles these concerns (for example, Gabbard’s assertion that there is no question that Assad is a brutal dictator who has used chemical weapons against his own people), she offers nothing but, what can only appear to be, cruel, hard-hearted counsel that, tough as it may be to turn away, turn away we must. Her advice fails to comport with the myth US citizens imbibe from birth, that the United States is a force for good in the world, and has a duty to lead for the greater welfare of humanity. So long as US interventions imposes no visible burdens, the country’s citizens will gladly accept them as moral crusades that exemplify US moral superiority.

Curiously, Gabbard excites the imaginations of some of the very same people who rail bitterly against Noam Chomsky for similarly characterizing Assad as a brutal dictator. But Gabbard’s sins appear to have been cancelled by her virtues: youth, undoubted good looks, eloquence, and a pleasing personality. “She’s very charming,” one besotted friend of Syria put it. Plus, she has a superficially pleasing patter about avoiding interventions. Were Chomsky female, 50 years younger, and whole lot better looking, he too might be setting hearts aflame.

Land theft, ethnic cleansing, and Jewish supremacy: Israel’s settler colonialism in Syria’s Golan, the forgotten occupied territory

By Stephen Gowans

March 31, 2019

Israel’s occupation, annexation, and plunder of Syria’s Golan recapitulates all that is repugnant about the Zionist state: its wars of aggression, land theft, ethnic cleansing, racism, quest for lebensraum, and contempt for international legal norms. It also shows that Israeli citizens, including the country’s Left, are not only complicit in these abominations, but approve of them. Moreover, Washington’s toleration of Israeli actions reveal that it has long accepted the Zionist state’s criminality, while falsely professing the deepest respect for international law; US president Donald Trump’s sanctifying Israel’s illegal 1981 annexation of Syrian territory only formalizes the United States’ informal acceptance of the Israeli crime.

http://www.barakabooks.com

Syria’s Golan is a 1,800 square kilometer plateau which overlooks Israel to the west, Lebanon to the north, and Jordan to the south. Two-thirds of the territory, 1,200 square kilometers, is occupied illegally by Israel, while Damascus retains control of the remaining one-third. Exhibiting a pro-Israeli bias, Western journalists often define the territory as coterminous with the area occupied by Israel, ignoring the Syrian-controlled portion. [1]

Golan is coveted by Israel for its strategic military significance as a commanding height overlooking three Arab countries, as an important source of fresh water, and as lebensraum—soil on which to settle Jews who have difficulty finding housing in crowded Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. An important oil discovery in recent years has only enhanced the attractiveness of the Syrian territory to the self-proclaimed Jewish state. (Many Jews reject the idea that Israel is their state and prefer not to be associated with it. The appellation Jewish state is one Israel arrogates onto itself.)

Through the years, Israel has used its possession of stolen Golan territory to attempt to extract concessions from Syria; Israeli politicians have offered to return the occupied parts of the plateau to Damascus in return for a peace deal of the kind worked out with Egypt’s Anwar Sadat in the late 1970s. In exchange for the Sinai, seized by Israel in 1967 along with Gaza, the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Golan, Egypt agreed to renounce its Arab nationalism, and accept as legitimate Zionist claims to a state in Palestine. As recently as 2010, Benjamin Netanyahu offered to return the Israeli-occupied part of Golan to Syria, if Syrian president Bashar al-Assad severed his alliance with Iran and Hezbollah, and renounced the Syrian Arab Republic’s commitment to Arab nationalism.

Prior to its capture by Israel, Golan was home to approximately 140,000 Syrians. All but a little over 6,000 were ethnically cleansed by Israel — expelled from their homes to make way for Jewish settlers. Today, the population is a little more than one-third of what it was then. About half of the current population of 50,000 residents of the Israeli-occupied part of Golan are Jews and the other half are Syrian Druze the Israelis didn’t expel to avoid alienating Druze citizens of Israel. Most Druze residents of Israeli-colonized Golan do not recognize Israel’s conquest, and refuse to take Israel citizenship. Israel runs an apartheid regime on the captured territory, denying the Syrians equality with Jewish settlers.

How Israel came to occupy Golan

In1967, a half century had elapsed since the British cabinet, on no authority, moral, legal or otherwise, promised Palestine, part of the Arab homeland, to Jews who viewed their co-religionists as a nation rather than a religious community and sought to recreate the Jewish state of antiquity in Palestine as a palladium against European anti-Semitism. Twenty years had elapsed since the United Nations, at the time dominated by First World states, many with long histories of colonizing Asia, Africa, and Latin America, promised 56 percent of Palestine to a Jewish state, even though Jews in Palestine, most of them recent immigrants, constituted a minority that owned no more than ten percent of the land. Their immigration to Palestine had been opposed by the Arab natives who recognized that the Jewish settlers had come not to live as equals but to displace the Arabs. Nineteen years had elapsed since the declaration of a Jewish state, ruling on nearly eighty percent of Palestinian territory, and the defeat of the Arab armies in 1948. The plunder of most of Palestine, by colonial settlers, abetted by colonial states, was attended by the forced exile of over 700,000 Arabs. For 50 years Arabs had been afflicted by one Zionist injury after another, and in the view of the Arab people, it was time for the injustices to end. Arabs pressured Gamal Abdel Nasser, the president of Egypt, who they viewed as a new Saladin, to carry out a war of liberation, to free the homeland from the European implantation in Palestine, and to recover Arab dignity.

