(This post started off as a Facebook comment whilst “sharing” the above, and then things went off onto another trajectory)
When Al-Sisi urged support for the “Syrian Army” instead of Assad (he’s always avoided saying the phrase “I support Assad/the Syrian government” directly, instead saying that he supports the Syrian state), his policy is exactly the same as that of the US, which is in turn substantively the same as that of Iran and Russia (hence the logical consequence of being able to share all these allies at once).
– US (stated) policy: Opposing the collapse of the Syrian state and army and supporting their institutional retention in any “political solution”. Assad should be persuaded to resign and be replaced by someone else from within the military/regime (a la Mubarak to SCAF transition). No prospect of rebel armed victory and overthrow (or as the CIA termed it, unwanted “collapse”) of the regime should be entertained.
Thus declared (and acted upon) US policy has been the retention of Syrian state/regime without Assad as first choice, and in lieu of this retention of Syrian state/regime with Assad as second choice. A rebel armed victory was never US policy – however the declarations of “opposition” to Assad* have fooled so many whose politics are generally reduced to the level of surface-level “counter-establishment” posture-politics (without understanding what their establishment’s policy actually is, ironically in time leading to such a web of contradictions that they have ended up effectively on the same side of that establishment – this will be expanded on hopefully in another piece), click-baiting, etc.. The Syrian revolution’s lack of a “propaganda machine” directed at Western audiences (in contrast to that of the regime, Russia and Iran) led to a massive dissonance in reporting and general public conceptions of the conflict between the Arab World (where the dominant narrative is that the US is effectively supporting Assad behind a sea of false rhetoric) and the West (the opposite narrative).
(It should be noted that these are the official, stated positions. There are some who have always said from the start that the US did not want even the figure of Assad to go, with its stalling and his rehabilitation always being the long-term policy. This seemed to be borne to fruit years after the first articulation of this suspicion recently, as when John Kerry announced that Assad should be able to run in presidential elections).
[* Even these however existed alongside declarations of support for his army – as if they were qualitatively different- as well as a long list of other declarations: that regime successes against ISIS were “a good thing”, that Assad could be given permission to use his airforce against “extremists”, that Assad’s routine use of Chlorine did not contravene the 2013 (Israeli-brokered) US-Russian Chemical Weapons deal as Chlorine was “historically… not a chemical weapon” (the US administration also blocked Freedom of Information requests investigating whether Syria’s chemical weapons were truly given up following another (very poorly reported) Sarin – not chlorine – gas attack in December 2015), that the prospect of an armed victory by the rebels was always fantasy (even though they came to control 75% of Syria in 2013) as they were a bunch of “doctors, pharmacists and farmers”, that Russia would “decimate the opposition” and the opposition was to blame for it for not accepting an Assad-led “transition”, that the conflict in Syria was really just an age-old historical sectarian feud, that Russia was somehow justified for its bombardment of Aleppo as it was “primarily controlled by Nusra” (when they had an approximate 150 fighters out of 7,000 in the city), and that Assad “protected Christians” in Syria, to name a few such statements]
– Iranian policy: Ironically was probably more for the weakening of the institutional Syrian army and state than both the US and Russia, as this opened a vacuum for an effective operational (religious-Shia rather than secular-Alawite) occupation by Iran of the country. Though unlike Russia and the US was wedded to the person of Assad (reportedly causing tensions with Russia at certain points) to maintain the vague “religious” (i.e. Shia-Alawite) connection (as Assad’s replacement was always likely to be a Sunni)
It is also interesting that (to me at least it would appear) the US might converge with Iran more than with Russia on certain aspects of Syria, such as the necessity of keeping a demographic minority in power and ensuring the spread of Iranian influence.
