Reprinted from Consortium News
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
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Does the U.S. government want the Islamic State and/or its fellow-travelers in Al Qaeda to take over Syria? As far as the State Department is concerned, that seems to be a risk worth taking as it moves to cut off Russia's supply pipeline to the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad -- even as Sunni terrorist groups expand their grip on Syrian territory.
It appears that hardliners within the Obama administration have placed the neocon goal of "regime change" in Syria ahead of the extraordinary dangers that could come from the black flag of Sunni terrorism raised over the capital of Damascus. That would likely be accompanied by the Islamic State chopping off the heads of Christians, Alawites, Shiites and other "heretics" and/or Al Qaeda having a major Mideast capital from which to plot more attacks on the West.
The human and financial costs of this nightmare scenario are almost beyond comprehension. The European Union -- already strained by mass unemployment in its southern tier -- could crack apart, shattering one of the premier achievements of the post-World War II era. The United States also could undergo a final transformation from a Republic into a permanent-warrior state.
Yet, Official Washington can't seem to stop itself. Instead of working with Russia and Shiite-ruled Iran to help stabilize the political/military situation in Syria, the pundit class and the "tough-guy/gal" politicians are unleashing torrents of insults toward the two countries that would be the West's natural allies in any effort to prevent a Sunni terrorist takeover.
Beyond words, there has been action. Over the past week, the State Department has pressured Bulgaria and Greece to bar Russian transport flights headed to Syria. The U.S. plan seems to be to blockade the Syrian government and starve it of outside supplies, whether humanitarian or military, all the better to force its collapse and open the Damascus city gates to the Islamic State and/or Al Qaeda.
In explaining its nearly inexplicable behavior, the State Department even has adopted the silly neocon talking point which blames Assad and now Russia for creating the Islamic State, though the bloodthirsty group actually originated as "Al Qaeda in Iraq" in reaction to President George W. Bush's invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Then, backed by money and weapons from Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other U.S. "allies," AQI moved into Syria with the goal of ousting Assad's relatively secular government. AQI later took the name Islamic State (also known by the acronyms ISIS, ISIL or Daesh). Yet, the State Department's official position is that the Islamic State is Assad's and Russia's fault.
"What we've said is that their [the Russians'] continued support to the Assad regime has actually fostered the growth of ISIL inside Syria and made the situation worse," State Department spokesman John Kirby said on Tuesday. "If they want to be helpful against ISIL, the way to do it is to stop arming and assisting and supporting Bashar al-Assad."
Yet, the reality is that Assad's military has been the principal bulwark against both the Islamic State and the other dominant Sunni rebel force, Al Qaeda's affiliate, the Nusra Front. So, by moving to shut down Assad's supply line, the U.S. government is, in effect, clearing the way for an Islamic State/Al Qaeda victory since the U.S.-trained "moderate" rebels are largely a fiction, numbering in double digits, while the extremists have tens of thousands of committed fighters.
In other words, if the U.S. strategy succeeds in collapsing Assad's defenses, there is really nothing to stop the Sunni terrorists from seizing Damascus and other major cities. Then, U.S. airstrikes on those population centers would surely kill many civilians and further radicalize the Sunnis. To oust the Islamic State and/or Al Qaeda would require a full-scale U.S. invasion, which might be inevitable but would almost certainly fail, much as Bush's Iraq occupation did.
A Scary Fantasyland
As scary as these dangers are, there remains a huge gap between the real world of the Middle East and the fantasyland that is Official Washington's perception of the region. In that land of make-believe, what matters is tough talk from ambitious politicians and opinion leaders, what I call the "er-er-er" growling approach to geopolitics.
Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton joined in that growling on Wednesday at the Brookings Institution, which has become home to neocons such as Robert Kagan and a host of "liberal interventionists," such as Michael O'Hanlon and Strobe Talbott.
Though she formally endorsed the nuclear agreement with Iran, former Secretary of State Clinton insulted both the Iranians and the Russians. Noting Russia's support for the Syrian government, she urged increased punishment of Moscow and Russian President Vladimir Putin -- aimed at forcing Russia to abandon the Assad regime.
"We need a concerted effort to up the costs on Russia and Putin; I am in the camp that we have not done enough," Clinton declared. "I don't think we can dance around it much longer," she said, claiming that Russia is trying to "stymie and undermine American power whenever and wherever they can."