In Arab aspirations for immediate redemption, however, lay the seeds of a disaster. The Arab armies were in no state to wage war against Israel. The Egyptian military, the largest of all, had an air force that lacked pilots; its army reserve was poorly trained; and Egyptian officers were largely incompetent. [2] The government’s financial situation was so straitened that Nasser could afford a war that lasted no more than a few days. [3] A lightening war, a blitzkrieg, may have been possible if Egyptian military power was many orders greater, but it wasn’t, and to make matters worse, Nasser’s best troops were tied up in Yemen, fighting with republican forces against a monarchy supported by Israel, the Shah of Iran, and the Saudi royal family, coordinated by Washington. [4]

The Israelis welcomed a war with Nasser, were ready to start one, and knew they would win. [5] What’s more, they were certain that if, by chance, matters should go awry, the United States would step in to prevent a Nasserist victory. More importantly, they had an ace up their sleeve—an atomic bomb. As The New York Times reported in 2017, in the weeks leading up to the war, the Israelis raced to assemble an atomic device. A secret plan, called a ‘doomsday operation,’ had been developed to force the Arab armies to back off if the tide should improbably turn against the Jewish state. In the event of an impending defeat, the atomic bomb would be detonated atop a mountain in the Sinai desert as a demonstration of the horror Israel could inflict on its Arab adversaries. [6] Victory for the Arabs, then, was completely out of the question. The Israelis had a nuclear sword, and all Nasser had was a poorly-trained, ill-equipped, under-staffed and incompetently-led military, the best part of which was deployed over a thousand miles away. Everything augured against an Arab victory and everything portended a rapid Arab collapse. Leaving nothing to chance, the Israelis had even arranged for the Kurds, who they had been supplying with training and arms since 1958, to mount an offensive against Arab nationalist Iraq, to prevent the Iraqi army from rushing to Nasser’s aid. [7] A trap had been set, and the Arab street was blindly pushing Nasser toward to it.

In March 1967, tensions grew between Syria and Israel over the demilitarized zone separating the two states. [8] The Soviets warned Nasser that Israel was preparing an attack on his Syrian ally. In April, the Jordanians and Saudis, taking their instructions from the CIA, accused Nasser of cowardice. He talked big, they said, but his inaction belied his words. He was nothing but a paper tiger. Their intention was to goad the Arab leader into attacking Israel, to hand Israel the casus belli it needed to eliminate the new Saladin and his Arab nationalist movement, a movement which threatened the Saudi and Jordanian monarchies as much as it did Zionist settler colonialism. [9]

On May 12, Israel threatened to invade Syria to topple its Arab nationalist government, and immediately moved troops to the Syrian border. Convinced that an Israeli attack on Syria was imminent, Nasser ordered UN forces to withdraw from the Sinai, to clear the way for a deployment of Egyptian troops to the Israeli border. The United Nations had deployed peacekeepers to the Sinai in 1956 in the wake of the British-French-Israeli attack on Egypt, known as the Suez Canal Crisis. The withdrawal of UN forces would allow the Egyptian army to advance toward the Israeli border, positioning Egypt for an attack on Israel if Israel pursued an attack on Syria. [10] On May 18 and 19, Egyptian troops, dressed for battle, paraded in front of Western embassies in Cairo, before heading to the Sinai. In a further effort to deter Israeli aggression, the Egyptian president signed a defense pact with Syria and Jordan.

With Egyptian forces advancing on the Israeli border, Arab states importuned Nasser to close the Strait of Tiran, Israel’s nexus to the Red Sea and to the Indian Ocean beyond, in order to pressure the Zionists to back off their threats to attack Syria. Nasser complied, blocking Israeli shipping from the Gulf of Aqaba into the Red Sea. The Israelis declared this to be an act of war. [11]

In an effort to lower tensions, the US and Soviet ambassadors to Egypt told Nasser on May 26 that the Israelis wouldn’t launch an attack. Nasser assured the ambassadors that he too had no intention of firing the first shot.

Nasser was in no position to go to war with the Israelis and expect anything other than total defeat. The odds were stacked heavily against him. It’s very unlikely that he was ready to undertake a suicide mission. The Israelis knew this. Yitzhak Rabin, at the time Israeli chief of defense staff, noted that Nasser had sent only two divisions to the Sinai, hardly sufficient to launch an offensive war. “He knew it and we knew it,” recalled Rabin. “I don’t think Nasser wanted war.” [12] Menachem Begin, a guerrilla leader and prime minister, and at the time an Israeli cabinet minister, said: “We must be honest with ourselves. We decided to attack him.” [13]

http://www.barakabooks.com/

On June 2, Moshe Dayan joined the Israeli cabinet as minister of defense. Dayan, a one-eyed Zionist Spartan who defined Israel’s role as acting as the West’s bulwark against Arab nationalism, was known for advocating war with Egypt to undermine Nasser. [14] Having lulled the Arab paladin into a false sense of safety by assuring him that Israel would not attack, Washington gave Dayan the green light to initiate an attack. Working with the Israelis, the CIA developed the military plans that would guide the Israeli offensive. [15] CIA director Richard Helms assured the US president Lyndon Johnson that an Israeli victory was certain. [16]

On June 5, Israel struck, executing a plan that had “been in the making for ten years,” according to Shimon Peres, an Israeli prime minister who years before had been involved in the planning of the British-French-Israeli assault on Egypt. [17] Israel destroyed 304 Egyptian warplanes of a total of 419, or 73 percent, in the first two hours of the war, most as they sat on ground. [18] Four days later, most towns and cities in the Sinai had fallen to the Israelis. On June 10, Israeli forces captured Syria’s Golan, and prepared to march on Damascus. The Soviets warned the Israelis to go no further. Washington took the warning seriously and enjoined the Israelis to stand down. [19]

On June 11, a ceasefire went into effect. In just six days, the Israelis reduced the Egyptian army to ruins. According to Nasser’s accounting of Egypt’s war losses, eighty percent of its military equipment was destroyed. [20]

The war was an unalloyed triumph for Israel; it significantly expanded its territory. Rather than the Arabs moving forward to victory against the colonization of the Arab world, an outcome they hoped their new Saladin would bring about, the Zionists had colonized even more of it. [21]

On November 22, 1967, the United Nations Security Council weighed in on Israel’s occupation of Sinai, Gaza, the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Golan. Resolution 242 noted that the acquisition of territory by war is inadmissible under international law and affirmed that the fulfillment of the principles of the United Nations Charter required the “[w]ithdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict.” Israel ignored the resolution.

