Over the edge in Syria?

The Western line on Syria is that Russia is committing ‘war-crimes’ in its bombing campaign in Eastern Aleppo. And that Russia is ‘prolonging’ the civil war in Syria. This narrative line is coordinated between the capitals (Washington, London, Paris).

Even by the usual Western standards of narrative building this is so detached from the facts on the ground as to be quite surprising. The ‘facts on the ground’ don’t require conspiracy theory or even recourse to the ‘propaganda bull-horn’ of RT (though RT’s fact checking is of a high standard). The facts on the ground are well-known and acknowledged in individual reports in Western media as the attentive reader can note in the links at the foot of this article. Here are a few salient points:

1. From the start of the Syrian civil war the West has been saying that “Assad must go”. This has obviously emboldened the opposition – currently represented loosely by the Saudi backed ‘High Negotiating Committee’ – to refuse to negotiate on this point. Since Assad, understandably, doesn’t want to go this has created a situation of political stalemate. This, more than anything, has prolonged the civil war.

2. The UK has been sending ‘non-lethal’ military aid to assorted ‘Syrian rebels’. The UK is involved in military intelligence operations run out of Jordan designed to undermine the government of Syria. [1]

3. The US has two separate programmes to arm ‘moderate rebels’. One is a covert operation supplying arms and training to rebels in the South of Syria. This is  connected to the intelligence operation run out of Jordan. The other was a failed programme to arm ‘moderate rebels’ in the North of Syria. This failed because they couldn’t find any ‘moderate’ rebels. [2]

4. It is very right-wing Islamist groups not ‘moderate rebels’ who are taking the fight to Assad. [3]

5. The West may sponsor ‘moderate rebels’ but the West’s allies Saudi Arabia and Qatar are much less fussy. They have been sending arms to right-wing Islamist groups. Some of these groups on occasion collaborate with Al-Qaeda. Even the West’s ‘moderate rebels’ cannot be separated from Al-Qaeda – as the US State Department admits. [4]

It follows from the above that the West (the UK, France and Britain) are engaged in a political, military and diplomatic campaign to unseat the government of Syria. While being careful to try to avoid directly aiding Al-Qaeda it is clear that through their alliances the West is indeed aligned with the objectives of Al-Qaeda in Syria. By a) continuing to insist that ‘Assad must go’ and b) continuing to send in weapons and support to groups fighting Assad the West continues to pour fuel onto the conflict. In basic terms; if there are two sides in a fight it could be said of either that by continuing to fight they are ‘prolonging the conflict’. When the West accuses Russia of ‘prolonging the conflict’ this is only ‘true’ if we reveal the sub-text; a military victory for the Islamist groups against Assad. Which is worse? A unified Syrian state led, at least for a time, by Assad or a military victory by Al-Qaeda and affiliated right-wing Islamist groups? A stable path to a political settlement in Syria is more likely to be possible if there is a functioning state of some kind. We have seen what happens when the state is destroyed – witness Iraq and Libya. In both cases the result has been incessant fighting between various factions and ongoing chaos and enormous human suffering. The most striking aspect of Western policy on Syria is quite how petulant and short-sighted it is. It seems that now all they care about is ‘winning’ or, at least, not ‘losing’ to Russia. With childish brinkmanship of this kind, by leaders of powerful armed states, the world is indeed in a dangerous place.

The level of the West’s accusations against Russia (‘war crimes’, ‘prolonging the civil war’) are probably in proportion to their uneasy conscience about being in the same boat as Al-Qaeda.


1. UK sends military assistance to ‘moderate rebels’

Independent 2013 – Britain sends ‘non-lethal’ battlefield military support to ‘moderate rebels’

Stop the War campaign group in 2014: MI6 working with CIA on its weapons supply programmes based on journalist Seymour Hersh’s reporting


2. US is arming ‘moderate rebels’  to overthrow Assad

New York Times 2012: CIA facilitating weapons transfer to Syrian rebels

New York Times 2016; Timber Sycamore – CIA programme to arm ‘moderate rebels’ to topple Assad

Guardian 2015: US could only find 5 moderate rebels in the north of Syria. CIA programme in South continues


