Putin Moves His Rook Into Syria
By Eric Margolis
Could anyone in the Obama administration have been so slow-witted to imagine that Russia wouldn’t move hard to counter US efforts to overthrow Moscow’s ally, Syria?
The Syrian war began almost five years ago by the US, France, Britain and Saudi Arabia to overthrow Syria’s Iranian and Russian-backed government. The result so far: 250,000 dead, 9.5 million refugees flooding Europe and Syria shattered.
This is nothing new: the first CIA coup attempt to overthrow a Syrian ruler Gen. Husni Zaim was in 1949.
A combination of imperial hubris and ignorance has led Washington to believe it could overthrow any government that was disobedient or uncooperative. Syria was chosen as the latest target of regime change because the Assad regime – a recognized, legitimate government and UN member –was a close ally of America’s Great Satan, Iran. Formerly it had been cooperating with Washington.
After watching Syria be slowly destroyed, Russia’s President, Vladimir Putin, moved his rook onto the Syrian chessboard. For the first time since 1991, Moscow sent a small expeditionary unit of 50 warplanes to Syria both to shore up the Assad regime and to reaffirm that Russia has long-standing strategic interests in Syria.
Few of the administration’s bumbling amateur strategists likely knew that Russia claimed during the 19th century to be the rightful protector of Mideast Christians. Russia watched in dismay the destruction of Iraq’s ancient Christian communities caused by the overthrow of their protector, President Saddam Hussein. Moscow has vowed not to let a similar crime happen again to Syria’s Christians.
Russia is also clearly reasserting a degree of her former Mideast influence. In 1970, Russian pilots tangled with Israeli warplanes over the Suez Canal during the “War of Attrition.” The flying time from Moscow to Damascus is about the same as New York City to Miami. Syria is in Russia’s backyard, not America’s.
A highly effective propaganda war waged against Syria and Russia by the US, French and British media has so demonized Syria’s President Assad that Washington will find it very difficult to negotiate or include him in a peace deal. The US made the same stupid mistake with Afghanistan’s Taliban and now is paying the price.
President Bashar Assad is no Great Satan. He was a British-trained eye specialist forced into the dynastic leadership of Syria by the car crash that killed his elder brother. The Assad regime has plenty of nasty officials but in my long regional experience Syria is no worse than such brutal US allies as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Morocco or Uzbekistan.
President Putin has long been calling for a negotiated settlement to end this destructive conflict that is quickly resembling Lebanon’s ghastly civil war from 1975-1990 whose horrors I saw firsthand.
Who rules Syria is not worth one more death or refugee. Sadly, Syria may be beyond repair. The crazies we created are now running large parts of Iraq and Syria. Russia mutters about going into Iraq.
Vlad Putin keeps his game tightly under control. I’m not so sure about the Obama White House and its confused advisors. Better make a deal with Assad, a natural US ally, and end this crazy war before Sen. John McCain and his Republican crusader pals really do start World War III.
Washington refuses Russia any legitimate sphere of influence in Syria, though Moscow has had a small base in Tartus on the coast for over 40 years. This Russian logistics base is now being expanded and guarded by a ground force estimated at a reinforced company.
This week came reports that modest numbers of Iranian infantry have entered war-torn Syria. Lebanon’s tough Hezbollah fighters are also in action in Syria.
Opposing them are a mixed bag of irregular forces and heavily armed religious fanatics trained and armed by US, French and British intelligence and financed by Washington and the Saudis. This writer believes small numbers of US and French Special Forces and British SAS are also aiding anti-Assad forces.
Israel and Turkey, hoping to profit from a possible break-up of Syria, are also discreetly aiding the anti-Assad forces that include al-Qaida and everyone’s favorite bogeyman, Islamic State.
Howls of protest are coming from Washington and its allies over Russia’s military intervention. Don’t we hate it when others do exactly what we do. The US has over 800 bases around the globe. French troops operate in parts of Africa. Both nations stage military interventions when they see fit.
Washington accuses Moscow of imperialism as 10,000 US troops, fleets of warplanes and 35,000 US mercenaries fight nationalist forces in Afghanistan. Iraq remains a semi-US colony. Russia withdrew all of its 350,000 troops stationed in Germany in 1991; US bases still cover Germany and, most lately, Romania.