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by Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers, Popular Resistance

The crisis in Syria has taken a new direction with the Turkish invasion into the Northeast ostensibly to push the Kurdish peoples out. The US has added to this crisis by its green light to Turkey to attack after using the Kurds as a proxy force in the battle against ISIS.

The US’ role in Syria and in the greater Middle East has been destructive throughout this century. The invasion and occupation of Iraq have left destruction and chaos. The illegal bombing of Libya and the brutal murder of its prime minister, Muammar al-Gaddafi, have created a failed state. The US’ alliance with Saudi Arabia in the war against Yemen has resulted in mass murder and destruction. The ongoing conflicts with Iran through illegal unilateral coercive measures (sanctions), regime change attempts, threats of war and military skirmishes have created more instability in the region. And, the US’ ‘special relationship’ with Israel has allowed continued ethnic cleansing and land theft from the Palestinians and has been a tool for instability in the region. The never-ending war in Afghanistan continues to cause destruction as the US remains even though it has been defeated.

These actions have resulted in more than a million deaths and mass migration, which has not only impacted the region but also Europe, causing political instability and the advance of right-wing, anti-immigrant forces. The Middle East was better off, more stable and wealthier before the disastrous US actions of this century. The illegal wars have cost the US trillions of dollars with no benefit. US policy has not served any positive purposes but has caused instability, conflict, and destruction. It is time for the US to get out of Syria and out of the Middle East.

Mobilization against war protest in Vancouver, Canada.

Syria: A Major Defeat for the US and a Geopolitical Game Changer

The bi-partisans in Washington, DC and the foreign policy establishment are furious at Donald Trump for pulling out of the Kurdish region of Syria and allowing Turkey to invade. These groups were united when the US’ goal was removing President Assad from power, but with the culmination of this failed policy, there is political division.

Pepe Escobar describes Syria as the biggest defeat for the CIA since Vietnam. It is a significant defeat, but US losses in Iraq and Afghanistan are in the running for the worst defeat since Vietnam. Escobar describes the failure “as a massive geopolitical game-changer” that strengthens Assad as he retakes control of Northeast Syria. Russia benefits as a guarantor for Syria and key player in the victory over US regime change. The losers are the United States and Kurds.

The US’ contribution to the current chaos and destruction precedes Trump. While the brutal attacks by Turkey in Syria are being blamed on Trump, in reality, they go back to President Obama. Max Blumenthal reports in The Grayzone that “many [of the Turkish fighters] were former members of the Free Syrian Army, the force once armed by the CIA and Pentagon and branded as ‘moderate rebels.’” Blumenthal cites a research paper published this October by the pro-government Turkish think tank, SETA: “Out of the 28 factions [in the Turkish mercenary force], 21 were previously supported by the United States, three of them via the Pentagon’s program to combat DAESH. Eighteen of these factions were supplied by the CIA ….”  Further, the leader of this force is Salim Idriss, who hosted John McCain when the late senator made his infamous 2013 incursion into Syria.

The Turkish attack in Syria has been filled with ugly extreme violence that is causing outrage. Mercenaries are sawing the heads off of Kurdish fighters they have killed, a Syrian Kurdish legislator was pulled from her car and executed along with her driver, unarmed Kurdish captives were filmed as they were murdered, the corpse of a female Kurdish fighter was vandalized, ISIS captives were deliberately freed from unguarded prisons, and in a video message, one of the invading fighters promised mass ethnic cleansing if Kurds in the area refused to convert to his Wahhabi strain of Sunni Islam.

Ajamu Baraka points out that the US created the “Free Syrian Army” (FSA), who were the good guys when they were overthrowing Assad, but have now been turned into the “Turkish supported FSA,”  especially after the gruesome graphic videos of the Turkish invasion emerged. In reality, Baraka points out, “many of us knew, along with the CIA and most of the honest foreign policy community, that the FSA was always al-Qaeda’s Syria operation in the form of Jabhat al-Nusra and other jihadist militias.”

