Hounds of War: How Covert Intervention in Syria Could Lead To World War III
By Younus Abdullah Muhammad
The veto of Russia and China at the U.N. Security Council regarding Syria shocked the entire world. The action prompted immediate tantrums from a U.S. hegemon in decline. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice reactively called the act disgusting while Secretary of State Hilary Clinton heightened the rhetoric with an analogy that compared the vote to a “Neutering” of the international body, apparently not realizing that adding imagery to Ms. Clinton’s statement unfortunately produced the awkward vision of the three remaining supportive members (U.S., U.K and France) as a “barking dog without balls”, a more apt description of waning Western power to be sure. Nevertheless there was no time to ponder such sophisticated diplomacy amidst a push to reassert Cold War conflict that may one day be recorded as the significant event that sparked World War III.
The end of the Cold War permitted a series of developments that Clinton and Rice may privately describe as ,"big-ball diplomacy"; an era of U.S. triumphalism confidently rendered as end of history altogether. As an unrivaled power in the early 1990’s, the U.S. had a choice between developing multilateral relationships or pursuing a unilateral course. The later was chosen and the policy that protruded sought to expand the market of U.S. led globalization through diplomacy backed by the threat of force. Rather than decrease defense spending as a result of the decreased conflict, the U.S. adopted a military strategy constructed by Dick Cheney and Colin Powell. As Powell put it the U.S. “needed to deter any challenger from ever dreaming of challenging us on the world stage.” “I want to be the bully on the block,” he said
Russia was to be independent. U.S. policy wonks dismantled the U.S.S.R. and constructed neoliberal reforms. As capitalism and corporate logos entered the Soviet Bloc, then President George H. Bush stated, “Ultimately our objective is to welcome the Soviet Union back into the world order. Perhaps the world order of the future will truly be a family of nations.” Of course this family was to be patriarchal with America at the helm. The recent veto is a challenge to that paternalism and an indication of a family of dysfunction with a few problem children ready to rebel.
Most fail to recognize that economic factors always lurk in the background of politic and military affairs. The U .S. was comfortable admitting this as the 1990’s roared on. Thomas Friedman explained in 1999 that “the hidden hand of the market will never work without the hidden fist. McDonald’s cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas, the builder of the F-15. And the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley’s technologies is called the United States Army, Air Force, Navy and Marines.” Today that policy continues but 10 years of failure at conventional war have forced efforts to return that power to the dark through a return to false narratives about human rights and democracy promotion usually through coercion.
The collapse of the Soviet Union allowed America unprecedented power in forcing nations to enter the neoliberal fold. Long the focus of Cold War competition, American planners set their eyes on the Middle East, now considered a final frontier of globalization. The first Gulf War of 1991 documented the unrivaled American power as President Bush explained, “The crisis in the Persian Gulf offers a rare opportunity to move toward a historic period of cooperation. Out of these troubled times…a new world order can emerge in which the nations of the world, east and west, north and south, can prosper and live in harmony. Today the new world is struggling to be born.”
But the first benign intervention of the post-Cold War order was shrouded by indiscriminate carpet bombing that destroyed the infrastructure of the Iraqi State. Contamination left by the use of uranium-depleted bombs and the maintenance of the Saddam regime which led the sanctions killing at least 500,000 Iraqi children from 1991-2003. Far from spreading democracy, concerns were clearly about control; Saddam was developing the Iraqi State on a model that shunned the norms of neoliberalism, but absent another global power there was little anyone could do.
The attacks of September 11, 2001 posed a problem of blowback for the United States. The attacks were at once a consequence of the covert funding that ended the Cold War and subsequent efforts to liberalize the Middle East. The “terrorists” properly read the U.S. intentions as an effort to dominate the world; but the attacks were to be exploited in order to gain complete control. Even before 9/11 there were plans to attack Iraq, but a speech from 2007 documents that the reaction was to be more serious than that. General Wesley Clark revealed that after meeting with a colleague about Iraq, six weeks later, I saw the same officer and asked, “Why haven’t we attacked Iraq”? He said, “Sir it’s worse than that, I just got a memo from the Secretary of Defense’s office. It says we’re going to attack and destroy the governments in 7 countries in 5 years. We’re going to start with Iraq and then we’re going to move to Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Iran.”
More than 10 years later we can see that the plan was derailed by stiff resistance that still embroils America in war. Clark stated, “They wanted to destabilize the Middle East, turn it upside down, make it under our control.” He then recounted a conversation with Paul Wolfowitz where he was told, “One thing we did learn (from the first Gulf War) is that we can use our military in the region, in the Middle East, and the Soviets won’t stop us. And we’ve got about 5 to 10 years to clean up those old Soviet regimes – Syria, Iran, Iraq – before the next great superpower comes along to challenge us.” Today the U.S. objective remains but the Security Council veto documents things are starting to change.
