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Obama’s Syria Gambit: Insanity, or Doubling-Down?

By Stephen EBERT (USA)

Obama’s Syria Gambit: Insanity, or Doubling-Down?

I am often able to “diagnose” insanity by applying the simple adage: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

In Syria, in spite of a continuous series of defeats in spreading the “American way of life” (another way of saying global hegemony), and the associated worsening of situation with terrorism in the world, the United States, like a desperate, frenzied gambler, has decided to double down. However, US plans to overthrow the Assad regime with the help of “moderate (heavily-armed) opposition” have been largely thwarted. Furthermore, thanks to Russia, Obama’s use of a now-proven false story of Assad’s use of chemical weapons to justify full-scale military intervention was also discredited.

Given this turn of events, of course, the US clearly welcomed ISIL advances in Syria. Without arguing over the complicity of the US and its Western allies in the creation of ISIL, or sustaining it, one would have to be blind to not see how the United States has decided to take advantage of this new evil force to achieve foreign policy goals. Not coincidentally, the same way they “used” bin Laden in Afghanistan.

In the USA, especially after his recent address to the American people, Obama is now completely discredited with respect to ISIL, if not yet his entire Middle East policy in general. Having initially derisively dismissed ISIL as a “JV team”, Obama has been forced to admit what Putin has long and correctly asserted: such terrorist organizations pose a real threat to the entire world, all the more so given they have taken the battlefield well equipped with American weapons. Note that in contrast to the US allegations regarding the source of rebel arms in the Ukraine, Russia has quietly taken the US at its word that ISIL got ahold of weapons by seizing them from Iraqi army bases.

The further this goes, the worse it gets. A year ago, Obama acknowledged he had no idea how to combat this new scourge. Eventually a solution was found – massive strikes against the terrorists delivered by “coalition” air forces. Alas, Obama encountered yet another unpleasant “but”. Having delivered many times more direct hits in the course of just 10 weeks vs. 20 months for the West, Russia clearly demonstrated to the world the “make-believe” nature of Western coalition air strikes.

In this regard, the timing of the terrorist attacks in Paris and seemingly intentional “misses” by coalition bombing runs leads one to a quite dark place – the possibility the West from the very beginning had struck a deal with ISIL: “We’ll pretend we are hitting you hard, you pretend we are hurting you”.

Recall that at the beginning of the Russian military action, the State Department insisted that Russia was hitting not ISIL, but “moderate opposition” or civilian targets. After the ISIL (apparently) took down the Russian civilian airliner, Obama, not wasting a second to express condolences, seemingly gloated as he rushed to declare this an act of revenge by ISIL. If Russia, however, was not really hitting ISIL as the State Department argued, then why would ISIL feel the need to take revenge? Even worse, if in fact all the damage was being done by the Western coalition, then why would ISIL not have pulled off the Paris attacks a year ago? This then suggests the Paris attacks were a result of ISIL “punishing” the West for not preventing Russian air strikes.

Of course, with the exception of 9/11, the United States has by and large successfully defended itself against terrorist attacks and an influx of refugees by relying on several traditional allies: two oceans and two docile, compliant bordering neighbors. As for Paris, one also gets the impression the US was less concerned about the loss of innocent lives, and more so with the possibility of direct cooperation between France and Russia – the only world power truly battling ISIL.

Pres. Obama addresses the country from the Oval Office on Dec 6, 2015

Pres. Obama addresses the country from the Oval Office on Dec 6, 2015

Finally acknowledging that ISIL fighters were really bad, dangerous guys, Obama, of course, did not bother to “bother” us poor Americans with the point out that ISIL’s rapid rise owed much to the United States obsession with eliminating Assad. Moreover, the price of all of this much is really much higher than the relative handful of victims in the recent California shootings. How many innocent people have died in Syria, in Paris, in the crash of the Russian airliner, not to mention the still looming refuge problem that started not with dissatisfaction with Assad, but the incursion into Syria of ISIL? Obama’s short-sighted policy, focused on continuing to assert that Russia is the “main threat” to US and world security, takes attention away from seeing Putin has in fact correctly assessed the threat ISIL poses to the world. For a long time, Putin has constantly, consistently warned the world of this. As for Obama’s recent “awakening”, common, simple decency and conscience simply will not allow me say “better late than never.”

Overall, Obama’s address focused on the fight against the ISIL in Iraq, not Syria. That being said, we should note that Iraq is becoming less and less confident in the United States, and has more and more begun to consider Russia a reliable ally. At least the US does not have to be afraid of a stab in the back from Turkey, its staunch NATO ally.

Obama assured the American people that there will not be American “boots on the ground” in Syria – with the exception of a handful of special forces. His recent announcement about sending around 50 such troops to Syria to aid of “moderate opposition” should really be taken as tacit acknowledgement that such “helpers” have been there for a while. Otherwise, it would be tricky to explain how they ended up getting killed by pin-point Russian air strikes.

As for the absence of “boots on the ground”, one must take into account that after the humiliating defeat and relatively huge losses among soldiers in Vietnam, the United States has by and large switched to using outsider, “mercenary forces.” These guys are in greater need of weapons and money than “boots”. And the US is pleased to deliver the former in unlimited quantities. In this context, one can understand why Turkey has recently accused Russia of carrying out genocide in Syria. After all, as Syria fights for its very existence, it finds itself dealing with huge influx of foreign mercenary forces filling the ranks of both ISIL and the moderate opposition. Rather odd to term this “genocide”.

Obama further slipped up in saying: “a month ago, I gave the order to stop the advance of ISIL”, and continuing to say, having focused on Iraq, “if necessary, we can also help in the fight against ISIL in Syria.” This then begs the question – how are we then to understand that more than a year we in the US were being told how successful we had been combatting ISIL in Syria, albeit it from a height of 30,000 feet?

All mentions of Syria were framed in terms of the need to “correct the situation”. In other words, NOT defeat ISIL there, but remove Assad. Therefore, Obama’s proposal “to help in Syria” by increasing the supply of arms and equipment to the same “moderate opposition” sounds quite reasonable for Americans. Again, why bother to trouble Americans with the regrettable fact that these “moderate” forces shift back and forth, and often fight side-by-side with ISIL, and quite often seem to leave their US-supplied weapons behind with them for safekeeping.

Of course, Obama wraps all this up with the now conventional bow of American exceptionalism, and delights us with his ever-increasing, unwarranted braggadocio about “our” successes – including how we “stopped Russian aggression and protected the poor Ukraine.” To understand how far such delusions of grandeur have progressed with Obama, he even includes in this dubious resume the “successes” of Afghanistan and Yemen.

In the final analysis, while I admit I cannot say if this sheer madness, or the reckless abandon of a gambler down on his luck, I can firmly and confidently say that this demonstrates exceptional mediocrity, fraught with mortal danger to all humanity. However, there still remains a way out: the United States simply has to once and for all stop interfering in the affairs of others, especially when it is incapable of making sense of their way of life.

Instead of, for example, constantly wasting precious time and energy in making Russia or Assad out to be the bogeyman, how about dealing with more noble causes right here at home. For example, undertaking serious efforts to reduce the number of deaths caused by widespread use of firearms. Incidentally, there is an interesting nexus here: the last several such “terrorist attacks” in the US were mass shootings carried out using these same weapons. Beyond sniffing out such homegrown terrorists, more work should be done to ensure that is much harder to acquire such weapons of not-quite mass destruction.

Were we to do so, life in the US would be much calmer and secure since no ocean can protect us from such real threats. But that’s a story for another day…

Stephen Ebert is the Russian language translator and political commentator.

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