3. It is right-wing Islamist groups who are leading the fight against Assad

IB Times 2015: Al-Qaeda now one of the most popular ‘rebel’ groups in Syria

Guardian 2013: growing strength of Islamist groups in Syria


4. The West’s Gulf Allies are supporting right-wing Islamist groups who co-operate with Al-Qaeda. ‘Moderate rebels’ are intemingled with these groups 

IB Times 2015: Ahrar al-Sham co-operates with Al-Qaeda and the FSA

WikiPedia: various media references linking Ahrar al-Sham to Qatar, Turkey and Saudi Arabia

Stanford University: Saudi Arabia funds Ahrar al-Sham. Ahrar al-Sham cooperates with Al-Qaeda

New York Times 2012: most arms shipped by Saudi Arabia and Qatar go to ‘hardline Islamists’

New Obs 2016: US State Department admits it cannot separate ‘moderates’ from Al-Qaeda.


Britain’s problem with diplomacy

At the UN Britain has denounced the Russian veto of a resolution proposed by France on Syria as “the cynical abuse of the privileges and responsibilities of a permanent member of the UN Security Council”. [1]

The French resolution was quite simple. Given that the US can’t separate its ‘moderate rebels’ from Al-Qaeda then the Syrian government and Russia should stop bombing at all in Aleppo.

On the face of it then it appears that in their desperation to keep Aleppo from ‘falling’ to the legitimate government of Syria the West, including the UK, is willing to openly align themselves with Al-Qaeda. At the very least this is a complete reversal of the policy agreed between Russia and America to work towards a ceasefire between the Syrian government and ‘moderate rebels’ while agreeing that everyone can go after Al-Qaeda and ISIS. At the same time as they reverse their policy – an admission that they failed (to separate ‘moderate rebels’ from Al-Qaeda) – they continue to try to heap blame on Russia. Their manoeuvres are clear for all to see.

The new line is that there are only a ‘few hundred’ Al-Qaeda fighters amongst the ‘moderate rebels’ in Eastern Aleppo. So there is no excuse for Russia to be bombing. [2] But if that were really true surely the US would have been able to separate off their thousands of ‘moderate rebels’ from these “few hundred”? Obviously it is not true. The US is yet again lying at the Security Council.

Despite all this Russia continues to look for a diplomatic solution on Syria. The Russian side proposed a resolution, based in part on a UN proposal, for Al-Qaeda to leave Aleppo with their weapons. The Western nations of course vetoed that.

What the British representative fails to understand is that diplomacy is a two-way street. Bellowing “Stop Now” at foreigners [1] is so old-school. The idea of the UN is to bring all nations together to discuss world problems and try to resolve them. Simply ordering the foreigners to do what you want is passé.

And Churkin is right of course when he comments that Britain is supporting a “motely horde” (всякий сброд). A literal translation might be “any old riff-raff”. The UK is supporting the Free Syrian army – a disparate set of independent outfits many or most of which have now merged with much more right-wing Islamist groups. [3] The UK has sent “non-lethal” military aid. [4] And is involved in an intelligence operation based out of Jordan. [5] If anyone needs to “stop now” it is Britain.


And this is the problem. The US – with its European ‘allies’ in tow – insists only on its own interests. It seems the US cannot conceive of a balance of interests, of negotiation. If it comes into conflict with another party whose interests differ the US does not try to negotiate. Rather they dirty the name of the other country, impose sanctions, and, if the country is small enough use their military power to smash it back to the Stone Age.  There is simply no concept of negotiation and meeting half-way. Their own interests and values are equated with world interests and values and they cannot accept that this is not the case. The driver for this is probably a ‘winner takes all’ attitude of American business.

Speaking to Russian media the Russian Foreign Minister sums it up quite well. [6] Larvov comments that Washington tries to arrange matters only in terms of their own interest. He explains that the level of aggressive rhetoric has escalated to aggressive steps which effects the security of Russia. He continues, saying that when John Kerry was appointed Secretary of State he and Lavrov agreed to talk in a grown-up way without childless resentments – but, in fact, this is all that they (Russia) receive.

It is a measure of the complete break-down in relations that Lavrov should feel he has to make such public comments – remarks which would be inconceivable in the context of normal diplomatic relations.


