What is Amer­ica’s true role in Syria?

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

Un­for­tu­nately, Pres­i­dent Barack Obama has greatly com­pounded the dan­gers by hid­ing the US role in Syria from the Amer­i­can peo­ple and from world opin­ion. An end to the Syr­ian war re­quires an hon­est ac­count­ing by the US of its on­go­ing, of­ten se­cre­tive role in the Syr­ian con­flict since 2011, in­clud­ing who is fund­ing, arm­ing, train­ing, and abet­ting the var­i­ous sides. Such ex­po­sure would help bring to an end many coun­tries’ reck­less ac­tions.

A wide­spread – and false – per­cep­tion is that Obama has kept the US out of the Syr­ian war. In­deed, the US right wing rou­tinely crit­i­cises him for hav­ing drawn a line in the sand for Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar al-As­sad over chem­i­cal weapons, and then back­ing off when As­sad al­legedly crossed it (the is­sue re­mains murky and dis­puted, like so much else in Syria). A lead­ing colum­nist for the re­peat­ing the er­ro­neous idea that the US has re­mained on the side­lines, re­cently im­plied that Obama had re­jected the ad­vice of then-Sec­re­tary of State Hil­lary Clin­ton to arm the Syr­ian rebels fight­ing As­sad.

Yet the cur­tain gets lifted from time to time. In Jan­uary, the fi­nally re­ported on a se­cret 2013 Pres­i­den­tial or­der to the CIA to arm Syr­ian rebels. As the ac­count ex­plained, Saudi Ara­bia pro­vides sub­stan­tial fi­nanc­ing of the ar­ma­ments, while the CIA, un­der Obama’s or­ders, pro­vides or­gan­i­sa­tional sup­port and train­ing.

Un­for­tu­nately, the story came and went with­out fur­ther elab­o­ra­tion by the US govern­ment or fol­low up by the

The pub­lic was left in the dark: How big are the on­go­ing CIA-Saudi op­er­a­tions? How much is the US spend­ing on Syria per year? What kinds of arms are the US, Saudis, Turks, Qataris, and oth­ers sup­ply­ing to the Syr­ian rebels? Which groups are re­ceiv­ing the arms? What is the role of US troops, air cover, and other per­son­nel in the war? The US govern­ment isn’t an­swer­ing th­ese ques­tions, and main­stream me­dia aren’t pur­su­ing them, ei­ther.

On more than a dozen oc­ca­sions, Obama has told the Amer­i­can peo­ple that there would be “no US boots on the ground.” Yet ev­ery few months, the pub­lic is also no­ti­fied in a brief govern­ment state­ment that US spe­cial op­er­a­tions forces are be­ing de­ployed to Syria. The Pen­tagon rou­tinely de­nies that they are in the front lines. But when Rus­sia and the As­sad govern­ment re­cently car­ried out bomb­ing runs and ar­tillery fire against rebel strongholds in north­ern Syria, the US no­ti­fied the Krem­lin that the at­tacks were threat­en­ing Amer­i­can troops on the ground. The pub­lic has been given no ex­pla­na­tion about their mis­sion, its costs, or coun­ter­par­ties in Syria.

Through oc­ca­sional leaks, investigative re­ports, state­ments by other gov­ern­ments, and rare state­ments by US of­fi­cials, we know that Amer­ica is en­gaged in an ac­tive, on­go­ing, CIA-co­or­di­nated war both to over­throw As­sad and to fight ISIS. Amer­ica’s al­lies in the anti-As­sad ef­fort in­clude Saudi Ara­bia, Tur­key, Qatar, and other coun­tries in the re­gion. The US has spent bil­lions of dol­lars on arms, train­ing, spe­cial op­er­a­tions forces, air strikes, and lo­gis­ti­cal sup­port for the rebel forces, in­clud­ing in­ter­na­tional mer­ce­nar­ies. Amer­i­can al­lies have spent bil­lions of dol­lars more. The pre­cise sums are not re­ported.

The US pub­lic has had no say in th­ese de­ci­sions. There has been no au­tho­ris­ing vote or bud­get ap­proval by the US Congress. The CIA’s role has never been ex­plained or jus­ti­fied. The do­mes­tic and in­ter­na­tional le­gal­ity of US ac­tions has never been de­fended to the Amer­i­can peo­ple or the world.

To those at the cen­tre of the US mil­i­tary-in­dus­trial com­plex, this se­crecy is as it should be. Their po­si­tion is that a vote by Congress 15 years ago au­tho­riz­ing the use of armed force against those cul­pa­ble for the 9/11 at­tack gives the pres­i­dent and mil­i­tary carte blanche to fight se­cret wars in the Mid­dle East and Africa. Why should the US ex­plain pub­licly what it is do­ing? That would only jeop­ar­dise the op­er­a­tions and strengthen the en­emy. The pub­lic does not need to know.

I sub­scribe to a dif­fer­ent view: wars should be a last re­sort and should be con­strained by demo­cratic scru­tiny. This view holds that Amer­ica’s se­cret war in Syria is il­le­gal both un­der the US Con­sti­tu­tion (which gives Congress the sole power to de­clare war) and un­der the United Na­tions Char­ter, and that Amer­ica’s two-sided war in Syria is a cyn­i­cal and reck­less gam­ble. The US-led ef­forts to top­ple As­sad are not aimed at pro­tect­ing the Syr­ian peo­ple, as Obama and Clin­ton have sug­gested from time to time, but are a US proxy war against Iran and Rus­sia, in which Syria hap­pens to be the bat­tle­ground.

The stakes of this war are much higher and much more dan­ger­ous than Amer­ica’s proxy war­riors imag­ine. As the US has pros­e­cuted its war against As­sad, Rus­sia has stepped up its mil­i­tary sup­port to his govern­ment. In the US main­stream me­dia, Rus­sia’s be­hav­ior is an af­front: how dare the Krem­lin block the US from over­throw­ing the Syr­ian govern­ment? The re­sult is a widen­ing di­plo­matic clash with Rus­sia, one that could es­ca­late and lead – per­haps in­ad­ver­tently – to the point of mil­i­tary con­flict.

Th­ese are is­sues that should be sub­ject to le­gal scru­tiny and demo­cratic con­trol. I am con­fi­dent that the Amer­i­can peo­ple would re­spond with a re­sound­ing “no” to the on­go­ing US-led war of regime change in Syria. The Amer­i­can peo­ple want se­cu­rity – in­clud­ing the de­feat of ISIS – but they also recog­nise the long and dis­as­trous his­tory of US-led regimechange ef­forts, in­clud­ing in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Cen­tral Amer­ica, Africa, and South­east Asia.

This is the main rea­son why the US se­cu­rity state re­fuses to tell the truth. The Amer­i­can peo­ple would call for peace rather than per­pet­ual war. Obama has a few months left in of­fice to re­pair his bro­ken le­gacy. He should start by lev­el­ing with the Amer­i­can peo­ple.

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