No one could have foreseen that the aftermath of 9-11 would lead to U.S. decline. As the U.S. approached defeat in Iraq in 2006 it was forced to alter its approach in war to efforts that battled for hearts and minds and sought to utilize rhetoric about moderation and democracy promotion to prop up proxies dedicated to neoliberal reform. The election of Barack Obama was to enhance that objective. His first actions were dedicated to altering perceptions, as he told Al-Arabiya News, “the language we use matters.” He pledged to close Guantanamo and end the war in Iraq. He flew to Cairo for a speech that fell flat but most importantly his party supported a continuation of the second Bush Administration’s efforts to return American power to the dark. Realizing that sole reliance in raw power was insufficient, the Democrats altered course.
The alteration was popularized by Hillary Clinton and categorized as “smart power,” but America has remained dedicated to establishing proxy regimes and neoliberal participation in Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Iran but the doctrine relies on covert wars with a return to humanitarian intervention. It is a plan to return to 1991 when they exercised unrivaled power. It is a plan that relies on the maintenance of American paternalism and an ability to remain the bully on the block. It is also a plan based on the assumption of ignorance and misreading an inevitable multipolarity. America believes it has adulterated the Arab Spring by promising new Islamic parties support in exchange for neoliberal reform and its first official experiment is Syria which could ignite both the region and the world.
American wars for globalization will now be fought through proxies and special operations. The past few years have been replete with efforts to publicize the miraculous capabilities of exercises like drone attacks, Joint Special Forces Operations, and recently a massive propaganda campaign about the Navy Seals. A new report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) claims, “the era of large scale conventional wars has passed,” but commenting on the present desire for “immaculate warfare,”
General Robert Blackman noted at a recent conference that warfare with no boots on the ground is dangerous. “I think it absolutely has the potential to backfire,” he said. “It’s a conflict between people and to believe that we can take that element out of it, that we can fight a war 10,000 miles away at Whiteman Air Force Base misses the reality of it.”
Resorting to a covert approach is to avoid what Robert Pape and James Feldman termed in 2010 as the “Occupier’s Dilemma” – the notion that boots on the ground cause brutal resistance pushing to extremes like suicide bombings on America’s shores. Their call was to utilize “in-country” and “offshore” balancing, a doctrine that has been adopted and calls for a huge military presence in the oceans and waterways around the Middle East while operating clandestinely with covert operations in conjunction with local proxies on the ground.
This strategy is also failing. In Afghanistan JSOC night raids create such animosity and furor even Hamid Karzai has placed their cessation as a condition of sustained foreign military presence. In neighboring Pakistan drone attacks frequently kill civilians with similar results occurring all over the Muslim world. Polls show the strategy has done nothing to improve public opinion – as perceptions of the U.S. in Mideast nations remain at all- time lows. That will not deter America and its allies however from seeking to dominate a region necessary for global control. The veto and opposition to U.S. aggression sets up Syria as the first full-fledged operation based on these methods alone.
U.S. reaction to the Arab Spring is representative of the reality that the U.S. is improvising in international affairs. Having supported BenAli in Tunisia and Mubarak in Egypt up to their ends and then facing contagion around the Arab world; the U.S. and Nato intervened in Libya: one of the 7 nations on its list. There, a U.N. resolution condemning Gaddafi, led to NATO airstrikes and support for rebel forces on the ground. The U.S. backed the transitional Libyan government in line with their objective of regime change. However, the ultimate objective of neoliberal exploitation remained the same.
A Libyan-American professor from the University of Washington was immediately shipped into the country with plans for a central bank. Within hours Qatar agreed to market oil controlled by the rebels on the international exchange and in the aftermath of revolution western firms lined up for lucrative contracts. Such is the model occurring in post-war Iraq and is the most objective of recent talks with new Islamist regimes, including the one to be empowered by regime change in Syria. As President Obama described last March with regard to Libya a failure to pursue such policies “would have been a betrayal of who we are.”
Russia and China drastically oppose these unilateral actions because they see them for what they are. Shortly before they vetoed the Syrian Condemnation at the Security Council, Hillary Clinton tried to guarantee its passage would not lead to foreign military intervention. “I know that some members here may be concerned that the Security Council is headed toward another Libya,” she said. “That is a false analogy,” but 20-plus years of U.S. deception still led China and Russia to vote ‘No’. They realize Syria is to be a covert operation and recognize that the probability of failure could be disastrous to us all.
