My international relations professor in college taught me one thing that I will take to my grave: nothing is as it appears when dealing with the Middle East. Back in those days, I thought he was being a little bit melodramatic about the situation, but then I went to work in Tunisia only to find out he had given me such a truthful advice: always look for plans within plans for nothing is as it appears.
This is why I find Western Asia a fascinating subject and I spend a lot of time reading newspapers and listening to news. There’s always another story being told while listening to the latest reports (especially here in the West).
Since the 1980’s, I’ve never believed the reports as I heard them because I think there’s always something more, something usually unsaid.
Would you like me to give an example?
Good, then we will start with Syria.
During the “Arab Spring” (quotes are due to the fact that this is how the media have labeled the uprisings in the Arab world, though there’s absolutely nothing official about the title), when the protests moved to Syria, the United States was thrilled for they have been trying to get Bashar al-Assad out of office since his father Hafez died (in 2000). Some months later, a new twist unfolded that gave the US a chance to intervene on the side of the rebels. After the Syrian government was reportedly caught with its hand in the cookie jar using chemical weapons (CWs) on its own people, the White House jumped at the chance to insert the country into the fray. However, Obama and his advisers were thrown a bucket of water in their face when the Shiite Syrian leadership, urged by the Russian Federation, agreed to stop using and destroy their CW cache. Therefore, Washington had to acquiesce and go with the plan… and the plan went well, the CWs were collected and destroyed, and the Alawite President won that move.
Shortly thereafter, the civil fighting deteriorated, so that both the White House, still not a fan of Assad, and Members of Congress decided the plan to go with in the fight against Damascus was arming and training the anti-government rebels. However, there was a slight bump in that road and no one knew who the good guys were (or, as they usually call them, the “moderate” rebels).
The plan, then, was that the different rebel groups were to be vetted to determine who were “moderate”. So far, that has been going poorly, since only about 400 “moderate” rebels have been identified and are now about to be trained by Turkey and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. But here’s the bad news, of course: some say that it will take as long as 2 years before these “moderates” are capable of fighting a convincing battle, which basically means President Assad remains (and will remain) ahead in the meanwhile.
While the vetting was going on with little success, so was the conflict with the Syrian President. The Assad-led armed forces were taking back territory previously lost to rebel groups, the latter being part of an extremely heterogeneous category. While very few in the so-called international community were (are) sure about the accurate identification of the ‘good guys’ and the ‘bad guys’, the back and forth has really accomplished very little. Assad is still the main man in Syria, and he’s even moving ahead.
Just recently word has coming out of the Middle East that the training of the “moderate” rebels has officially begun and the group will be used against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (which tops U.S. enemies list, at least as of today) and there’s yet another slight problem: given that these rebels are willing to fight Assad and his troops, ISIS is the furthest thing from their mind.
“The principle is wrong – very wrong,” noted one of the rebels, saying they find it “an insult” that the US is telling these new rebels they’ll be fighting ISIS instead of the Assad government.
The old rebel factions, once awash in US arms, are primarily irked by this new scheme because the US has decided these old groups have failed, and are hoping to create a new rebellion to replace them. (ABC News)
Even within the USA, there doesn’t seem to be much hope for these new rebels, with the Pentagon reporting that its $500 million scheme will produce about 5,000 rebels in the next year or two, namely a drop in the bucket if compared to massive factions like ISIL. Security officials likewise are conceding that they aren’t sure how much support they’re going to provide these new rebels with when they start losing (because there’s little doubt they will lose) but are continuing on with the plan for lack of anything better to do.
Fighting Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and not their real enemy is a win for Assad, and the lack of confidence in the training or the rebels themselves is yet another win for Assad.
So far the General Secretary of the ruling Ba’ath Party is ahead in the winning moves count. Of course, this does not bode well for the US. There’s zero confidence in the rebels they are training, there has to be a Plan B.
