Will Syria become the new Somalia? If it were a matter for the United States…

In an interview with the British Guardian the recently departed Middle East mediator, Lakhdar Brahimi, warns that Syria is on the way to become a ‘failed state’, just like Somalia and Afghanistan. The centre of the country will be under the control of the government, the rest will gradually become a prey for warlords ruling their own fiefs. However, if this process is allowed to run its course, the conflict will not remain confined to Syria, according to Brahimi. It will spread to neighbouring countries and set the entire Middle East on fire. 

After a period of reticence, the United States have become active once again. Hilary Clinton the other day declared that she had been in favour of intervention in Syria but that Obama was reluctant. Now Washington has resumed support for the rebels, only this time it will expressly be confined to the moderate opposition. They will be trained and armed to fight against the Assad regime… and against the jihadists, in a war of two fronts.

Less than a year ago, in August 2013, the Americans were saved from a precarious situation by Moscow—Obama had declared that the use of chemical weapons was a ‘red line’ which if crossed, would be responded to by US intervention. Chemical weapons were promptly used.

It was only by a Russian move to get Assad to relinquish his chemical arsenal, a debacle for Obama was avoided. Because as in England (where the proposal to intervene was voted down in the House of Commons), there was no support for intervention in the US.

The decision not to intervene led to a furious reaction from Saudi Arabia (which according to many sources had staged the chemical attack). However, the original financiers of the jihadists in Syria are meanwhile having problems of their own. King Fahd of Saudi Arabia has fired the architect of his Syria policy, Prince Bandar, and a tense situation with Qatar, its neighbour, has arisen as well. Turkey, the third pillar of support for the fundamentalists, has landed in a sustained political crisis, and attention to Syria has weakened as a result. So the US are picking up where the others left off. 

Now it is one thing to declare that training and arms are exclusively intended for the ‘moderate’ opposition. But they are no longer easy to find within the borders of Syria. The Americans are certainly training Syrian rebels, teaching them how to lay ambushes and how to finish off those whom they take prisoner, but they do so in Qatar. Also the ‘moderate’ opposition is after something completely different, that is, better weapons: especially ground to air missiles to fight the government air force.

In Washington and New York, John Kerry and Samantha Power, Obama’s ambassador at the UN, are the strongest proponents of arming the moderate opposition. For Kerry a success is urgently needed after the humiliating way in which Israel torpedoed his attempt to engage it in negotiations with the Palestinians. Samantha Power along with national security adviser Susan Rice and the former planning director of Hilary Clinton, Anne-Marie Slaughter, form a core group of hard-liners who have abandoned any semblance of diplomatic circumspection and want to intervene everywhere. If Clinton would succeed Obama as president (and there is not a single candidate, either among the Democrats or among the Republicans, who stands a remote chance against her), we must prepare for interesting times.

As happens so often, the Pentagon and the CIA are less enthusiastic. In those quarters there is a fear that the Americans are digging themselves into an ever deeper hole, and there is a preference to first bring the house in order after the lost wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But Brahimi’s sombre prediction has also been repeated by one of the Free Syrian Army’s generals, Abdelilah al-Bashir. Bashir’s warning is remarkable because he belongs to the ‘moderate’ opposition the Americans are having their eyes on. However, since Washington wants to bypass the dysfunctional council of the Free Syrian Army and distribute weapons directly to successful commanders in the field, Bashir argues that warlords will be created who will not relinquish the power they thus acquire and this will undermine the FSA and usher in a Somali scenario.

According to Israeli intelligence estimates around 80 percent of the rebellion against Assad consists of Islamist fighters. Hence there is a high probability that American arms will again end up in their hands, as has happened before and is being reported again now.

The conclusion can only be that American policy in the Middle East, in the slipstream of Israel’s, has degenerated to plain arson. Now that the power of both states is no longer sufficient to achieve any constructive modification of existing societies, they are content with destroying them and thus prevent that they can still pose a threat.

Kees van der Pijl

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