In Syria, rather than cooperate with Russia and Iran in helping Assad's military defeat the jihadists, the Obama administration has continued playing it cute, insisting -- as Secretary of State John Kerry has said recently -- that armed "legitimate opposition groups" exist separately from Al Qaeda's Nusra Front.
In reality, however, the so-called "moderate" rebels around Aleppo and Idlib are Al Qaeda's junior partners whose value to the cause is that they qualify for CIA weaponry that can then be passed on to Nusra as well as Nusra's key ally Ahrar al-Sham and other jihadist fighters.
Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham, the chief elements of the Saudi-created "Army of Conquest," deployed U.S. TOW missiles to devastating effect against the Syrian army in the jihadists' victory last year in Idlib province, a success that finally prompted Putin to commit Russian air power to defend the Syrian government last September.
Helping the Islamic State
Meanwhile, Turkey has left about 100 kilometers of its border open for various jihadist groups to bring in reinforcements and weapons while letting the Islamic State smuggle out oil for sale on the black market. Last fall, after Russia (and a reluctant United States) began bombing ISIS oil-truck convoys, Turkey shot down a Russian bomber near Turkey's border, leading to the deaths of the pilot and a rescuer.
Now, as the Russian-backed Syrian army makes major gains against the Nusra-dominated rebels around Aleppo and encroaches on Islamic State territory near Raqqa -- and as U.S.-backed Kurdish forces also advance against ISIS -- Turkey's Erdogan has grown frantic over the prospects that his five-year project of aiding Syrian jihadists may be collapsing.
Amid this desperation, Turkey has been urging President Obama to support a limited invasion of Syria to create a "safe zone," supposedly to protect Syrian rebels and civilians in northern Syria. But that humanitarian-sounding plan may well be a cover for a more ambitious plan to march to Damascus and forcibly remove President Assad from power.
That is a goal shared by Turkey, Saudi Arabia and other Sunni states along with Israel and America's influential neoconservatives and their "liberal interventionist" sidekicks. For his part, Obama has called on Assad "to go" but has favored diplomatic negotiations to achieve that end. Russia has advocated a political settlement with free elections so the Syrian people can decide Assad's future themselves.
The Russians also keenly remember the West's subterfuge regarding Libya in 2011 when the U.S. and its NATO allies pushed a "humanitarian" resolution through the United Nations Security Council supposedly to protect Libyan civilians but then used it to achieve violent "regime change," a classic case of the camel getting its nose into the tent.
On Syria, Russia watched for years as the United States, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other Sunni states supported various Sunni rebel groups seeking to overthrow Assad, an Alawite, representing a branch of Shiite Islam. Though Assad has been widely criticized for the harsh response to the uprising, he maintains a secular government that has protected Christians, Alawites, Shiites and other minorities.
Besides being a target of Sunni regional powers, Assad has long been on the Israeli-neocon hit list because he's seen as the centerpiece of the "Shiite crescent" stretching from Iran through Iraq and Syria to Lebanon. Since Israeli leaders (and thus the American neocons) see Iran as Israel's greatest enemy, the goal of collapsing the "Shiite crescent" has concentrated on bringing down Assad -- even if his ouster would create a political/military vacuum that Al Qaeda and/or Islamic State might fill.
Making Syria the site for this proxy war has inflicted particularly savage results on the Syrians. For five years the violence by both the rebels and the army has destroyed much of the country and killed more than 250,000 people while also sending waves of desperate refugees crashing into Europe, now destabilizing the European Union.
However, as the U.S. and its Mideast allies -- especially Saudi Arabia and Turkey -- escalated the conflict last year by supplying the rebels, including Al Qaeda's Nusra Front, with American TOW missiles and other sophisticated weapons, Russian President Putin decided it was time to help Syria's government stop the spread of Sunni terrorism, a threat that has also plagued Russia.
Initially, Official Washington mocked the Russian effort as incapable of accomplishing much, but the Syrian military's recent victories have turned that derisive laughter into shocked fury. For one, the neoconservative flagship Washington Post has unleashed a stream of editorials and op-eds decrying the Syrian-Russian victories.
"Russia, Iran and the Syrian government are conducting a major offensive aimed at recapturing the city of Aleppo and the rebel-held territory that connects it to the border with Turkey," the Post lamented. "They have cut one supply route to the city and are close to severing another, trapping rebel forces along with hundreds of thousands of civilians."
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