Washington's 'Plan B' in Syria: Renewed military intervention to oust Assad?

Finian Cunningham
Finian Cunningham (born 1963) has written extensively on international affairs, with articles published in several languages. Originally from Belfast, Ireland, he is a Master’s graduate in Agricultural Chemistry and worked as a scientific editor for the Royal Society of Chemistry, Cambridge, England, before pursuing a career in newspaper journalism. For over 20 years he worked as an editor and writer in major news media organizations, including The Mirror, Irish Times and Independent. Now a freelance journalist based in East Africa, his columns appear on RT, Sputnik, Strategic Culture Foundation and Press TV.
U.S Secretary of State John Kerry (L) and Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland take part in a bilateral meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (C) in Moscow December 15, 2015. © Mandel Ngan
US top diplomat John Kerry appeared to offer cooperation during lengthy talks in Moscow this week with President Vladimir Putin. Kerry said that US policy was not trying to isolate Russia, neither was it seeking regime change in Syria.

Rhetoric aside, Kerry’s expressions of goodwill simply do not cut it.

During a walkabout in Moscow, the US Secretary of State chanced on a little Christmas shopping, with Kerry buying a Babushka stacking doll among other souvenirs. The iconic Russian doll containing six shelled figurines could serve as a metaphor for Washington’s elusive rhetoric.

Following his three-hour discussion with Putin, Kerry said: “While we don’t see eye to eye on every aspect of Syria, we see Syria fundamentally similarly.”

US government-owned media outlet Voice of America added: “He [Kerry] said the US and Russia identify the same challenges and dangers, and want the same outcomes [in Syria].”

That, to put it bluntly, is simply not true. Washington and Moscow do not see Syria fundamentally similarly nor want the same outcomes.
Washington wants regime change, no matter what Kerry may declare. From the outset of the conflict in Syria in March 2011, the Obama administration has been demanding that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad “must go”.

Indeed, it is well documented that Washington and its NATO partners have been seeking regime change against Russia’s long-time Syria ally going back to 2007 during the George W Bush presidency. The whole foreign-backed war in the Arab country – resulting in 250,000 deaths and millions of refugees over the past five years – has been orchestrated for the precise purpose of destabilizing Syria.

Certainly, Kerry’s latest visit to Moscow marked a softening of the “Assad must go” line. Washington is now saying that the Syrian president may remain in office until a political transition is negotiated. But at the end of the so-called transition, the US still wants Assad gone, as Kerry again noted. That is regime change no matter how you slice it.

Like Kerry’s coy claim that the US is not trying “to isolate Russia as a matter of policy,” the bottom line is that Washington has imposed unilateral economic sanctions on Russia as a result of provable US regime change in Ukraine in February 2014, and cajoled its European allies to follow suit. Withdrawing unilaterally from arms control treaties and expanding NATO forces on Russian territory are hardly the actions of a party “not seeking isolation” of Moscow.

Washington sure wants regime change in Syria, just as former US General Wesley Clark disclosed back in 2007 – a policy that the American military-industrial complex formulated in 2001 following the 9/11 terror events. There is no reason whatsoever to believe that the same US hegemonic ambitions for the Middle East and beyond have changed under Obama.

What has changed is that Russia’s dramatic military intervention in Syria two months ago has shredded the US-led plans.

This week, President Obama made a speech at the Pentagon in which he made the laughable claim that the US was leading the global fight against the Islamic State terror group. “We are hitting them harder than ever,” he said.

Such claims by the US commander-in-chief are just downright delusional. It is the Russian aerial bombardment in close cooperation with the Syrian Arab Army that has completely turned the military tables on Islamic State (IS) and other illegally armed groups.
Moreover, it is Russian airstrikes which have wiped out the oil smuggling and weapon supply routes to the jihadists from Turkey.

These jihadists – whether they go by the shell names IS, Nusra, Army of Conquest or Free Syrian Army – are all part of the foreign-backed mercenary force that the US has deployed for sacking Syria.

Washington’s losing streak in the covert military objective has forced the US to seek a political track to achieve the same end result of regime change. That explains why Washington is now softening its rhetoric in order to inveigle Moscow into a political transition, euphemistically called a “peace process”.

Kerry said that the US and Russia have reached “common ground” on which Syrian opposition groups would be invited to peace talks in New York this Friday. The aim is to create a political opposition to the Assad government ahead of negotiations for a transition beginning in January.

A preview of these “opposition” groups was given last week when Saudi Arabia invited more than 100 so-called leaders of political and militant factions. As the New York Times reported the formation of this front was deemed by Washington as a “prerequisite” for the future talks. John Kerry welcomed the summit in Saudi capital Riyadh as “an important step forward”.

Although Al Qaeda-linked groups, IS and Al Nusra, did not attend the Saudi-sponsored and US-countenanced gathering, the NY Times admitted that delegates included “hardline Islamists”. Those in attendance included Ahrar al Shams and Jaish al Islam. The latter gained notoriety for holding civilian human shields in cages, as well as being linked to the chemical gas atrocity near Damascus in August 2013.

The Saudi-sponsored opposition that Washington is trying to line up against the Syrian government are braying for Assad’s immediate departure. John Kerry may say belatedly that US policy has shifted to permit Assad to remain in power for the duration of a transition, but it should be obvious that Washington is setting up a framework under the guise of a peace process in which Assad’s departure is put on the agenda.

But what gives the US and its NATO and Arab cronies any right to make such demands on Syria’s political future?

Washington does not seem to get it that its arrogant assertions about political change in Syria are null and void. Russia has time and again rightly pointed out that Syria’s political future is for the Syrian people to decide as a matter of sovereignty. Russia’s position is fully supported by Iran.

As for Syria’s President Assad he has said that there will be no negotiations with the Saudi-sponsored political opposition, labeling them with reasonable justification as “terrorists”.

In a parallel development, Saudi Arabia also announced the formation of a 34-nation alliance of Muslim countries supposedly dedicated to fighting the “disease of Islamic terrorism”. The newly formed bloc comprises in addition to Saudi Arabia: Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Turkey – all countries associated with the funding and arming of extremist groups in Syria and elsewhere. Strangely, or perhaps not, Iran, Iraq and Syria were not invited to join the bloc.

US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter welcomed the new alliance. And the Saudis said that troops from the 34-nation coalition could be sent into Syria and Iraq to “combat” the IS network. Washington also endorsed that, saying that it wanted more regional “boots on the ground” to help fight terrorism.

What that suggests is that if the political track does not go well for ousting Assad, then the US and its allies are giving themselves the license to openly intervene in Syria – ostensibly to fight terror groups, which they have covertly fomented. Such a renewed military intervention can be seen as Plan B, where Plan A – the covert use of terror groups – has failed.

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