Blumenthal concludes: “Left out of the coverage of these horrors was the fact that none of them would have been possible if Washington had not spent several years and billions of dollars subsidizing Syria’s armed opposition.”

These recent events need to be viewed through the context of sixty years of on-again, off-again coups and regime change campaigns that have failed. Timber Sycamore, the regime change project of the Obama administration, was a “secret” plan that allowed the CIA to arm terrorists in Syria. Timber Sycamore, which included Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, and Turkey working with the US, officially began in late 2012 and ended in failure in 2017. The secret program trained future ISIS members as part of covert aid to the insurgents targeting Bashar al-Assad. The US was duplicitous and used terrorism as a tool as documented in the book “The Management of Savagery”.

When Obama’s regime change strategy failed, the US switched to occupying one-third of Syria, including the oil region in the Northeast. In January, Secretary of State Tillerson announced the US was creating a de facto Kurdish State there with a 30,000-strong Syrian Defense Force (SDF) troop, US air support, and eight new US bases. In April 2018, UN Ambassador Nikki Haley announced the US planned to maintain its illegal presence in Syria.

Obama’s effort to dominate Syria was rooted in the Bush-era. In 2001, former NATO commander Wesley Clark was on record stating that Syria was on a list of targeted nations to be toppled by the US. In 2002, former Secretary of State John Bolton said, in a speech titled “Beyond the Axis of Evil”, that Syria was among a handful of nations the US was targeting. The 2011 protests in Syria were quickly manipulated by the US and foreign powers who sought to destabilize Syria. CIA-backed Muslim Brotherhood assets were in place to snipe at both police and protesters when the demonstrations broke out and Saudia Arabia provided weapons to aid regime change.

Caitlan Johnstone points to more evidence that Syria was not an organic uprising but a foreign regime change effort from the beginning:

“The former Prime Minister of Qatar said on television that the US and its allies were involved in the Syrian conflict from the very beginning. A WikiLeaks cable and a declassified CIA memo both show the US government plotting to provoke an uprising in Syria exactly as it occurred, years before it happened. Former Foreign Minister of France Roland Dumas stated that he was informed that the UK was engineering an uprising in Syria two years before the violence erupted.”

Even the Obama era regime change goal needs to be put in the context of over sixty years of the US trying to control Syria. The first coup attempt by the CIA after it’s creation was in Syria in 1949. Controlling Syria has been a consistent policy objective. CIA documents from 1986 describe how the US could remove the Assad family.

Each of Trump’s efforts to get out of Syria has been opposed by bipartisan war hawks. In March 2018, Trump tweeted that the US would soon be withdrawing from Syria. One month later Secretary of Defense Mattis told Congress the US was not withdrawing testifying, “We are continuing the fight, we are going to expand it and bring in more regional support.” In January, Trump called for withdrawal from Syria, which was met with a firestorm of opposition. He was outmaneuvered by war hawks in his administration and Congress.

There continues to be resistance to withdrawal today. The US is not leaving Syria but is merely moving troops from the Northeast to other areas. David Macilwain reports, “The truth of US intentions – to remain in Eastern Syria until they are driven out militarily – has now been emphasized by US Defence secretary Mark Esper. At a press conference where he confirmed the US intention to withdraw 1000 troops from Syria, when asked whether this meant from all of Syria he simply repeated what he had said –’from Northern Syria.’”

It is past time for the US to leave Syria and end its longterm desire to dominate the country. People in the United States and around the world must insist on the US obeying international law, which means the US must leave Syria as it has no legal grounds for being in that sovereign nation.

The Rojava Cantons direct democracy governance without a state. Still from video

Kurds in Syria Negotiate Their Future With Damascus

Kurds, who live in Turkey, Syria, Iraq , and Iran, are often regarded as “the largest ethnic group without a state.” With the US withdrawal from Northeast Syria, the Kurds in Syria are now working with Damascus to repel the Turkish invasion and negotiate their future.