With Israel defying international law, Egypt and Syria took matters into their own hands. On October 6, 1973, the two countries launched a surprise attack on Israeli forces in the Sinai and Golan, with the aim of recovering their territories. The two armies initially met with considerable success. Iraq sent 30,000 troops, including an armored division, to reinforce Syrian troops in the battle to recover the Golan. But Israel, as it had from the moment of its birth, enjoyed technical superiority over its Arab adversaries. This, combined with emergency airlifts of arms by the United States, negated Syria’s early gains. By October 26, the fighting was over, and Israel was still in possession of the territory it had captured in 1967. [22]

A disengagement agreement in 1974 divided Golan into three zones. The largest, comprising two-thirds of the plateau, would be controlled by the Israelis. The remaining territory would be split between the Syrians and UN peacekeepers, with the peacekeepers controlling a thin buffer zone between the two armies. [23]

In 1981, Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin annexed the Israeli-occupied portion of Golan, touching off riots by Syrian locals and a complaint by Syria to the UN Security Council. [24] The Security Council issued Resolution 497, declaring “the Israeli decision to impose its laws, jurisdiction and administration in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights is null and void and without international legal effect.” Israel ignored this resolution, as it had Resolution 242. In practice, so too did the rest of the world ignore the resolutions, including those countries such as the United States which exercised great leverage over Israel, but did little to force the Zionist state to comply with the Security Council’s directives.

Israel’s settler colonialism in Golan

According to the New York Times, within a month of the 1967 war, Israel had established a settlement, Merom Golan, on Syrian soil. [25] Settlement building on occupied territory is illegal under international law, but Israel acts as if it’s unbound by the international legal order and its patron, armorer, and financier, the United States allows the Zionist state to defy international law with impunity. That Israel allowed Jews to establish exclusivist communities on the plateau belied its claim that it was occupying Syrian territory for defensive purposes. Settlement activity was an early indication, since confirmed by events, that Israel’s aim is to build a Jewish settler colonial state on as much of Arab land as it can seize by force of arms.

http://editionsdelga.fr

At first, the settler population was small, only 600 in 1972, but it has grown apace. In 1983 it reached 6,800, jumped to 13,000 in 1995, grew to 20,500 in 2014, [26] and has reached an estimated 30,000 today, spread out over 33 Jews-only colonies. [27] Jewish aliens now outnumber those of the original inhabitants and their descendants who weren’t ethnically cleansed in 1967. [28] “The settlers [have] built orchards, wineries, boutique hotels and a ski resort, turning the area into an Israeli vacation spot.” [29] In 2015, Naftali Bennett, at the time a senior Israeli minister, proposed an aggressive development goal — 100,000 new residents across the Golan in five years … to solidify Israel’s hold on the Golan.” [30]

To make way for Israeli boutique hotels and ski resorts, 130,000 Syrians were driven from their homes and two hundred Syrian villages were razed. [31] Only five Druze villages remain. [32]

The ethnic cleansing of Syrians from Golan is hidden by Western press reports, which use anodyne language and obfuscations to spare the Israelis bad press. The New York Time’s David M. Halbfinger and Isabel Kershner characterized the systematic expulsion of over 95 percent of the Syrian community as a ‘depopulation,’ in which “thousands of Syrians [fled] north.” [33] In the New York Times’s account, Syrians appear to have engaged in a voluntary act of self-depopulation. Worse, Sophia Marchesin, writing in Le Monde Diplomatique, conceals Israeli ethnic cleansing altogether behind these words: “Some 115-120,000 Syrians are believed to have moved from the Golan to Damascus and other parts of southern Syria early that June.” [34] This is equivalent to saying that a number of people the Nazi state deplored moved to the Polish town of Auschwitz in the early to mid 1940s, or that the aboriginal people of the Ohio Valley moved to the West.

By contrast, Zena Agha, a Palestinian-Iraqi writer and poet from London, wrote in Foreign Affairs that “130,000 Syrians … were forcibly transferred or displaced at the start of the Israeli occupation of the Golan in 1967,” [35] while Zachary Laub, writing for The Council on Foreign Relations, an informal think-tank of the US State Department, noted that the Syrians had been “forcibly displaced in 1967.” [36] Nazareth-based independent journalist Jonathan Cook correctly characterized the depopulation of Golan as a systematic expulsion carried out by the Israelis. [37] In prosecuting a campaign of ethnic cleansing, Zionist Jews reprised the systematic expulsion of Palestinians they had carried out in 1947 and 1948, and later in 1967. The Zionists sought to accomplish a feat of demographic engineering necessary to create a Jewish-majority state in a land in which the Jews were a minority. The Israeli historian Ilan Pappe called this ‘the ethnic cleansing of Palestine,’ and wrote about in a book by the same name. [38] The ethnic cleansing of Golan is continuous with the ethnic cleansing of Palestine; it is a manifestation of the same pathology of settler colonialism that lies at the core of the Zionist project.

Today, the Druze community in Israeli-colonized Golan numbers 22,000, up from 6,400 in 1967. Their five remaining towns and villages are outnumbered by the 33 illegal Jews-only settlements. [39] As non-Jews living in territory the Israeli state claims as a Jewish homeland, the Syrian Druze are subjected to unequal treatment, i.e., an apartheid regime. According to Al-Marsad, a Golan-based human rights group, “Syrians in the occupied Golan face calculated Israeli efforts to restrict their building and land use, destroy their enterprises, cleanse their Arab culture, manipulate their Syrian identity, and suffocate their freedom of movement.” [40]

Why Israel conquered the Syrian territory

There is no single reason why the Zionist state conquered Golan; Israeli actions in connection with Golan originate in a network of mutually reinforcing multiple causes.

First, Israel, from its inception, has been an expansionist state, bent on absorbing as much of its neighbors’ territory as it can seize, part of a vision of creating an expanded Jewish settler state, a Greater Israel, from the Euphrates to the Nile, the territory the Jews’ mythology says a supernatural being named Yahweh gave them. Territorial expansion based on a desire to recreate the Jewish state of antiquity, justified by a mythology of a privileged relationship of Jews to Yahweh as a chosen people, is at the core of the Zionist project. In 1956, the Jewish nationalist state attempted to pirate the Sinai from Egypt, in a conspiracy with Britain and France, which, to the chagrin of the conspirators, was quickly upset by the intervention of Washington. As shown above, the June 1967 war was an Israeli-initiated aggression whose outcome was a vast expansion in territory under the control of Jewish nationalists. The evidence for Israeli expansionism is found in Israel’s behavior. The Zionist state settled Jewish colonists in all conquered territory—Gaza, the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Golan. After the 1967 War, Israel also settled Jews in the Sinai. The regional Leviathan invaded Lebanon in 1982 with the war aim of expelling the PLO, but continued to occupy southern Lebanon for the next 18 years, despite having quickly brought about the PLO’s expulsion. The only reason the Star of David no longer flies over Lebanese territory is because Hezbollah, a nationalist movement that arose with the specific purpose of expelling the Israeli invaders, through its violent resistance, made the foreign occupation of their land too costly for the invaders.