Russia: Retention of Syrian state and military, with Assad remaining as the head (though like the Americans the Russians were also likely flexible in this regard as not being wedded to the figure of Assad himself – though his personal survival and by extension continuation of the war gave them the opportunity to flex their military might in a rare US-acquiesced arena)
Ironically the US was likely more keen on replacing Assad with an Alawite (they made such attempts in 2011) and maintaining their dominance of he country’s military-security institutions than Russia. With long historical ties with the Alawite ruling class going back to the decolonisation period (the US supported Assad Snr in his 1970 coup against the radical leftist Salah Jedid and maintained pragmatic strategic partnerships with the regime – especially under the father – for decades after; sharing the same anti-Palestinian and anti-Arabist policies in such arenas as Lebanon and Iraq). In the Alawite ruling class the French had left a colonial-friendly minority in positions of power for a reason, and the US has always been keen to keep such a “pragmatic” minority in power).
Secondly retaining an Alawite on the Syrian throne retained the US strategy of allowing (the heavily non-Arab, Shia) Iran to come in to fill the dangerous vacuum left behind by the (heavily Arab, Sunni) Arab Spring upheavals (in demographic terms) – typical divide and conquer. Iran’s new attraction came in a) its transformation from being a relatively popular “pan-Islamic” power to a divisive and narrowly sectarian, effectively “Shia-nationalist” (as with the model of the “Shia Liberation Army” as Iran calls it) one, and b) it’s transformation from a theoretical template for popular regional revolution into the supporter of regimes discredited and popularly despised by wide segments of the population; as with Iran’s support for the likes of Assad, Maliki, Saleh and most lately Sisi (note the as of yet still undeclared ignoring by Iran of the links of these last three regimes especially with American “imperialism” and “Zionism” – though it is inevitable that this soon changes as Iran will not be able to continue to deny the obvious reality for too much longer).
To my mind however this “Iranian winter facilitation” was probably more of an American priority than a Russian one (though ultimately both imperialist powers would’ve been likewise threatened by the success of the revolutions). Regional upheaval – which very well could begin with a successful revolution in Syria and the overthrow of the carefully Western-maintained regional structure (imposed by the colonial British and French and inherited by the imperialist Americans) would be much more damaging to the interests of the main traditional imperialist powers in the region (and the main historical civilisational competitor of the Islamic world and the main threatened opponent of its revival) – i.e. the US-vanguarded West – than it would be to the power with the “smaller” imperialist footprint in the region and thus the one having the smaller cause for fear of regional upheaval (though still sharing it) – Russia.
[*Iran achieved its rehabilitation by posing itself as a rational, sensible force for reimposing “regional stability” threatened by new dangerous (read Sunni) insurgent movements and (alleged) reckless support for them by now untrustworthy Arab states. Thus Iran helped transform itself from a pariah into a “responsible” force that was amongst the first victims of Islamic (again Sunni) “terror”, transforming the Sunni Arab states into states popularly perceive as hated fundamentalist pariahs in the West instead. Never mind of course the fact that ISIS and its predecessor al-Qaeda in Iraq are actually known (including by their own statements) to have had concrete historical ties with one another (ISIS’s founder, Zarqawi lived in Iran – a fact boasted about by a certain Qassem Soleimami at the time – and was even reported to have trained with the revolutionary guards), and certainly more probable ties than anything between Al-Qaeda/ISIS and Saudi in recent times (indeed if one listens to speeches by Baghdadi you will find that the first regime he criticises is Saudi Arabia, who he describes as the head of the snake, not Iran, and if one wanted to go conspiratorial they would note that whilst ISIS (and before it Al-Qaeda) have long targeted Saudi by bombings, they have *never* targeted Iran).]
Thus in Syria Russia comes to act as a useful “outsourced” force for Christendom’s “clash of civilisations”-based counter-revolution, acting in the stead of an ostensibly liberal, “democratic” and pro-human rights American sphere – which could not bomb the participants of the Arab Spring that it once promised support to with as much abandon as Russia (at least not until the rise of the unapologetic Trump); though whilst stating this one should nonetheless have no doubt that in Syria as in elsewhere (especially Iraq, where the lack of public knowledge and media coverage of the protests there allowed the US to take the most brazen counter-revolutionary role) the US has killed many (directly, never mind indirectly), many of those who came out to protest as part of the Arab Spring, under the excuse of fighting “insurgent terrorism” whilst supporting the far greater state terror.
