Reprinted from Consortium News
President Barack Obama walks through the Rose Garden to the Oval Office following an all-appointees summer event on the South Lawn, June 13, 2016.
(Image by (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)) Permission Details DMCA
War, like politics, is filled with surprises. While the focus in Syria has been on a U.S.-backed rebel offensive in Aleppo that has succeeded in turning tables on Bashar al-Assad's government, a new and unexpected flashpoint has developed 200-plus miles to the east where U.S. jets are engaged in a dangerous showdown with Syrian warplanes near the city of Hasakah.
The trouble began on Wednesday when, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Kurdish forces advanced on the pro-government National Defense Forces that controls portions of the city. When the NDF responded with arrests, the fighting took off.
This is not the first time that Kurdish and government forces have clashed in Hasakah, which is divided among Kurds, Arabs, Aramaic-speaking Assyrians, and a small number of Armenians. But what makes the latest confrontation so serious is that the U.S. quickly upped the ante by scrambling two F-22 fighters to intercept a pair of Syrian Su-24s bombing Kurdish positions.
NBC News reported that the jets came within a mile of one another on Thursday and were in visual contact before the Syrian aircraft left the scene. U.S. jets chased away two more Su-24s the next day as well.
Noting that the Kurdish units are part of a U.S.-backed coalition known as the Syrian Democratic Forces and that U.S. Special Operations forces were in the area at the time, Pentagon spokesman Jeff Davis, a Navy captain, said that the U.S. was resolved to protect the safety of both.
"We view instances that place coalition personnel at risk with the utmost seriousness" he declared, "and we do have the inherent right of self-defense when U.S. forces are at risk."
"As we've said in the past," he added, "the Syrian regime would be well-advised not to interfere with coalition forces or our partners."
Such statements are little less than Orwellian since the United States has essentially invaded Syria by inserting military forces without Syrian government permission in violation of international law. What Davis was saying, therefore, is that the U.S. will prevent Syria from protecting its own forces on its own soil, which was rather like the Wehrmacht condemning Poland for daring to defend its own territory in September 1939.
A Pro-War Establishment
The upshot is the latest example of how Washington's vast pro-war foreign-policy establishment continues to get its way despite President Barack Obama's efforts to limit military involvement in the Middle East. Establishment of a no-fly zone in northern Syria has long been a neocon priority. Indeed, Hillary Clinton, a neocon favorite at this point, reiterated her call for a no-fly zone as recently as April during a televised debate with Bernie Sanders.
Obama has opposed a no-fly zone because it would draw the U.S. into a direct conflict with the Assad government and likely its Russian and Iranian backers as well. But now with the U.S. promising to continue patrolling the skies over Hasakah, he finds himself backing into a no-fly zone regardless.
The confrontation begs the question of who is really calling the shots with regard to Syria, the President or well-placed hawks whose specialty is maneuvering the White House into doing their bidding.
It also raises the question of the role of the Clinton presidential campaign. The White House is obviously coordinating closely with Clinton's campaign headquarters, and with prospects of a landslide victory that will give Democrats control of both houses of Congress plus the presidency, the stakes couldn't be higher. But since a quick and easy victory over Assad and his Russian and Iranian allies would vindicate the neocon position, the issue is whether pro-Hillary forces are pulling strings to make events in Syria go her way as well.