1. Life News

2. https://www.rt.com/news/362059-syria-aleppo-vote-unsc/

3. http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/syria-conflict-who-are-major-players-bloody-complex-civil-war-1522027

4. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/revealed-what-the-west-has-given-syrias-rebels-8756447.html

5. http://www.stopwar.org.uk/index.php/news-comment/1490-how-the-uk-is-secretly-helping-to-stoke-the-flames-of-war-in-syria

6. Life News

Russia warns the US

Russia has warned the US that if it (continues to) attack Syrian military forces in Syria their planes and missiles may be shot down. [1]

Russian air defense system crews are unlikely to have time to determine in a ‘straight line’ the exact flight paths of missiles and then who the warheads belong to. And all the illusions of amateurs about the existence of ‘invisible’ jets will face a disappointing reality. [1]

This looks pretty blunt.

Since (by the US’s own admission) [2] any direct US military intervention in Syria would be illegal under international law – and since the Russians are there legally by invitation of the Syrian government – if the Russians were to actually shoot down a US missile or plane that would be a legal action carried out against an illegal aggression. A legal action carried out against criminals in effect.

It remains to be seen whether the US will now proceed to start bombing Syrian government forces. An alternative would be for them to supply anti-aircraft missiles to the opposition. They’ve been avoiding this so far because of the problem of seepage of weapons from ‘moderate rebels’ to radical Islamists. [3] A seepage of anti-aircraft weapons opens up the nightmare PR scenario for the US of an Israeli civilian plane being shot down with a US supplied missile.

One tactic the CIA uses is to supply their ‘moderate’ fighters with Eastern European weapons so as (presumably) to try to disguise their provenance. [4] But it seems unlikely that supplying such ‘kinetic’ weapons as effective anti-aircraft systems could be so easily disguised. And – the level of transparency in the US is such that such a covert programme would most likely be eventually disclosed.

The situation now appears to have real potential for a direct military confrontation between Russia and the US. US policy is in disarray. The danger is that the war party will seize the initiative and may come out on top.


1. https://www.rt.com/news/361800-russia-syria-usa-aistrikes/


3. http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/syria-conflict-jabhat-al-nusra-jihadists-show-off-weapons-allegedly-seized-us-trained-rebels-1522032

4. http://www.janes.com/article/59374/us-arms-shipment-to-syrian-rebels-detailed

Tangles on Syria

As this web site has already noted, US policy on Syria is in a mess.

The leaked audio from a meeting between Secretary of State John Kerry and a group of Syrians seeking the overthrow of Assad further shows the tangled mess that US policy is in.

In his conversation with the Syrians Secretary of State John Kerry claims that “The problem is the Russians don’t care about international law, and we do”. At the same time he explains that “I think you’re looking at three people, four people in the administration who have all argued for use of force, and I lost the argument.” He specifically said that he called for the US to attack Assad. And he complains that “congress refused to vote even to allow that”. If the US were to use military force against Assad it would be in breach of international law. Kerry explains in one breath that the US “cares about international law” and in the next that he says he argued for an illegal military intervention in Syria. Also, at the same time as claiming that “the Russians don’t care about international law” John Kerry admits that the Russians are in Syria legally because they have been “invited in”. All this shows a degree of confusion.

The US started arming the Syrian opposition [1] early on in the civil war. The arms were given to the opposition forces to fight the regime. The hope obviously was that a small proxy intervention of this kind would result in the quick ‘ouster’ of Assad. No doubt they were dreaming of Obama’s “teachers and dentists” forming a new Western leaning ‘democracy’ in Syria. However; entirely predictably, the situation quickly became more complex as radical Islamists came to the front of the fight against Assad and groups which could be described as ‘moderate’ or ‘democratic’ faded into the back ground. [2] US ‘partners’ Turkey and Saudi Arabia are thought to be backing some of these right-wing Sunni groups. [3] Now the US continues to arm ‘moderates’ in Syria [4], but increasingly the emphasis is on asking these groups to fight ISIS. The situation has spiraled out of control and US policy is adrift. It is clear that the US is never going to publicly admit that (once again) they’ve bungled a foreign intervention. The policy appears to be to divert attention onto Russia – claiming that Russia is committing ‘war crimes’ in Syria. The Western media dutifully amplifies the message. But, as the leaked remarks by John Kerry reveal, the US is stuck. Their arming of proxies has failed to achieve the result they want. But, following previous disastrous illegal interventions, appetite in Congress for more foreign wars seems to be tiring – so a full-scale invasion is not an option. (Not to mention the possible conflict with Russia that would entail). They won’t go back and can’t go forwards. The result is that they continue to pour in arms [4] into a situation which is a military stalemate. It is a failed policy, but they won’t admit it. Their actions only drag out the war even longer.