Thus the much talked of American “sharing” of the Middle East with Russia that we see today, allowing resolute American allies (such as Egypt, Jordan, Bahrain and Israel) to be able to simultaneously come close to and receive Russian support, is not due to American withdrawal, weakness or retreat. In the Cold War, where the US faced off with an almost-equal adversary in the USSR, it would have been inconceivable for the US to allow such allies to rapproach with the USSR. In the fight against Soviet communism being part of the American sphere solely was not a negotiatable settlement. Today the US is infinitely more able to keep its allies away from Russia than it was during the Cold War; Russia’s strength today is incomparably weaker to the USSR and the (economic and political) strength the US boasts relative Russia is much larger than anything that existed between the US and the USSR.
Russia has historically played arguably as important a role fighting the Muslim world as the West (and have fought it for as long). Indeed if one goes back and reads things from the 19th century, when the West rejoined the clash of civilisations with the Muslim world (after a long interlude from the Crusades and having finished off the Americas), you will find praise by Western colonialists for Czarist Russia’s efforts against the “barbaric and backwards” Muslim world, viewing them as Christian partners within the same battle. Whilst at the time colonial powers undoubtedly competed with one another, this did not mean that they viewed each other as enemies – especially when facing off against other civilisations. Internal competition – including often involving horrendous war – between powers such as Britain, France, the United States, Russia, Austria, Germany etc. did not mean that these countries would prioritise the interests of the inferior “other” above their inter-imperialist rivalries. The competing powers of Christendom, whether Protestant, Catholic or Orthodox did not view each other to be the “inferiors” that they viewed the non-Christian “other”. Their rivalries were economic, geopolitical etc., but were overwhelmingly non-ideological. The Cold War was a brief hiatus of ideological division, whereby all these previously infighting parts of the West united against the greater ideological threat of USSR-led communism.
[To this end during the Cold War everyone would be supported against whatever ideology possessed the tide of momentum, whether the beneficiary became pan-Arab nationalists, “localist” nationalists or Islamists, etc.. Thus in the Middle East pan-Arab nationalists would be supported against communists (as with the case with the USA’s support for the Ba’ath party and Saddam Hussein during 60s Iraq as a lesser evil against the communist-aligned Abdul Kareem Qassem, or even the initial US support for Gamal Abdel Nasser- seen as both anti-communist as well as (initially) someone who wasn’t necessarily “pan-Arabist” in orientation (though he would later change in that direction)). In cases were the parties struggling were both “Arab nationalists Western governments would back the right-wing and more “localist” nationalist factions (i.e. those who were in effect against regional unification and reduced the concept of Arab unity from a guiding worked-towards policy to diluted sloganism) against left-wing and regionalist ones (as with the Western support for Hafez al-Assad – who represented a departure within the Syrian Ba’ath party’s from it’s traditional regionalism to a more insular Syrian nationalism – as a lesser evil against Salah Jedid, a Ba’athist communist; as well as Western support for Assad’s Syria against the leftists and PLO in Lebanon, and finally the support for Mubarak’s Egypt and Assad’s Syria against (the regionalist) Saddamist Iraq. Islamists would also be supported against the greater threat of Arab nationalism (as was the case with the Muslim Brotherhood against Nasserism, and then Hamas against the left-wing PLO), and finally secular-nationalists would later be backed against resurgent Islamism (Algeria, Egypt, Yemen, Syria, etc.). In cases where it was not clear which party had greater unificatory potential/”threat”, the West would support both sides (as in the Iran-Iraq War, and the struggle between Khomeinist Islamism and Saddamist Arabism).
Essentially the West would support anything against the tide of momentum. If communism was the force with momentum, Arab nationalists would be supported against it. If Arab nationalism was the form with momentum, Islamists would be supported against it. If Islamism was the form with momentum, nationalists would be supported against it. And so on.]