Second, conquering territory provides diplomatic leverage over hostile states that quite naturally want their territory back, and may be willing to bargain away principled opposition to Israel’s settler colonialism for irredentist aims. Anwar Sadat’s peace deal with Israel in exchange for the return of Sinai has been a boon for Israel. The compact eliminated Egypt as an Arab nationalist state and placed it firmly in the orbit of the US Empire. It is now a de facto ally of Israel, linked to the US satellite by a common patron, the United States. Israel no longer has to worry about Egypt limiting its room for manoeuvre, as it did when the Arab behemoth was led by Nasser, a man the Arab world counted on to rescue it from the settler colonial project that Britain had implanted at its heart (along with backing a string of puppet monarchs: the king of Egypt, the king of Iraq, the king of Jordan, the king of Saudi Arabia, among others.)

Since Israel’s annexation of Golan in 1981, “both left-leaning Labor and right-leaning Likud governments in the years after carried out negotiations with Syrian President Hafez al-Assad, and later his son Bashar, over a possible normalization of relations,” according to The Council on Foreign Relations. [41] “In the most recent round of negotiations, in 2010, Netanyahu reportedly was willing to withdraw [from Golan] in exchange for Bashar al-Assad breaking his ties with Iran and Hezbollah. But Netanyahu broke off those negotiations after the Arab Spring came to Syria in March 2011.” [42]

That may have been just as well, as far as the Israelis were concerned. As then Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin remarked in 1995, “the greatest danger Israel has to face in the negotiations with Syria is the possibility of losing control over the Golan Heights’ water resources.” [43]

“More than one-third of Israel’s water supply comes from” Golan. The territory “offers access to two major water systems: the drainage basin of the Jordan River and its tributaries to the west, and Lake Tiberias and the Yarmuk River to the south.” [44]

What’s more, “Golan also has more than 200 springs and scores of streams, many of which Israel impounds in reservoirs for settler use. Since 1984, Israel has built more than eight deep wells to access Syrian aquifers. Combined, these wells have extracted more than 2.6 billion gallons of water, which is mostly pumped to settlements for unfettered access.” [45]

Four years ago, “Afek, an Israeli subsidiary of Genie Energy, a US oil company, announced that it had found considerable reserves of oil under the Golan,” [46] totalling potentially billions of barrels—a highly lucrative prize. But for US investors and the Israeli state, salivating at the prospect of reaping a bounty of oil profits from Israeli-colonized Golan, there was a hitch. Under international law the proceeds belong to Syria. [47] Jonathan Cook argued in 2015 that were “the US to recognize Israel’s illegal annexation of the Golan, it would likely clear the way for Israel to plunder any economically viable reserves located there.” [48] That may be why shortly after the discovery Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu began calling on the United States to recognize Israeli authority over Golan. In August 2016, Netanyahu led a cabinet meeting in Israeli-colonized Golan “calling on the world to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the conquered territory.” At the same time, the Israeli prime minister, who had only five years earlier been willing to bargain away Golan in return for Syria formally designating as legitimate a Jewish-exclusivist state on Arab soil, was now vowing “that Israel would never give [Golan] back.” [49]

Netanyahu advanced a series of sophistries to explain why Israeli-colonized Golan should be recognized as part of Israel. It had “been an integral part of the land of Israel since ancient times,” he argued, adding that “dozens of ancient synagogues in the area … attest to that.” [50] Soon after its 1982 invasion of Lebanon, Israel dispatched survey crews to find evidence of ancient Jewish habitation of the country it had just invaded. As in Golan the purpose was to establish an historical claim to the territory. The presence of ancient synagogues on Syrian soil led Netanyahu to conclude that Golan had been occupied by Syria from the point Israel was founded in 1948, until the territory was ‘recovered’ in 1967. [51] His reasoning was that Golan was inhabited by Jews in antiquity, that Israel is the successor to the Jewish state of antiquity, and, as such, it has an historical right to all territory that the ancient Jews once controlled, including Golan. Therefore, authority over Golan reverted to Israel in 1948, and Syrian authority over the territory from that point forward was illegal. In fact, Syria had occupied Golan!  For his part, U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman intoned that he could not “imagine, frankly, a circumstance where the Golan Heights is not a part of Israel.’” [52]

Golan offers Israel another attraction: living space. Michael B. Oren, Israel’s former ambassador to Washington, and an Israeli legislator, sees Golan “as a way to ease the housing crisis in crowded, expensive areas around Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.” [53] By settling Jews atop the 200 destroyed villages of the 130,000 original Arab occupants of Golan, the plan envisages surcease for Jews from the plagues of overcrowding in Israeli cities. How is this not like Hitler’s plan to dispossess Slav untermenschen to make way for German settlers devilled by the housing crisis in crowded, expensive areas around Berlin, Hamburg, and other pullulating German cities?

Once US president Donald Trump agreed to recognize Israel as sovereign over the two-thirds of Golan that Israel had stolen from Syria, Netanyahu struck a different note. Instead of invoking irredentist claims based on Jewish occupation of the land in antiquity, he declared that Golan was the just spoils of a ‘defensive war.’ “There is a very important principle in international life,” he opined. “When you start wars of aggression, you lose territory, do not come and claim it afterwards. It belongs to us.” [54] Of course, this inverted reality; Israel’s 1967 war of aggression—the one of which Menachim Begin had said “We must be honest with ourselves; we decided to attack”—had become a defensive war, in Netanyahu’s highly tendentious view of history. The Israeli prime minister told reporters, “Everyone says you can’t hold an occupied territory, but this proves you can. If occupied in a defensive war, then it’s ours.” [55]

The next day, at the State Department, a reporter had this question for secretary of state Mike Pompeo. Pompeo is a Christian Zionist, who believes, as many evangelical Christians do, that as a project promoting the return of the Jews to the Holy Land, the creation of Israel is an act of the supernatural being in which the Christians believe, and that this presages an important supernatural event in Christian mythology, the rapture, when Christ will return to earth to lead believers to heaven, leaving Jews and other unbelievers to a Dantesque fate. [56]

QUESTION: Hi, Mr. Secretary. Just to follow up on the Golan, yesterday Prime Minister Netanyahu said that basically he is entitled to keep it because they won it by war. Are you setting a precedent that powerful countries can actually overtake land over international law?

