This response is from part of a debate within a pro-revolution organisation on the merits of holding a demonstration in front of the US embassy. The person being responded to raised the issue as to whether this was the best approach: whilst the US is historically an imperialist power and committed crimes in Iraq, Afghanistan and its support of Israel, in Syria only it has the potential to confront Assad-supporting Russia. Protesting against the US may thus risk alienating it when we should be seeking its intervention against Assad.
“Thanks for your opinion. Unfortunately the US has arguably played a more decisive role in preventing Assad being overthrown than Russia has, and I’ll explain how. Since 2012 the US has enforced a blockade on the provision of certain types of weaponry (like anti-aircraft defences) as well as limiting the quantities of ammunition etc. that was provided by Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey to the Syrian resistance. The reason they’ve done that is because they have always been against the regime being forcibly overthrown (so-called “regime-change” – uk.businessinsider.com/john-kerry-regime-change-syria-bashar-assad-2015-12?r=US&IR=T) – their preference is for a political solution where a new face takes power and the rest of the regime (including military, police and security forces) is maintained. This is what happened in other Arab Spring countries like Egypt and Yemen. The way they would ideally like to achieve this is by pressuring Assad to go via pressuring the power-holders within the regime, for instance it was SCAF (the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces) in Egypt that effectively nudged out Mubarak and pressed him to resign. They wanted to do the same kind of intra-regime coup in Syria (https://www.wsj.com/articles/u-s-pursued-secret-contacts-with-assad-regime-for-years-1450917657) but Syria was not Egypt or Yemen (not least because of sectarian dynamics), and the regime’s core held loyal to Assad.
Since then the US actually *opposed* the rebellion getting militarised, I remember at the start of the FSA the US opposed it saying it would bring “an escalation of violence” – and effectively limited (via officials on the Turkish and Jordanian borders) the quantity and quality of externally-provided weaponry that could go in to the rebels (one example: http://www.worldtribune.com/2014/05/20/report-cia-blocked-u-s-groups-effort-arm-syrian-rebels-russian-made-weapons/). After Assad’s 2013 Sarin attack the US “officially” changed its anti-arming position, but it would later become clear that it conditioned direct military support on the recipients agreeing not to fight Assad (http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/05/31/key-rebels-ready-to-quit-u-s-fight-vs-isis.html). Thus the groups which have received direct US support in Syria are groups that largely don’t, like the SDF and the New Syrian Army. So first US preference was Assad to resign to be replaced by someone else acceptable to the regime. Second preference was that Assad stays in place if the regime doesn’t want to get rid of him. Simple: both pro-regime options were seen as preferable to the third option of allowing the rebels forcing Assad out by overthrowing his entire fascist regime.
So far from the problem with US policy being simply a matter of “weak support”, the problem is its “decisive weakening” of the rebellion. To my eyes, the US role in blocking proper military support to the rebels (https://mkaradjis.wordpress.com/2016/01/26/us-and-jordan-demand-southern-front-rebels-stop-fighting-assad-cut-off-support/) actually was more decisive in preventing the collapse of the Assad regime than Russia’s direct support. When someone sets your house on fire, the person who stops you putting it out can be even worse than the guy who did it, because you could’ve saved the people inside if you had the fire-extinguisher you were banned from. Simply speaking, the rebels always had the capacity to overthrow Assad even with Russia’s support, his army became decimated by 2014. It is however precisely because of the lack of external backing of the rebels that they didn’t.
In fact, the US went further and actively supported pro-Assad forces repeatedly “against ISIS”, provided intelligence to Assad and actually bombed mainstream anti-ISIS rebel groups far more than they have the regime (one example: http://www.thedailybeast.com/did-the-us-just-kill-5-kids-in-syria). Until three months ago, the US had bombed mainstream rebel groups about 7 times, al-Nusra (whose rank-and-file is mainly Syrians including ex-FSA who joined it because of its better military capacities) dozens of times, killing by 2015 (those are the statistics I have) 200 rebels. The US even bombed a rebel-held part of Aleppo *during the Assadist siege* before it fell (https://www.facebook.com/doamuslims/posts/326235621052962), leading to revolutionary protests there (https://www.facebook.com/SyriaSolidarityCampaign/posts/339374613072396). We’re not even talking about the hypocrisy of bombing ISIS and ignoring Assad, we’re talking about bombing rebels. Throughout that period, the US did not bomb pro-regime *foreign* militias once. In fact, some times it actively supported them (linkis.com/washingtonpost.com/ov6qC). Lets make that clear again, the US has given aircover to foreign sectarian militias on Syrian territory which it has never done to native forces fighting Assad.
Honestly, the inability for many pro-revolutionaries to understand the difference between the effective positions of “Assad should diplomatically step down by pressure from within the regime” and “We should allow the rebels to militarily overthrow Assad” has *severely* hamstrung the ability of Syrian organisations to make demands of Western governments. The West will never intervene to take out Assad and has been decisively intervening on his side for a long time – and not just as a “by-product” of anti-ISIS policy: preventing the collapse of the regime *has always been the policy*. Its not hesitation, or Obama being weak or wanting to appease Iran or whatever. Its because US policy has always been against regime-collapse in Syria (https://www.alaraby.co.uk/english/news/2015/3/14/us-does-not-want-to-see-syrian-regime-collapse). Why? Because rebels do not serve US interests (http://www.cbsnews.com/news/dempsey-syrian-rebels-not-ready-to-back-us-interests/), and because the regime by contrast has been historically dependable (http://www.thenorthstar.info/?p=2442). What we should be demanding is for them to stop doing the latter.
Staying silent loses us our leverage which we could employ in public domains and media and from which we could extract concessions from Western governments. Imagine how much stronger our demands could be when we say “you’re supporting Assad” instead of “you’re doing nothing about Assad'”. With the former, they’re already committed. With the latter, you give them an exit clause allowing them to say “its not our business”. That’s the massive problem with not documenting the pro-Assad nature of US intervention, in the hope that after seven years of being pro-Assad it would change its mind. I’m not suggesting anything people on the ground – who’ve repeatedly protested against the US since 2014 – haven’t done. The FSA founder himself said that the US policy in Syria was pro-Assad (https://en.zamanalwsl.net/news/6704.html).
To not know about these things – the (well-concealed) full nature of US support for Assad is something, to know about it but to still continue to refuse to cover it on the hope that the US changes its position is criminal, counter-revolutionary, and counter-productive. We don’t refuse to condemn US supporting Israel on the hope that it changes its opinion, do we?”