Today Russia is more “Christian” than most of Western Europe, which is a reason why it has such strong support amongst anti-Muslim and enthusiastically “Christian revivalist” parties and constituencies in America and Europe. If there was any notion that Russia remained a communist influence would it ever have been remotely imaginable for someone like Trump to have been allowed to come to power, with support from the conservative right wing middle classes as well as the most well-off? This is idiotic. Trump’s core base are the same ones who spent years insulting Obama as a communist. He’s the right wing of the the Republican Party, not just socially but economically as well, and most of his base were traditional republicans who saw him as such. It’s a pity so much of the left couldn’t accept this for what it is, instead preferring to harbour dangerous delusions (both in the case of Trump’s and Russia’s rises). Whilst people should generally be wary of making Hitler comparisons, the fact is simply that the entire forces of “clash of civilisation with the Muslim World” – both in Western Christendom and Zionist Israel – are rallying around Russia – something incidentally that Russia is trying to make clear in Western media, that it is actually defending Western [read Christian] civilisation against a barbarous “other”, amidst a disappointing and politically-correct “liberal” (read soft on Muslim terror) Western governing elite.
Any basic objective analysis would show that Putinist Russia is by no means a reincarnation of soviet communism, and so in lieu if this if all that mattered to segments of the left was to support any geopolitical “rival” to the US, than it would be extremely logical to believe that if taken back in time such people would’ve supported Hitler’s Germany (for like with Russia today, whose imperialism towards its neighbours is justified as a “natural reaction” to what is argued to be a punitive post-USSR settlement, Germany which also challenged the conventional colonial powers could also be justified as “naturally reacting” to the punitive Versailles settlement imposed by the victorious British, French and Americans.
The only reason this did not happen to be the case was the fact that there was a strong left-wing movement which was an alternative to the liberal establishment at the time (unlike today) and one which was in direct competition with – and suffered heavy persecution from – the far-right (though a Hitler-sympathetic leftist/”anti-war” segment did exist, they were a minority). Today, the severe weakness of the organised left has led to the creation of what is in effect a fascist-sympathism across segments of it, as this has filled the vacuum of “anti-establishment” politics. In order to remain relevant many leftists have thus taken a shortcut and just wanted to be seen at the front of the queue (as was once put by John Gamey), regardless of what they happened to be shouting (see Lexit, even some’s support for Trump as a “revolution catalyst”, etc.).
Today we also see this amazing, counter-revolutionary “resource/ally sharing” whereby a wide, interchangeable and fluid net of alliances is cast and spread between US and Russian “patronage”, with such regional states as Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, the UAE, Bahrain, Iraq, Turkey, Iran and Israel all free to solicit help from either power, and in turn generally coming closer to one another (thus the counter-revolutionary powers of Egypt, Hezbollah-led Lebanon, the UAE, Bahrain, Iraq, Iran and Jordan have all found themselves coming closer together and having better relations than anything they’ve experienced in decades) – though in practically all cases retaining the primacy of US help, with Russia coming in as a bit-part supplement. Russia’s “coming in” to offer its services to Western-criticised (in terms of human rights etc.) regimes starts an illusion of a “bidding war” of sorts for the regional regime, whereby the US allows Russia to ignore human rights criticisms and thus make sure that it itself can do so as well, for otherwise it would be seen to be losing such allies and international prestige (in other words, “if we leave them they’ll just go to Russia, so we have to ignore all the idealistic human rights crap”).