The way out of this quagmire proposed by many in the Western political class is for Russia to drop its support for Assad. [5] But what then? The likely result in not a democracy run by teachers and dentists but a chaotic state with right-wing Sunni groups at the front – and possibly a new war of in-fighting between these various groups. (ISIS and Al-Qaeda are already at each other’s throats). Look at Libya for example. The call for Russia to back off is as short-sighted as the original intervention.


1. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/21/world/middleeast/cia-said-to-aid-in-steering-arms-to-syrian-rebels.html

2. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/dec/14/syria-islamist-militants-growing-strength

3. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/syria-crisis-turkey-and-saudi-arabia-shock-western-countries-by-supporting-anti-assad-jihadists-10242747.html


4. http://uk.businessinsider.com/weapons-us-sends-to-syrian-rebels-2016-4/#ak-47-and-dshk-8

5. http://thenewobserver.co.uk/the-twisted-logic-of-the-west-on-syria/

Believe my dreams not my actions please – the US State Department

The US is naturally blaming Russia for the failure of the ceasefire in Syria. They’ve broken off bilateral talks with Russia. This is the State Department briefing about this. It starts at about 18 minutes into the video.

At 20 mins in the State Department admits that the US did not deliver its side of the deal on Syria with Russia. The deal called for them to separate their ‘moderate’ rebels from Al-Nusra. (The exact text of the agreement was not disclosed. But it is clear that the expectation of the Russia side was that they would do this). The US admitted they failed to do this. They say that they asked their ‘moderate’ rebels in ‘good faith’. Maybe they did. But the ceasefire deal required not that they simply ask but that they did in fact make that separation. It didn’t happen. Sergey Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister, said it didn’t happen. It is true. This won’t stop (as we can see) the State Department blaming Russia 100% for the failure of the ceasefire to be resumed.

But. There you are – in front of your eyes – the State Department admits they failed to keep their side of the bargain.

The apparent anguish and pained sincerity of the spokesperson cannot mask this fact. However; this fact won’t stop 99% of the ‘free’ press in the West joining in and blaming Russia.

At the end of this briefing the spokesperson gets caught in another tangle. She says “it is for the Syrian people to decide the future of Syria” and “Assad must go”. (Her words paraphrased). Well. Which? Because if there were ‘free and fair’ elections in Syria (an impossibility now that the country is overrun with Salafists who certainly don’t believe in ‘democracy’) quite possibly Assad would be elected. This tangle is the result of their dual strategy. On the one hand the US is an Empire who appoints and dismisses client kings with as much regard for ‘democracy’ as the Roman Empire had. On the other hand (and unlike the Roman Empire) everything is dressed up as resulting from their commitment to ‘democracy’.

The commitment to ‘democracy’ is about legitimizing themselves to their own domestic populations. Because if the mask slipped and they appeared as the greedy elites of an expansionist Empire that they actually are they’d be overthrown.


More Guardian propaganda on Syria

This is the Guardian egging on the US to take military action in Syria:

Earlier in the week two other emergency centres and the only remaining maternity centre were bombed by jets, prompting a bitter response from US diplomats and vague claims that Washington was “reviewing options” about how to defuse a grave and deteriorating humanitarian crisis. [1]

The sense of disappointment with the ‘vague’ response is palpable. As with Iraq and as with Libya the liberal press seems to play a role cheerleading for war.