SECRETARY POMPEO: Yes, ma’am, that’s a good question. The answer is absolutely not. This is an incredibly unique situation. Israel was fighting a defensive battle to save its nation, and it cannot be the case that a UN resolution is a suicide pact. It simply can’t be, and that’s the reality that President Trump recognized in his executive order yesterday. [57]

Pompeo wriggled out the conundrum of seeming to legitimize acquisition of territory by force by echoing Netanyahu’s mischaracterization of Israel’s part in the June 1967 war as self-defensive. Little noticed is that Pompeo inadvertently made the case for why North Korea should not face international sanctions for its nuclear and missile programs. Pyongyang’s programs are self-defensive, intended to protect the small country against the aggressions of the US Leviathan, and it cannot be the case that a country’s bending to international sanctions is a suicide pact.

Collusion of Israeli Jews, including the Left

Today, the idea that Golan is an integral part of Israel “goes without saying for the vast majority of Jewish Israelis, including many on the political left who refuse to visit West Bank settlements but do not hesitate to drink wine produced in the Golan or hike among its waterfalls.” [58] In 2015, the Center-Left candidate for minister of defense, Amos Yadlin, proposed that Washington recognize Israel’s authority over Golan to repair the ill-will it had earned by signing the Iran deal. [59] “Before fighting took hold in Syria,” noted Jonathan Cook, “polls showed between 60 and 70 percent of Israelis rejected returning the Golan to Syria, even if doing so would secure peace with Damascus. The percentages are likely to be higher now,” he speculated. [60]

As for the United States and its allies, “neither the platitudes of the international community nor the displeasure of the United Nations [have] stopped Israel from building settlements, kibbutzim, wineries, and even a ski resort deep into the territory,” Zena Agha observes. [61]

Israel as a US bulwark against Arab forces of independence

Following Trump’s announcement that he would sanctify Israel’s Golan annexation, the Golan-based human rights group, Al-Marsad, issued this statement:

“Israel committed an act of aggression when it attacked Syria in 1967, seized the Syrian Golan, and forcibly displaced 95 percent of its population. Israel continues to violate international law in the occupied Golan, including the Hague Regulations and Geneva Conventions, which regulate belligerent occupation. The United Nations, including in multiple U.S.-backed Security Council Resolutions, has always rejected Israel’s activities in the occupied Golan. With its decision today, the U.S. shows support for egregious abuses of international law and encourages territorial expansionism through aggression. This sets an extremely hazardous standard. The U.S. has proved that it can no longer be an honest broker in the Middle East.” [62]

Notwithstanding the statement’s last sentence, the United States has never been an honest broker in the Middle East. US Middle East policy is governed by the interests of the US business community which seeks to control the region’s vast petroleum reserves and the shipping routes to and from its oil wells and gas fields; it does this for strategic and corporate profit-making reasons. Accordingly, US policy is to suppress the local forces of independence and national assertiveness that contest US control of the region’s assets, and which aim to vest them in the hands of the local population, for the local population’s benefit. That’s where Israel comes in. From its founding Israel has hired itself out to empires in exchange for protection. This was an imperative identified by Theodore Herzl, Israel’s ideological founding father. Since 1967, Herzl’s Jewish state has acted as an outpost of US power in the Middle East; before that, it was a beachhead of British and French influence in West Asia. In his 1993 book, A Place Among Nations, Benjamin Netanyahu acknowledged that Israel is, indeed, “the West’s outpost in the Middle East.” [63] Moshe Dayan, who had multiple roles in the Israeli state, including chief of defense staff, articulated the role Israel would play as the West’s cudgel against Arab forces of independence. The “Jewish people has a mission, especially its Israeli branch,” Dayan is reputed to have said. “In this part of the world, it has to be a rock, an extension of the West, against which the waves of… Arab nationalism will be broken.” [64]

http://www.barakabooks.com/

The Syrian Arab Republic, the self-proclaimed den of Arabism (i.e., Arab nationalism), has been among the most uncompromising of the Arab forces of independence and national assertiveness and has kept the flame of Arab resistance burning where it has guttered out in other Arab capitals. As a result, Washington has waged a long war on Syria, seeking to topple its Arab nationalist governments in favour of a collaborationist regime. Israel has played an important role in this effort.

To believe that the United States was ever an honest broker in the Middle East is to be misled by the guile Washington propagates to disarm its critics and pacify opposition. As the Palestinian revolutionary Leila Khaled observed in 1973, “Israel is America and Europe combined in Palestine” (emphasis added.) [65] For all his egregious failings, Trump’s lone virtue may be that he has made plain what Khaled observed years ago: the United States isn’t a neutral party. Israel is an instrument of US policy in the Middle East—a dagger pointed at the heart of the movement of Arab nationalism. The wielder of the dagger cannot be an honest broker between the weapon he brandishes and the enemy his weapon is intended to slay.

1. For example, William R. Polk, writing in The Atlantic (December 10, 2013), and Sophia Marches in Le Monde Diplomatique (October 2016) define Golan as a 1,200 square meter plateau, excluding the portion over which Syria exercises authority, as if it doesn’t exit, or the only part of Golan that is of any significance is that part in which Israel plays a role.

2.Said K Aburish (a), The Last Arab: A Biography, (St. Martin’s Press, 2004), 102.

3. Aburish (a) 257.

4. Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi, The Israeli Connection: Who Israel Arms and Why, (Pantheon Books, 1987), 18.

5. Aburish (a), 251.

6. William J. Broad and David E. Sanger, “Last secret’ of 1967 war: Israel’s doomsday plan for nuclear display,” The New York Times, June 3, 2017.

7. Beit-Hallahmi, 19.

8. Aburish (a), 252.

9. Aburish (a), 253.

10. Aburish (a), 253.

11. Aburish (a), 255.

12. Khalid Amayreh, “The 1967-war revisited (Part I),” The Palestinian Information Center, June 6, 2009.

13. Amayreh

14. Aburish (a), 255.

15. Aburish (a), 258.

16. Aburish (a), 256.

17. Aburish (a), 260.

18. Aburish (a), 260.

19. Aburish (a), 264.

20. Khaled, Leila, (with George Hajjar). My People Shall Live: The Autobiography of a Revolutionary, (Hodder and Stoughton. 1973), 103.