Thus temporarily suspended Western military aid to Egypt would be restored after some diplomatic maneuveres and signed contracts between Egypt and Russia (the Western aid will still be greater than anything agreed with Russia and Egypt will still likely remain first and foremost a US ally, but again the issue is to create a sense of *demand* whereby abuses by these governments could now be ignored for “geopolitical” ends). Iraq making noises about seeking Russian help amidst US “reservations” about supporting its sectarian regime allows the US to abandon its reservations and then come in strongly and say, “nope, we’re here”. Increasing US criticisms of Israel allows the latter to become more poetic towards Putin – what follows is the greatest military aid packet between the US and Israel in history. The US allows these regimes to solicit Russia not because it is not strong enough to stop them, but because their doing so allows the US to come back and re-bid for their services whilst ignoring any “idealistic” objections.
In a game of “good cop bad cop”, when the rough edges of these regimes bring about Western criticism (stemming in turn from greater public awareness/pressure, transparency and governmental accountability in an age of mass-information – US officials today will not be able to go to a press conference and simply ignore well-circulated and indisputable streams of video footage showing lets say Hosni Mubarak’s police crackdown – which they would’ve been able to do years and decades ago) and the need for Western governments to distance themselves from abuses, Russia comes in with a supplementary, mercenary “top-up” role – “burden sharing” the ugly work of counter-rebellion with the US. If the only choices are between pressing client regimes to stop or limit their repressions (which the US has the capacity to do; this need not full-scale invasion or anything like that, but even simply rearranging the decks and personnel from within the regime in question to bring about more pliant leaders) or allowing Russia a bit-part role to supplant the US’ “restrictions”, the choice will be the latter.
In turn of course, Russia’s increased support for counter-revolutionary “re-stabilisation” – which in turn has its own effect of allowing the US permission to increase its own counter-revolutionary “re-stabilisation” (when Russia bombs the shit out of areas of Syria the US simply increases its own bombing intensity, for an inter-imperialist competitive logic is created of “they’re doing it so we must do it better – to hell with human rights”) in the end of the day has a positive effect for all – the US and Russia. In short, Russia’s entry is accompanied with a more vigorous US escalation, and abandonment of notions of limiting civilian casualties or “human rights”. One only need see how much more decisive the US has been in such places as Iraq, Egypt and Syria since the “spectre” of Russian competition has been brought in.
Ultimately the threat of counter-revolution brings a convergence of interests and goals between previously distant states. A fresh impetus for unity between traditionally unlikely allies (say Egypt and Hezbollah/Iran, the UAE and Iran – the latter which has for decades occupied the former’s islands) is created. You thus have prime US allies like Israel praising the “anti-terror” intervention in Syria by the USA’s supposed rival, Russia, and agreeing with Iran (as was revealed of Netenyahu in Wikileaks cables) that “replacing Assad can bring in someone worse”. You have the US coordinating drone intelligence against Jabhat al-Nusra with Hezbollah and even making statements that Hezbollah was not a threat to the US; something inconceivable just a few years ago.
Thus Assad in a sense has served as a unification magnet for imperialisms and regional reaction. Never before has there been such a wide array of countries – and indeed an array of countries with such vastly differing political histories and trajectories – converge so closely together to share the same substantive position (going from the spectrum of reactionary Gulf monarchies to Shia “revolutionary” movements; from historical Israeli adversaries to historical Israeli allies). From the liberal/”good cop” (US end) of the “regime preservation” spectrum (states which at one point or another professed support for a nominal transition from Assad and were critical of him), states such as Jordan, the UAE (once referenced as the silent “Muslim Brotherhood hating” Gulf ally by Assad), Bahrain and Kuwait, to the conservative/”bad cop” (Russian end) of the spectrum (states that made no nominal demand for the US concept of a “gradual transition” and are unconcealed in their support for Assad, figurehead and regime; Iran, Iraq, Oman, Algeria, the Palestinian Auhority (Fatah), Lebanon/Hezbollah and Egypt. Israel, whilst probably not fitting either of those categories (having never declared a position regarding whether Assad should stay or not or generally expressing a preference for one side over the other), should nonetheless be added as another general supporter of “regime-preservation” (albeit much more willing to weaken the regime – as long as making sure it doesn’t collapse – than the US).
