On 7 April the United States, in flagrant breach of international law, launched an unprovoked attack against the Shayrat airbase in the Syrian province of Homs. The assault took the form of a barrage of 59 Tomahawk missiles against an airfield that has served as the base for many successful strikes against Daesh targets, making it crystal clear precisely where Washington’s sympathies truly lie.
Whilst this outrageous violation of Syrian sovereignty in the event proved to be a humiliating failure for imperialism, with over half the missiles off-target, only half a dozen out-of-service aircraft destroyed and the base back in operation by the following day, the foreign ministers of Syria, Iran and Russia correctly denounced the missile attack as a dangerous act of international aggression. Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov warned that such attacks had serious ramifications “not only for regional but also global security” (‘Russia, Syria & Iran demand no further US strikes on Syria’, RT, 14 April 2017). Russia has responded by suspending the joint memorandum on flight safety which had been in operation since October 2015, whilst leaving the door open to its resumption should the US desist from such actions. In short, America’s rash act has brought the world a step closer to global war.
Lavrov also repeated the demand for a “thorough, objective and unbiased investigation of the circumstance of the use of chemical substances in Khan Shaykhun on April 4” (ibid.). Reports spoke of 80 deaths and 200 injuries as a result of mass exposure to toxins. Baseless assertions of Syrian government culpability for the loss of life have served as the pretext for the missile attack, yet Washington’s lack of interest in a serious investigation (with which the Syrian foreign minister, Walid Muallem, has in advance pledged full cooperation) raises suspicions about the role that imperialist meddling played. Lavrov pointed out that an increasing amount of evidence points to the conclusion that the chemical incident in Idlib province, home to many of the last-ditch Daesh (Islamic State) jihadis, was staged specifically to set up the Syrian government. The suspicion must surely be that the release of chemical toxins not only served US aggression as a windfall pretext but was deliberately orchestrated by Western-backed terror gangs on the ground.
On 4 April, as news first broke about the exposure of civilians to toxins, the BBC’s radio coverage featured an interview with Sir Peter Ford, who from 2003 to 2006 served as Britain’s ambassador to Syria. Asked what he made of allegations that the Syrian government was responsible for the release of toxins in Idlib, Ford said it was very unlikely that Damascus was culpable because (a) it had long since given up its chemical weapons and (b) it was already winning the war and would have nothing to gain by handing such a propaganda opportunity to its critics. Questioned about the possible causes of the toxin release, Ford pointed out that the jihadis are known to be stockpiling chemical weapons, and suggested that an airstrike on a jihadi stockpile could account for the tragedy.
Subsequent BBC interviews and analysis pedalled rapidly away from these heretical views and got the imperialist lie machine safely back on message.
As usual, the ill-named Stop the War Coalition unhesitatingly picked up the imperialist thread, issuing a newsletter on the same day assuring the faithful that the “aerial attack on Khan Sheikhun in Idlib province” was “apparently carried out by the regime” (emphasis added). It is some measure of the degeneracy into which Stop the War has fallen when there is more truth to be had from a former imperialist ambassador and knight of the realm than from John Rees and the rest of the pack. Cutting through the propaganda lies, Russian defence ministry spokesman Major-General Igor Konashenkov confirmed that the Syrian Air Force had indeed destroyed a major rebel ammunition depot east of the town of Khan Sheikhoun, a depot that was used to both produce and store shells containing toxic gas, ready for supply to Iraq (‘Rebel warehouse with chem weapons hit by Syrian airstrike in Idlib – Russian MOD’, RT, 4 April 2017).
Trump: change of plan?
The Tomahawk missile attack, whilst doing nothing to reverse the tide of war running in favour of the Syrian government, is sharply at odds with the mood music hitherto piped out by the Trump administration, prompting any number of rival speculative explanations. Trump has had his chain pulled by the Pentagon, or has fallen prey to mental illness, or has simply been spinning a yarn all along, or is offering the missile attack as a symbolic concession to stave off Neo Con pressure: take your pick.