Covert operations in support of Syrian rebels were obviously initiated by the formation of the Free Syrian Army, as effort that initially generated the defection of only a handful of troops but that helped to transition what were mostly peaceful protests to a country on the brink of Civil war. The objective is to create an opportunity for “humanitarian intervention.” The weapons of the Free Syrian Army have grown increasingly advanced and they are obviously being funded from abroad despite denial.
The U.S. clearly remains dedicated to neoliberal revolution throughout the Middle East. They have sanctioned both Iran and Syria and are irate about Russian and Chinese rebellion. Syria would help them connect the regime in Turkey by land to Egypt. America and her allies would control the Mediterranean and a land route to the Suez Canal. They could then use their Arab proxies to isolate Iran. As Claire Spencer, head of the Mideast and North Africa program at Chatham House recently said, “The fate of Syria is intertwined with the fate of everyone else in the region and the fate of everyone else goes through Syria.” Still, potential miscalculations could spark region-wide conflict and the awkward analogies of Hillary Clinton pose the possibility of sparking global war.
The Middle East is important to a resurgent Russia, a rising China and an angry U.S. If the region goes the way of neoliberal globalization, lucrative contracts will be granted to western firms and market penetration may pull the U.S. and Europe from an economic downturn leftover from the Global recession of 2008. Of course control of petrol and military contracts is also of import. Russia’s contracts with Syria represent one of its final retained relationships from the Cold War and it certainly sees an American Coup in Damascus as further proof America want to run the world. China rose as a major player in Africa and the Middle East largely as a consequence of America’s Iraqi miscalculation. It is now the biggest importer of oil from the region and is the single biggest exporter of manufactured goods there. As a power dependent largely on exports, it is also driven by its own self-interests and America’s strong words of condemnation will only affirm strong sentiments of mistrust between these nations and the West.
One reason Russia should be opposed to forced participation in U.S.-led globalization is that it is also a victim of such reform. The era of liberalization in Russia represents the actual effects of Neoliberalism. In the early 1990’s Moscow was home to shopping malls, investment banks and western corporations as its industrial capacity was destroyed and its culture was transformed with Rock and Roll, neon lights and its own Coca-Cola generation, but the experiment largely failed. By the late 1990’s Russia suffered from serious deterioration. Crime was rampant, drug use was high and the average life expectancy of a Moscow male had fallen from the mid-60’s in 1990 to a mere 57 in 1997. The number of cars and pollution was on the rise but the infrastructure was depleted. The Russian economy defaulted in 1998 and this reality had much to do with the rise of Vladimir Putin to reassert Russian independence.
Russia’s first-hand knowledge of neoliberal looting is not the only foreign intervention it fears. In the event that the Assad regime is overthrown, it could be next. Already existent efforts of pro-western destabilization in Russia would certainly be enhanced.
Accusations of fraud after recent Russian elections for the State Duma were quickly embraced as Hillary Clinton spoke of “serious concerns” and Senator John McCain issued a message to Putin on Twitter saying, “Dear Vlad, the Arab Spring is coming to a neighborhood near you.” The endorsements were followed by the sudden formation of the extra-parliamentary Solidarity movement led by Alexei Navalny, a lawyer and a blogger with ties to the West through the Yale World Fellows Program, a project dedicated to “creating a global network of emerging leaders” trained in the art of stimulating neoliberal revolutions based on the model of George Soros Open Society Institute. An ignorant pro-liberal public may not be aware of these foreign machinations (which is obviously the case in the Middle East) but Putin’s party United Russia is certainly informed and understandably will counter the moves.
For its part then China has been subject to directed confrontation starting with an address by Obama to the Australian Parliament on November 17, 2011. Almost out of nowhere the teleprompter instructed that he declare, “My guidance is clear. As we plan and budget for the future we will allocate the resources necessary to maintain our strong military presence in the region.” The simultaneous announcement of military expansion in the Pacific with budget cuts elsewhere led one Chinese official to declare, “It may not be quite appropriate to intensify and expand military alliances and may not be in the interest of countries within the region.” Obama’s subsequent remarks emphasized that America was a permanent Pacific power and called for troop buildup in Australia and the Philippines.
Hillary Clinton outlined the new concentration with an article in Foreign Policy magazine saying, “In the next 10 years we need to be smart and systematic about where we invest time and energy so that we put ourselves in the best position to sustain our leadership and secure our interests…one of the most important tasks of American statecraft over the next decade will therefore be to lock in a substantially increased investment – diplomatic, economic, strategic, and otherwise in the Asian-Pacific region.” Apparently Ms. Clinton has little regard for how foreign powers interpret clear provocation.