Ultimately there are only three states that lie outside the general regime-preservation consensus, those for whom taking out Assad via his entire regime if necessary is not a red line: Qatar, post-2014 (i.e. Salman-led) Saudi Arabia and Turkey (listed in order of enthusiasm). Unfortunately, none of these powers are brave enough to take on the regime-preservation consensus, and though they have the capability to bring an end to the crisis by ignoring US restrictions and providing (for the first time) full, genuine and unrestricted military support (including heavy weaponry) to the rebels whilst simultaneously working to unite their ranks *.
[*One of the main reasons for rebel disunity is not merely an organic deficiency but externally-imposed politics, including by the “three backers” – who as with their abiding by US restrictions on rebel-arming have also been maintaining the US-decreed organising structure of atomising the rebellion into separate, individual “vetted” brigades, all with their own chains of backing, to be (potentially) later incorporated one by one into the existent Syrian Army. This in turn was a structure which gave rise to rebel warlordism not least as many professional and experienced defected officers, who were critical of this policy of fragmenting the Free Army – which they did not set up with the view of it providing future “spare parts” for a rehabilitated regime army but as a parallel rival national army in waiting – were largely excluded and marginalised; notably such as the FSA’s widely-respected (amongst both Syrian Islamists and nationalists) founder, Colonel Riyad al-Asaad, who has for years been consistently making a point of accusing the US rather than just Russia of supporting the regime]
Whilst Turkey (post-coup) has been asserting itself more and more against American diktat, notably in its recent remobilisation of previously dormant (again by US diktat) legions of the FSA under Operation “Euphrates Shield” (including fighters who had allegedly been kept for prolonged periods of time as inactive “prisoners” in Turkey) and pushing their reentry into Syria to fight ISIS – a policy which the US has long opposed (the US has only supported anti-ISIS groups which have explicitly agreed not to fight Assad, such as the SDF and New Syrian Army – leaving out the vast majority of the Syrian Rebels) to now create what is in effect a state of proxy war between the US (via the SDF) and Turkey (via the FSA) – it remains to be seen (and I am personally skeptical) whether Turkey will go beyond opposing the US by simply backing the rebels against ISIS to a serious escalation by backing the rebels against Assad. Erdogan has purged his state and is in as strong a position as he has ever been, and with the recent air strikes by the regime which have killed Turkish troops now we will have once and for all the litmus test of whether he is a loud and ultimately cowardly populist, with his talk always being much bolder than his actions, or whether he is actually willing to put his money where his mouth is. My feeling however is that Erdogan is not brave enough and there will likely be a US-Russian-Turkish settlement which limits the Kurds, making sure they don’t connect the cantons (whilst allowing them to keep much of their gains) in exchange for making sure Turkey leaves Assad alone (which has historically been a bigger historical sticking point between Turkey and the US than with Russia).
Ultimately, the US policy of counter-revolutionary “gradual transition” – or in other words “regime preservation with a facelift” – arising in turn from a superficial, fake commitment to “supporting human rights and democracy” – can be contrasted with the undisguised and “purer” Russian form of counter-revolution. In situations like Syria where the former option was not possible (though the US did try to bring it about – in 2011 the United States attempted to bring about a military coup by elite Alawite officers against Assad, though this failed), the US has changed its tune from (initially) “Assad should go” to “Assad can have a role in a transitional government” to “Assad can run for elections“. The prolonged rise of ISIS between 2013-14 – overwhelmingly at the cost of revolutionary forces (in one decisive month of major fighting alone, January 2014, 7,000 rebels were killed in major military campaigns against ISIS across the country) at a time when the regime, by its own admissions, was not fighting ISIS and was gloating at its clashes with the rebels; it should also be noted that ISIS’s expansion occurred with massive US acquiescence at the time, with the US continuing its policy of blocking external support to rebels fighting ISIS (never mind the regime) – allowed the rehabilitation of the regime and general US support for regional authoritarian counter-revolutionary regimes. Whilst before ISIS news of Western coordination of intelligence and airstrikes with Assad would have raised a scandal, post-ISIS such news does not raise an eyebrow and indeed, is actively advocated by wide segments of the Western media and political establishment.
