The last week of October 2019 saw a great deal of western newspaper reporting on the United States withdrawal from Syria announced by US President Trump. That his general claim was in fact heavily qualified, not supported by his own generals, and contradicted by actual events on the ground received much less media attention.
In all of the media generated hype over Trump’s non-announcement, as it turned out to be for reasons discussed below, there was one essential element completely absent from the western media hype over the announced, and immediately qualified, United States plan. That element is the one frequently alluded to in pronouncements by western politicians, of which successive US and Australian leaders are glaring examples, is the role of what they are pleased to call “the rules based international order.”
The principal at issue here is disarmingly simple, not with standing its repeated citation (and ignoring) by western leaders. International law in this context refers to the rights of one country to wage war on another country. Only two conditions are permitted in international law: where a country may act in self defence if it is the victim of actual or imminent military attack;
or where such actions are approved by the United Nations Security Council.
In the case of military action by the United States and its various allies they manifestly were not the object of actual or imminent military attack by either Iraq or Syria. Equally obviously, there has been no United Nations Security Council resolution authorising military action by the United States or any of its allies. Neither the United States nor the United Kingdom (another but lower profile offender) sought United Nations Security Council approval, knowing as they did that any such action would meet an inevitable Chinese and Russian veto.
They went ahead anyway, a singular fact that tells one more about the West’s true commitment to “the rules based international order” than a truckload of speeches by western leaders ever would.
Neither is the western aggression in Iraq and Syria a recent phenomenon. In Iraq’s case it is now well documented that Iraq was led to believe that it had US support in its confrontation with neighbouring Kuwait over alleged theft of Iraq’s oil resources by Kuwait on their shared border
Saddam Hussein’s military action against Kuwait was met with a massive US led military response. After the Iraqis were forced to retreat back into Iraq, suffering devastating military losses in the process, they were then subjected to a decade of economic and political sanctions.
When the United States under George W Bush decided to invade Iraq a decade later in 2003, the Iraqi military had been greatly weakened by a decade of sanctions. The more important point for present purposes is that the 2003 invasion was based on a fundamental lie; that Iraq had “weapons of mass destruction.”
We now know that justification was used because it was one that gained the support of US allies such as Australia. The fact that it was a lie has never been seriously argued against, but here we are, more than 16 years later, with US troops (and their allies) still occupying Iraq, and acting with an almost complete disregard to the rights and wishes of the Iraqi government. The recent movement of US military forces backwards and forwards into Syria is but one simple illustration of the point.
One might have hoped that western nations learned something from that 2003 debacle, not the least feature of which was the West’s complete disregard for international law.
Instead, the same lies were trotted out by the United States and its allies such as Australia, but this time about the internationally recognised and legitimate sovereign of Syria. The western media insist n referring to the “Syrian regime” which is a non-subtle denigration of its legitimate status. This time Saddam Hussein’s alleged weapons of mass destruction were replaced by repeated false allegations about Syrian President Assad “killing his own people.”
Just as with Iraq, military forces of the United States and its allies invaded Syrian territory, established military bases, and waged a campaign aimed at the violent overthrow of the legitimate and internationally recognised sovereign government of Syria.
It might well have succeeded had it not been for the intervention of Russian military forces in 2015, and ongoing strong military support from Iran and Hezbollah. Their intervention radically transformed the military situation to the degree where now, four years later, the Syrian government is on the verge of regaining control of its own territory.
Which brings us back to the aforementioned claims by Trump that the United States had “defeated ISIS” and would be withdrawing its troops. The fact of the matter is that the United States did not “defeat ISIS”. It has never ceased to use that, and multiple other terrorist groups, as allies in both combating Syrian forces, and their allies, and engaging in the systemic theft of Syrian oil resources.
The completely sham nature of the so-called US withdrawal was rapidly revealed when Trump spoke openly of securing the Syrian oilfields from everyone, including their legitimate owners the Syrian government.
The United States defence secretary Mark Esper, according to a report in Sputnik News acknowledged that the Syrian oilfields are “not in the present phase of withdrawal.” In fact, far from withdrawing, the present US plan is to deploy additional tanks and the associated troops from Iraq to bases in Syria in proximity to the oilfields. Perhaps needless to add, the consent of the United Nations, or the Syrian government was neither sought nor obtained.
Trump’s announcement about securing the Syrian oilfields, including from their legitimate owners the Syrian government, revealed in a typically blunt way one of the major objectives of United States policy in the entire region: control over the production, distribution and profit from, Syria’s natural resources. The only embarrassment for the Americans is that Trump is not bothering to hide the blatant resource grab with standard United States sophistry about “bringing democracy”
to Syria or any other meaningless epithets used when the US inflicts its unwelcome intentions upon the enemy du jour.
Apart from the theft of a countries resources and the installation of a puppet government, there is one other aspect of US policy in the region that has received scanned attention in the western media.
The inestimable Pepe Escobar is one of the very few writers to consistently draw attention to another vital component of US policy in the region. Iran, Iraq and Syria signed a memorandum of understanding as far back as 2012 to jointly developed a gas pipeline for the export of the major natural resources of all three countries, namely oil and gas.
The ongoing war in Iraq and Syria, and the United States’ hybrid warfare against, and constant demonisation of, Iran, has thwarted the development of that project which is of obvious benefit to all three countries.
The development of the last few days are significant, with the strong determination of Syria and Russia to rid Syria of the destructive and manifestly self serving United States presence in the region, leaves no scope for ambiguity.
As Escobar points out, one of the great ironies of the most recent developments is that Turkey will further cement its disenchantment with the Americans by likely becoming a party to the aforesaid 2012 pipeline plans.
In that eventuality, it would further signal Turkeys intention to consolidate its role in both the Belt and Road Initiative and the North South Economic Corridor being developed by India. Radical changes are afoot for the region. The big question is whether the United States will acknowledge these changes and modify its behaviour, or rather more likely, will it continue its attempt to undermine those regional initiatives by continuing its self serving military interventions. In this writer’s view the latter is the far more likely option, at least in the short term. What the most recent developments in Syria disclose, is that the United States has been given an unequivocal warning by Russia that its behaviour in that country has reached the end of their tolerance.
James O’Neill, an Australian-based Barrister at Law and geopolitical analyst, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.