The bottom line, however, is that a US president will sink or swim depending on his ability to advance the permanent interests of US imperialism, and this holds true for even the loosest of cannons on the deck. It is in the interests of US imperialism at this phase of the overproduction crisis to stake everything on the struggle to dominate the world markets by all means necessary, most especially with reference to the oil-rich Middle East. Yet to this end, by pursuing a six-year proxy war against the independence and sovereignty of Syria waged in pursuit of hegemonic control, it has both aroused an implacable spirit of national resistance from amongst the Syrian people and provoked the Russian Federation into accepting Syria’s invitation to come to her aid, turning the tide of war decisively against the jihadi terror gangs and their imperialist backers.
Now imperialism faces a dilemma: it is fighting a war which it cannot win, yet dare not be seen to lose. If it directly intervenes on a major scale, ceasing to hide behind proxies and local actors, it risks going head to head with Russia, with incalculable consequences. If it fails to intervene on a major scale, it risks seeing its geopolitical grip on the whole region compromised. On the presidential stump, Hillary Clinton was outspoken in favour of so-called ‘no fly zones’, the same euphemism which prefaced the genocidal blitzkrieg against Libya. Trump has previously seemed to incline to the other horn of the dilemma, looking for a face-saving ‘deal’ with President Assad. It is possible that the Tomahawk attack announces a radical change of direction: only time will tell.
What is certainly the case is that, in its attempts to orchestrate the ‘liberation’ from Daesh control of the northern cities of al-Bab, Manjib and Raqqa in such a way as to maximise post-Daesh imperialist influence, Washington is increasingly attempting to micromanage relations between the supposed ‘moderate opposition’ forces and the Kurdish YPG forces, a task that resembles herding bees.
These two very uneasy bedfellows, the Ankara-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) cut-throats and the US-backed and Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Front (SDF) can only be dissuaded from going to war with each other by the more and more visible presence of US special forces instructors and marines. Manbij, wrested from Daesh by the SDF, is now run by a Kurdish council under protection by US forces – protection from the Turkish army and its FSA auxiliaries, that is. Al-Bab was ‘liberated’ from Daesh by those same cut-throats after a three month campaign; some suggest that without US marines assisting, the Turkish army and its little helpers are unlikely to make much further headway. Drawing attention to the premature conclusion of Ankara’s much trumpeted Operation Euphrates Shield, Cengiz Çandar writing in Al Monitor recalls that Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavasoglu “had said after al-Bab’s capture in late February from the Islamic State (IS) that the operation would continue on to its next target, Manbij, and after that to Raqqa. Not only Cavusoglu, but the ultimate decision-maker on Turkey’s Syria policy, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, also repeatedly stated Turkey’s intention of removing the Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and People’s Protection Units (YPG) from Manbij and replacing the SDF as Washington’s main ally in the campaign to capture Raqqa. Those objectives have not been achieved.” Çandar concludes from this that “capturing al-Bab was not Turkey’s real or ultimate aim. The actual goal was to push the Kurdish military presence west of the Euphrates and end US military cooperation with the Kurds. As March progressed, however, it became clear that that wasn’t going to happen. The Americans moved their special operations forces from south of the Sajuk River to north of Manbij to deter their NATO ally, Turkey, from taking military action against the SDF, which the United States considers its main ally in confronting IS west and east of the Euphrates” (Cengiz Çandar, ‘Operation Euphrates Shield: a postmortem’, Al Monitor, 5 April 2017).
US boots on the ground
Whether this analysis really says the last word on which ‘anti-Daesh ally’ secures the dubious privilege of pulling chestnuts out of the fire for the US, it is clear that Washington is now setting much store on having its own ‘boots on the ground’ to steer the ‘liberation’ of Raqqa in the direction judged most conducive to long-term imperialist interests. At the joke ‘Ministerial Plenary for the Global Coalition Working to Defeat ISIS anti-Islamic State’ jamboree hosted by Washington, a shindig from which Syria, Russia and Iran were all notable by their absence from the guest list, secretary of state Rex Tillerson, whilst claiming that the US-led coalition was not in “the business of nation-building”, took the opportunity to assert that “The military power of the coalition will remain where this fraudulent caliphate has existed in order to set the conditions for a full recovery from the tyranny of ISIS” (Rex W Tillerson, ‘Remarks at the Ministerial Plenary for the Global Coalition Working to Defeat ISIS’, 22 March 2017).
