The US has recently accused Russia of bombing what it calls “US-backed rebels” in southern Syria. CBS News in their article, “Russia ignores warnings, bombs U.S.-backed Syrian rebel group,” would claim:
On Friday, Defense Secretary Ash Carter called out Russia for bombing a Syrian rebel group that’s backed by the U.S.
The attack by Russian fighter bombers on American-backed opposition forces appeared to be deliberate and to ignore repeated U.S. warnings.
More alarming is what the US claimed happened next. CBS News would further claim:
Two American F-18 jet fighters were dispatched to provide air cover for the troops on the ground as they tried to evacuate their casualties. By the time the F-18s arrived, the Russian planes were headed away, but were still close enough to see.
But when the F-18s broke away to refuel, the Russians returned for a second bombing run. Another call went out to the Russian command center in Syria, demanding that the planes wave off.
The crew of an airborne command post tried to contact the Russian pilots directly but got no response. The Su-34s conducted another bombing run, leaving a small number of opposition fighters dead on the ground.
Neither CBS News nor the US Department of Defense ever explained why the US believes it is entitled to send armed militants over the borders and into a sovereign nation, or why it believes a sovereign nation and its allies are not entitled to confront and neutralize them or why US aircraft are entitled to fly over Syrian airspace without the authorization of the Syrian government.
In other words, the US is vocally complaining about its serial violations of international law and norms finally (allegedly) being confronted and put to an end by Russian military forces.
But Did Russia Even Attack America’s Armed Invaders?
Russia however, has denied US accusations. CNN’s article, “Russia denies bombing U.S.-backed Syrian rebels near Jordan border,” states:
Russia’s Defense Ministry denied bombing U.S.-backed Syrian opposition forces in a recent military operation near the Jordania border, according to a statement released on Sunday.
The Kremlin response comes after U.S. and Russian military officials held a video conference to discuss Thursday’s strikes.
As is characteristic of all US claims regarding its multiple, ongoing foreign acts of military aggression, the most recent row in Syria is heavy on rhetoric and light on evidence. Had Russia attacked armed militants invading Syrian territory, it would have been well within its rights to do so, however it has claimed it hasn’t. The burden of proof is on the US.
Why Would the US Lie About This?
But when one considers a recent US State Department “internal memo” calling for more direct US military action to oust the Syrian government from power, it is clear such a call cannot be answered without an accompanying justification or provocation. It appears that the US-Russian row in southern Syria conveniently constitutes just such a provocation.
CNN’s article, “State Department officials call for U.S. military action against Assad regime,” claims:
More than 50 State Department officials signed an internal memo protesting U.S. policy in Syria, calling for targeted U.S. military strikes against the regime of Bashar al-Assad and urging regime change as the only way to defeat ISIS.
Claiming that US military strikes against the Syrian government, or that “regime change” is the only way to defeat the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS) is indeed far fetched and is in and of itself a fabricated justification for an otherwise entirely self-serving geopolitical objective the US has set for itself in Syria.
It was US-led “regime change” in Libya in 2011 that has led to the country becoming a bastion for, not against IS and other notorious terrorist groups. Libya, it should be mentioned, has existed in a perpetual state of failure since the 2011 US military intervention, triggering one half of a massive refugee crisis facing the European continent, with no signs of abating any time in the foreseeable future.
In other words, the US desire for “regime change” in Syria will create another Libya, but on a scale larger than that in North Africa, all while compounding the chaos in North Africa further.
Therefore, justifying greater military aggression by the US in Syria appears to be a “hard sell” for American policymakers, media and politicians. Militants in southern Syria were likely designated for this ploy specifically because they have the greatest chance of being separated and distinguished from US-backed militants in northern Syria.
US-backed militants in Syria’s north are described even by the US itself as “intermingled” with extremists including Al Qaeda and even IS and have become increasingly difficult to defend diplomatically and politically as Syrian and Russian forces work on rolling them back.
Undoubtedly US-backed militants in Syria’s south are likewise”intermingled” with overt terrorist groups, but because the conflict in the south has been neglected by not only US and European news agencies, but also Russian and other Eastern news services, there lingers an unwarranted “benefit of the doubt.”
Can Anything Stop US Military Escalation?
Many in America’s foreign policy circles are nostalgic for the days of NATO’s intervention in Yugoslavia where inferior Russian forces were unable to deter NATO aggression and were eventually relegated to a subordinate role in “peacekeeping operations.” At one point, NATO even contemplated striking Russian forces as a means of neutralizing any obstacle to NATO ambitions during the conflict.
It is therefore possible that these same US policymakers envision using what CNN’s article called “stand-off and air weapons” to induce a similar stand-down from Russia before proceeding with and accomplishing their much desired “regime change” in Syria.
However, the Russian military of the 1990’s is not the Russian military of today. The fact that Russia is present and operating in Syria, far beyond the confines of Eastern Europe and its traditional sphere of influence is proof enough of that.
Russia’s performance in Syria alongside Syrian forces is the primary factor in what is now clearly IS’ decline and retreat. Russian air defenses have been deployed across the country and capabilities to confront US and US-allied aggression are clear and present. Since IS had no air forces of any kind, it is clear that Russian air defenses placed in Syria were one part of deterring the sort of US aggression characterized in the recent alleged US State Department memo.
The US would have to rely entirely on the assumption that Russia would rather concede Syria in the face of US military aggression than escalate toward a direct war with the United States.
Creating the conditions both diplomatically and on the ground in Syria to deter US military commanders from following any order to essentially attempt to trigger a war with nuclear-armed Russia is now essential. Raising the stakes for any sort of escalation of US aggression in Syria is also essential.
While the UN seems content with ignoring the serial international crimes of the US as it flaunts sovereign Syrian airspace, violates its borders by sending armed militants over them intent on destabilizing, destroying and overthrowing the Syrian state and presiding over the dismemberment of not only Syria, but the region itself, other international organizations could fill this expanding void.
The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), for example, could conceivably put together “peacekeeping” forces of its own, placed along Syria’s borders deterring the transit of armed militants and forcing the hands of both Jordan and Turkey to be exposed in the backing of some of the most toxic militant organizations engaged in Syria’s conflict.
The presence of Chinese, Russian, and even Iranian troops in this capacity could make it clear that no matter what act of aggression the US commits to, Syria’s fate would remain in the hands of its government, its people, and its allies. Tying these efforts into the distribution of aid would hamstring US attempts to hide its war-making behind “humanitarianism.”
Such a move, however, by the SCO would be unprecedented, costly and difficult to coordinate. And because of its unprecedented nature, unforeseen challenges may even make this option a complication rather than an asset toward fending off US aggression and the resolution of the costly ongoing Syrian conflict.
Regardless, it is clear that as IS and other terrorist organizations who have constituted the bulk of what the US regularly refers to as “opposition” beings to collapse, US desperation to conclude the Syrian conflict in its favor (not in favor of Syria or its people) is becoming increasingly palpable.
Another point opponents of US aggression must focus on is the ongoing chaos in Libya, a burning example of where US’s suggested “regime change” in Syria will inevitably lead. US success in Syria will essentially be an extension of Libya’s chaos, bolstering, not serving to “defeat” IS.
Ulson Gunnar, a New York-based geopolitical analyst and writer especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.