It is obvious that U.S. has learned little from its 10 years of military and diplomatic failure. China and Russia are forced to pursue their interests in the Middle East. Alienating them in a time of unpredictable alteration with heightened tensions in the Strait of Hormuz, renewed protests in Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Bahrain, and an announced deadline by Israel to attack Iran by the spring of 2012, documents an irrational exuberance with America failing to recognize that China and Russia are two powers it needs. Both will now seek further collaboration with Iran, balance America and its allies covert interventions in Syria and seek more aggressive diplomacy with new and old Arab regimes. Whatever the outcome, its roots lie in a U.S. still dedicated to revolutionizing the Middle East, a policy traceable to the collapse of the U.S.S.R. and capable of pushing the world to the brink of World War III.
Already the American push in Syria is backfiring. A Russian delegation to Damascus was met with thousands holding banners in Arabic to express gratitude and showing that the Syrian population is split between the rebels and the regime. An enraged Rice and Clinton immediately called for an International Coalition of the willing to bypass security council resistance while Russia arranged for an effort to broken negotiations.
On February 13 the U.N. General Assembly began deliberations on the entrance of a “U.N. Peacekeeping force,” as Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister called for “opening up channels for the opposition to offer all kinds of support.” The U.S. and Turkey have agreed to participate with the authorization of the Arab League and as Russia spoke about the irrationality of inserting U .N. Peacekeepers before completing negotiations for peace, it became obvious the U .S. and its allies will accept nothing less than regime change and that Iran is next. As Senator Joseph Lieberman said on CNN’s State of the Union, Syria is Iran’s “only ally.” Asked about how intervention in Syria served U.S. interests, he stated that strategic interests in Syria are greater than in Libya as “if Assad falls in Syria it’s a moral and democratic win for the people of Syria, but it is also a strategic defeat for Iran.” All this occurs as an emboldened Syrian military continued its shelling of the rebel stronghold in Homs while rebels pushed back the regime in Rastan certifying a sustained push toward civil war.
The whole situation is full of contradiction. Susan Rice condemned Russia for arming an oppressive regime while failing to consider U.S. support for countries like Saudi Arabia and Israel. A bombing against the government in Aleppo also poses new problems for the group the U.S. supports. Apparently a member of the Free Syrian Army initially took responsibility for the blast only to have his admission contradicted by another of the group’s members who blamed it on the regime.
The Assad regime has long cited the presence of Al-Qaeda within the rebel group. McClatchy News Service reported before the blast in Aleppo that Ayman al-Zawahiri – successor to Bin Laden – had ordered two Damascus bombings in December drawing parallels to Libya where jihadists fought alongside western-supported fighters. Any further existence of an Al-Qaeda presence amongst the resistance could discredit U.S. support and further legitimize the Assad regime. Intervention has all the makings of a disaster.
Such is the nature of U.S.-led “humanitarian intervention.” The U.S. is only acting in its own interests and up until the Security Council vetos believed it still had immunity to act alone. No one should applaud the regimes of Russia, China or Syria for that matter, but believe that the west is any less authoritarian is naive. The U.S. is not concerned with democracy for the Arab people in the streets, it is concerned only with control over the New Middle East.
The authorization regimes overthrown in the Arab Spring were all supported by a U.S. policy that goes back to the 1950’s when it took over for Britain in the region. A 1952 National Security Council document entitled “U.S. Objectives and Policies with Respect to the Arab States and Israel” related that U.S. planers divided the populations of Arab countries into the elite, the intellectual class, and the peasantry. The U.S. assessed that in the wake of waning British power, “our principle rim should be to encourage the emergence of competent leaders relatively well disposed to the West, “despite that they may be unable to “express any overt good will toward or to seek any explicit association with the West.” Such is the targeted outcome of the Arab Spring. Usher in a new elite that will open the Arab World to neoliberal looting, keep rising powers from a bulk of the booty and thereby restore the power America had in the post-Cold War, pre 9/11 world. With that end in sight, American officials have reaffirmed the aura of the bulk on the block, but the past 10 years has depleted much of American diplomatic power and apparently U.S.bureaucrats don’t realize that nations are no longer fooled by their calls to democracy and human rights.
The U.S. has yet to realize that the world has expressed what Zbigniew Brzezinski calls in his new book a “global political awakening motivated partially by a hatred of the West.” The veto by China and Russia may have been pronounced by Hillary Clinton as the day the Security Council lost its balls. But an alternative perspective could record it as the day rival powers ‘grew a pair’ and transformed the gender of international affairs.
Establishing a multipolar era with divided benefits from globalization is inevitable whether by rational diplomacy in the present or from the ashes of World War III. Let us hope the grandiose analogies lead to policies the world can bear.
Younus Abdullah Muhammed is a Muslim American and Master of International Affairs. He is presently detained in Solitary Confinement in Virginia. He is founder of Islam Policy and can be contacted at Islampolicy@gmail.com