Protecting ISIL: Why US tradition is hurling Trump towards regime change in Syria
When Donald Trump ordered Tomahawk missile strikes on the Syrian regime airbase of Shayrat in April this year, the world should have woken up. Everything we needed to know about Trump which was previously lost in the smoke and mirrors of his buffoonery was there to see.
We are seeing it now more than ever in Syria, although remarkably it is still confusing many Western journalists who are struggling to see the wood for the trees.
Although the strike itself missed many of the intended targets, it did destroy three key myths about Trump's Middle East objectives and the rhetoric which he had espoused leading up to his election victory in November. Firstly, he is disingenuous about destroying ISIL; secondly his objective with Syria is a carbon copy of Obama’s (regime change); and lastly, despite so much Russia-smooching, he is in fact not remotely serious about keeping good relations with Moscow.
Remarkably, the strike was an immediate reaction to what his experts in the White House and the Pentagon had concluded to be a chemical attack at Khan Sheikhun, in Idlib province – a hotbed of Al-Qaeda groups fighting Assad’s army. In fact, as investigative journalist Seymour Hersh revealed in a recent piece for Die Welt, Trump ignored the intelligence community when it said they had found no evidence that the Syrians had used chemical weapons.
The truth is that it is entirely inconsequential and serves as just one more distraction for analysts and journalists who are not focusing on the real picture: Trump is preparing for war with the regime.
Tradition dictates that Trump should bomb Assad
And there is a pattern to this which is carved out by US presidents and their diplomatic envoys. When the late Richard Colburn met with Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic in July of 1998, the UN ambassador diplomatically sketched out the options for the nationalist leader. They all boiled down to playing ball with the US over Kosovo or expect airstrikes. For the second time.
Milosevic’s neck was already in the noose as for at least six years the US had been doing the most it could to isolate him as Russia’s rogue leader in the former Yugoslavia. The Americans had supported from the off, another nationalist leader in neighboring pro-west Croatia – Franjo Tudman – and Clinton had secretly backed arms shipments to him, despite publicly claiming to support a UN arms embargo on former Yugoslavia republics. But it wasn’t just arms. The Americans went the full nine yards in backing Tudman and Croatia – a country that Hitler didn’t need to send his own SS henchmen to, as one Croat extermination camp alone did such a formidable job of killing 50,000 Serbs in the ethnic ‘clean up’ which the Nazis required in the region.
On Madeleine Albright’s watch as UN Permanent Representative, Croatia was secretly given a league of retired US generals to work with Tudman and special satellite intelligence of the battlefield in Bosnia, not to mention a sterling PR campaign which succeeded in planting a number of Op-eds in American broadsheets about Croatia being the ‘good guys’ in the war with Milosevic. Unsurprisingly, later in 2015, Croatia gave her an award for her support and presumably not for dubious articles in US media in the 90s claiming she was “getting tough” on the Croatian government.
But a number of key events are important to remember and chime with what is happening in Syria today. In 1992, and later in 1994 and 1995, three events shook the world when Muslims were killed in a bread queue explosion and then two market bombings – where the West immediately accused Serbs of the atrocities. Albright was too quick to make the conclusion even though UN inspectors could not establish if the craters could be made from Serb positions.
There were many Western critics, like Lord Owen, who were dubious of the US conclusion (particularly about the two market bombings). Yet Albright’s zeal to point the finger at Milosevic was all it took for NATO airstrikes to follow.
Years later, however, the evidence indicates that the swift conclusions by Albright and Clinton were, in fact, incorrect. The bread queue massacre was certainly a bomb planted by the Bosnian Muslim army, and the two market massacres similarly indicate the same. Muslims attacked their own people to garner more Western support to hit Milosevic.
Any of this sound familiar? It should do as this is part of a well-honed craft, a pattern which the US carries out against its perceived enemies around the world, when diplomacy and joined-up-thinking flounder. In the former Yugoslavia, Milosevic was isolated from the start and then demonized for no real reason other than he wouldn’t forlorn the West and had his views and agenda.
Grin by ex-Fox anchor speak volumes
Assad in Syria has more or less become the fall guy, like Milosevic. It’s not that he has an appalling track record on human rights, torture, executions or destroying any inklings of journalism emerging. It’s that he has not buckled to Washington’s demands and therefore has defined his destiny as a target, like Milosevic or Saddam Hussein.
And the pattern is identical. The UN now will attempt to identify who was behind the sarin attack in Idlib, but the indications from the OPCW are not good. Its findings are, at best, tainted as most of its research is based on interviewing people who have already done the joined-up-thinking: if the attack can be blamed on Assad, then the West will bomb the Syrian leader into the next century.
Humble Sunnis in rebel-held areas of Syria know this, even if they don’t support the al-Qaeda groups which control them. But we shouldn’t think of these extremists groups anyway as enemies of the West. What can we make of the idiotic grin of ex-Fox anchor turned State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert, when asked by an RT journalist if this immediate rush to military aggression against so-called chemical attacks would merely encourage ISIL to stage an attack?
Trump’s Syria plan is history’s 'Heart of Darkness' moment
I have long argued there is a cigarette paper between Obama’s ideas and objectives in Syria and those of Trump. And I have also stated on television that I fervently believe the West does not want to destroy ISIL in Syria or Iraq, but merely take the positions held by it for PR objectives.
If you study carefully the battles fought in Mosul and Raqqa, two important military facts emerge: both campaigns led to very high levels of civilians being killed with very few ISIL fighters taken out. In both battles, the US allowed for the creation of ‘rat lines’ – corridors for escaping fighters to move out to fight another day. Why? I am absolutely certain it is because America will need these extremists very soon in its campaign in Syria, which is slowly but surely changing into a new war against the Assad government’s forces.
The Tomahawk attack was a starter’s pistol for many like me who saw with their own eyes in the former Yugoslavia – and from afar in Iraq – that the die has been set in Syria. It is only a matter of time now before a new chemical attack will be staged. Who could blame Assad for even carrying it out when he knows that any such attack carried out by rebels will be attributed to him regardless?
Recent events in Syria have made my view much simpler and clearer, despite the war there being so complicated that it even confuses those on the ground. America will secure Raqqa and create a military base there and therefore take air superiority in at least part of Northern Syria. Israel’s proxy in the south – Al-Nusra – needs to keep a southern flank so as to buffer Assad from encroaching on the Golan Heights. It will not be apocalyptic, but more salami slice by salami slice as we see more focus each day on Assad forces and less and less on ISIL – which is to be an army in waiting spread nicely across a huge expanse of the country thanks to US strategy.
History really is repeating itself. When I think of Assad and the West, I recall a cable sent to a senior US intelligence officer from his British counterpart in the 1960s who asked why Washington had installed Joseph Mobutu in Congo, in preference to the communist intellectual Patrice Lumumba, who the CIA had assassinated in 1961. His response to the naive Brit was, “Mobutu may be a son of a bitch, but he’s our son of a bitch."
Martin Jay is based in Beirut and can be followed on MartinRJay
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.