21. “Strategy for the Liberation of Palestine”, Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, February, 1969.

22. Said, K. Aburish (b), Saddam Hussein: The Politics of Revenge, (Bloomsbury, 2001), 106.

23. Zachary Laub, “The Golan Heights: What’s at Stake With Trump’s Recognition,” The Council on Foreign Relations, March 28, 2019.

24. Laub.

25. Jodi Rudoren, “As Syria reels, Israel looks to expend settlements in Golan Heights,” The New York Times, October 2, 2015.

26. Rudoren

27. Sophia Marchesin, “Golan Druze hang on,” Le Monde Diplomatique, October, 2016.

28. Ben Hubbard, “The Golan Heights Was Once an Arab Rallying Cry. Not Anymore.” The New York Times, March 22, 2019.

29. Hubbard.

30. Rudoren.

31. Jonathan Cook, “Israel stakes claim to Golan after oil find,” Middle East Eye, November 13, 2015.

32. Marchesin; Cook.

33. David M. Halbfinger and Isabel Kershner, “Netanyahu Says Golan Heights Move ‘Proves You Can’ Keep Occupied Territory.” The New York Times, March 26, 2019.

34. Marchesin.

35. Zena Agha, “What’s driving Israeli claims to the Golan Heights? Israel wants the region’s water,” Foreign Affairs, November 1, 2018.

36. Laub.

37. Cook.

38. Illan Pappe, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, (Oneworld, 2006).

39. Cook; Marchesin.

40. “Al-Marsad Denounces U.S. Recognition of the Occupied Syrian Golan as Israel,” March 25, 2019, https://golan-marsad.org/al-marsad-denounces-u-s-recognition-of-the-occupied-syrian-golan-as-israel/ .

41. Laub.

42. Laub.

43. Agha.

44. Agha.

45. Agha.

46. Cook.

47. Cook.

48. Cook.

49. Isabel Kershner, “Israel will never give Golan Heights to Syria, Netanyahu vows,” The New York Times, April 17, 2016.

50. Kershner.

51. Kershner.

52. Agha.

53. Rudoren.

54. Halbfinger and Kershner.

55. Halbfinger and Kershner.

56. Edward Wong, “The Rapture and the Real World: Mike Pompeo Blends Beliefs and Policy,” The New York Times, March 30, 2019.

57. Michael R. Pompeo. Secretary of State. Press Briefing Room. Washington, DC., March 26, 2019.

58. Rudoren.

59. Rudoren.

60 Cook.

61. Agha.

62. Al-Marsad.

63. Quoted in Adam Shatz, “The sea is the same sea,” The London Review of Books, (Vol. 40 No. 16 · 30 August 2018).

64. Beit-Hallahmi, 8.

65. Khaled, 128.

In recognizing Israel’s conquest of Golan, Trump reveals the truth about the United States’ relationship with its beachhead in the Middle East

March 28, 2019

By Stephen Gowans

Washington’s decision to recognize Israel as sovereign over Golan doesn’t make Israel’s possession of the Syrian territory legitimate; Golan will always be part of Syria by right, regardless of what is decided in the capital of a country with its own rich history of territorial annexations (one-third of Mexico, Alaska, Hawaii, the Philippines, Guam, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, and the US Virgin Islands, to say nothing of the ruthlessly plundered land of the native Americans.)

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Neither is legitimacy conferred on the possession of any other territory by the Jewish settler state as a consequence of US recognition—not Jerusalem, and not those parts of Palestine that the UN, in 1947, at the time dominated by colonial powers, assigned to a Jewish state. And not the territory the UN assigned to an Arab state that Zionist settlers seized and declared their own. Palestine, from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River, belongs to Palestinians, not to European settlers, no matter what the United States says.

Nor does recognition of Israel’s claim to stolen Syrian territory make the act of conquest lawful. In matters of international relations, Washington has no authority to decide unilaterally what is legal and what is not. The US decision, then, means nothing.

But by acknowledging openly what has long been acknowledged implicitly, Washington has torn the mask off its collusion with Zionist settler colonialism. Where the United States once affected to act as an impartial arbiter between the Israelis and the Arabs whose land the settler state had expropriated, it now declares it is no longer willing to maintain the fiction of neutrality. “Trump’s recognition of Israel’s” absorption of Syrian territory, observed the journalist Robert Fisk, merely accepts “what we’d all secretly gone along with.”

Indeed, the United States and its major allies could have easily forced Israel to relinquish the conquered Golan, but haven’t. In 1967, Israel was prepared to conquer Damascus, just a short drive down the road from the newly seized Golan. Washington laid a restraining hand on its Middle East Sparta, and Damascus remained an Arab capital. In 1982, at Washington’s behest, Israel returned the Sinai to Egypt, territory also pirated in 1967 as part of the Zionist state’s six-day war of territorial expansion. Israel, like an obedient attack dog, obeys its master.

As a small island of only six million Jews in a vast sea of Arabs, Israel depends on the West for its survival. Its 1967 conquest of Egyptian (Sinai and Gaza), Syrian (Golan), and Jordanian (West Bank and East Jerusalem) territory was possible only owing to its possession of an atomic bomb, acquired with the assistance of France, which it was prepared to detonate in the Sinai; arms from Washington; aid from the CIA; the diplomatic conniving of the United States; and the fact that a large part of the Egyptian army was in distant Yemen.

The states that border Israel—Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan—are home to over 130 million Arabs who wish the dissolution of Jewish supremacy over Arab land as indigenous south Africans hoped for the end of apartheid.

As a state which assigns permanent political ascendancy to Jews, Israel would perish in a moment without Western support—not because Arabs have an enmity to Jewish settlers because they’re Jews, but because they’re settlers who have stolen their land and frustrate Arab aspirations to shape their own destiny.

On the other hand, transformed into a democratic state in which all citizens have equal rights and obligations, regardless of religious affiliation, language, and ethnicity, Israel, or a successor state under a different name, could exist quite peacefully with its neighbors, and would not require Western support to survive, so long as it renounced its existence as the West’s outpost in the Middle East, as Benjamin Netanyahu once called Israel.