This is why I very, very strongly believe that it is not Russia that stopped the regime from collapsing at so many points in the conflict, but the United States. This did not mean that Russia did not support the regime wholeheartedly, but that the United States played an arguably more important role in blockading the supplies of weaponry and ammunition (supplies which even then it should be noted would still not bring the military capabilities of the rebels to parity with the regime, but nonetheless would’ve likely given the far-more numerous, overwhelmingly indigenous and local resilient rebels enough strength to take out the far weaker, mostly-foreign-composed despirited regime); simply put Russia could support the regime as much as it wanted, but it did not have any mandate on what the opposition could receive from external supporters. The US had this mandate, unfortunately with the acquiescence of such states as Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar (the last was the most rebellious to US diktat), and it used it to play a huge Trojan Horse role in the opposition – one which incidentally reminds me very strongly of the role the British played with the Arab states during the 1948 war with Israel (British troops even commanded some of the Arab armies, such as the Jordanian Arab Legion against Israel, but made sure that they did not fight outside territories allocated to the Arabs in the 1947 Partition Plan – something which overwhelmingly compromised the Palestinians and led to Israel taking over half of the allocated Arab state; all of this of course again made possible with the complicity of the Jordanian regime)
Above all, there are two things that have stopped the collapse of the regime in Syria:
1) The continuous US blockade on weaponry, with its various degrees of “blockage” (i.e. relatively speaking more Qatari and Saudi military support was “allowed” to reach the rebels in 2014 than in 2012 for example – but in both cases the supplies were not enough).
2) The US-acquiesced intervention by external forces to prop up the collapsing Syrian Army – beginning in 2013, escalating in 2014 and becoming a majority of loyalist forces by 2015. These forces generally crossed over from Western-backed states (Hezbollah from Lebanon, the PMF from Iraq, and to a comparably insignificant – but nonetheless noteworthy extent – soldiers from Egypt) if not being directly backed by the West (the Iraqi PMF, Egypt). The clear acquiescence of the US (i.e. that this was not just “unintentional”, as some have attempted to argue) to the presence of these forces would be proved in three ways:
a) The continuing – and indeed increasing – of military aid to the Iraqi and Lebanese states despite the presence of substate forces fighting for Assad in Syria. If the US opposed the intervention of Lebanese and Iraqi forces (in the latter case these forces were officially part of the Iraqi military) it would’ve – at the very least – cut off military aid to these states.
b) The non-targeting by the US of these foreign militias (and on limited occasion the coordination of ground offensives with regime loyalists) – despite the targeting by contrast of a host of anti-ISIS rebel factions, never mind ISIS.
c) The lack of coverage and knowledge of the role of these militias in international fora and media – if the US objected to the role of these militias in Syria it could be trusted that the US would’ve created such a fuss that most people would’ve heard of them, which is the opposite of the reality today.
I find this image quite indicative as in a sense it sums up the “confusing” US policy in Syria in a nutshell: if the question of where the US stands in the conflict could be reduced to the symbolic question of which flag the US would adopt for a post-“political solution” Syria, it wold retain the regime’s colour’s, not the revolutions. That is the meaning of regime-preservation, whether with a facelift or not.
Simply put, the US has played all sides in the Syrian conflict. Testimony to this can be found in the fact that every side of the conflict has US weaponry and the support of US allies in one way or the other. In military terms the regime enjoys Western-proxy backing through Iraqi forces (and now Egypt) – backing which especially in the case of the former is absolutely crucial to Assad as his forces have become so decimated as to reduce them to the status of irrelevant show-support in regime offensives, such as today in Aleppo (with the bulk of loyalist manpower coming from Iraqi, Lebanese, Iranian, Pakistani and Afghani militias), and crucially backing which is not limited in any way by the United States (by vast contrast to the restrictions placed on the rebellion’s allies). The rebels receive restricted arms provision by Western allies Saudi and Qatar, the Kurdish YPG receive direct US backing and support, and even ISIS possess large amounts of US material (mostly through its capture of the Iraqi Army stockpiles in Mosul in 2014) *. Diplomatically speaking the regime enjoys the support of more Western allies in the region than the revolutionaries – with the governments of Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Egypt, Algeria and (not least with the election of Michel Auon) Lebanon all officially supporters of Assad; with states like the UAE, Bahrain and Jordan considered to be effective Assad supporters by Syrian revolutionaries; leaving only Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey as the rebellion’s “Western-backed” allies.