The Pentagon seems to be preparing public opinion for a new imposition of US ‘boots on the ground’ in both Syria and Iraq, with a spokesman telling the LA Times that “In order to maintain tactical surprise, ensure operational security and force protection, the coalition will not routinely announce or confirm information about the capabilities, force numbers, locations, or movement of forces in or out of Iraq and Syria.” This hint, coming after earlier announcements of a thousand-plus US military personnel already deployed in the field in Syria, suggests that this is the tip of an iceberg. Many soldiers in the field do not figure in the tally because they are supposedly on temporary deployment to “non-enduring” missions for a few months – missions which can easily enough be quietly extended should the situation so require. General Joseph Votel, US warlord in the Middle East, summed up the Pentagon view: “We have recognized that as we continue to pursue our military objectives in Syria, we are going to need more direct all-weather fire support capability for our Syrian Democratic Force partners” (‘Pentagon seeks to “surprise” ISIS with unannounced troops deployments in Iraq & Syria’, RT, 2 April 2017).
Syria will be free
Meanwhile the Syrian Arab Army continues to stand firm. Prior to the US missile attack, terrorist activity in Aleppo province and Zionist airstrikes in the south were already keeping the army busy. But if Syria’s enemies supposed that by such means her armed forces can be distracted from the liberation of their homeland, they will have drawn no comfort from the news that the SAA, with their crack ‘Tiger Forces’ in the vanguard, are currently coming to grips with Daesh in the Maskanah Plains of eastern Aleppo. It is hoped that success there will open the way from the Maskanah and the Itriyah axes for an offensive targeting Raqqa itself.
Perhaps in recognition of the SAA’s advances in this and other areas, an SDF spokesman hastened to assure Al-Watan, a Syrian newspaper, that the SDF has always considered the Syrian army to be an essential part of the Syrian homeland and people, and welcomes the participation of the SAA in the coming operation to kick Daesh out of Raqqa (see Renato Velez, ‘Kurdish-led SDF welcomes Syrian Army participation in coming Raqqa offensive’, Al Masdar News, 24 March 2017). This curious invitation to the Syrian army to “participate” in the liberation of its own country, whilst it may strike some as superfluous, serves as an unwelcome reminder to the imperialist puppet-master that the Syrian army and people cede to no one the right to determine Syria’s future. The SDF spokesman hurried to make clear that “any kind of SAA involvement in the Raqqa operation will be discussed with the main SDF partner, the US-led coalition”. One can only imagine the enthusiasm with which Washington will greet any such involvement, given that the whole phony US war against Daesh has for its real goal the overthrow of the Syrian leadership and the defeat of the Syrian army.
Victory to the Syrian president, government, army and people!
The terrorist murder in cold blood of over a hundred civilians on 15 April as they waited in buses to be taken from their besieged towns of al-Fouaa and Kefraya, a massacre which deliberately targeted children, is a crime against humanity for which the imperialist media bear a large share of responsibility. For weeks the media spoke of nothing but the siege of Aleppo, by which they meant the terrorist occupied east of the city, inventing ever more lurid stories about Syrian or Russian ‘crimes’ as the Syrian Arab Army advanced to liberate the city from the grip of al-Nusra jihadis. All the while, near-total silence was maintained about the Syrians of al-Fouaa and Kefraya, who for years endured siege, starvation and shelling by their terrorist besiegers. No mysterious White Helmets popped up to offer humanitarian comfort to the sick and the wounded, as the besiegers were given a free rein and the inhabitants were disregarded as ‘pro-regime’ and therefore not newsworthy.