Western states, inheritors of the colonial tradition, have, in practice favored the first model—Israel as a settler colonial state in which Jews (European settlers) exercise permanent political supremacy over the natives, just as they favored the apartheid state of South Africa, as a settler colonial state in which another group of European settlers did the same. The United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand—themselves the product of settler colonialism, go along with Israel’s annexations and land grabs, as does Britain, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Japan, states which once dispatched their own settlers to foreign lands to exercise permanent political supremacy over the natives. It’s a Western tradition, and not one the West, in its support for its outpost in the Middle East, is entirely prepared to retire.

While going along with Israeli colonialism, the United States and its allies backed UN resolutions calling on their Israeli protégé to end its occupation of territories conquered in 1967, including Golan, but did nothing to enforce Israel’s compliance, even though, if the outpost’s compliance was genuinely desired, the United States had it within its power to obtain. It was a sham. And Trump has exposed the sham for what it is.

US vice-president Mike Pence declared that “we stand with Israel because her cause is our cause, her values are our values, and her fight is our fight.” What Pence didn’t say is that the cause, values, and fight which bind the two countries are rooted not in democracy but in its very antithesis—settler colonialism and the enforcement of the international dictatorship of the United States.

Moshe Dayan, an Israeli chief of defense staff, minister of defense, and minister of foreign affairs, is reputed to have said that the “Jewish people has a mission, especially its Israeli branch. In this part of the world, it has to be a rock, an extension of the West, against which the waves of… Arab nationalism will be broken.” Those waves have included Nasser’s Egypt, Ba’athist Syria, and Ba’athist Iraq, fierce opponents of US domination of the Arab world. Iran and Hezbollah have also opposed US control of West Asia, and have, accordingly, been targeted by Israel.

The United States stands with Israel because her cause (the projection of US power) is its cause, because her values (settler hegemony over the natives) is it values, and because her fight (suppressing the national aspirations of the natives) is its fight.

No matter how it appears, Trump isn’t getting out of Syria and Afghanistan

He’s just shifting the burden to allies and relying more on mercenaries

December 23, 2018

By Stephen Gowans

The announced withdrawal of US troops from Syria and the drawdown of US occupation forces in Afghanistan very likely do not represent the abandonment of US aims in the Middle East, and instead more likely reflect the adoption of new means of achieving longstanding US foreign policy goals. Rather than renouncing the US objective of dominating the Arab and Muslim worlds through a system of veiled colonialism and direct military occupation, US president Donald Trump is merely implementing a new policy—one based on shifting the burden of maintaining the US empire increasingly to allies and private soldiers bankrolled by oil monarchies.

Trump’s foreign relations modus operandi have been guided consistently by the argument that US allies are failing to pull their weight and ought to contribute more to the US security architecture. Recruiting Arab allies to replace US troops in Syria and deploying mercenaries (euphemistically called security contractors) are two options that have been actively under consideration at the White House since last year. What’s more, there already exists a significant ally and mercenary presence in Afghanistan and the planned withdrawal of 7,000 US troops from that country will only marginally reduce the Western military footprint.

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US defense secretary Jim Mattis’s clash of worldviews with Trump is misperceived as a contradiction of views about US objectives, rather than how to achieve them. Mattis favors prosecution of US imperial aims through the significant participation of the US military, while Trump favors pressuring allies to shoulder more of the burden of US-empire maintenance while hiring security contractors to fill in the gaps. Trump’s goal is to reduce the empire’s drain on the US treasury and to secure his voting base, to whom he has promised, as part of his “America First” plan, to bring US troops home.

Significantly, Trump’s plan is to reduce expenditures on US military activity abroad, not as an end in itself, but as a means of freeing up revenue for domestic investment in public infrastructure. In his view, expenditures on the republic ought to have priority over expenditures on the empire. “We have [spent] $7 trillion in the Middle East,” complained the US president to members of his administration. “We can’t even muster $1 trillion for domestic infrastructure.”[1] Earlier, on the eve of the 2016 election, Trump groused that Washington had “wasted $6 trillion on wars in the Middle East — we could have rebuilt our country twice — that have produced only more terrorism, more death, and more suffering — imagine if that money had been spent at home. … We’ve spent $6 trillion, lost thousands of lives. You could say hundreds of thousands of lives, because look at the other side also.” [2]

In April of this year, Trump “expressed growing impatience with the cost and duration of the effort to stabilize Syria,” and spoke about the urgency of speeding the withdrawal of US troops. [3] Administration officials scrambled “to develop an exit strategy that would shift the U.S. burden to regional partners.” [4]

The national security adviser, John Bolton, “called Abbas Kamel, Egypt’s acting intelligence chief, to see if Cairo would contribute to the effort.” [5] Next Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates were “approached with respect to financial support and more broadly to contribute.” Bolton also asked for “Arab nations to send troops.” [6] The Arab satellites were pressured to “work with the local Kurdish and Arab fighters the U.S. has been supporting” [7]—in other words, to take the baton from the United States.

Soon after, Erik Prince, founder of Blackwater USA, the mercenary firm, was “informally contacted by Arab officials about the prospect of building a force in Syria.” [8] In the summer of 2017, Prince—the brother of US education secretary Betsy DeVos—approached the White House about the possibility of withdrawing US forces from Afghanistan and sending mercenaries to fight in their place. [9] The scheme would see the Persian Gulf oil monarchies pay Prince to field a mercenary force to take over from US troops.

Trump announced in April that “We have asked our partners to take greater responsibility for securing their home region.” [10] The editorial board of The Wall Street Journal applauded the move. Trump’s plan, it said, was “the better strategy”—it would enlist “regional opponents of Iran,” i.e., the Arab potentates who rule at Washington’s pleasure, in the project of turning “Syria into the Ayatollah’s Vietnam.” [11]

There are currently 14,000 acknowledged US troops in Afghanistan, of whom half, or 7,000, will soon be withdrawn. But there are somewhere around 47,000 Western forces in the country, including NATO troops and mercenaries (14,000 US troops, 7,000 NATO forces [12], and 26,000 private soldiers [13]). Cutting the US contribution in half will still leave 40,000 Western troops as an occupation force in Afghanistan. And the reduction in US forces can be made up easily by hiring 7,000 mercenary replacements, paid for by Persian Gulf monarchs. “The drawdown,” reported The Wall Street Journal, “could pave the way for more private contractors to take over support and training roles,” as outlined in “the long-time campaign by Erik Prince.” The Journal noted that education secretary’s brother “has carried out an aggressive campaign to persuade Mr. Trump to privatize the war.” [14]

