The Obama administration last week ramped up military actions against Islamic State terrorists — and also sharply downgraded its failing campaign to overthrow Syria’s government and to demonize Russia’s.
A key juncture occurred when Secretary of State John Kerry (shown a week ago with President Obama in the Oval Office) traveled to Moscow for meetings Dec. 15. Before the trip, Kerry, Obama and their staffers had been issuing their usual denunciations of Russia and Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad.
By week’s end, the United States and Russia joined forces in a 15-0 UN Security Council vote Dec. 18 creating a peace process for Syria over the next 18 months.
Meanwhile, President Obama chided Republicans in an NPR interview aired Monday, Dec. 21, for what he called a lack of realistic alternatives to his anti-ISIS policies, as reported here.
Important changes are occurring at a rapid clip, as indicated by a major new analysis by famed investigative reporter Seymour Hersh that seemed outdated in part when it first became available electronically Dec. 21 or so, with a print date of Jan. 7, 2015 for publication by the London Review of Books. In the 6,831-word Military to Military, Seymour M. Hersh on US intelligence sharing in the Syrian war, Hersh reported concerns by top Pentagon brass that Obama seemed unduly wedded to a “Cold War” view emphasizing Assad’s ouster, trust in Turkey, and opposition to Russia instead of a priority focus on defeating ISIS.
Hersh’s deep contacts within the intelligence and military communities lend authority to his arguments (and also support much of the analysis below) even if the Obama administration appears to have adjusted course rapidly in advance of the column’s publication.
The column indirectly raises two media-related points worth mentioning here even though Hersh does not:
First, government officials alerted by an a major reporter’s questions often adjust their actions to “get out front” of a story and reduce its impact. That may have happened in this case. Second, Hersh’s column continues a pattern whereby his major recent investigations on Syria have been published since 2013 by the London Review of Books instead of the New Yorker Magazine, his primary market for more than three decades. Hersh does not complain about the process. But he rest of us can duly note that this is a topic so sensitive that one of the America’s leading investigative reporters over several generations cannot get his work published in a major U.S. publication. The impact on public debate and understanding is considerable, especially because many other writers will read the tea leaves and avoid the topic, or worse take gratuitous shots at his work.
At the outset, it’s useful to understand that the UN process is likely to prove unworkable because it does not require Assad’s resignation, as demanded by American war hawks and Islamic rebels who are backed by Turkish and Gulf State supporters.
Also, most GOP presidential contenders and Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton continued to call during presidential debates last week for Assad’s ouster and a U.S.-enforced no fly zone preventing Syria’s government and Russia from flying over a zone protecting rebels (and arguably smuggling routes).
The UN plan also fails to specify which rebel groups are excluded as terrorists from the peace process. That confusion portends continuing stalemate during next year in a pattern that has doomed previous UN efforts to resolve the Syrian war.
Despite the dim outlook for a UN peace plan, it serves as a face-saver for Obama during the last year of his presidency. Obama can side-step the consequences of his years of covert warmongering in Syria, which has primarily advanced the empire-building agenda of special interests under the rhetoric of humanitarian and democratic values. Middle East Eye’s Dr. Gareth Porter amplified the reasons in Why the US pushes the illusory Syrian peace process.
Most importantly for the American public, the UN agreement could contain pressures from political demagogues risking another war so they can win 2016 presidential support from special interests and low-information voters fooled into thinking ISIS can be eliminated by bombing one of the many scores of jihadist groups in Syria and Iraq that readily swap arms and allegiances.
Fortunately, Obama backed off from the brink of a fight with Russia that could have become extremely serious. The public may not know how serious for years because, as in the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, it’s not in the interests of either Russia or the United States to discuss specifics.
Kerry met behind closed doors with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (shown at left in a photo from their meeting). They emerged with an agreement that omitted any mention of Assad’s departure.
The most likely reasons for the U.S. shift?
The Obama administration is under increasing pressure to become more effective against ISIS following the Paris and San Bernardino attacks, as Obama acknowledged in his Dec. 21 NPR interview.
In contrast to a go-slow approach by the United States under Obama’s anti-ISIS envoy John Allen, Russia began a bombing campaign Sept. 30 at Syria’s invitation. Since then, Russia has made hundreds of bombing runs providing devastating air cover for Syrian army advances regaining territory from rebels.
Russia also has been exposing fighter, arms, and oil smuggling connections between ISIS and allied forces. The most notably smuggling routes have been via Turkey, a NATO member whose President Recep Tayyip Erdogan increasingly focuses on supporting Islamist causes and suppressing dissent. Turkey has viciously targeted those in the media and ethnic Kurds whose compatriots in Syria are the main U.S. allies on the ground fighting ISIS.
With this introduction, we sketch the remainder of this column:
- Alleged U.S. Empire-Building, Complicity With Terror Groups
- Turkey’s Ambush, Russia’s Escalation
- Obama’s Background, Current Crisis
- New U.S. Pressure On Turkey
- Neocon Pressure On Obama
- The 2016 Presidential Candidates
- Obama Makes The Hard Choice