But it happens time and time again. All the following are links to articles on the Guardian at the time of the UK’s intervention in Libya in 2011 about how this was going to bring ‘democracy’ to the country:

Libyan people: ‘What we need now is free speech and free thought’ (‘the masses want two things: retribution and democracy’)

Libya’s path to democracy (Paddy Ashdown writing in the Guardian and dreaming about democracy)

Opinion piece: As Gaddafi’s reign ends, the work of creating democracy in Libya begins (this one, amusingly, mocks people who fortold that Libya would descend into chaos, like Iraq. But that is exactly what happened…)

Libya prepares for liberation ceremony (about the ‘liberation’ ceremony following the murder of Gadaffi – which at least the paper admits was a problem)

Benghazi rappers voice hopes for Libyan democracy – video (Benghazi rappers rap for ‘democracy’. How right on. Only the Guardian.)

Editorial: Libya: The west can’t let Gaddafi destroy his people (This editorial argues for intervention and critiques the assertion that an intervention would lead to the rise of Al-Qaeda. But that is exactly what happened).

Of course, within a year or two the paper was reporting on how it had all gone wrong:

With Libya’s return to war, democratic dream is all but ruined

How Libya is slowly becoming ‘Somalia on the Med’

The Guardian view on Libya: learning lessons from the latest failure

We could repeat the same exercise with Iraq. Here for example is an editorial in 2003 calling for ‘decisive action’:

Iraq: the case for decisive action

And here is the inevitable ‘learning lessons’ article written 10 years after the event in 2013:

Iraq war: six lessons we still need to learn


Back to the article on Syria. And the propaganda goes on. For example; the ‘breakdown’ of the ceasefire (in fact it didn’t breakdown; it just wasn’t renewed) is blamed exclusively on the targeting of an aid convoy outside Aleppo. This is pure dishonest propaganda:

The attacks on Aleppo have worsened since the breakdown of a ceasefire brokered by Russia and the US that had barely lasted a week before Russian jets and Syrian helicopters attacked and destroyed an aid convoy that had been permitted to cross into an opposition-held part of the country

The UN has wavered on whether the attack was an air-strike. At any event it is unclear what the source is for this claim about “Russian jets”. The Russian MOD has denied their jets attacked the convoy. We can at least expect a source for this controversial claim. [2] And then there is propaganda by omission. In the week of the ceasefire the US bombed Syrian military positions killing upwards of 62 soldiers and giving a boost to the Al-Nusra militants who were opposing their position. [3] Surely this event would have been a major reason for the ceasefire to ‘break-down’?  And then the Russian air campaign is represented as targeting the ‘moderate opposition’ and causing civilian casualties:

The latest escalation comes on the first anniversary of the Russian intervention, which has been concentrated on northwest Syria and has transformed the battlefield across the country. Hailed initially as a campaign to confront Islamic State, the Russian role has been almost entirely aimed at defeating opposition to Assad, among them regular members of the armed rebel ranks and jihadist groups who often work among them.

Monitoring groups say that more than 3,000 civilians have been killed by Russian and Syrian attacks.

(The ‘hailed initially’ is a dramatic flourish which enables the prose writer to introduce the contrast with the claim about ‘defeating opposition to Assad’). The strongest opposition to Assad on the ground in Syria is the radical Islamist opposition. This report in the International Business Times [4] (hardly a ‘Kremlin mouthpiece’ [5]) and based in part on academic research makes it clear a) that radical Islamists are amongst the strongest and most significant elements fighting Assad, b) that there is intermingling between some of these groups and the ‘moderate opposition’ and c) that the ‘Free Syrian army’ is split into many different factions and indeed it can reasonably be argued that is does not even exist as a coherent entity. Incidentally all this is consistent with the explanations put out by the Russian Foreign Ministry that the ceasefire failed because the US could not separate its supposed ‘moderate rebels’ from the terrorists. [6] Thus if it is true that the Russian campaign has been targeting the opposition to Assad then that is entirely consistent with their claims to have been striking Al-Nusra, ISIS and groups who are working with them. The narrative about Russia being ‘in the wrong’ because they are targeting the ‘opposition to Assad’ is an excellent example of narrative construction. It is pure narrative and not grounded in actual facts. The narratives are designed to create a so-called moral case for whatever the West happens to be doing at this point.

Yes; no doubt Russian airstrikes cause civilian casualties. (The un-named ‘monitoring groups’ probably aren’t wrong though it would have been interesting to see the source so their methodologies and allegiances could have been examined). But then so do US airstrikes. And. more to the point, the Russian military intervention in Syria is legal under international law whereas that of the US and UK and others is not. Russia is there at the invitation of the government of Syria.