In mid-2012, Assad’s forces largely withdrew from the Kurdish area, and the battle against ISIS was left to the Kurdish militias: the YPG (People’s Protection Units) and the YPJ (Women’s Defense Forces), the autonomous women’s militias. When the Free Syrian Army failed, the US funded the Syrian Kurdish militias known as the Peoples Protection Unit using a new name, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).  The Kurdish never targeted the Syrian government but focused on ISIS.

The Kurdish Rojava cantons are a liberated area in Syria led by socialist-feminists and a population that makes decisions through local councils. Their economy is based on a cooperative model with thousands of co-ops, but private businesses are allowed. The co-ops are initiated and controlled by the communes, i.e. the community assembly structures. Their basic principle is the participation of everyone in production. In the words of a minister of economics: “If a single loaf of bread is manufactured in Rojava, everyone will have contributed to it.”

Their governing model is direct democracy governance without a state, built on local assemblies. There are multiple levels with neighborhood councils, District Councils and a People’s Council for the entire region. And there is also ‘Democratic Self-Administration,’ which is a more conventional government structure of legislative and executive bodies as well as municipal administration. These bodies are not limited to Kurds but open to all religions and ethnicities. Women hold 40 percent of leadership positions at all levels. Three leftist enclaves make up an area slightly smaller than the state of Connecticut.

Some see Rojava’s governance without hierarchy, patriarchy or capitalism as a model for the future of the Middle East and beyond, and as an antidote to capitalism. It is the Communalist Model of Democratic Confederalism, an adaptation of the ideas of the Zapatistas in Chiapas and the work of Murray Bookchin.

In Turkey, Kurds remain part of Turkey and “have formed a political party (Peoples Democratic Party – HDP), which unites progressives of all ethnicities.  In the 2015 Turkish election, HDP emerged as the third most popular party and stopped Erdogan’s election domination.”  The HDP opposes Turkey’s invasion of Syria.

Turkey is concerned that the Kurds will use the territory they’ve captured to establish an independent Kurdish state for the region’s 25 to 35 million Kurds, roughly 15 million of whom reside in Turkey. Four percent of Kurds reside in Syria, approximately 1.6 million people. Kurds are the fourth largest ethnic group in the region after Arabs, Persians, and Turks. After the Ottoman Empire’s defeat in World War I, they were not granted a homeland.

Peace activists and popular movements around the world should be in solidarity with the Kurdish people’s desire for a semi-independent territory. A contiguous Kurdish state is an impossible dream and negotiation will be required by each population in the country where they reside.

US Out of Syria Internationalist protest in NYC (Internationalist photo).

US Out of Syria and Out of the Middle East

We agree with the US Peace Council, which urges “the US peace movement to organize a united national campaign in support of the Syrian people and demand the total withdrawal of all occupying forces from Syria. Leave Syria to the Syrian People!”

The movement’s first demand must be the US out of Syria and out of the Middle East because the US is not yet leaving Syria or the region. Reports indicate between 200 and 300 U.S. troops will remain at the southern Syrian outpost of Al-Tanf and 1,000 troops will shift into western Iraq adding to the more than 5,000 US troops in Iraq. US forces may conduct operations in Syria from Iraq.

On October 11, the US announced it was sending an additional 1,800 troops to Saudi Arabia. An additional 14,000 US troops have been deployed to the Middle East since spring, including more than 6,000 who are part of a naval strike group. The US is fighting in at least seven countries in the Middle East and North Africa: Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Niger, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen.

We must also be in solidarity with the Kurdish people and call for an end to the Turkish invasion of Syria. The Turkish invasion is already backfiring and people mobilizing against the invasion will lead to its retreat.

And, we must accept immigrants from Syria, Libya, Iraq, and Afghanistan where migration crises have been caused by US wars. Rebuilding nations destroyed by the United States is a costly endeavor that the US owes to the region. These countries do not want the US meddling in their efforts so compensation must be made through the United Nations without any strings attached.

Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers are directors of Popular Resistance


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