People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 32

August 11 , 2013


Syria: US Ups the Ante

Yohannan Chemarapally

EVEN as the Syrian government was preparing to send a high level delegation to Geneva to participate in talks with the opposition, the Obama administration announced that the United States would formally start sending weaponry to the already heavily armed opposition groups waging war against the Syrian state. The decision of the US government to side openly with the militant groups fighting inside Syria came after the White House issued a statement on June 13, claiming that there was �a high certainty� that chemical weapons had been used by Syrian government forces. The conclusions were based on American �intelligence assessments� but the Obama administration did not produce any serious evidence to substantiate its claims. The Syrian government described the allegations as �a caravan of lies.� The Obama administration claims to have shared its �evidence� on the use of chemical weapons with Moscow. Yuri Ushakov, the foreign policy adviser to the Russian president, told the media that what the Americans presented did not look �convincing� at all.


John Pascal Zanders, a leading expert on chemical weapons and a former researcher at the European Union�s Institute of Security Studies, was dismissive of the chorus of claims by Washington, London and Paris that chemicals weapons were deployed inside Syria by government forces. Zanders pointed out that the victims of Sarin attacks don�t survive to tell the tale. Survivors of alleged Sarin gas attacks were shown on international TV. Zanders, who also headed the Chemical and Biological Warfare Project at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute and was director of the Geneva based bio-weapons research institute, has said that if Sarin gas was used the victims would have been long dead before they reached doctors for treatment. Medical personnel in contact with the victims would also have perished, he noted.

The charge by Obama of chemical weapons being used by Syria is similar to the bogus claims of the Bush administration that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) in order to justify his invasion of the country.

President Barack Obama has been under considerable pressure from �liberal hawks� within his own party like Bill and Hillary Clinton and certified militarists like John McCain to militarily intervene in Syria. Bill Clinton went on record saying that Obama would look like a �total fool� if he �stopped short of dropping a few bombs on Syria.�

Carla del Ponte from the UN�s Commission of Enquiry on Syria had said in May that it was the rebel side which used Sarin gas inside Syria. The attack had taken place in the government held part of Aleppo in March and had killed more than 30 civilians. The Turkish media reported in early June that Al Nusra rebels trained by the Special Forces of Qatar were caught with Sarin gas canisters near the border with Syria.

Washington�s new ploy on Syria was detailed after the militant groups suffered a significant military setback in the strategically located town of Qusayr near the border with Lebanon. A week before Washington�s claim, the French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, also said that traces of Sarin were found in specimens brought to French authorities allegedly from inside Syria and had blamed the Syrian government for using it against civilians.

President Obama had stated earlier in the year that the use of �chemical weapons� by the Syrian army would be a �game changer� that would force the US to intervene militarily. Since then, the rebel groups have been trying their best to prove by hook or by crook that the Syrian army has resorted to chemical warfare. As things turned out, President Obama did not need much convincing anyway. His earlier �red line� statement was enough incentive for the rebel groups to stage �false flag� operations to drag the US into Syrian quagmire. From the very beginning of the conflict, Obama�s refrain was that �Assad must go.�


The hard-line position has left Washington with very little space to manoeuvre diplomatically as all signs indicate that President Bashar Assad is no lame duck and is here to stay. Despite the destruction and the chaos wrought on the country, the majority of Syrians still want him around as a guarantor of their multi religious and multi-ethnic state. The Syrian authorities are still calling for internationally supervised elections to decide the future of the country. Presidential elections in Syria are scheduled to be held in 2014.

The rebels were steadily losing ground when President Obama decided to chip in openly with American military help. Now the conflict, which has entered its third year, will drag on causing more civilian casualties and further ravaging the shattered country. More than 90,000 Syrians have already perished in a war manipulated by outside forces.

Till now most of the heavy lifting on behalf of the motley rebel forces has been Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. The US, along with Britain and France, has been involved in the logistics and training. But now for the first time, Washington has come out openly on the side of the rebels, pledging military support for the stated goal of regime change. Replacing the secular government in Damascus has always been a high priority for Washington since the beginning of the last decade. The Arab Spring uprisings that led to regime changes in Tunisia and Egypt and the military intervention in Libya provided the new window of opportunity for Washington in Syria. The West sought to replicate the Libyan scenario in Syria by first bankrolling protests and then trying to create a �Benghazi� like situation. But the events in Libya that led to the ouster of Muammar Gaddafi had made the international community wiser. The attempts of the West to pass a UN Security Council resolution condemning the Syrian government and then impose a �no fly zone� over the country have been blocked by Russia and China.