Also absent from this article is any mention of the ongoing covert US and UK operations which are seeing opposition fighters being armed. [7]

This article in the Guardian by a Martin Chulov, who, ironically, won the Orwell prize for journalism in 2015, [8] is part of a tradition in the liberal press in the West which is essentially a plea to legitimize genocide in the name of humanitarian interventions. The absence of any mention of the 62+ Syrian soldiers killed by a US air-strike, the entirely one-sided presentation, reflects the belief that their enemies (anyone who doesn’t accept the liberal-capitalist worldview) – in this case Assad and his forces – simply don’t count. They aren’t worth mentioning other than in a role of absolute demons.

The US military intervention in Syria has been going on since 2013 (or before). From the very start of this conflict the West unanimously joined with the opposition calling for Assad to ‘go’ – without any negotiation. That is; from the start the West has been promoting a military solution to this conflict, not a political settlement. The press plays its role, of creating the narrative in which the military intervention is explained in ‘moral’ and ‘humanitarian’ terms. But as a review of the course of events – via Guardian headlines – shows; so far it seems clear that these interventions have been causing more not less humanitarian tragedies.


Updated 5/10/16 to reflect recent UN statement on attack on aid convoy. See note 2) below.


1. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/oct/01/russia-warns-us-not-to-intervene-aleppo-hospital

2. http://www.itv.com/news/update/2016-09-20/un-syria-aid-convoy-hit-by-attacks-not-airstrikes/

“The United States blamed Russian aircraft. Moscow denies the charge. “With our analysis we determined it was an air strike and I think multiple other sources have said that as well,” Lars Bromley, research adviser at UNOSAT, told a Geneva news briefing. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced on Friday that he would establish an internal U.N. board of inquiry to investigate the attack and urged all parties to fully cooperate. (Reuters)” – report by RT 5/10/16.

3. https://www.rt.com/news/359678-us-strikes-syrian-army/

4. http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/syria-conflict-who-are-major-players-bloody-complex-civil-war-1522027

5. The International Business Times is owned by the same New York based group, IBT media, which publishes Newsweek. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IBT_Media . IBT media is privately owned.

6. https://www.rt.com/usa/360971-kerry-russia-syria-talks/

7. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/27/world/middleeast/cia-arms-for-syrian-rebels-supplied-black-market-officials-say.html?_r=0



8. https://www.theguardian.com/profile/martin-chulov

The twisted logic of the West on Syria

The logic is strange, twisted, and in an insane and imperialist kind of a way even makes sense.

You can see it in pronouncements by the UK Foreign Secretary that Russia could end the situation in Syria tomorrow and you can see it in this editorial comment on the BBC:

Mr Lavrov’s central message – that Washington has refused to press its allies to separate themselves from the Islamists of al-Nusra ignores the fact that it is Russia’s air campaign that is pushing rebel groups into al-Nusra’s arms. [1]

Well. The Syrian government (call them regime because we are against them) is bombing groups who are trying to destroy it. Russia is supporting the Syrian government (though to what extent Russia has been bombing groups other than ISIS and Al-Nusra is a matter of contention). If the Syrian government/regime wasn’t bombing the rebel groups then they would have lost the war and been overrun. When the political and media classes in the West say that Syria/Russia shouldn’t bomb the rebels what they are really saying is: give up your arms, lie down and surrender, and the war will be over. That’s true enough. But it is not a piece of analysis. It is a threat and a call for unconditional surrender. When they make statements that Russia is prolonging the war in Syria by assisting the Syrian government the sub-text is: stop doing this, Assad will fall and then there will be no more war. I.e. we will win. To present this demand for unconditional surrender as a piece of analysis is characteristic of imperialist thinking.

They are stilled glued to the dream of regime change.

But Russia is thinking long-term. Russia’s analysis is that if the government of Syria falls then Syria will become another Iraq, another Libya – that is another failed state facing years of turmoil and suffering and providing a haven for terrorists – people who want to hurt Russia. That is why Russia is continuing to support the Syrian state.


1. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-37520793