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The US-Russia Proxy War in Syria

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Reprinted from Consortium News


President Barack Obama meets with President Vladimir Putin of Russia on the sidelines of the G20 Summit at Regnum Carya Resort in Antalya, Turkey, Sunday, Nov. 15, 2015. National Security Advisor Susan E. Rice listens at left.
(Image by (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza))
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Belatedly, at a sidebar meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Paris climate summit on Monday, President Barack Obama reportedly expressed regret for last week's killing of a Russian pilot who was shot down by a Turkish air-to-air missile fired by a U.S.-supplied F-16 and the subsequent death of a Russian marine on a search-and-rescue mission, apparently killed by a U.S.-made TOW missile.

But Obama administration officials continued to take the side of Turkey, a NATO "ally" which claims implausibly that it was simply defending its air space and that the Russian pilot of the SU-24 warplane had ignored repeated warnings. According to accounts based on Turkish data, the SU-24 may have strayed over a slice of Turkish territory for 17 seconds. [See Consortiumnews.com's "Facts Back Russia on Turkish Attack."]

Immediately after the incident on Nov. 24, Obama offered a knee-jerk justification of Turkey's provocative action which appears to have been a deliberate attack on a Russian warplane to deter continued bombing of Syrian jihadists, including the Islamic State and Al Qaeda's Nusra Front. Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, an Islamist, has supported various jihadists as his tip of the spear in his goal to overthrow the secular regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

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In his first public comments about the Turkish attack, Obama gracelessly asserted Turkey's right to defend its territory and air space although there was never any indication that the SU-24 -- even if it had strayed momentarily into Turkish air space -- had any hostile intentions against Turkey. Indeed, Turkey and the United States were well aware that the Russian planes were targeting the Islamic State, Al Qaeda's Nusra Front and other jihadist rebels.

Putin even complained, "We told our U.S. partners in advance where, when at what altitudes our pilots were going to operate. The U.S.-led coalition, which includes Turkey, was aware of the time and place where our planes would operate. And this is exactly where and when we were attacked. Why did we share this information with the Americans? Either they don't control their allies, or they just pass this information left and right without realizing what the consequences of such actions might be. We will have to have a serious talk with our U.S. partners."

Putin also suggested that the Turkish attack was in retaliation for Russia's bombing of a truck convoy carrying Islamic State oil to Turkey. On Monday, on the sidelines of the Paris summit, Putin said Russia has "received additional information confirming that that oil from the deposits controlled by Islamic State militants enters Turkish territory on industrial scale."

Turkey's Erdogan -- also in Paris -- denied buying oil from terrorists and vowed to resign "if it is proven that we have, in fact, done so."

Was Obama Angry?

In private, Obama may have been outraged by Erdogan's reckless actions -- as some reports suggest -- but, if so, Obama seems publicly more afraid of offending the neocons who dominate Official Washington's opinion circles and who hold key positions in his own administration, than of provoking a possible nuclear confrontation with Russia.

On Nov. 24, even as Russian emotions were running high -- reacting to the killing of one Russian pilot and the death of a second Russian marine killed after his helicopter was shot down apparently by a U.S.-supplied TOW missile fired by Syrian jihadists -- Obama chose to act "tough" against Putin, both during a White House press conference with French President Francois Holland and later with pro-Turkish remarks from U.S. officials.

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During the press conference after the Turkish shoot-down and the deliberate fire from Turkish-backed Syrian jihadists aiming at two Russian airmen as they parachuted to the ground, Obama chose to make disparaging remarks about the Russian president.

Obama boasted about the 65 nations in the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State compared to Putin's small coalition of Russia and Iran (although Putin's tiny coalition appears to be much more serious and effective than Obama's bloated one, which includes countries such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar that have been implicated in supporting jihadist elements, including Al Qaeda and the Islamic State).

By delivering these anti-Russian insults at such a delicate time, Obama apparently was trusting that Putin would keep his cool and tamp down public emotions at home, even as Obama lacked the integrity and courage to stand up to neocon criticism from The Washington Post's editorial page or from some of his hawkish subordinates.

The administration's neocons who keep demanding an escalation of tensions with Russia include Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland. Then, there are the officials most identified with arms procurement, sales and use, such as Defense Secretary Ashton Carter.

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford recently volunteered to Congress that U.S. forces "can impose a no-fly zone" for Syria (a dangerous play advocated by presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Sen. John McCain). Dunford is the same hawk who identified Russia as the "existential threat" to the U.S. and said it would be "reasonable" to send heavy weapons to Ukraine on Russia's border.

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Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He was an Army infantry/intelligence officer and then a CIA analyst for 27 years, and is now on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS). His (more...)
 

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