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Who's to Blame for Syria Mess? Putin!

By       Message Robert Parry     Permalink
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Reprinted from Consortium News


Russian President Vladimir Putin.
(image by (Russian government photo))
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Sen. Lindsey Graham may have been wrong about pretty much everything related to the Middle East, but at least he has the honesty to tell Americans that the current trajectory of the wars in Syria and Iraq will require a U.S. re-invasion of the region and an open-ended military occupation of Syria, draining American wealth, killing countless Syrians and Iraqis, and dooming thousands, if not tens of thousands, of U.S. troops.

Graham's grim prognostication of endless war may be a factor in his poll numbers below one percent, a sign that even tough-talking Republicans aren't eager to relive the disastrous Iraq War. Regarding the mess in Syria, there are, of course, other options, such as cooperation with Russia and Iran to resist the gains of the Islamic State and Al Qaeda and a negotiated power-sharing arrangement in Damascus. But those practical ideas are still being ruled out.

Official Washington's "group think" still holds that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad "must go," that U.S. diplomats should simply deliver a "regime change" ultimatum not engage in serious compromise, and that the U.S. government must obstruct assistance from Russia and Iran even if doing so risks collapsing Assad's secular regime and opening the door to an Al Qaeda/Islamic State victory.

Of course, if that victory happens, there will be lots of finger-pointing splitting the blame between President Barack Obama for not being "tough" enough and Russia's President Vladimir Putin who has become something of a blame-magnet for every geopolitical problem. On Friday, during a talk at Fort Meade in Maryland, Obama got out front on assigning fault to Putin.

Obama blamed Putin for not joining in imposing the U.S.-desired "regime change" on Syria. But Obama's "Assad must go!" prescription carries its own risks as should be obvious from the U.S. experiences in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Ukraine. Ousting some designated "bad guy" doesn't necessarily lead to some "good guy" taking over.

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More often, "regime change" produces bloody chaos in the target country with extremists filling the vacuum. The idea that these transitions can be handled with precision is an arrogant fiction that may be popular during conferences at Washington's think tanks, but the scheming doesn't work out so well on the ground.

And, in building the case against Assad, there's been an element of "strategic communications" -- the new catch phrase for the U.S. government's mix of psychological operations, propaganda and P.R. The point is to use and misuse information to manage the perceptions of the American people and the world's public to advance Washington's strategic goals.

So, although it's surely true that Syrian security forces struck back fiercely at times in the brutal civil war, some of that reporting has been exaggerated, such as the now-discredited claims that Assad's forces launched a sarin gas attack against Damascus suburbs on Aug. 21, 2013. The evidence now suggests that Islamic extremists carried out a "false flag" operation with the goal of tricking Obama into bombing the Syrian military, a deception that almost worked. [See Consortiumnews.com's "The Collapsing Syria-Sarin Case."]

Even earlier, independent examinations of how the Syrian crisis developed in 2011 reveal that Sunni extremists were part of the opposition mix from the start, killing Syrian police and soldiers. That violence, in turn, provoked government retaliation that further divided Syria and exploited resentments of the Sunni majority, which has long felt marginalized in a country where Alawites, Shiites, Christians and secularists are better represented in the Assad regime. [See Consortiumnews.com's "Hidden Origins of Syria's Civil War."]

An Obvious Solution

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The obvious solution would be a power-sharing arrangement that gives Sunnis more of a say but doesn't immediately require Assad, who is viewed as the protector of the minorities, to step down as a precondition. If Obama opted for that approach, many of Assad's Sunni political opponents on the U.S. payroll could be told to accept such an arrangement or lose their funding. Many if not all would fall in line. But that requires Obama abandoning his "Assad must go!" mantra.

So, while Official Washington continues to talk tough against Assad and Putin, the military situation in Syria continues to deteriorate with the Islamic State and Al Qaeda's affiliate, the Nusra Front, gaining ground, aided by financial and military support from U.S. regional "allies," including Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other Sunni-led Persian Gulf states. Israel also has provided help to the Nusra Front, caring for its wounded troops along the Golan Heights and bombing pro-government forces inside Syria.

President Obama may feel that his negotiations with Iran to constrain its nuclear program -- when Israeli leaders and American neocons favored a bomb-bomb-bombing campaign -- have put him in a political bind where he must placate Israel and Saudi Arabia, including support for Israeli-Saudi desired "regime change" in Syria and tolerance of the Saudi-led invasion of Yemen. [See Consortiumnews.com's "On Syria, Incoherence Squared."]

Privately, I'm told, Obama agreed to -- and may have even encouraged -- Putin's increased support for the Assad regime, realizing it's the only real hope of averting a Sunni-extremist victory. But publicly Obama senses that he can't endorse this rational move. Thus, Obama, who has become practiced at speaking out of multiple sides of his mouth, joined in bashing Russia -- sharing that stage with the usual suspects, including The New York Times' editorial page.

In a lead editorial on Saturday, entitled "Russia's Risky Military Moves in Syria," the Times excoriated Russia and Putin for trying to save Assad's government. Though Assad won a multi-party election in the portions of Syria where balloting was possible in 2014, the Times deems him a "ruthless dictator" and seems to relish the fact that his "hold on his country is weakening."

The Times then reprises the "group think" blaming the Syrian crisis on Putin. "Russia has long been a major enabler of Mr. Assad, protecting him from criticism and sanctions at the United Nations Security Council and providing weapons for his army," the Times asserts. "But the latest assistance may be expanding Russian involvement in the conflict to a new and more dangerous level."

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Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at
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