However, an open military intervention by the West in Syria has been ruled out by most experts and military analysts as such a move could lead to a regional conflagration. �The US does not want an all out war because then it would seriously jeopardise the security of their closest ally � Israel,� a senior Syrian diplomat said. Instead, the US wants to keep the pressure on Damascus and its allies by increasing military aid to the rebels and putting their troops and Patriot missiles in Jordan and Turkey. A meeting of the �Friends of Syria� (a groups dominated by the Sunni monarchies and Washington), held in Qatar in the third week of June, announced that �practical measures� will be taken to help the opposition forces in the proxy war against Syria. Representatives of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) the rebel group currently favoured by the West, have boasted that the US has already supplied them those sophisticated weapons, including armour piercing munitions and anti-aircraft missile launchers. Reports in the American media have said that CIA operatives are secretly training Syrian rebels with anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons since late last year, months before President Obama openly made his pledge of arming them. The rebel spokespersons have said that the course of the battle will now change. The facts on the ground, however, tell a different story. The Syrian army is now on the verge of completely controlling Aleppo and Homs. Small sections of the cities still continue to have a rebel presence.


By openly siding with the Sunni Arab monarchies in the region against Syria, the US has widened the growing sectarian schism in the region. As Conn Hallinan, an American foreign policy analyst, has observed, by joining with Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Jordan, �the world�s last bastions of feudal power,� the US has �essentially become part of the Sunni jihad against Shiites in Syria, Iraq, Iran and Lebanon.� The Americans want now to be in control of Syrian operations. The stepping down of the Qatari Emir, according to observers, is not unconnected with the ongoing events in Syria and the region. According to some Arab officials, the Qatari ruler, Sheikh Hamad, was arm-twisted into handing over power to his son, as Washington was extremely unhappy with Qatar acting as a benefactor to the various jihadi groups waging war in West Asia and beyond. According to the officials, the Americans had found evidence to show that the former Al Qaeda leader, Osama bin Laden, was funded by the Qatari royal family. It is no secret that the Al Nusra, which has owned up allegiance to the Al Qaeda, is the main beneficiary of Qatari largesse in Syria.

The New York Times reported on June 30 that despite requests from Washington, the Qatari Emir sent shoulder fired heat seeking missiles to the Syrian rebel groups they favour. The Obama administration had expressed the fear that these weapons would be used by the Al Qaeda against American targets. There are credible reports that the Qataris have sent their special forces to Syria like they did in Libya. The Special Forces instructors hail from Pakistan. Many Pakistani Sunnis have been given citizenship in Gulf countries like Bahrain and have come to occupy senior positions in the security networks. The Qataris have so far spent three billion dollars in their efforts to overthrow the Syrian government. Their efforts included the massive airlifting of ammunition and fighters from Libya and funding of the Al Nusra group. A CNN report has said that the Al Nusra Front is the best equipped among the militant groups fighting inside Syria. The Americans and their western allies now want to prop up more palatable �moderate� militias inside Syria to do their bidding. In this context, the US is now keeping a tighter leash on Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which has a particular fondness for Salafi groups.

The Republican governments supporting the Syrian rebels are also facing a popular backlash. Turkish media commentators have described Syria as being Turkey�s �Vietnam.� The decision of the Turkish government almost at the very outset of the Syrian civil strife to allow jihadist forces from all over the world to congregate on its territory to wage war against its neighbour, has not gone down well with the people. The refugee crisis in Turkey along the border with Syria has also inflamed passions. Two car bombs on May 11 killed 52 people and injured more than 140 in the border town of Reyhanli. The mass demonstrations the country witnessed in June is an illustration of the general disenchantment of a sizeable section of the Turkish population with Erdogan�s policies, especially on Syria.

The then Egyptian president, Mohammed Morsi, was also caught in a similar predicament. He had given a green signal to all Egyptians to go and wage �jihad� in Syria after breaking off diplomatic ties with Syria in June. However, on the first anniversary of his rule, the Egyptian people were seen demonstrating in the streets demanding his immediate resignation. Saudi Arabia had to embark on a massive 132 billion dollars spending programme to calm its restive young population. The Obama administration is of course not interested either in dynastic rule or in spreading democracy in the Gulf monarchies. Regime change and democracy at this juncture has only been prescribed for Syria in the region, by the West.