By Jeremy Salt
So finally the US gets what it wants, a war on Syria. Or should it be a war in Syria? Either way, another US-led attack that violates international law and, without the consent of Congress, probably domestic law as well. Syria has warned the US against this step, just as it warned the US and its friends against backing the armed groups four years. Now we see where this has led, to the growth of the self-styled Islamic State.
You can practically write your own script for what happens now. In Iraq more intense air strikes but no American ‘boots on the ground.’ The Iraqi army in combination with the peshmerga will have to liberate Mosul, where the Islamic state has been entrenching itself for the past three months. A prolonged battle can be expected, with large parts of the city being destroyed and countless numbers of civilians killed. Mosul will end up looking like Aleppo and other Syrian cities.
The US has given itself the right to launch a war on/in Syria. It has the support of the British government. David Cameron says the Syrian government is illegitimate because it has committed war crimes and therefore military action in Syria without its consent is justified. Of course it is not. It will be a flagrant violation of international law and another example of the tearing to shreds of the 17th century treaty of Westphalia which was designed to ensure stability in Europe through mutual respect for borders and the principle of sovereignty of the state.
What Cameron said one day was contradicted by his Foreign Secretary, Phillip Hammond, on another. He said Britain would not take part in attacks on the Islamic state in Syria, but a few hours later No. 10 Downing St. insisted all options were open. Germany has opted out and France says it will join the air attacks in Iraq and on Syria if asked. Turkey, the erstwhile neo-Ottoman leader of the Middle East until a few years ago, will provide humanitarian aid and logistical support (from the Incirlik air base near Adana) but won’t take part in combat missions in Iraq or against Syria. One strong reason is that the Islamic state has been holding dozens of Turks hostage in Mosul since June. In the same week that one of its minions cut off the head of the second American Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister, Bulent Arinc, said the hostages were safe. How can any prisoner be safe in the hands of people who cut off heads? Turkey has handled this crisis by instructing the media not to talk about it.
The game plan as announced by Barack Obama is to destroy the Islamic state in Syria while pumping up the forces of the so-called Free Syrian Army. Well, if Christ could raise Lazarus from the dead perhaps Barack Obama can breathe life into the FSA. There is no FSA and it will take years to create one. They tried for four years and could not do it. Perhaps they should postpone attacking Syria for another decade or two until they really have some kind of army. The takfiris are running the armed opposition in Syria, yet the US says that as Islamic state positions are destroyed, FSA ‘moderates’ will fill the vacuum. Thus the stated game plan is to fill a vacuum with an empty space.
If all of this smacks of a war planned in the sunroom of a mental home consider next how the US intends to fight it. The Syrian government is not going to call off its campaign against the armed groups just because the US has intervened to save the skins of its real protégés rather than the fictive ones the American public is constantly told its government is supporting. Two hostile air forces will be bombing in the same air space so intervention against the Islamic state is likely to end in war with Syria. Likely? Well, actually, isn’t this the war the US and its friends wanted all along? They funded the pool of takfiris out of which ISIS has arisen and now it has opened the front door for their attack instead of the back door they have had to use so far.
The next question is where the US will attack. Logically, the first target should be al Raqqa, the Syrian seat of the Islamic state, but what’s the betting the US goes instead for targets around Aleppo. This is the city the invisible FSA wanted to set up as the capital of ‘liberated’ Syria. It is close to the Turkish border and therefore the pipeline of arms, men, money and aid in various forms. Half the city is in the hands of takfiris the US and its friends do like even if they don’t admit it but they are threatened by the takfiris the US and friends openly admit they don’t like.
To make sure everyone understands the differences, the US is color-coding the takfiris: green for the ones the US and friends do like, yellow for the ones in between whom they might like one day and red for the ones they definitely don’t like. Red will be bombed until they are dead. No-one expects them to decide they prefer green or yellow. It’s either red or dead for them. Green will be protected as long as they don’t cross over to red, and yellow will be safe as long as they stay in between. In recent months green and yellow have suffered defeat after defeat at the hands of red and without the intervention now planned they would soon be removed from the palette. The immediate task is to stop the red takfiris from taking over the green and yellow takfiri half of Aleppo. As the fortunes of war fluctuate, the greens might go to red and the reds to green or yellow and the yellows to either. The US is likely to end up bombing green thinking it is red and protecting red thinking it is green. In any case, whichever color the US bombs on any particular day, the Syrian military will continue to bomb red, green and yellow. Aleppo is going to end up looking like a Jackson Pollack canvas.
Both Russia and Iran waited for Obama’s speech before issuing warnings against intervention. Maybe they will decide to intervene, too. Russia has warships in the eastern Mediterranean close to the Syrian coast and Iran has a standing army of more than half a million men. For the past four years they have watched western governments and their regional allies turn their ally into a punching bag. How much longer can they stand by and watch this go on irrespective of the international complications? There is a tipping point at which the Syrian war will turn into a much wider war, and open US intervention brings that point very close.
Accidentally or by design or as a mixture of both, the US and its friends created the Islamic state. Now they are pulling back with alarm because of the threat to themselves. Senior military figures in the US and Britain have called for cooperation with Syria but the politicians are not listening. This is their campaign and like Bush, Cheney and Blair before them, they have to be held fully accountable right now for the consequences of what they are setting in motion. We are back in the 1930s, with the ‘liberal democracies’ now behaving as the fascists did.
- Jeremy Salt is an associate professor of Middle Eastern history and politics at Bilkent University in Ankara, Turkey. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.