America’s Reckless Syria Policy
Trump’s military action in Syria will further the fortunes of the Salafi jihadist forces.
Imperialism’s moral cloak has always been “humanitarianism.” So even a United States (US) President who has been openly espousing militarism, racism and jingoism was able to garner bipartisan consensus when he fell back upon the time-tested tactic of drawing US imperialism’s moral red line. Never mind the use of Agent Orange by the US military as part of Operation Ranch Hand during the Vietnam War from 1961 to 1971. All the US presidential administration had to do is establish almost instantly—without waiting for the United Nations Security Council and an impartial investigation—that the Syrian government had engaged in a chemical weapons attack, and then, with “the verdict” broadcast widely by corporate media, carry out “the sentence” as soon as possible.
On 4 April, in the ongoing six-year-old civil war in Syria, there was a chemical weapons attack on the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib province. Almost immediately the White House condemned the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad for the attack. The mass media and practically the entire political establishment denounced the Syrian government as the culprit. The next day, US President Donald Trump expressed horror at the images of “innocent children, innocent babies” choked to death by the poisonous gas and declared that an unacceptable line has been crossed. He convened a meeting of the National Security Council to consider the possible military options, and the following day two US warships in the Mediterranean fired 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at the Syrian air base at Shayrat, close to the city of Homs.
Referring to the allegations that his government had engaged in a chemical weapons attack, the Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al Muallem categorically stated “that the Syrian Arab Army did not and will not use such weapons even against the terrorists who are targeting our people,” but the powers-that-be and the establishment media just ignored him. Instead, they gave wide coverage to US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley’s statement. What she said implied that Washington has the right to wage war against Syria when the “international community consistently fails in its duty to act collectively” against that country. Predictably, the US corporate media and the political establishment applauded Trump for the US military’s attack on Syria. Indeed, the host of CNN’s flagship foreign affairs show, Fareed Zakaria, who had until then been slamming the new President, now began fawning over Trump’s action, declaring that with the cruise missile attack on Syria, “Trump became the President of the United States!”
Frankly, a lot of US imperialism’s antiquated script seems to be replayed in a closed loop. The 1991 US invasion of oil-rich Iraq was ostensibly to prevent the atrocities that the Iraqi armed forces had supposedly planned to inflict on the people of Kuwait. The 1999 NATO bombing of Yugoslavia was justified on the grounds that President Slobodan Milosevic was planning an ethnic cleansing which had to be prevented. In 2001, the invasion of Afghanistan was justified on the claim that the Taliban regime was harbouring the perpetrators of the 11 September 2001 attacks. The 2003 invasion of Iraq was sought to be legitimised on the plea that President Saddam Hussein had “weapons of massdestruction.” In 2011, NATO-led forces militarily intervened in Libya and their “Islamist proxies” assassinated President Muammar Gaddafi on the moral grounds that his forces were about to engage in a large-scale massacre in Benghazi.
There has been a long-standing pattern in Washington’s funding, arming and mobilisation of religious fundamentalists to further its geopolitical ambitions. The American Central Intelligence Agency’s teaming up with the Muslim Brotherhood against Arab nationalists in the 1950s and the US arming of the Mujahideen against the Soviet Union in the 1980s come to mind. The same dirty tactics have been employed in the six-year-old Syrian civil war. In particular, it is the spread of Saudi Arabia’s state religion, Wahhabism—a sect of Sunni Islam, puritanical and ultra-conservative—that has been the theological inspiration of Salafi jihadist groups like Islamic State (ISIS) and Al Qaeda, and their affiliates in Iraq and Syria. The Al Qaeda’s Jabhat al Nusra is, for instance, the most powerful of the rebel forces backed by the CIA that is challenging the rule of Assad in Syria.
The problem isn’t just Wahhabism but the cynical funding and arming of such Salafi jihadist factions to serve the narrow ends of US imperialism. It is high time the United Nations demands that the US, Saudi Arabia and Gulf-state governments give up their support of the various Salafi jihadist militias who are acting as proxies of US imperialism in Syria. An honest analysis would put this phenomenon at the root of the crisis in Syria today, and also of one of the most traumatic refugee problems of the 21st century. Trump’s action will only both boost the military fortunes of the Salafi jihadist forces and in turn harden the Russian–Iranian support for Assad in the Syrian civil war. The result: more atrocities against civilians and further refugee trauma.
EPW looks forward to your comments. Please note that comments are moderated as per our comments policy. They may take some time to appear. A comment, if suitable, may be selected for publication in the Letters pages of EPW.