Now, let’s step back to Iraq in the 1990’s and then in the early 2000’s. In order to gain popular acceptance of going to war in this country, the government (US, that is) had to find a plausible reason that would make a non-intervention a disastrous possibility for the American public. On the occasion of the First Gulf War, the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait was the casus belli. At the time most Americans could not find Kuwait with both hands and a flashlight. There had to be something that would make an invasion acceptable, so the PR machine went to work. First it was babies left on the floor of a hospital after Iraqi armed forces looted the building and then was the hint that dictator Saddam Hussein was in search of a nuke. Opinion came around and off we went to invade Baghdad.
After 9/11, another Bush (George W.) had to find a way to make the invasion of Iraq a necessity and, here it is, the weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) entered the game. The hint was that there were gases available and Saddam was in search of yellow cake uranium (after all, he had already used deadly gases on his own people). The public fell for it all hook, line and sinker, and off we went to invade Iraq. Yet again.
I give you this little simplified history lesson for good reason. What would that be? It is back to the PR plan for making an invasion acceptable, for making the use of American troops acceptable.
Think back. At the beginning of this story, Assad agreed to giving up and destroy his stock of CWs and, according to all, he has actually accomplished what he promised. Then the bombshell has exploded. Just a few days ago a report came out of Syria reading:
International inspectors have found traces of sarin and VX nerve agent at a military research site in Syria that had not been declared to the global chemical weapons watchdog, diplomatic sources said on Friday.
Samples taken by experts from the Organisation for the Prohibition and Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in December and January tested positive for chemical precursors needed to make the toxic agents, the sources told Reuters on the condition of anonymity because the information is confidential. (Reuters)
Yes, just when the US needed it, a new crisis is brewing in Syria. Thanks to a recent report that Syrian forces had possibly used chlorine gas and the media went on its tear…
diplomats were openly talking about the US trying to figure out ways to kickstart a new round of chemical weapons allegations against Syria, saying the US was looking to “create a way to attribute blame” for rumors of chlorine gas use.
…like clockwork, Western diplomats were making the rounds with a new set of claims related to trace amounts of chemical agents found at a military research site in Syria, with the US declaring it proof Syria had been lying about its chemical weapons program.
It appears that a case is being made so that, when needed, a ‘justifiable’ action can be taken, even when airstrikes can be attributed for hitting industrial sites and causing a leak. Although it’s a credible reason, the US is not particularly interested in an explanation (this move to the US).
So far the Syrian regime has matched the US move for move and is in control. For now. Assad has illustrated a propensity to remain in power even when faced by massive amounts of US aid and a little training. Barack Obama and all the hawks in Congress have made a similar statement: “Assad must go”.
It seems to me clear that the US is positioning itself for another invasion. Of course, it will take time and good PR before the public will accept yet another war. The White House and U.S. Congress keep looking for an opening that will lead to victory without using American military in an invasion. Mr. Assad has blocked each move and the US is not used to having their authority nullified. Sorry to say it, it is only a matter of time.
The US has to decide, at least in Syria, who the enemy is. It is either Assad or al-Baghdadi. If they choose the wrong option, then there could be a bigger problem than they have now. A recent report has got all the pundits thinking of what to do in Syria.
The big surprise, however, is the admission from officials that Assad’s loss means gains for ISIS and al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front, the two largest rebel factions, and that they will be the primary beneficiaries of a fading Assad.
US officials have often tried to present the war on ISIS and the war for regime change in Syria as separate things, and have insisted they could work simultaneously to undermine both Assad and ISIS. (CNN)
Eventually, Washington will have to set a priority in Syria. Sadly neither is going to bode well for the Syrian nation. The wrong decision on the part of the US will set in motion a generation of trouble that will inevitably draw the USA into a ground war it cannot afford.
Is a strong Assad more preferable than a strong ISIL? There’s no way to have it both ways. A decision will have to be made, but will the US make the right one?
Opinion from the tired old fingers of Chuq.