Mattis’s resignation has been interpreted as a protest against Trump’s “ceding critical territory to Russia and Iran” [15] rather than a rebuke to Trump for relying on allies to bear the burden of pursuing US goals in Syria. The defense secretary’s resignation letter was silent on Trump’s decision to bring US troops home from Syria and Afghanistan, and instead dwelled on “alliances and partnerships.” The letter outlined Mattis’s concerns that Trump’s turn in direction fails to pay adequate attention to “maintaining strong alliances and showing respect” to allies. While this has been construed as a reprimand for abandoning the US tip of the spear in Syria, the Kurds, Mattis referred to “alliances and partnerships” in the plural, indicating that his grievances go further than US relations with the Kurds. Instead, Mattis expressed concerns that are consistent with a longstanding complaint within the US foreign policy establishment that Trump’s incessant efforts to pressure allies to bear more of the cost of maintaining the US empire are alienating US allies and undermining the “system of alliances and partnerships” that comprise it. [16]

The notion, too, that Mattis’s resignation is a rebuke to Trump for abandoning the Kurds, is baseless. The Kurds are not being abandoned. British and French commandos are also present in the country and “are expected to remain in Syria after the American troops leave.” [17] Mattis appears to have been concerned that by extracting US forces from Syria, Trump is placing the weight of securing US goals more heavily on the British and French, who can hardly be expected to tolerate for long an arrangement whereby they act as Washington’s expeditionary force while US troops stay at home. At some point, they will realize they might be better off outside the US alliance. For Mattis, long concerned with maintaining a “comprehensive system of alliances and partnerships” as the means to “advance an international order that is most conducive to [US] security, prosperity and values,” Trump’s burden-shifting hardly amounts to “treating allies with respect” or “providing effective leadership,” as Mattis said in his resignation letter that Washington ought to do.

Russian president Vladimir Putin greeted the Trump announcement with skepticism. “We don’t see any signs yet of the withdrawal of U.S. troops,” he said. “How long has the United States been in Afghanistan? Seventeen years? And almost every year they say they’re pulling out their troops.”[18] Already, the Pentagon is talking about shifting US troops “to neighboring Iraq, where an estimated 5,000 United States forces are already deployed,” who will “’surge’” into Syria for specific raids.” [19] The force would also be able to “return to Syria for specific missions when critical threats arise,” [20] which might include the Syrian army attempting to recover its territory from Kurd occupation forces. What’s more, the Pentagon retains the capability of “continued airstrikes and resupplying allied Kurdish fighters with arms and equipment” from Iraq. [21]

Trump never intended to bring a radical redefinition of the aims of US foreign policy to the presidency, only a different way of achieving them, one that would take advantage of his self-proclaimed prowess at negotiation. Trump’s negotiation tactics involve nothing more than pressuring others to pick up the tab, which is what he has done here. The French, the British, and other US allies will replace US boots on the ground, along with mercenaries who will be bankrolled by Arab oil monarchies. To be sure, US foreign policy as an instrument for the protection and promotion of US profit-making has always relied on someone else to foot the bill, namely, ordinary Americans, who pay through their taxes and in some cases with their lives and bodies as US soldiers. As wage- and salary-earners they reap none of the benefits of a policy that is shaped by “economic elites and organized groups representing business interests,” as the political scientists Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page showed in their 2014 study of over 1,700 US policy issues. Big business, the scholars concluded, “have substantial impacts on government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.” [22] In other words, big business formulates US foreign policy to its benefit, and gets ordinary Americans to shoulder the cost.

That’s the way things ought to be, in the view of Mattis, and other members of the US foreign policy elite. The trouble with Trump, from their perspective, is that he is trying to shift part of the burden that presently weights heavily upon the shoulders of ordinary Americans to the shoulders of ordinary people in the countries who make up the subordinate parts the US empire. And while allies are expected to bear part of the burden, the increased share of the burden Trump wants them to carry is inimical to maintenance of the alliances on which the US empire depends.

1. Bob Woodward, Fear: Trump in the White House, (Simon & Shuster, 2018) 307.
2. Jon Schwarz, “This Thanksgiving, I’m Grateful for Donald Trump, America’s Most Honest President,” The Intercept, November 21, 2018.
3. Michael R. Gordon, “US seeks Arab force and funding for Syria,” The Wall Street Journal, April 16, 2018.
4. Gordon, April 16, 2018.
5. Gordon, April 16, 2018.
6. Gordon, April 16, 2018.
7. Gordon, April 16, 2018.
8. Gordon, April 16, 2018.
9. Michael R. Gordon, Eric Schmitt and Maggie Haberman, “Trump settles on Afghan strategy expected to raise troop levels,” The New York Times, August 20, 2017.
10. Gordon, April 16, 2018.
11. The Editorial Board, “Trump’s next Syria challenge,” The Wall Street Journal, April 15, 2018.
12. Julian E. Barnes, “NATO announces deployment of more troops to Afghanistan,” The Wall Street Journal, June 29, 2017.
13. Erik Prince, “Contractors, not troops, will save Afghanistan,” The New York Times, August 30, 2017.
14. Craig Nelson, “Trump withdrawal plan alters calculus on ground in Afghanistan,” The Wall Street Journal, December 21, 2018.
15. Helene Cooper, “Jim Mattis, defense secretary, resigns in rebuke of Trump’s worldview,” The New York Times, December 20, 2018.
16. “Read Jim Mattis’s letter to Trump: Full text,” The New York Times, December 20, 2018.
17. Thomas Gibbons-Neff and Eric Schmitt, “Pentagon considers using special operations forces to continue mission in Syria,” The New York Times, December 21, 2018.
18. Neil MacFarquhar and Andrew E. Kramer, “Putin welcomes withdrawal from Syria as ‘correct’,” The New York Times, December 20, 2018.
19. Thomas Gibbons-Neff and Eric Schmitt, “Pentagon considers using special operations forces to continue mission in Syria,” The New York Times, December 21, 2018.
20. Gibbons-Neff and Schmitt, December 21, 2018.
21. Gibbons-Neff and Schmitt, December 21, 2018.
22. Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page, “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens,” Perspectives on Politics, Fall 2014.