The resultant US policy – as rebels will attest to themselves – has been a state of ensuring “an equilibrium of destruction in which all sides get destroyed”, and whilst “all sides” here obviously entails weakening the Syrian regime (though as stated before whilst empowering Iran), it cannot be described as anything other than counter-revolutionary for the simple fact that it keeps this regime – weakened though it may – in power, thus by definition opposing the aims of the revolution.
[* On the question of US complicity with ISIS: whilst in my opinion it is ridiculous and insulting to the thousands who have died from US bombs dropped on Daesh-held areas to say that “the US is supporting Daesh” (as well as considering that the people who say this always tend to be Assad and Iran supporters – the latter of course whose forces actually fight on the ground with US aircover in Iraq – deflecting off the real US policy in the conflict), it is without a doubt in my opinion and from remembering and closely following how ISIS rose in 2013 that the US allowed ISIS to metamorphosise to such a scale that would both allow it to change political expectations (with the entire emphasis in the West changing from highlighting Assad’s atrocities to focusing on ISIS’s – far less – ones) as well as entail its re-intervention, with US officials now being able to say such things as “our troops will be stationed in the Middle East for a long time (for the logic is “we left Iraq and ISIS happened” when the more complex reality of course is that ISIS came out of direct US support for the sectarian regime in Baghdad and indirect support for its ally in Damascus) as well as bragging that the US has effectively massacred 45,000 ISIS fighters from the air, which is perhaps as one-sided a fight as one could imagine.
With regard to this, it is another one of the great shames resulting from the contradictions of the bulk of the (Assad and Putin apologist) anti-war movement that these realities are not covered, mentioned or the logic underlying it condemned – in other words have you heard anyone dare today criticise the US killing 45,000 ISIS fighters? No, because ISIS has been allowed in both mainstream and “alternative” media to occupy the role of Satan personified – and let me be clear that in my opinion ISIS is an ideologically-fascist movement, but let me also say that ISIS has empirically-speaking committed nothing near the evil that a government like the United States has, not least in the same country within the space of the last two decades. Instead stupid and lazy tropes that the US “is supporting ISIS” are repeated, making the person saying them believe that they are “cool” or “radical”, when what they are actually doing when saying that is completely neglecting and indeed effectively covering up Western imperialism’s real undertakings in the region, for saying the United States “supports ISIS” entails that the United States is not bombing the shit out of ISIS-held areas (including of civilians) and thus negates/covers up the humanitarian suffering of “Western imperialism”. This is another morosely amazing contradiction of so many self-denominated “anti-imperialists”, who not only have ignored Russian imperialism but have with a divine twist of fate actively been covering up through the contradictions of their analyses Western imperialism as well.]
In the end, you don’t need to be an ISIS extremist to talk about a “crusade” in Syria by Christendom. It’s the reality. The US drops white phosphorus in Mosul, and Russia drops it in Aleppo. And it was all made possible by the Trojan Horse of imperialism: Bashar al-Assad.
For a detailed and referenced analysis of the practical means with which the US has supported Assad and prevented his regime’s downfall, please see this event description by the Syria Solidarity Campaign (UK) (the event was a protest in front of the US embassy in London).
(Anti-ISIS) Rebel protests against US intervention in Syria in 2014
Russia using white phosphorus in Aleppo
US using white phosphorus in Mosul